Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

I’ve been pondering this part of the love chapter from Corinthians 13. It’s bothering me and maybe that’s good.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. 

In spite of how bad my marriage can be, my husband is not all bad. He can do nice things. He can be charming and witty. He is highly intelligent and can speak well on variety of subjects. He can be generous. But I used to naively think that when those nice times happened it meant a change. That things would be better. I’ve never had an apology.

So I tried to keep no record. And I was led to believe that all the reasons he was angry were my fault.

Ripper_Grunge[1]In spite of my masters degree in counseling psychology, I’d never taken a class on abusers and the psychology of emotional, verbal or physical abuse. I had never heard of gaslighting. According to Wikipedia it’s defined to “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

So for all my education, the fact is, I was gaslighted as a kid too. So it took far longer for me to recognize this for what it was. Abuse.

My spouse is financially controlling. He refuses to give me money. He hides his money (even though I live in a marital property state).  He’s blamed his financial failures on me. Any struggles in his business are never his fault but someone else is always to blame.

There will be months of getting no money to buy simple things, like feminine products, dog food, shampoo or even a box of hair color since I’m not allowed to get my hair cut. So when he’s about to leave town and hands me a $50 bill I say thank you but am not deluded in thinking that he has suddenly become a loving and caring husband I’ve longed in my heart for.

Then there are the repeated broken promises. More like manipulations to get his way that he never fulfills. Or just another way to string me along to pull the rug out from under me and watch me crash. Again, usually around areas where he would have to spend money. “We’re broke” is his frequent excuses as he indulges in whatever his heart desires to buy.

I work hard to forgive. I leave the justice for my husband’s abuse in the hands of God. With no repentance there is no relationship between us beyond negotiating the care of our children. But when the good things come I know have to remind my romantic wishful heart of the core of who my husband is: a narcissistic abuser.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. I don’t have a physical list. I have friends who know the truth who can remind me when I get agitated about his mind games. They can remind me that he’s lied about money before. That he’s hiding money and using these concepts to abuse me. And they also remind me that God has always been faithful. God has always provided for my needs.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. There hasn’t been love in our marriage for a long time. Yes, my husband is an image-bearer of God. So I’ll work hard, with God’s help to treat him with respect even though I rarely receive that in return. But in order to stay grounded in a truth and fight the gaslighting, I have to remind myself of the harsh reality of the emotional/verbal/financial abuse. I don’t have bruises or broken bones to show.

Now because some will read this and tell me to leave – I’ll say this again. When God tells me to go, I will. In the meantime I will remind myself of the TRUTH. My husband is in name only. He does not love me as God commands. He may not even be capable of that. But God loves me and when HE says it’s time to separate, I will take that step in obedience to Him. In the meantime I will carve out a life for myself outside of that relationship. I will lean into God and seek to grow through the pain.

And I will keep a record.

 

Twisted (poem)

Like a wet rag in your hands

my heart is twisted

until every drop

leaks out my eyes.

But God

collects every one.

I Didn’t Know I was in an Abusive Marriage

For years I struggled with my marriage. Depression and health issues made it even harder to get through a day once I quit working to be home with my kids. To top it off, we moved and I was more isolated. Funny thing, me being trained as a counselor that I didn’t recognize the abuses that had been going on for years.

I wrote my book while blind to this and I still stand by the truths I wrote  in there. I need those truths.

I understood about verbal abuse early on and with counseling, found ways to fight it as well as recognize that it was something I also had a tendency to engage in. I worked hard to eradicate all sarcasm out of my speech.

I’m not an arguer. I hate fighting. My husband has bragged about how great our marriage is because we don’t fight.

I found out early on it wasn’t worth it. I could never win. Early on I would refer to my “know-it-all” spouse as “Dr —–” It was not meant as a compliment. I now recognize it is more likely a narcissitic personality disorder. You can’t really win a fight with someone like that because anything you say can and will be used against you in the future, or twisted to make you begin to wonder if you are sane.

I really didn’t “get it” that I was being abused though until I heard Beth Moore speak while promoting her book “So Long Insecurity.”  She talked about not giving away our dignity. Then she said this in her book: “Whether male or female, any person who enjoys and exploits another’s insecurity and sensitivity is an emotional predator.” (pg 247) Beth then goes on to cite the Apostle Paul as writing about emotional predators. Whoa! How did I ever miss THAT in Scripture?

But he does:

“For men wil be lovers of self, lovers or money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God: 

holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.”

(2 Timothy 3:2-5 NASB)

I’m not here to point fingers though. Only to say, I didn’t know. And not everyone in a difficult marriage struggles with abuse. And how do you avoid someone like this when you are married to them? Even if seperated or divorced, it’s hard to avoid someone you may have had children with. They will likely always be in your life.

But Beth Moore is right. We don’t have to hand them our dignity on a silver platter only to have it smashed to smithereens by neglect, financial strangleholds, emotional blackmail and verbal harangues. And then there is physical abuse too which is usually more easily identified but no less easy for a woman to cope with in a marriage. (Please, always be safe and get wise help and counsel if you decide to leave ANY kind of abusive marriage).

Coming to grips with truth about abuse though involves two main issues: 

  1. I have to own my sin. Am I pure and blameless? Have I never been abusive? Where have I failed? Sometimes confessing those sins to an abuser can make you more vulnerable to abuse. I have at times, when I’ve realized I’ve been wrong, confessed in a calm moment in the relationship (timing can be everything) and it has been something that takes my husband off guard completely. In those moments God has protected me from those moments being used to abuse me. In many ways that alone reaffirms His faithfulness to me.
  2. Knowing that your marriage is abusive is not a happy thing. The more you learn about abuse and how pervasive it is, the more you have to grieve in what you have lost, not so much in your marriage (because you probably never really had it) but what you had hoped for and deserved as a Christian wife. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Once you move past this though, and learn to walk in dignity (a good therapist who understands abuse as well as a great support system is essential), the easier it is to hold your head up and grow in your understanding God’s love and compassion for you.

I didn’t know I was abused. I do now, even though my husband denies that (yes, I have identified behaviors as such and it was not well recieved).

God never condemns us. Even when we fail, He is there with his loving arms ready and open to lavish his love. It may not change the reality of our circumstances if we are seeking to preserve our marriage until the Lord gives us permission to leave, but it grows us in ways we would never experience otherwise.

Do I wish I had never been abused? Absolutely. But I also recognize that God has and is continuing to use this as a refining fire in my life and as a platform to bless others. I’m humbled to part of His bigger plan.

He knows and sees your pain, Dear One.

Blessings, Lilly Grace

Abuse of Emotion

I often felt alone, even as a child, even though I had several siblings quickly added to our family.

I was a girl, three boys followed and it seemed that they were more special than me. I also have two much younger sisters that came later.

My mom didn’t  know how to cope with my frizzy mop, or my hyper-sensitive nature. I developed asthma and I think now that it wasn’t due to allergies (although there is a component of that) but that it was due to anxiety.

I was told just how much my medication cost a month and how they couldn’t afford it. What I heard was “You are an unnecessary burden to our family and we resent you for it.”

Ah, the travesties of childhood.

I would walk a mile home from school and I can remember dallying on the way. Spinning with my arms wide open and looking up at the sky hoping that maybe, just maybe, God could see me and that in spite of messages I heard, HE loved me.

I was told later by my family that NO ONE would love me. I picked scabs (probably an obsessive-compulsive behavior as a way to cope with stress). I was told no one would love me with those scars.

In puberty I gained weight. Potato chips were a comfort food given early on when my mom didn’t want to deal with my emotions. No human comfort was available but food soothed. Then I got messages like: “She would be really pretty if she weren’t so fat.” I would be called “bubble-butt” and “thunder-thighs” and led to believe that my weight made me unlovable. Ah, but this wasn’t bullying in school. This was my daily home life.

As I struggled with depression as a teen I was told, when I fessed up to my feelings, that I was being manipulative, trying to get attention.

With all that rejection, there wasn’t much motivation to try hard. No one cared about my grades, or my successes. Getting a top score in solo-ensemble I was still told by my mother that I didn’t support my voice enough. Nothing I ever did around the house was good enough.

I’m a flawed human. That much was clear from early on.

Sometimes I think back to that little girl with frizzy hair and two pigtails that curled in frizzy ringlets who looked up to heaven for approval and I cry. God? Can you see me? Can you hear me? Is my picture on your refrigerator? Does anyone think I’m special?

All these years later I still struggle. It wasn’t “safe” for me to share my emotions, much less my hopes and dreams then. It’s not safe to do so now. Sharing emotions and dreams only leads to abuse from people who were “supposed” to love me.

And I struggle to be a healthy person in the midst of an unhealthy, emotionally abusive marriage. I haven’t found the balance. How do I experience my emotions in away that is safe for me? Holding them in and feeding them potato chips or sugar doesn’t make the problem better. Sharing them puts me at risk of more abuse. S0metimes I feel so needy and I”m afraid to overwhelm friends with that lest I find that they too are put off by me.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Sometimes I avoid journaling because I’m afraid of my feelings. I get discouraged at the chronic nature of my difficult circumstances. Will I ever NOT grieve the loss of a dream of a man would love and cherish me? I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how thin I get neither him or my family will love me for who I am. It’s a losing battle to even try to curry their affection.

And God? He loves me just as I am. Right here. Right now. Muddied emotions, scars and flab. HE looks beyond it all and he values my hopes and dreams because HE placed them in my heart. He values my efforts to serve because HE called me and equipped me to do it.

Now if I could only get my head and my heart to live fully in THAT reality.

How about you? Have you struggled to deal with emotions in the midst of difficulties and lack of validation?

Lilly Grace

Victim of Well-Intentioned Divorcees

I’m pro-marriage.

I won’t condemn someone who chooses another path. I haven’t walked in their shoes.

What I do have a hard time with though are those who have, willingly or unwillingly,  taken the route of divorce and then turn around and tell me that’s what I should do.

I don’t rule out separation at some point but God hasn’t lined things up for me to do what could lead to that.

So the thinking is that if you are abused – leave. Jesus walked away from abuse so we can to. True. Jesus walked away from PHYSICAL abuse. And I agree. If you are being hit – get out NOW. It doesn’t mean divorce, but you need to be safe.

Jesus didn’t always walk away from verbal abuse. Sometimes he told a story to confound them. Sometimes he pointed out their sin and hypocrisy. Of course when you look at the end of his life he didn’t walk away from the physical or verbal abuse at all. He endured it.

I’ve also been told that IF I love my husband, I need to confront his sin. Tell him what’s wrong and confront it and draw a line in the sand and take the consequences. Well…. I’ve confronted my husband before and only was abused more for it (verbally). Others have also confronted him and pretty much have been blown off.  I pick my battles now, based on what’s best for me – not his eternal soul – since he’s made it clear I have no business even thinking about that.

God’s word does say to walk away from a person who is repeatedly unrepentant.  God also hates divorce and he has not made a way for me to separate. So I stay. As I do so, I hear well-meaning Christian people telling me I should leave.

I resent this. Isn’t this my life to live before God? Aren’t I supposed to be following HIM and His Holy Spirit (along with wise counsel? Not everyone tells me to leave!) So why does that mean your choice is also best for me?

Why does this bother me so much? Because they have freedom and I don’t? Well, I’ve seen the cost of that freedom and it doesn’t come cheap.  It bothers me because while I understand how well-intentioned those people are, they are in fact, re-victimizing me all over again. Now I’m not only a victim of my husband’s verbal/emotional abuse, but I’m getting it from people in the church. Just a different group than those who would be condemning me for leaving if I chose that path instead. I can’t win.

So that leaves me in a bit of a no-man’s land (hahaha! Except he’s still here!). I don’t always love my husband. I struggle to pray for him. I don’t always care that much about my marriage. In many ways I’m done. I’ve walked away emotionally and spiritually even though I physically share the same address.

Does that shock you?

I struggle with grace in my circumstances and it can cause me to spin my wheels in my own self-care when I feel that sense of “I’m not doing enough to save my marriage.” I’ve tried. Trust me. I have. For the sake of my own mental and spiritual health I can’t do it any more.

I will treat my husband with respect. I will submit where I can. I will model and try to teach my children to respect their dad even when his actions are anything but deserving of such. And I will try to move on to a full life in the midst of my difficult marriage.

So please, don’t put me down for staying. This is not an easy path to trod, but I do know what the choices are and the consequences and for now, under the authority of the Holy Spirit at work in my heart, this is the path I chose.

Blown Up Bridges

I’m going to say from the outset – I’m PRO marriage. I’m for sticking through it even when it is tough and feels hopeless.

I find it interesting though that those who have more tenuous reasons for divorce, especially over instances of ongoing verbal (which includes, emotional and financial) abuses tend to be pro-leaving. Now,  not all are like that, but I found it interesting when I was trying to get editors and agents to consider publishing my book, Lessons from the Trenches: Staying in a Difficult Marriage that women who had left argued for me to leave too.

I’m not judging them for divorcing. It may not have even been their choice. The end result though is that they are free from the ongoing assault and want others to share that freedom.

I get it. I really do. I know that verbal abuse can have health impacts far more damaging and long lasting than physical abuse and that it can escalate to physical abuse and that women who chose to leave find themselves in the most dangerous period of time ever.

But God hasn’t given me permission to leave and I first and foremost have to obey Him. It is painfully difficult. It wounds deeply.

I thought about how in wartime, enemies would blow up bridges to keep their opponents from moving forward. A marriage with a verbally abusive spouse is like trying to cross a blown up bridge. Planks are missing, the railing is gone and  the supports are broken. Sometimes you have to jump to get across the empty spaces and my legs are short.

In real life, no one would even attempt to cross a bridge like that. But in a marriage, when a spouse has blown up the bridge with his words and actions, it takes great faith to take those steps and not abandon the bridge. If this were a physical bridge – you would be considered a fool to cross. Even with the marriage bridge blown to smithereens, many would consider those who stay equally foolish. Grenades explode all around. Bullets fly. If we seek to walk as Christ did, we don’t abuse in return.

Sounds painful. Impossible. Insane. One therapist I saw told me I had to leave. This was toxic. And he was right – it is toxic. But we don’t criticize a family stuck in a house filled with black mold making their kids sick, because they stay. We can understand how hard it would be when you have a mortgage and you can’t sell the home and how are you going to live when your money is invested in a home that is worthless?

But isn’t it like that in a marriage? No one is going to bail you out and make it easy. I know from walking alongside friends who have made the choice to leave, just how gut-wrenchingly painful it can be. Sure they have some freedom from the abuse but they also carry other heavy burdens as well. The grass isn’t always greener.

God is faithful. He has been my support when the under-girding of my marriage has been decimated. He helps me over the gaps and helps fill in the holes with his presence. It still hurts. Many times I wish I could jump off that bridge into the world of single motherhood but to do so without His holding my hand would be suicide.

So I stay. And it hurts. And I despair the bridge ever being able to be rebuilt because my spouse refuses the tools available to him by the Master Bridge Builder, the only One whom I can trust.

Blessings. Stand firm.

Lilly Grace