When should you give up on trying to get your ex back?
Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I know most of my readers are married (this is a Christian marriage blog, after all), but a lot of people in crisis marriages also land on this blog. So there are plenty of separated/divorced people who also send in questions. And here’s a heartbreaking one that I’d like to tackle today:
I’ve been divorced for 8 years, and during all that time I have tried to reconcile with my husband. It’s just not working, but I’m scared to move on. When do I give up on my ex? When have I done enough? And what if I really want it to work?
I want to start by telling you a story.
When I was just getting started writing and speaking, in my early 30s, I was asked to come and speak to a MOPS group. I gave a talk about how to keep your priorities in order and how to feel as if you’re making a difference even in the diaper/temper tantrum years. The talk went well, and at the end everyone was mingling around eating some snacks.
An older woman who hadn’t been in the talk approached me. She explained that she was a grandma, and as a way of serving her daughter she acted as one of the baby-sitters for MOPS, so her daughter could enjoy the socialization and the teaching. So she asked me for a synopsis of what I had said, and I gave it to her.
She smiled as I explained, and nodded vigorously.
Oh, that’s so wonderful that you’re teaching these young women to rely on God in everything. I’ve had to learn that in the last few years. My husband left out of the blue 5 years ago to be with another woman. He spread lies about me and turned many in my family against me. It was so difficult. I lost my house and so much of my self-esteem.
My heart went out to this poor woman. That’s so awful to have a spouse betray you like that!
But then she said this,
But God has promised me that my marriage will be restored. I read verses about how God restores what is broken. I put them on post-in notes all over my apartment, so that when I doubt I can read them and know that God will bring him back. I pray all the time about it. And I have peace that one day my marriage will be saved.
And at this point I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, though, and so I left. But while driving home it suddenly hit me what I should have said. I don’t know who that woman is, and so I could never communicate this to her. But now, when I speak, I always share to the audience what I wish I could have shared to the woman:
“I am glad that you have faith that God can bring your husband back. But do you have faith even if he doesn’t?”
Because isn’t that the point? God needs to be the centre of our faith and not a reconciliation. That’s why this truth is so important:
Your life needs to become about God, not about winning your ex back
That doesn’t mean that God WON’T bring your ex back. But ultimately, after you have been through such a trauma, you are really hurt. You’re beaten down. And you’re often desperate to get the marriage back together, thinking that this will fix your broken heart. But it won’t, because that kind of pain can only be fixed by God. And once He does this great healing work, so that you know that whatever happens, God will carry you, then you are whole again. You are strong again.
And if your marriage has any chance of working again, you need to be whole and you need to be strong.
Ironically, your marriage’s best hope is for you to let go of your marriage and cling to God. To do that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the idea of reconciliation. It’s just saying that your faith if based on God, not on your marriage, and that you know that you will be okay.
Let go of the dream of your ex-husband and get real
When a marriage breaks up there is usually a reason. In my story, the husband had left his wife. I don’t know what is happening with my reader, but I know many on this blog have had to separate with husbands who wouldn’t give up a pornography addiction, or who refused to work and squandered money, or who had affairs. But even though they couldn’t live like that anymore, these women often have difficulty letting go of the dream of their husband.
They could still see the potential–they could still see what the marriage could be like if their husbands would just get their act together. And because of that dream, these women had a difficult time moving on.
Letting go of the dream does not mean that you let go of the idea of reconciliation. But you need to stop living in the “what ifs” and start living with what is real.
Be honest about where you are at and where your husband is at, and reconciliation is not a healthy or wise idea right now, then put it out of your mind and focus on the now.
I am not saying that this is easy. This is likely the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever have to do your whole life. You can’t do it alone; you need a good church community and good friends around you–and often a good counselor. But it is the wise thing to do.
What is the right thing for me to do in the here and now?
If reconciliation isn’t possible, because your husband hasn’t gotten real about the steps that he needs to take, then you need to start living in the here and now and take steps to make your own life better as it is in the present.
Get some schooling or get a job if you have to support yourself and your children. Find a great church to be involved in and start serving. Start an exercise regimen to help you feel better about yourself. Move closer to other support systems that you will need, if necessary. Get your finances in order. In other words, do things that will help you so that if things stay exactly the way they are right now, you (and your children) will be in a better position. If you refuse to do these things because to do so seems like you’re saying “the relationship is really over”, then in the long run you’ll likely hurt yourself.
Look, sometimes if a relationship is in really bad shape, the best way to turn it around is to give someone a big jolt and help them to realize the consequences of their actions. If he knows you are waiting in the wings to take him back at a moment’s notice, what incentive does he have to get his life together? But if he realizes, “she’s serious. We’re not getting back together until things change,” then he might do something.
That’s what the book Love Must Be Tough teaches you, and I highly recommend it for people in this situation. It shows how the worst thing that you can do is to show your ex that you’re always available to him, that you’ll always take him back, that you’re always there. Groveling does not work. Having sex with him when he comes over to visit you, when he’s not showing any kind of remorse, will not work. You need to show him, “this is who I am without you, and even though I don’t want to be alone and even though I’d rather be with you, I will choose to be without you and I will get on with my life until you show me that you want a real marriage.”
But when do I date again?
Ultimately, though, what I think women are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to date again? When can I actually move on?”
I can’t answer that one for you, except in generalities. Every situation is different. In some cases there are definite biblical grounds for divorce, and in some there really aren’t. (That being said, even if there aren’t grounds, if he has abandoned you by not reconciling, then that becomes a biblical ground, in and of itself.) In some cases he has made a lot of progress, or he is fixing things, and you do need to wait and give him a chance.
I had a friend who left a marriage, telling everyone it was because of his porn use and his cheating. The problem was that these things had been in the past, and he was working at making them better. Soon after she left him she started dating someone else, and she is now remarried. She claimed she had biblical grounds, but the fact was that he was getting right with God at the point where she started dating. That is not right.
One rule of thumb: I think it’s dangerous to get into a new relationship too soon. I’d give it at least a year and a half, if not two years, after a split with no sign of reconciliation. You need to give him time to change his mind, but you also need to give yourself time to heal, because otherwise you’ll be going into a new relationship with a lot of baggage.
That’s not set in stone, but I do think it’s wise to give some time, and likely the more the better.
Does God ever bring about reconciliation?
Absolutely! In fact, if you want a great story of reconciliation, my friend Juana Mikels has just written a book called Choosing Him All Over Again, where she shares her story.
Thirty-five years ago Juana left her husband. He didn’t give her what she needed, he didn’t know how to show her love, and they were drifting apart so fast she didn’t think there was anything left. They had only been married for two years, but it had all gone downhill.
A few months after their break-up, Juana started attending a Bible study. She became a Christian, and realized that the break-up was not her husband’s fault. It was hers as well. She hadn’t given selflessly in the marriage. She hadn’t loved him properly. And now she wanted him back!
There was just one problem. He was seeing someone else and had no interest in reconciling. Juana had hurt him too much.
So now what was she to do? She continued to draw closer to God and decided to just show her husband unconditional love. And after months and months of that, her husband’s heart began to soften. It took a long time to rebuild the marriage that Juana had already torn down, but God did it as He slowly started to change Juana’s attitude.
It’s a great story of hope–check it out here!
So, yes, God can rescue marriages. In fact, God loves picking up broken pieces and molding them back together again. He’s in the healing business. But sometimes the thing that He wants to heal is YOU, not your marriage. So chase after God now, and focus on God, not just on your marriage. And then, no matter what happens, you will find you still are strong.