“I Messed Up”. Those are Freeing Words!

Frankl
Some of the most freeing words in the world are the words, “I’m sorry. I messed up.”

Why is it freeing?

Because until we can admit that we messed up, we are stuck. We can’t move forward.

See, if your life is a mess, and your marriage is tottering, and you can’t admit where you may have done anything wrong (except choosing to marry him, of course), your marriage will never, ever get better.

Why is that?

When we focus on what everyone else has done wrong, and how we bear absolutely no responsibility for anything bad that is happening in our marriage, then we simultaneously are saying, “there is nothing I can do to change it.”

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Do you get that distinction?

If you did absolutely nothing to cause any hurt that you are feeling, then you also have absolutely no way out. You are completely and utterly a victim.

Is that really what you want?

I have corresponded with some people by email, and with some commenters on this blog, who can always point out a reason why there was absolutely nothing different that they could have done to change the horrible situation they are in. They had no choice. Life was just something that happened to them.

But if life was something that happened to you in the past, then life is also something that is happening to you now. And that means that you have no control over anything.

You can’t change anything.

Poppycock.

We ALWAYS have choices.

Understanding the Choices you Have to Change Your Life

You can choose how you will react when someone treats you badly. You can make the hard choices to get others involved. You can make a radical choice to change your lifestyle, even if your spouse doesn’t change with you. You can pray more. You can love more. You can choose to think differently.

You have power over your reactions. You have power over your thoughts. You have power over your mind and heart. And most of us also have power, to a certain extent, over our money, how we spend our time, what we watch on TV or on the internet, and who we choose to spend time with.

You can change your life, and thus your marriage. You are not helpless.

Here’s how I put it in To Love, Honor and Vacuum, telling the story of 22-year-old Julia, who had just escaped an abusive marriage. She was involved in a Bible study where she would confess her sin and ask God for forgiveness.

“How deplorable!” I thought….But looking back now, I understand the reason for the emphasis on Julia’s own shortcomings. Julia sought to escape the victim role and see herself as responsible for her own actions. As a victim, Julia couldn’t choose anything. But by holding Julia accountable before God, her mentor showed Julia her freedom to make choices. If we can admit we had choices in the past, we can more easily identify our choices now. And if we have choices now, then we also have the ability to change our situation.

Julia in no way claimed even close to 50 percent of the blame for the problems in her marriage. But by acknowledging where she herself had gone wrong–even if it was just in her thought patterns–it was easier to leave her husband’s major guilt behind. She took the focus off of him and moved it onto her own relationship with God. She was gaining freedom to grow unencumbered.

In other words, she was a woman with choices.

One thing that bothers me on a personal level is when a friend comes to me with a problem, asking what she should do. And then I try to brainstorm some different courses of action, and no matter what I say, she has a reason for why that won’t work. She hates the situation she is in, but in her mind, the answer doesn’t lie with her doing anything differently. It lies with someone else doing something differently. And if we’re always waiting for someone else to do something, then essentially we’re accepting the horrible situation we are in.

We complain about it, and cry over it, and worry about it, but we don’t actually do anything about it.

This is not healthy.

How do we get out of this trap? Here are some steps, and I’m going to concentrate primarily on marriage since this is a marriage blog, but this would apply in other cases, too.

1. Recognize that You Chose This Person

When I hear people constantly complain about their husbands, I find this a little curious, because they were the ones that chose that man to marry.

If that’s you, your back is probably up already by what I’m saying. Maybe you wouldn’t have married him if you knew then what you know now, because you only found out some things after the fact. I understand; but then you married him without really knowing him well. Or perhaps you felt like you were in a difficult situation–maybe you were pregnant, or you wanted to escape an abusive home, or you were in dire straits financially.

Regardless, you still chose to walk down the aisle and marry him. So if you are so certain that he is a horrible, horrible man, and nevertheless you chose to marry him, then that also reflects on you. There is something inside you that chose a horrible, horrible man.

My mother married someone who cheated on her and left us for another woman. Within a few years of marriage he had changed quite a bit from the man that she had pledged her life to. Yet she would also be the first one to tell you that the warning signs were there, and she ignored them. She doesn’t sugar coat it; she takes responsibility. And that responsibility has allowed her to move on and build a big and meaningful life for herself. By recognizing where she went wrong, she was able to do some serious self-examination and change her own patterns of behaviour and her own relationships so that she could become healthier. And now she’s one of the most peaceful, confident women I know.

I know many of you are married to very difficult men. I do not mean to say that your husbands are NOT difficult. But the way to find healing and the way to improve your life is to recognize that you did choose him. He is not solely responsible for this negative relationship; there was something inside you that chose him.

We all need the attitude David had in Psalm 139, when he said:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Recognize any offensive way in you. Then you can be free to start making different choices.

And if you start realizing “I chose him”, then you may also start to see the good in him again. Just because your marriage is bad now does not mean that you made a mistake in marrying him. It just means you have problems, and most problems can be worked through, in time. But as we start to realize “I chose him, I married him just as he is,” then you also see that you have a responsibility to live with this man and to make a good life with this man as he is. You can’t use the cop out, “he’s just a horrible husband”, because you still chose him. So there must be something in him that you really, really love. By recognizing our own choices, it takes us back to the things that we do love about him, and it helps us create a foundation to grow.

Seeing the Choices You Have to Change Your life

2. Recognize that You Have Choices Now

You were not helpless then; and you are not helpless now. You can choose what to think. You can choose how to react. If the situation is dire enough, you can get other people involved.

Perhaps you may not be able to change the big problem: the huge debt; his pornography addiction; your infertility; his lack of libido. But you can change the way you think about the problem.

You can choose to lose yourself in God. You can choose to be grateful for what you do have. You can choose to do the right thing, even if your husband doesn’t do the right thing. And the amazing thing is that when we start changing things, like our reactions, or our gratitude, or our prayer life, we do end up changing the relationship. Right now there’s a balance in your relationship. It may be an unhealthy one, but you are in balance. You each do certain things, and that is what’s normal.

Now you don’t like that normal. So the way to change it is not to wait for him to upset the balance; it’s for you to upset it yourself. Do things differently, take the choices you do have, and you will change your relationship as well.

Viktor Frankl was imprisoned by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II. If anyone had little power to change his circumstances, it was him. And yet that was not the way he saw the world.

Let me leave you with some quotes from that great man:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.
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I know many of you have difficult marriages, but God is asking you to acknowledge that you do have choice.  With Him nothing is impossible; and the work that He really wants to do with you is on your heart, not your circumstances.

Today, can you say with David, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me…”? That is the route to real change.

Have you ever felt helpless, but then realized that you do have choices? Tell me about it in the comments! And here’s a rule for the comments: anyone who gives a list of all the things that have happened to them without saying how they had even a little bit of choice WILL be challenged by both me and other commenters (let’s hold each other accountable!).


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Abused children WERE helpless then, but are not helpless now (when they are grown up). I would also say the same for rape victims. I know your focus is on marriages – I would just hate for any survivors of either of these situations to feel like they are accountable for what happened to them. They are not. They are only accountable for how they react to those circumstances. Thought-provoking post!

  2. Very good article Sheila, thank you for posting those. I think it important to note, that it is not only women who find themselves in this situation, but men as well. I may be one of the few willing to talk about it, but here goes. As a child, I was raised in an abusive home, with a nasty divorce that occured when I was around 13. As an adult, when I left the home circumstances, I realized that there was not only a world I didn’t know about, but a self I didn’t know as well. In the process of growing (thank you United States Army), I found new meaning in my faith, several experiences where I was visited by God, and a realization that there was much I didn’t get, or messages I got in error, from my youth. I found there are plenty of resources available, if, I say if I chose them. Thankfully I did. I still brought baggage into my marriage, made some poor choices, but I saw them after the fact, and changed my behavior, my heart, and importantly, my actions. I am not done yet, and never will be. My choices to grow, and be a better version of myself, or the man God wants me to be, requires that I continually look at my part in marriage, and life. Now with four, soon to be five young children, the choice to grow and improve is not only affecting me, but these beuatiful young lives I have temporary charge of. At some point, the marriage and family they know now, will be repeated by them and passed on. I owe myself, my God, my wife and my children, a healthy, honest and upright life. My marriage has been in trouble for years. My wife may not be doing her part with all her effort, but I can do mine. Doesn’t matter what my childhood was, I am an adult, and I am my responsibility. I deserve to be the best I can be, and so do the others in my life.
    Thank you again for posting this.

  3. ButterflyWings says:

    While I’m not arguing that there aren’t many great things in this article, there is something I feel is outright wrong sorry Sheila.

    ” You can’t use the cop out, “he’s just a horrible husband”, because you still chose him. So there must be something in him that you really, really love.”

    I know I made many mistakes in my first marriage. And yes there were warning signs, but everyone has “warning signs”. We all have sin in our past. In my exhusband’s case, his “warning signs” were things he did before he became a christian and to this day I honestly believe his repentance when he first became a christian was real. It is victim blaming to say women should have seen the “warning signs”. God forgives our pasts! We are called not to judge people by their past. If a man has truly repented of his past sins, who are we as women to deem them as potential bad candidates for marriage because of something they did long ago that they appear to have truly repented on and have not gone near for years.

    And while my exhusband’s history could have been considered a warning sign, many women literally have no warning signs. I used to be really close to my uncle. In everything anyone saw, including his poor wife, he seemed to be a genuinely upstanding, wonderful christian man, which made it all the more painful with what he did seeing prostitutes while being a pastor. No one saw it, no one – not his friends, not us his close family, not his wife, not the leadership of his church – not a single soul saw any warning sign.

    What everyone loved about him was a lie. Yes my aunt chose him, but she had no clue that what she loved about him never really existed. And they are not the only couple I’ve seen this happen to. When someone becomes a bad spouse, sometimes there genuinely are no warning signs. It’s one of the sneaky ways the devil sucks people in.

    No one is perfect in a marriage. As I said, I’m well aware of the mistakes I made in my first marriage, some rather giant ones that nothing but hindsight made them visible as mistakes. But some women DO have really horrible husbands where their marriage simply cannot be saved. Sometimes that thing in your spouse you thought you loved was just a lie, it never existed, it was just a pretense by a cunning manipulator.

    And as for having choices… yes there are always choices, and no matter what happens in life we can choose to not lose our faith and keep our love for God and rejoice in the good things He gives us even if they seem few at the time, but we also have to face the reality that while we may have choices, we may still be trapped between a rock and a hard place. The choice between leaving and an abuser and becoming a single parent for example can often been the choice jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. While it is important to keep our faith in God no matter what, we also need to accept that some times physical “choices” aren’t much of a choice.

    Our attitude is our choice but sometimes our circumstances are not. for example leaving an abusive spouse – if they choose not to change, we are stuck with the choice of staying in an abusive marriage, or facing the shame, the stigma and the poverty of being a divorcee and possibly a single parent. We can choose to keep a good attitude, but our attitude won’t change the choice of the pain of abuse or the pain of a broken marriage. Sometimes our choices are nothing but pain no matter what we choose. We can choose to keep a good attitude but it feels like the above article downplays the limited choices some people have.

    I work in healthcare – I often meet people faced with the choice between living a few months normally before death, or living a few years with invasive painful treatments that make their physical quality of life extremely poor. Both are terrible choices and there is no third option. Yes these people can choose to keep a positive good option, but at the end of the day, it won’t mean their choices of what happens to their life improve. Keeping a good attitude is so important, but we also need to accept the limited choices that some people face.

    my life is full of mistakes, just like anyone else’s, as is my marriage, just like anyone else’s, but having been in some really awful situations, sometimes people have to realise that the only choices some people have sometimes is in their attitude and how they face their problems. Sometimes the problems are unchangeable. The only thing that can change is how we feel and think about them.

    • I have a question for you. How long had your first husband been walking with the Lord before you married him? Did you parents and friends approve of you marrying him with his past sins? Was their a lot of godly fruit in his life when you married him? I am very curious about solid believers marrying spouses with a past, the outcome, warning signs, etc. Thanks!
      Lori Alexander recently posted…Are Women Happier Today?My Profile

  4. LOVE this! Ironically, you and I have been blogging about the same thing! You can be a victim in your story, or the hero. You cannot be both! As both an abuse survivor and an advocate for families, its the most mind-boggling experience to listen to the victim mentality over and over, with no personal responsibility. Do you mind if I blog further and send a link your way?

  5. This is such a great post, and is meaningful in any kind of relationship. I’m really learning to ask for forgiveness whenever I do wrong, and to appreciate the relationships I have. Thank you for sharing this post.
    Osayi recently posted…Praying for your future spouse: InlawsMy Profile

  6. Victor Frankl’s book is one of the best ones I have ever read. I’ve been trying also to teach my children that their attitude (especially a positive one) is important. But as much as I try to choose attitude and reactions to whatever comes my way in life, I often fail. Like I tell my children sometimes, we are broken inside because of sin, and we very often need the LORD’s help to change our attitude. Sometimes it feels good and self righteous to be mad at my husband for whatever I know or think he’s done wrong, or even worse expect him to do wrong! But God is gracious when I come to Him for help. There are many things that are in my power to change – the funny thing is that most of them start with me, and not with anything or anyone else!

  7. My husband lied to me about the income of his self-owned practice when he proposed to me, a mom of two very young daughters (a day and age that you could not do credit or background checks like today.) He said he made a very large amount when in fact he was going deeper in debt every month. He spent the first few years of our marriage living off my child support while I worked full-time in his office and homeschooled my daughters.

    His mother, in the year I spent getting to know them before he proposed, also lied. But her lie was about her caring for, loving, and accepting my daughters and I. Within 6 months of marriage she began to verbally berate me, which grew into years of verbally attacking my daughters and I, and speaking terribly about us to those that will listen.

    How am I not staying a victim? I built up his practice to be self-sustaining, hired, trained and monitored my replacements, am managing the finances, and now that my daughters are adults I have limited contact with his mother, leaving her presence when she starts to be ugly.

    There are other mountains from the past, but they are far behind me. I often wonder what life would be like if there weren’t such huge mountains to conquer?

  8. I am only learning this now. I battle huge anxiety to do with my weight and eating, but what has happened is that whenever I am in a stressful situation (a stressful day at work, financial pressure, etc) I start panicking about whether I am going to eat or not. And my biggest fear is my hubby and I not working out. My parents divorced a month or two after I married (apparently my mom saw how happy we were and decided she wanted some of the same), but they could’ve divorced when I was a baby. And I fear walking the same path my mom walked. But, slowly but surely, through your site and through Joyce Meyers, I am realising that I need to think about what I am thinking about, and choose to react appropriately and differently (by that I mean that I am a Christian and reacting how God would want me to). After having a bad couple of years in my marriage, I am now slowly but surely starting to see the dividends of learning to think and react differently. We do have choices – especially when it feels like we don’t. I am still battling with my weight and I still wake up every morning wondering if today is the day I’m just going to stop eating (there are reasons for this fear – my mother took me to a phychiatrist because I was anorexic, even though I had never been on a diet in my life and that just totally messed with my head), but I need to shake those thoughts and start focusing on the positive. Thank you so much – this post has reaffirmed my own journey of the past couple of years.
    The Baby Mama recently posted…Day 28: Why I’m Not a Pastor’s WifeMy Profile

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  1. [...] this Wifey Wednesday from a few years ago. It dovetails nicely with what I said on Monday about realizing you do have choice, even in difficult [...]

  2. […] the Dynamic in Your Marriage (and changing the things you can!) “I Messed Up“. How recognizing your own wrong (even if it’s minor) can help you change the bigger […]

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