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Intersection of Life and Faith

The Unraveling of a Christian Marriage: Why I'm Not Staying Forever

  • Elisabeth Klein Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2011 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
The Unraveling of a Christian Marriage: Why I'm Not Staying Forever

When a Christian marriage unravels, many questions rise to the surface.  In this four-part series, Elisabeth Corcoran attempts to provide answers from the inside of the unraveling. To read the first three parts of this series, click on the links below:

Part I: Three Common Questions
Part II: Why I Stayed

Part III: How I Stayed

As a Christian, why are you not staying forever?

Short answer: God.

Long answer: {Deep breath.}

This is going to be the messiest part to lay out for you. This will be the most intimate part, and the part that has the potential for most misunderstanding. Holy Spirit, give me the words.

It got bad enough that I finally really woke up and got serious help.  And when I got that serious help, my eyes were opened to how bad things really were. No relationship should function the way my marriage was functioning. I am not staying forever because we were just beyond broken.

I was dying inside. Every day, a part of me died. With every harsh word, every lie, I couldn’t even breathe fully. You know when you want death more than life, something is dreadfully wrong. I am not staying forever because I need to choose life.

I was living a fake life. I was one person with the world and another at home and with my closest friends. The counselor that I began to see to specifically target my anger issues had asked me to list off the top of my head three characteristics about each person in my immediate family, finishing with me. If I remember correctly, about myself, I said, “Loyal, stubborn, authentic.” She replied, “It’s interesting that you think you’re authentic, because most of your life is a secret.” Busted. Wake-up call. I preached about living an honest life, and then I went off and didn’t live one. I am not staying forever because I must talk and live the truth.

I was not loved. This is a hard one to write down. And one I fear saying the most. Because many of us do not feel loved. And, I hate to say this, but not being loved is not a reason to end a marriage. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. (In fact, none of these reasons on their own hold enough water to end a marriage.) So I need to clarify that it’s not “you don’t bring me flowers anymore” kind of not being loved. I’m not talking about a lack of pursuing. I’m talking about an active unloving attitude toward another person. There were harsh words and lies. There was manipulation and control. There were ultimatums and consequences. I didn’t have a partner. I am not staying forever because I was not loved as Christ loved the church.

Abuse is not okay. This is another sensitive subject. I was never physically or sexually assaulted by my spouse. But I suffered many forms of emotional abuse documented over fifteen years of our marriage. I thought I just needed to be a better wife. I thought if I were a better wife, I would be treated better. I felt I deserved the treatment I was receiving. I no longer believe those things. I am not staying forever because no child of God should be abused or threatened by another child of God under the guise of love and marriage. 

My kids. Yep, this is also on the list of why I stayed. I came to a place of realizing that my daughter has been watching me take abuse and would make choices for her adulthood based on what she saw me do. And my son has been watching me and seeing what’s apparently appropriate for how to treat a woman and would make choices for his adulthood based on what he saw me do. I am not staying forever because I need to break the cycle of dysfunction with my children.

My church leadership released me to legally separate. This one is key. I went to church leadership begging for help as my last resort. We were referred to a new couples’ counselor and a mentor couple. We walked this road with our elder and campus pastor. We were each given a lengthy list of things to do to move toward reconciliation. My plea for a temporary separation was backed up as they felt things were just too volatile for us to remain under one roof while trying to put things back together. But when assessed at the end of about fifteen months, the unanimous decision was that I had done all I had been asked to do and my husband had not. They told me I was released from pursuing reconciliation and that the ball was one hundred percent in my husband’s court to save our marriage. They then released me to legal separation which I pursued. I must say here that had my church leadership not released me to legally separate, I have absolutely no idea where I would be today. If I had to guess though, I believe I’d still be married and miserable and nowhere near on the road to emotional health. I believe I would not have wanted to go against the wishes and guidance of my church leadership because of my high respect for their wisdom and love for God. I am not staying forever because they did release me, so I moved forward.

I know I did all that I was asked to do. Staying this long has its benefits. The main one being that I know that I know that I know that I did every single thing I was ever told to do to attempt to save my marriage, and it wasn’t enough. It takes two. I can hold my head high saying and believing that I spent almost eighteen years trying to turn this thing around. I am not staying forever because I did all I could.

My husband counter-filed with a divorce. This was a surprise, I must say.  When one person files a legal petition, the other party must counter-file or submit a response. My husband told me that he interviewed three attorneys and no one would represent him in a legal separation proceeding. He told me that he didn’t want to keep interviewing attorneys. And he told me that I was indirectly forcing him to divorce me. I hadn’t seen this coming. But in retrospect, I believe it was God’s provision of fully releasing for me without me having to be the one to initiate the divorce. I am not staying forever because my husband is divorcing me.

I felt released. I read somewhere that man can release you from a relationship, but only God can release you from a covenant. Months ago, I felt Jesus say to me in my spirit, “Release is coming.  It’s going to get harder before it gets better. But it’s coming. Keep your eyes on me, baby.” And that has all come to pass. It has gotten harder and uglier and messier, more so than I ever imagined. But release is coming and my eyes have stayed on Jesus. I am not staying forever because Jesus released me. 

So bottomline, I am not staying forever because of God.

I am so very aware that my words could possibly be the catalyst for someone to get help, which I find huge satisfaction in. But I’m cognizant that someone else might read these words, attempt to apply them to their situation, and think I’ve just given them permission to leave their marriage.

So as I wrap up these thoughts, I cannot stress these things enough:

  • I believe in God.
  • I believe God created marriage as a covenant to last for the lifetime of the couple.
  • I believe God created marriage as a breathtaking picture of how Christ loves his church.
  • I believe God allows marriages to end when certain sins are committed.
  • I believe the Church is in place to protect and guide individuals and families in dark, confusing situations.
  • I believe God would have wanted my marriage to be healthy and remain intact.
  • I believe all marriages can be saved.
  • I believe God gives us free will.
  • I believe God is bringing about a different kind of miracle in my family – one of healing and resurrection and joy on the other side and reaching out to others with the comfort we have received.
  • I believe no one should walk away from their marriage without first getting as much help as they possibly can and trying their absolute hardest to keep it together.
  • But I believe, when it all comes down, only you and God can know what you need to do. 

May God bless you and keep you as you walk out your relationships in his light and with his love.

(c) Copyright Elisabeth K. Corcoran, 2011

Elisabeth is the author of At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday; One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice (Kindle); He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment (WinePress), In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart (Xulon), and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul (Kregel).

Visit her blog here or watch Elisabeth and her friends spread hope through Africa with Samaritan’s Purse.

Elisabeth is a proud member of the Redbud Writers’ Guild.