Posted by: minnow | June 24, 2012

Broken Promises

On Tuesday May 22 I told my husband that I saw our marriage as irreparably broken.  I don’t remember the exact words but essentially I said I thought we  needed to both become healthy and that I no longer believed either one of us could get healthy if we stayed together.  I came to this conclusion because in 27 years of marriage we have not been able to or have not chosen to be healthy and I finally need to be healthy more than I need to be married.

The last month has been a little like navigating a river in a kayak without a paddle. My husband was not expecting to hear what he heard.  I could argue there were signs, that he could have known if he wanted to know but the truth is, his experience of our marriage and my experience of our marriage  has not been the same which for me is part of the problem.  His insistence that if we both try we can fix what is wrong with our marriage and my perception that we have tried and have failed to change is evidence to the fact that we don’t see our past or present situation the same way.  I am not saying our marriage has only been miserable.  Nor am I saying my husband thinks it has only been good.  I am saying our perceptions of what makes it good and what makes it miserable do not line up; they bump into each other some but they are not the same and for me some is not enough.

When I vowed until death do us part, forsaking all others, in sickness and in health, and for better or for worse I had no idea what keeping that promise would look like or feel like.  What I thought I was doing and what I was actually doing were not the same.  I did not realize we were both already sick or that our lack of health would so profoundly impact our marriage.  I could not have known all the others I would eventually be expected to forsake, especially since some were not even a part of my life yet.  And, I did not understand then what I do now–that a marriage can die even when the two people in it physically go on living.

I do not want to cast blame (on my husband) or make excuses (for me) which makes talking about how I got to where I am difficult.  I assume some of what I say will sound to some readers very much like blame and excuses.  You see, I believe sharing one’s journey can be valuable and explaining why and how and the lessons learned along the way often includes what can be interpreted as a blame and excuses component.

Without detailing the last 27 years of my life I need to say this about where my husband and I started our marriage.  In his roles as friend and lay-leader (within formal Christian fellowships), my husband was and still is an amiable, loyal, generous person.  He is also hard-working and creative.  He was brought up with conservative Christian values most of which he still holds.  I don’t know anyone who knows my husband, friend or co-worker, who hasn’t enjoyed being with him.  I, on the other hand, have always been on the outside of groups looking in and have a somewhat pricklier personality.  I too was raised with conservative values but they were more political than religious.  When we got together I did not think too highly of myself partly because I had been in two emotionally damaging relationships already.  I saw my husband as a kind person and a safe choice.

The over arching influences in our marriage were the conservative evangelical, though at times charismatic, church families in which we immersed ourselves.  As a result I spent the first twenty-two years of married life trying to recreate myself in the image of the selfless servant, Godly wife, and protective loving mother portrayed in all the women’s conferences and  lady’s Bible study I attended.  The multiple Mother’s Day sermons I sat through were just one more reminder of what I must do as a wife and mom to please God.  “Submit as unto the Lord” became my mantra.  The contemporary version of the Proverbs 31 woman became my role model.  And, the Love Chapter: I Corinthians 13–love is patient, love is kind, never envious or proud, self-seeking or rude, love never keeps account of wrongs, always forgives, and never fails–became my rule book.  But try as I might to let go, forgive, support, submit, and love unconditionally–in short, to deny myself–I only managed to deaden my emotional core.

The “divorce is not an option” tenet  most Christian counselors, pastors, and lay leaders function under is a trap.  This philosophy is especially dangerous for women, like me, who find themselves in complementarian marriages–marriage in which the husband has the final say in all things.  Because the practice of complimentarianism rarely lives up to its asserted ideal and Church leadership is notoriously reluctant to confront marital abuse, an atmosphere of oppression often permeates such marriages. Since for so many years leaving was not an option for me my response to the hurtful behavior within my marriage was different from what it would have been had I felt free to leave.  Reinforced by the self denying image of a Godly woman I’d been fed through religion, I tried to forgive, let go of, and excuse hurtful behavior rather than confront it.   Because my husband faced few repercussion and no ultimate consequences he had little motivation to change.

When I began to climb out from under the oppression of religion five years ago and wake up spiritually I also began to wake up emotionally.  As I faced the lies I had allowed to control my life and my choices I needed to also admit to my complicity in my own oppression and how I had continually allowed myself to be manipulated.  The layers of anger and distrust created by the years of negative behavior, ignored hurt, and wishful thinking killed my hope for a healthy marriage.  Without pointing fingers backwards, I must now take responsibility for my situation.  I am breaking the vows I made to my husband, before God, and in the presence of a church full of witnesses.  And, if that is sin, then I confess myself a sinner.  But, I cannot say I repent for I have no intention of taking back my decision.  Even if I thought it was possible (and I don’t) my desire to do the work to get healthy together has also died.


  1. […] wrote this post in June of 2012 when I thought my marriage was about to end.  We even told our children we were […]

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