Post submitted by an anonymous author to Speak Your Story.
Every marriage goes through seasons of hardship. Most of the time the season lasts only a short time, then normal life resumes. Sometimes it is an intense struggle and you go into crisis mode, where most of your energy is used just to get through the day as you try to manage and alleviate the pain of the difficulty you’re facing. If it lasts longer than expected you can start to lose sight of what you’re doing and why you are committed to your spouse.
Four years ago, my husband’s PTSD started taking over our lives. He was dealing with anxiety and hyper-vigilance. He was paranoid, touchy and intense and it was hard to know how to be around him. The final straw for me was one night when we witnessed a bad motorcycle accident and his way of settling down afterwards was to drink a pint of vodka. He then proceeded to try to carry our daughter up the stairs as he stumbled around. I insisted that he find a counselor as soon as possible to work on whatever he was going through in a more healthy, productive way. He agreed and started going. I naively thought that perhaps in a few months he’d be back to his old self and our crisis would be over.
Fast forward to the present and he has made some noticeable progress, but in a lot of ways things are worse. The baggage he is working though, or maybe I could more accurately say – avoiding – is heavy and feels never ending. He still goes to counseling but his alcohol intake has steadily increased over the years in an effort to self-medicate and numb the pain. He is going through the motions of life, addicted to alcohol and other quick fixes. This has negatively affected his health, his relationship with God, our trust and intimacy as a couple, friendships, his employment and relationships with our kids and extended family.
Many people would advise a person in my shoes to consider separation or divorce. It feels like my kids and I are being cheated out of the life we want and deserve. Instead of looking forward to things and enthusiastically embracing life, a lot of my thoughts are directed towards dreading and fearing what could be ahead or just trying to get through the day. Even so, I feel like I am called to stay. There is no physical or verbal abuse happening in our home, he has not been unfaithful to me. He is not doing anything illegal. He is hurting and dysfunctional, yes, but I know my job right now is to stick it out and continue to hope and pray for him to find healing and victory over his pain and struggles.
If you are in a similar position you know this is a tall order. Quite frankly, if I didn’t have a relationship with God and the ability to love unconditionally through the strength He gives me, I would not be married right now. I don’t get everything right all the time; on the contrary, my behavior and response to him has probably made things worse at times. But I want to share four tips with you based on what I have learned through trial and error over the years.
First, accept the fact you don’t have control over your spouse’s behavior. You can only control the way you handle yourself. Taking that a step further, you can’t spend all your time obsessing or worrying about what they are doing, or trying to manage their life and the fallout from their choices. That is called co-dependency and I was consumed by it for far too long before I realized what I was doing. My counselor recently shared a concept with me called the “barometer of care.” It’s a simple illustration that shows if I’m caring 80% about my husband’s issues, I only leave him 20% of room to care. The more I back off, the more responsibility I give back to him to care for himself. This also gives me freedom to focus on my own goals and responsibilities. Trying to manage two people’s lives is exhausting and NOT how God intended people to live. (Matthew 7:1-5, 2 Peter 1:5-7, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Second, set boundaries and stick to them. If you are a parent with a dysfunctional spouse this will include setting boundaries for your children. If I know I’m going to be away for a night, I find someone else to watch the kids. Most of my husband’s drinking happens in the evening and I know he’s not fully coherent. Leaving the kids overnight alone with him would be irresponsible on my part. Another decision I recently made was not to drink alcohol at home. He still does, which I have no control over, but I can show my kids what it looks like to have a parent that isn’t tipsy or intoxicated, therefore I’m always available if they need me. Setting boundaries annoys dysfunctional people. They don’t want to have rules and restrictions and the fact someone else does makes them feel bad about themselves and can even cause them to lash out or think of you as judgmental or “holier than thou.” This is not your problem and should solidify the fact that boundaries are good and necessary. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13, Galatians 6:7)
Third, don’t give up hope. If you are watching someone live a dysfunctional life, you are grieving daily and that can take a toll on your heart and your belief that things can get better. Satan wants us to feel hopeless and give up. He doesn’t want our loved ones to find victory and he doesn’t want us to stick by them. He wants to destroy the family unit. But God has bigger plans for you and your spouse! My husband is a Christian and I know God will give him victory. It may not be tomorrow or even in this lifetime (sad to accept, but it may be true.) The Bible is full of stories of struggle and hardship. The very essence of Christ’s life was victory through suffering. The Bible does say we will face trials and we will suffer, but this is also the avenue through which we will get to share in the joy and the glory of God someday. These trials sometimes feel never-ending but in light of eternity they are brief and momentary.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Romans 8:25, 1 Corinthians 15:58)
Forth: Live one day at a time. If you are a believer God will work out your situation for your good and His glory. Not everyone is called to stay, and staying may not apply tomorrow if things change. Sometimes marriages have to end. I have watched several friends hold out hope and walk through heartbreaking situations that ultimately didn’t work out. This world is full of pain and sorrow and sometimes our efforts don’t bring about the end we desire. But whether it works out or not, God is sovereign over the details of our lives. (Matthew 6:33-34, Job 42:2)
No matter what the future holds we can be confident in His good plans for us. Contrary to what the world says, marriage isn’t about fulfilling all the desires of our hearts. It is a tool God uses to refine us and show the world a picture of His love. Whether or not you’re in a crisis situation, today your job is to walk in obedience and love. No matter where you are in your journey He is working in and through you. Accept the place you’re in as His will and choose to stay there.
If you find yourself in a similar place, please comment below, shoot me an email, or reach out via social media.
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