Living year after year under the tyranny of an emotionally abusive spouse can leave your heart seriously distressed. Every marriage endures times of heartache and distress, but prolonged deep distress over the same unresolved issues can end up leaving you devastated in heart, mind, body, and spirit. Take a moment to consider how you may be at risk of these pitfalls.
1. LOSING YOURSELF
Over the years, I often knew I was unhappy, but I never realized my personhood was fading away. Worse, I was morphing into someone I did not want to be. The decline was so subtle and gradual over such a lengthy time, I ended up disoriented and depressed.
So how can you know you're headed for disaster from distress?
Take note of your demeanor. Do some of these ring a bell?
Why can't we notice the decline in our personhood as it's happening? Well...several reasons.
Think about it. What attracted you to your husband? What are his qualities? Some of the reasons we endure being deeply distressed is that the good is comingled with the bad and destructive. If we look back, for quite awhile, the good even outweighs the bad. We have children together, and good times with friends and family. We're making financial progress as a couple and accomplishing some of our goals. He may even be giving and kind in many ways.
In addition, especially, as Christians, we want to endure when things get hard because we believe God wants us to persevere. He does not want us to walk away from a marriage lightly. However, He does not want us to stay at the expense of our own self-destruction.
Women can really beat themselves up for being unawares, but you must believe that disorientation is the outcome of emotional abuse over time. Not only can we not assimilate who we've become as things get hard and harder, we also can't bring clarity around the fall of the relationship nor articulate our feelings and perspective.
So what are you enduring in your marriage?
For me, some of what I endured was my husband's lust, porn, and his surrounding lies. I endured his treating my feelings and emotions like a mental illness. I endured his minimizing and treating my past trauma of being sexually molested as if it were my fault. I endured his financial entitlement in our home and business, as he acted as a sole proprietor instead of as my partner. When my husband took on a business partner against my wishes and behind my back in the business my father gave me, I knew our marriage had serious troubles. There was ample betrayal over the years long before his continued infidelity brought our marriage to an end. Once I had some healing under my belt, I was able to reflect back and recognize the abuse.
Are you expressing your concerns to your husband as I did, but he doesn't take ownership to change his behavior? Can he not ever bring himself to apologize to you? Does he refuse to treat you with respect and align with the mutuality that should exist in marriage? His indifference to the hurt you feel over the way he operates in your relationship is what can eat away at your core, the deepest part of you. A wife's heart takes quite a toll when her husband lives however he wants, leaving her feeling hopeless.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12
Once you realize something's got to give, what should you do? My recommendation before doing anything, is to hit your knees and cry out to God to come to your rescue!
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
As you surrender to the Lord and His direction, watch Him open doors for you to walk through. I remember His provision well to me as I sought Him. Before I knew it, I was in a betrayal class where just a week before, I had nowhere to turn. One opened door led to another, and soon I was in therapy getting godly counsel spoken into my life.
Proverbs 4:20-27 talks about guarding your heart because all of life's issues flow from it. We're to receive God's words deep within our heart for our healing. We need to listen to God's words, pay attention, and then walk in obedience.
What happens if we don't get the healing we need from God? All too often, not getting healing can lead to sin. When we don't surrender to God's help, it's human nature for our "coping skills" to kick in. However, instead of helping, what's really happening is that these "coping dysfunctions" will kick us while we're down. In the book of Jeremiah, God spoke of His people needing healing from their sin. They were to obey His words and turn from their sins. From that repentance His response of forgiveness would come, and healing would result.
Prior to surrendering and crying out to God, I obsessed with anything that would distract me and relieve my inner pain. I filled my head with theological doctrines. I consumed myself with my kids adding activities continually. I read and shared my knowledge on anything to do with health and vitamins. I exercised obsessively, becoming a fitness and weight-lifting junkie. I watched as much FoodNetwork and HGTV as I could fit in. And sadly, I became an alcoholic, though I preferred to call myself a “wine enthusiast”.
Distractions these were! Pain relief these were NOT! Sharon Hersh wrote an eye-opening book called The Last Addiction. Hersh explains the cyclical behaviors of a covert addict trying to relieve their pain. Ironically, as I read this book, I identified countless things in myself as well as in my spouse.
Another great resource for me was When Godly People Do Ungodly Things by Beth Moore. This study explains the dynamics of what happens when our pain leaves a void in our heart and we do not seek the Lord diligently to heal us and fill the hole.
One of the lowest times in my life occurred after finding that my addictions didn't keep the pain numbed long enough. Sadly, I tried to fill the void in my heart with another man. Although a person can mask the pain more than other things, sin was only pleasurable for a short season. Conviction set in, repentance came, and I confessed the affair to my husband. One day after church, I started to go forward to ask my pastor for counsel, but my husband stopped me and said we'd work through this ourselves. I wondered why my husband wanted us to keep it to ourselves rather than getting the help we desperately needed! I later realized if my secret was out, his secrets would get exposed as well. If emotional abuse and infidelity don't kill a marriage, collusion will. Collusion is hiding secrets, and hiding is done in the darkness. Once we surrender our situations to God, you can rest assured He will bring you into the light. He will only heal us in the light! It's critical to reach out for help, and confidentially expose our situation so we don't keep suppressing the pain inside. That is lethal!
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:21
3. HEALTH DECLINE
Emotional stress causes our bodies to weaken. Not only can we become susceptible to a plethora of acute and chronic illnesses, but our bodies become at risk for injuries. Numerous women have come through my classes with health issues, some very serious. From all my past obsessive reading on health, I could write a health article, but I won't! I will boil it down to the basics – eat clean, sleep well, and exercise daily. Although sleeping well is a rarity among betrayed women, as we heal and take our thoughts captive, more restful nights come.
4. BAD DECISIONS
If you can avoid decision making while you're deeply distressed, PLEASE DO! Of course sometimes we are thrown into situations where a decision is forced. Some women come to class thinking they need to make an immediate decision to stay or leave their marriage. Give that decision plenty of time and prayer. God has a way of letting us know if and when we should stay or leave. The first goal should be to become close with the One who holds your future and knows exactly what you should do. During my struggles I read In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart by Ruth Graham – even the daughter of Billy Graham made bad decisions after her husband's affair, by rushing decisions rather than taking the time to heal.
There's no need to make a horrific situation worse. As much as you can, take your time. It's important not to feel rushed in your recovery. Don't let others dictate your pace or your decisions. Ponder and pray; read and reach out.
Pause and Ponder
Have you fallen into any or all of these "pits"? If you have, take a deep breath, pray, and seek out the help you need, whether through a friend who can pray with you and help you think through your next steps, a support group to come alongside you with fellowship and direction, or a godly therapist who can care for your mind, heart and soul. You might need all three! Of course in all of this, don’t forget good, physical self-care.
You are in a hard, trying season of life. Take the time to evaluate your situation and seek to rest in God.
I Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our cares on Him, for He cares for us, and Philippians 4:19 promises us that He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Laura serves as the Executive Director on the board of HER. She is passionate about helping betrayed women who struggle emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and financially. She has been leading weekly marital betrayal support groups for several years. Currently, Laura connects with leaders, writers, and counselors, to unite the efforts of those who share a burden for betrayed women.
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