Did you divorce for the wrong reasons?
Yesterday I wrote a post on how often women justify leaving unhappy marriages by claiming that the guy was abusive when it was just that they didn’t really care for each other’s hearts well. And I showed the difference between what divorcing looks like when it’s justified and when it’s just a woman trying to find her freedom.
Some people commented that it was judgmental; wouldn’t it be better to write in the theoretical–here’s how not to divorce for the wrong reasons? I understand the criticism, and I have written before on when it’s okay to leave and when you should stay in your marriage. But the main reason I took the approach I did is because I was setting everything up for today’s post: I want to talk to the women who have already separated or divorced, and who now realize that they were not justified–that they were acting selfishly, and that the divorce was wrong.
Please note: This post is NOT intended for people who divorced years ago, are now happily remarried, know they made a mistake, and have experienced God’s grace and healing in their relationship with their kids (and even their ex-husband). God’s already done His work–Yay! This post is really intended for people who have walked out of their marriages recently and who are just now realizing that what they did wasn’t right–and want to know where to turn now.
What do you do now, especially if you’re remarried?
On one of my speaking trips this year I read the book I Do Again by Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs. It’s a story of a couple who got divorced, and then seven years later remarried. Cheryl was the one who asked for the divorce; she later had an affair and was engaged to another man before she realized that she had been wrong. Then she spent years praying for the marriage to be restored, and it finally was. It’s a really good read.
I’m not writing this post, though, to tell you all that you need to get back together with your ex-husband. That may be true, and it may not be true. I have absolutely no idea. But I think that the approach that Cheryl took when she realized that she had made an error was exactly the right one, and it’s what I’m going to recommend to you today. So I’m going to tell you a bit of Cheryl’s story.
When Cheryl and Jeff started dating, it was a whirlwind and it was exciting. But when they married, they had never really learned to communicate. And as they took new jobs and gave up old ones; as they had their twins; as they started to live busy lives–she felt more and more distant from Jeff, because he didn’t know her heart. And because of the fact that he didn’t realize that she was hurting, he thus seemed heartless (although she had never opened up to tell him something was missing, so how could he know?).
She says, “We rarely argued because we simply avoided conflict.”
She goes on,
I wanted to share my dreams with him but thought he’d think they were far-fetched, so I dreamed by myself. I did not even know how he felt about his job or being in Los Angeles or what his childhood family life was like. I had no idea what kind of music he liked, his favorite foods, what thoughts swirled around in his head. We lived a polite type of life, always trying to guess what the other person wanted or needed or thought.
It was a shallow marriage. And after years of that she started to really resent Jeff. So when she met a guy at work that she clicked with, finally it seemed like someone knew her heart.
She ended up leaving the marriage, throwing everyone into a tailspin, simply because she and Jeff had never actually communicated on a deep level. But Jeff was totally heartbroken, because he had never known the extent of her pain, and all of this seemed so sudden. He grew resentful and bitter, even as they both tried to work on raising their twins together.
After they split up, Cheryl pursued the relationship with the other man. But increasingly it felt wrong, and at the same time she joined a church. She started hearing what God wanted for marriage, and heard concepts about communication that she had never known. She felt torn by all this confusion, and sought out a Christian counselor, who listened to her whole tale about wanting to understand what God really wanted for her life and how her marriage had gotten so messed up. The counselor told her:
I have to be honest with you. If you want healing, it’s going to be a lot of work. You’ll need to spend a great deal of time journaling and getting face to face with yourself.
And then he explained what would be involved in their counseling.
Today I want to give you the same challenge:
If you want healing, it’s going to be a lot of work. You’ll need to spend a great deal of time journaling and getting face to face with yourself–and with God.
I can’t tell you what to do about your former marriage. I don’t know what you should do. But God does. And if you’ve done wrong, you need to understand what was wrong, why it was wrong, and you need to see how you can move forward. And you can’t do that unless you’re also listening to God.
So this is what I recommend:
Take a Self-Imposed Time Out
Cheryl started getting up at 5 in the morning and journaling like crazy. She was able to spend a lot of time on her own because Jeff had joint custody of the girls, and she was on her own during that time (her boyfriend lived in a different city).
You need to hear from God, and that means that you need all distractions out. If it’s possible, here’s what I’d recommend: Get away, by yourself, for a month, if possible. A month to just listen to God. A day won’t do it; a week likely won’t either. You need some serious time of meditation and journalling and listening.
Ask your ex-husband to take the kids for that whole time, and recruit other help if you can. If you’re re-married, tell your current husband that you need some time off, but not because you’re second guessing your marriage (divorcing him is wrong, too, since he’s now your husband!) You just need to figure out how to act right going forward, and how to honor your current wedding vows while also honoring your ex-husband and kids and God. Assure him that it’s not that you want to leave him, but simply that you need to hear from God and make your heart right.
What Should You Do On Your Time Out?
You obviously may have to go to a job, but try not to do anything else. Turn off the TV. Unplug the internet. Get some Christian music to listen to and some great books to read or some devotionals to read. (I’d recommend I Do Again just to read about how God spoke to Cheryl and what it looked like). And just sit in the silence. Get comfortable with silence.
Here’s what I often do when I’m trying to hear God about something:
- I journal what my thoughts are right now and I ask a specific question and write it down, so it’s there in black and white.
- I read the book I’m reading and see if it addresses the question.
- I read the devotional and the Bible passage and I see how it relates to that question
- I journal down anything I’ve read that pertains to it and anything else that comes into my head.
Here’s why I do it in that order: when I write the question down first, then it’s easier to see how God is actually speaking to you. You can’t just say “that’s a coincidence” or dismiss it because your question was there in black and white, and it’s obvious that God is replying.
So what should you ask God? Here’s the order I would use:
1. Ask God to let you see your heart.
Are your motives selfish right now or are you seeking God’s best first and foremost? Be open to see if there is “any wicked way in me.”
2. Ask God to reveal your sin.
Where specifically did you sin? With your husband? With your kids? With someone else? Write those things down, so you can see it in its ugliness and get honest with yourself.
3. Ask God to let you see your children and your ex-husband through His eyes.
How are they being affected by the divorce? Ask God to let you see the areas in their lives where there’s deep pain or where they’re not handling it well.
Ask God to let you see your ex-husband’s heart, too. How did he fare?
4. Ask God to see yourself through your children’s eyes.
That’s a tough one. This takes down all the pretences. How do your kids now perceive you? Are there areas of your life where they can’t talk to you anymore? Let yourself feel that pain.
5. Ask God what real repentance will look like.
Now that you’ve had a chance to be honest about your sin and about how your ex-husband and your kids are faring, ask God what real repentance would look like practically in your life.
Don’t have any preconceived notions. Ask what it means for your relationship with your ex-husband, your current husband, your kids.
You may be thinking, “But wait, Sheila, are you hoping God is going to tell me to leave the guy I’m seeing and get back together with my ex-husband? That’s never going to happen!”
I’m not saying that. I don’t know your situation. But I do know this: you made decisions when you were not right with God, and so now you need to make decisions when you are right with God.
Your happiness will not be the main focus of that decision; Repentance, grace and love will be.
It may mean breaking off other relationships you’ve started and deciding to be single for a while to rebuild your relationship with your children.
It may mean rebuilding a relationship with your ex-husband, but it also could be that he isn’t willing to do that. It may mean writing a letter of apology to him and trying your best while raising the kids to show him respect and walk with integrity, even if you don’t always agree with what he does.
It may mean staying with your current husband, but working on building honesty and openness with your kids, where you are willing to accept their anger and hurt and encourage them to speak it. Only then can you ask them to embrace your current husband.
I don’t know what it looks like. But God does. And I believe that if you are honest with yourself, He will start showing you something. Listen to those feelings and promptings.
The hardest thing to do is to face your own heart.
Please don’t rush this process. It will likely take a week or so before you even start to feel like God is speaking to you. You’ll feel like you’re battling, like there’s no one there, like your prayers are hitting the ceiling and nothing else. But keep at it, because as you fight in prayer and labor in prayer, you will find a breakthrough. You will hear God. And He will show you what to do, and how to do it.