Some of the most freeing words in the world are, “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.
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 say, “there is nothing I can do to change it.”
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 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. 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.
You can’t change anything.
We ALWAYS have choices.
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 and thoughts. 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.
How do we get out of this trap?
1. Recognize that You Chose Your Husband
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.
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 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.
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.
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 each do certain things, and that’s your 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.
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!).