My Marriage Died–But I Cant Find the Funeral

“Is there someone else?” I directly asked my husband.

“There could be,” He replied.

“What do you mean, ‘there could be’? It’s either yes or no. Tell ME!” I raged.

“Yes,” he whispered.

It’s been more than thirty-six years since that conversation. It was the day my marriage died, it was bludgeoned to death. My then husband’s Yes emotionally ripped my heart open.     

I began crying that day. I didn’t stop for a long, long time.

People who haven’t lived through a divorce typically don’t understand.

I’ve spent more than twenty-nine years ministering to the broken hearted, traumatized by divorce. The majority are men and women who wanted their marriage to survive. Their circumstances may be different than mine, but the common denominator is they have a spouse who chose another lover. The interloper might not be a person. It might be booze, drugs, pornography, abuse, violence or narcissism has become the captivating sweetheart.

Divorce has tried to destroy me–twice. First, when I was eight years old and my parent’s divorced. Second, I seriously pondered suicide during my own divorce twenty years later.

I hate divorce.

But I love divorced people. Why? Because Jesus loves them.

Here are a few things that might help others to understand:

  • Divorce is a Death

Regardless of the circumstances divorces signifies the demise of the marriage. It’s the death of the dream, the death of the vow, and the death of, “What should have been.” It must be grieved over a period of time or the pain embeds itself and comes out later. Many people move on to a new relationship without truly dealing with the death of the first one.

  • Divorce is Gut Level Betrayal  

When “I Do” becomes “I Don’t” the gut response is excruciatingly painful. It’s a rejection like no other. The person that you thought would be your lifetime partner, your soft place to fall during the hard times, the one person you could trust when the rest of the world turns its back on you is now saying, “You aren’t worth it.”

  • Divorce is a Soul Deep Accuser

Night and day spousal rejection hauntingly whispers, “You are a loser. You are unlovable. You are a failure. You deserve to be alone. Life is over. You will never be loved again.”

This is true even if your spouse didn’t have an affair. The declarations lurk even when he or she chooses drugs, alcohol, pornography, abuse, or toxic habits over you. When a spouse decides those things are more cherished than the vow they made, when they refuse to stop destroying the marriage —it’s devastating.

  • Divorce Becomes an Identity

After my divorce one of the most humiliating tasks was marking “divorced” rather than “married” on a form. It was a label I hated. When I was single, that term didn’t bother me. But divorce left me with an imaginary huge red “D” stamped on my forehead for the world to see—and judge.

It took a long time, some great friends, and a terrific church to help me recognize that divorce was something I experienced. It was not my identity.

  • Divorce is a Deceiver

It’s common for people to divorce because “I’m not happy”. But very few dig down into the root reasons as to why they aren’t happy. they blame the spouse for not “meeting my needs”, and that may be true. However, often it’s more about healing your soul and deep wounds than it is about the marriage. A new relationship will dull that pain for a season, but in time the new relationship will crash too.

  • Ask Yourself the “Red Flag” Question

In my years of helping others recover from a divorce I ask them, “Did you see red flags when you were dating your spouse?” Typically,  95% of the people in the room raise their hand. And then I ask them “Why did you ignore those red flags?” the room gets very quiet. Then I share “If you dont discover WHY you ignored those warning signs its very likely you will do it again in the next relationship.”

Discovering the why, the ROOT of the why, is the key to moving forward in a healthy manner. “Why did I think it was OK for her to speak to me that way? Why did I ignore his abuse? I knew she overspent and was in deep debt. Why did I expect that to change? Why did I let him ignore me and flirt with other women? WHY?

The answers to those questions are the key to your future. Stop focusing on the spouse’s abuse, addiction, adultery and get down to YOUR why is the pivotal point.

  • Divorce Strengthened and Weakened My Faith in God

On one hand I knew Jesus was the only one who could carry me through the pain. I had nothing. I often contemplated suicide. My life was hanging by a thread. I was certain that Christ alone could rescue me.

On the other hand the overwhelming sense of failure and shame tempted me to run from the Holy One. Haunting thoughts called me anesthetize my agony with things that worked in the “good ole days.” Like a mouse in a maze, I would dart toward God and then run away from Him, in fear.

Fortunately, my Almighty Daddy loves me and He never let go. He worked overtime to woo me back into His loving embrace. He became the faithful Husband I lost. He declared, “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.” (Hosea 2:19-20 NLT)

I totally understand that divorce is a difficult subject for the church. We don’t want to minimize or ignore God’s commands or give the impression that marriage is temporary commitment. Divorce has long term painful consequences whether you initiated it or not. No one knows that better than I do.

However, it’s important to keep the perfect balance between grace and truth when approaching the subject. We can become so dogmatic about divorce that we wound the very ones God loves. It is possible to love the brokenhearted and not condone divorce.

Legalism is always easier than authentic faith. Loving like Christ takes time, patience and work.

cover 2007 when i do

Copyright © 2020 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, stepfamilies, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom, Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal. Laura is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. She has spoken at the Billy Graham Training Center and has been featured on Focus on the Family. Laura and her pastor husband of thirty-four years, Steve, live in GA.