I believe the healing journey after divorce could be lifelong. Now, eight years since my divorce was finalized, I still have not arrived at a place that I feel everything is healed and restored. My innocence was lost. As I’ve shared before, I have scars from the lying, gaslighting, and manipulation that I experienced. I have a hard time just trusting people without questioning their motives. And I have trauma responses that never seem to end.
The person I was before my marriage is gone; she no longer exists.
Side note: This is not to say I haven’t worked through the anger, the resentment, and the bitterness that keeps so many people stuck, unable to heal after their divorce. I have worked on my healing and I feel whole again. And I don’t hate my ex-husband or his new woman (I actually feel sorry for her). I don’t wish ill on anyone. They might wish ill on me and I might wish they’d get over it, but I have learned I can only control myself. And I know that no one who holds onto grudges years and years down the road lives in peace. Now, I choose to live in peace every day of my life (as far as it depends on me); that which doesn’t contribute to the life of peace I’ve created… has to go! This is a thriving life.
My Identity Lost
I freely gave up my identity to be “Ryan’s* wife.” To be part of the large, loving, and kind family I thought I was gaining. I gave up the Christian town I had built my life in, the church I had attended twice a week, where I felt most welcome. This was my family after I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. But wanted to be closer to his family and his factory job, so I moved.
•Fictious name used
While living in West Michigan, I had an awesome job, with so much flexibility, as the Circulation Manager at a large newspaper. I loved my job and the people I was working with. I was talking to an organization that helped first-time homebuyers build a home (similar to Habit for Humanity, my time and sweat would be my downpayment). I had paid down a ton of my debt and I was starting to save money for the future because of all the mentoring I had received from strong Christian friends and neighbors.
That all changed when I moved across the state to get married. After the wedding, I had nothing but laundry to do and dishes to clean. So, I took a little job at a coffee and sandwich shop next to the laundromat where I washed our clothes. Soon after the fights started. He didn’t mind the extra money but he didn’t like that my time was divided. I wasn’t doing enough as a wife. I wasn’t home every evening to make dinner. I was asking him to help contribute. That’s not how things were supposed to be, so I quit my job. (Looking back, that would definitely mean I was trapped at home for many, many years. And I was!)
My Role as Submissive Wife
He never came out and said he wanted me to be a submissive wife. That wasn’t a term either of us used. But towards the end, I knew that’s what I had become. It upset me that this was what made him happy. I stay home, cook, clean, and raise the kids while he goes off to work and play. Social life, of course, he had one. He worked hard and I “just stayed home” (nothing too taxing, right?)! I couldn’t ask him to “babysit” (while I went to school or out with some church girlfriends) because he was tired after working all day and deserved some alone time. No extra expectations!
I think he thought I should be like his mother, always taking care of my husband and kids while they were enabled to do nothing but enjoy life. I stopped doing anything for myself or for my own enjoyment. My life was supposed to be centered around taking care of my family; I had no other identity beyond wife and mother. And for many years, I believed that about myself too. I didn’t have any other passions in life. My job and life WAS my family. I worked so hard at this job it started affecting my physical health (my cross to bear).
I was led to believe that this was why God placed me on this earth. My only purpose was to please my husband and raise my kids to be good little Christian clones of other perfect Christians. I even wrote blog posts about this for a time. I read all the books and prayed over my husband as he slept asking God to give me the godly marriage I knew other Christians had (what the books said my marriage could and should be if I tried harder and submitted more).
Then, one day my husband saw (the late) Rachel Held Evans on a morning talk show speaking about her book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood. She shared about how she called her husband Master and stood at the gates of her town with a sign that read, “Dan is Awesome!” (Side note: Her husband, Dan, is a feminist–who believes in equality–and not an abuser so he just thought her year-long “Biblical wife” experiment was interesting. He didn’t use it to gain power and control over her as an abuser would. I finally read the book and it’s not anything like how my ex-husband made it out to be. Actually, the opposite, very women empowering!)
After seeing the short promo about the book, I was asked if I would do that (stand with a sign proclaiming my husband as my master) as only a good wife would. We had just moved to be closer to his work (and his new “friends”). I was isolated once again in a new town with no friends. Baking homemade bread and making Crockpot meals multiple times a week. Homeschooling two of my three children, including field trips, and trying to find a new church. And I was sick with my yet-to-be-diagnosed Lupus (with organ involvement). I just couldn’t take anymore!
I No Longer Took Care of Myself
I’ve had people ask me how I think I was stricken with Lupus. After talking to several specialists, we decided that I was under a lot of stress during my entire marriage (well, multiple affairs might do that!). I spend all of my time taking care of my family. When I was not feeling well, I was made to feel guilty for needing to rest or told I was faking for attention (eye roll!).
There was no time for rest or relaxation. The person I was before I married would have taken care of herself, just as I do now. But during my marriage, I didn’t feel I had that right to do that. How selfish of me to think that I should come first at any time or in anyone else’s life!?! How selfish of me for getting sick! And my mother-in-law knew people with Lupus who ran marathons so… “at least it wasn’t cancer!”
There were two choices ahead of me. Kill my body physically and emotionally trying to stay in this unloving, adulterous, abusive marriage. Or just give up trying. I chose the latter. I had to learn how to take care of myself for once. No one else was going to do it. My children weren’t taught that moms should take care of themselves first. They were being taught that my life revolved around theirs. I only existed to be used by them for their purpose. My only job was to take care of everyone else, even at my own expense.
How Do We Fix This?
Self-Worth (God-worth––knowing who God says you are), self-love, and boundaries! Yep, I had to learn boundaries during and after my divorce. I had to learn that I have worth beyond taking care of others. Learn that I had just as much right to rest after a long day staying home and taking care of the house and the kids as any husband did. I had a right to tend to my own needs. A right to my own passions and desires. And I could actually take care of others better only after I took care of myself. (Funny how that works!)
Also, my life purpose in life wasn’t JUST to be a wife and mother––I have found a pretty awesome purpose as a Christian Female Empowering Writer, Author, and Divorce Coach (and I love what I do!). I can’t even imagine what life would have been like after all my kids were gone and we became empty-nesters… if I had survived that long. There definitely would not have been any thriving going on!
Is divorce the only answer to losing yourself during your marriage? Probably not. Or least not in every case. If you can set up some boundaries and get your husband to understand that you deserve just as much loving-kindness as you give him, then maybe things can turn around. But with a narcissist, who always expects to be first in their partner’s life, then no. Honey, loving him is only hurting you! Divorce might be the best and only answer.
Did you lose yourself in your marriage? Feel free to share your story below. Your real name is not required.
May God bless your healing journey,