“When are we going to give up?” I sank to the couch and leaned over my knees. “We make each other miserable.”
“Everything’s fine.” The scratchy depth in my husband’s tone reflected just how far from fine we were.
“Wouldn’t you rather be with someone who makes you happy?”
“I am happy.” He retreated to the kitchen. “I made dinner. Call the kids.”
Divorce averted—for now.
The Divorce Discussion
Pat and I had repeated the divorce discussion on a quarterly basis for fifteen years. But I couldn’t take much more. Tired of the loneliness and conflict, I just wanted him gone.
Those living the Perfect Marriage, or at least pretending they were, found it easy to judge. “Think of the children.” “What will people say?” “You made a commitment.” “Christians don’t get divorced.”
There’s advice out there for people whose spouses have left them. But what if it’s the other way around? What if I did the leaving? What then?
Maybe you’re drowning in the Marriage That Went Horribly Wrong, the Marriage That Seemed Right at The Time, or the Marriage Marred by Adultery. Maybe, like me, the temptation to turn and walk away pulls at you stronger every day.
I knew I was trapped in the Marriage That Wasn’t Supposed to Be the day after the honeymoon ended. After our short three-day getaway, we settled in to our first night alone in our apartment. We were prepared—rings on our fingers, candles lit around the bedroom, an emerald silky nightgown, and a King-sized bed.
Sometime between lighting those lilac candles and donning the nightgown, I got the flu—double-over-the-white-porcelain-bowl-gut-wrenching flu.
My husband abandoned me on the cold tile floor while he sprawled across our bed snoring, cat curled by his head. Why wasn’t he rubbing my back? Holding my hair? Couldn’t he hear the horrendous retching? I’d left the bathroom door open—it was an easy rescue.
Pat was supposed to take care of me. He was my champion. My savior. My knight. The guy who’d signed up to meet all my needs after my dad left my family.
Three days into marriage, disillusioned didn’t begin to describe what I thought of “two shall become one.” Was this my life now?
Fast forward eighteen months. We moved cross-country from Wisconsin to Los Angeles—for me to go to graduate school. A month after we’d left our family and friends, I was done. Done being lonely. Done meeting his needs when he refused to meet mine. Done with him not being able to figure out what was wrong.
After granting myself custody of our only cat and our only car, I drove to my cousin’s house in Georgia, dwelling on all the ways Pat failed me. He didn’t communicate. He didn’t listen. He ignored me. He only touched me when he wanted something. The list went on. For. Two. Thousand. Miles.
Five months later, I was still lonely and unsatisfied.
God Answered My Prayer in His Own Way
I returned to Pat mostly because it was the right thing to do, praying, “Lord, you’d better give us a good reason to stay together. I know you hate divorce. But I don’t love him.”
A few months after our reconciliation, I discovered I was pregnant.
Parenting is hard when your marriage is working. I don’t advocate getting pregnant to hold a marriage together—ever.
But God is a personal God, and He knew what He was doing with me. As the product of a messy divorce, He knew a child was the one thing that might give me incentive to listen to Him when He asked me to stay and work out my marriage.
I did stay. And I wish I could say things changed right then, but I’m a slow learner. Instead of working anything out like God asked, I compared other people’s marriages to ours, envied their relationships, and held on to the idea that Pat and I had made a bad choice in each other. In the back of my mind, I thought he’d eventually leave me the way my dad left my mom anyway.
Over the next thirteen years, we had ups and downs—less of the first, more of the last—and mostly coasted in the in-betweens. It wasn’t a dangerous or abusive situation. Nobody hit anybody, nobody drank, nobody stayed out all night with someone they weren’t married to. But nobody was content. Nobody had peace. Nobody felt loved or cherished or wanted either.
The day my oldest son was diagnosed with cancer, the coasting came to an abrupt standstill.
I always thought what drove couples apart during a crisis were the new issues they were forced to face. Instead, all our old stuff boiled to the top, like a pressure cooker without the valve. Cancer unearthed every single issue we’d buried. Nothing was off-limits. The divorce discussion escalated in frequency and volume.
Three years into Kyle’s battle with leukemia, Pat received a job offer a thousand miles away in Dallas, and he had to be there within two weeks. I pushed him to go, waving goodbye as he drove down our street in his packed Toyota assuming I would sell the house and follow with the kids as soon as possible.
Secretly, I played over the idea of how easy it would be to stay here. If I filed for divorce in a different state, would he really fight me for custody of our kids? I’d lived the motto—it’s the right thing to do—for years and no matter how much I’d cried, pleaded, and begged both Pat and God for our relationship to change, it never did.
The next logical step felt like filing paperwork. But I held off because of what my parents’ divorce had done to me.
The Turning Point
Single parenthood wasn’t easy. A week into life without my husband, I began to “see” all the stuff he’d done when we lived together as a family.
At first it was small things like taking the garbage out, driving the kids around, mowing the lawn, cleaning the litter box, and making breakfast before school. It soon became things like having no one to talk to at the end of the day, no arms to hold me as I cried over our son’s terrifying treatments, no one to squeeze my hand in the car, call me at lunch to ask how I was, or bring home dinner.
I lived a different type of lonely—real isolation—and I didn’t like it at all.
It took me fifteen years, three kids, four moves, single parenthood, and a six-month separation to realize a good part of the problem with our marriage had been me. My attitude. My expectations. My fear he would leave like my dad. My inability to see beyond myself and my disappointment.
All along God had been trying to get my attention. And I hadn’t been listening. When I finally did, I was shocked by what He said. “Where do you need to change? How have you been selfish? Have you ever asked Pat if he’s lonely too?” The list of questions continued. I couldn’t answer any of them.
I had felt ignored, so I’d ignored Pat. I didn’t feel like a priority to him, so I didn’t make him a priority. Same thing with needs. Mine weren’t being met, so I refused to meet his. My unrealistic expectations of marriage had spiraled into an endless, destructive cycle. It wasn’t until I realized what I did have and stopped wanting what I didn’t have that everything changed.
That was when I finally got it. In a marriage, both people have free will. I couldn’t control Pat, but I could control me. I couldn’t make him love me the way I wanted, but I could learn to love him the way he wanted.
The bitterness and anger though, that wasn’t going away on its own. I cried out to God to save my marriage, to do what I couldn’t—change me and Pat from the inside out and heal us where we’d hurt each other.
Not sure how any of this was going to work, I packed up my house, crated the cat, buckled in the kids, and drove to Texas. Because God asked me to.
Continuing the Faithful Work
The next time our divorce discussion came up, I hugged my husband and didn’t fuel the fight. Because God asked me to.
When I felt lonely and hurt, I let it go. Because God asked me to.
I prayed constantly for Him to fill the empty places inside me. For him to be my champion. My savior. My knight. To teach me how to love Pat the way He did. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t painless. But I listened, and He did the impossible. He redeemed a relationship I never believed could be fixed.
That quarterly divorce conversation hasn’t come up in the thirteen-and-a-half years we’ve lived in Texas. Is our marriage perfect? No. Do we fight? Yes. Do I listen to God’s voice when He speaks to me? Most of the time. And it’s still hard sometimes.
The Bible says as Christians to “. . . take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). That means I don’t have to dwell on what’s not happening in my marriage. I can give my disappointments to God and let Him change things. I find when I take the difficult things to God instead of to Pat, I find peace in the ways God speaks into both of our lives.
God created marriage as a blessing, not a punishment. He calls us to do more than just stick it out. Anyone can be miserable in the name of Christian principals. Being content is hard. But how do we stop tearing our marriages apart and let God rebuild them?
Trust Him above all else. Whether the marriage was a mistake from the moment we said, “I do” or years of words have caused what feels like permanent injury or we’ve filed papers or dumped our spouse’s underwear in the driveway and told him to go stay with his mother…trust Him.
We don’t have to understand how God is going to work His miracle. He instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
But we do have to be willing to let Him change us and break destructive cycles.
God is the only One capable of changing hearts and lives. The only One capable of bringing good out of bad. The only One capable of saving a failing marriage.
How do I know?
Because He saved mine.
Lori Freeland is an author, editor, writing coach, wife, mom, and creator of imaginary people—not necessarily in that order. An acquisitions editor for Armonia Publishing, former editor for The Christian Pulse, and regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, she writes fiction and non-fiction in several genres and has presented numerous writing workshops nationwide. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, you can find her blogging at lafreeland.com.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Digitalskillet