I often wrestled with whether or not to leave my husband during the many years we limped along through his addiction to pornography. One night, after yet another interrogation, I threw my wedding ring across the bedroom at him, believing I could not sit through another lie. I looked into his eyes for some sign he wanted to change, some sign there was hope for us, but his icy, callous, steady stare seemed to assure me there was none. During those times, I was so torn. I knew God had different plans for us, and for him, but how long could we keep doing this?
Throughout the past couple posts, I have described how dealing with a spouse’s struggle with pornography can be like watching your hopes and dreams burn up in front of you, leaving a pile of smoldering ashes. The drawn out pain of suffering can make you wonder how much more you can take. There can come a point you just want someone to throw a bucket of water on your ashes to give you relief from the pain. That’s when it is difficult not to walk away. You just want to leave behind the painful view of the destruction, the suffering, and the unanswered questions.
We’ve walked beside many friends as they have questioned if they should walk away. One of them called this week and thanked us for battling with them as God restored them and painted a new beginning for them over the past year. But one concern she expressed was that she wished someone would have assured her it was okay to choose to leave if it would have come to that.
That is so hard for me because I want so badly for both spouses to fight for their marriage. I want to see what God brought together never to be separated. But I also know, there are times one spouse does not choose to fight for the marriage, is not seeking help, and puts the other spouse in physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional danger. There are times God opens the door to walk away. And above all, it is our role to love no matter what choice someone makes or what motivation they have.
But there are times outside of those circumstances when those smoldering ashes make it difficult to see clearly and walking away is not only appealing, it seems necessary. Times your heart begs for relief.
Here are 5 things to help you make difficult decisions and guide you through those times when the overwhelm has hit its peak:
- Find someone to walk alongside you.
In these times, or preferably before it gets to this point, I urge you to find someone to help you to higher ground and allow you to see from a different view. It can be so difficult to open up to someone and be vulnerable with your life and your marriage, but having someone help you step back far enough to get out of the smoke can allow you to see what you are unable to see when you are right in the middle of it.
It’s important to pray about whom you should open up to. I initially made the mistake of opening up to someone whose response and advice hurt me deeply and kept me from reaching out again for quite awhile. Not everyone is in the place to give you Godly counsel. God will lead you to the right person if you ask. After I prayed, God sent me two incredible gifts – friends who believed in my marriage before I did and gave me fuel to keep fighting for it.
- Allow God to work in your heart and mind.
As you look at your situation from a different perspective, ask God to show you the ways He is using the fire to create something beautiful in you, despite the way it feels. When there is a fire in a forest, it looks threatening and destructive, but it can actually be what saves the overall life and vitality of the forest. As the fire burns, it “cleans the forest floor of debris, opens it up to sunlight, and nourishes the soil.” A fire can actually make the forest stronger and healthier by clearing out the bad and preparing it to receive the good.
God is at work right now, right in the middle of smoldering ashes. The fire is hot and it just plain hurts, but that same fire can be used to clear out the things that block the Light and make your foundation stronger and healthier. The Bible refers to it as a “refining fire” that burns off impurities. Job says, ““He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” A goldsmith knows the gold is ready the very moment he can see his image in it. Our God is there as we feel the burning of suffering. He will not leave you or forsake you. But He will allow you to endure the refining fire so that His image becomes clear in you and you “come forth as gold.” He loves you too much to leave the impurities when He knows you are meant to be gold. Beloved, persevere while the fire does its work. Don’t walk away too soon. It may not feel possible at this very moment, but there are ways you will grow in this time that cannot be learned from any other season of your life.
- Take care of yourself.
It is very difficult to make good decisions when you are tired or depleted. I always had a hard time taking time for myself because I thought it was taking time away from my family, but I learned that I was a much better mom and wife when my tank was full. It doesn’t mean we need to overindulge ourselves, but taking time for yourself is a major part of healing and can help you make better decisions.
Some ideas to help you take care of yourself:
- Spend time with God every day reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, and journaling.
- Get 8 hours of sleep, if possible. Lack of sleep is linked to increased anxiety and depression.
- Eat healthy as much as you can. Studies have found that eating healthy can also help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Exercise – going for runs or walks every day gives you a chance to clear your mind, improves mood and sleep quality, and reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue.
It is good to ask for help. Allow people to come alongside you so you can carve out this time to heal and be healthy.
- Talk to a counselor.
Sometimes we feel like our husband is the one who needs the counselor, but talking to a counselor is a great way to have an unbiased person to talk to about our circumstances. They are trained in ways to help us find better ways to see our circumstances and they can give us tools to confront them in a more positive way.
- Stay in the day.
Matthew 6:34 in the Message translation says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Write down things that you know are true about yourself and God and preach them to yourself over and over. I made a “Battle Plan,” a 2-sided sheet of paper that I took out anytime I started to feel like I couldn’t fight anymore or anytime I started believing I wasn’t worthy or good enough. It was full of truths I needed to keep right in front of my eyes such as:
- “You are always and dearly loved by God! So robe yourself with virtues of God, since you have been divinely chosen to be holy. Be merciful as you endeavor to understand others, and be compassionate, showing kindness toward all. Be gentle and humble, unoffendable in your patience with others.” Colossians 3:12 TPT
- “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8
- “For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you… and He will give you victory!” Deuteronomy 20:4
JUST KEEP SWIMMING
You may feel like you cannot take another day. You may feel like you are broken beyond repair. You may feel like there is no hope for your marriage. You may feel as if God has forgotten you. I felt all of those same things. But, beloved, feelings are so deceiving. Even a good line in a movie can have us crying our eyes out over something that has never even actually happened, so I encourage you not to trust those easily-influenced, up and down (and up and down and up and down) feelings that we tend to rely on to make decisions; often even life-altering decisions.
Those feelings will tell you that you need to be done. Our bodies were created to escape from pain, so it is no surprise we often have the desire to bail when we feel deep pain. But so often, that pain clouds us from seeing there is hope ahead.
There is a fantastic example of how deceiving our feelings can be in the story of Florence Chadwick, who swam across the English Channel twice and was an accomplished swimmer from the time she was young. One foggy day in 1952, she set out to swim from mainland California to Catalina Island, a 21 mile swim through shark-infested, icy-cold water. A boat, which included her mother, rode alongside her during the swim, but it was so foggy that day, she could barely even see the boat. After swimming in the cold waters for fifteen hours, she felt she could not continue. Her mom called out to her, urging her to keep swimming – that she was almost there, but Florence, cold and exhausted, decided to give up. As they pulled her into the boat, it became clear she was less than a half mile from shore. How discouraging it must have been to have come all that way, only to give up a half mile from shore! When reporters interviewed her, she told them, “All I could see was the fog.…I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”
It wasn’t the fog that caused her to give up. It was how she felt. After knowing she was so close, her perspective changed, as did her feelings. With new information came a new feeling; a feeling that would have changed her outcome and led to victory.
I was so close to giving up on my marriage, honestly. But at the moment the shore felt the farthest away, God was hard at work, doing things I could not see. At the same moment I was about to walk away, my husband was on his knees in complete surrender for the first time in our marriage, and I had no idea. I was so close to missing the amazing restoration God had for the both of us and our marriage; the beautiful masterpiece He is able to use to encourage the weary hearts of others in the same prisons we’ve been in.There may not be a lot you are certain of right now, but one thing I would guess you are certain of is how foggy things are. To think there is hope ahead may not seem possible, and you may not want to go on. But, in the insightful words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.” There is more ahead for you once the fog clears, but you have to surrender how you feel and keep pushing for the shore, even when you want to give up. Instead of relying on how you feel, allow God to help you see things from a perspective high above the icy-cold, shark-infested waters or smoldering ashes. He has a much better view.
– Mel Anderson