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Faith & Culture,  Inner healing work,  Relationships

Removing Divorce Shame – the rumors, gossip and tall tales of Christians who file

When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to grow up to be a mommy and a wife. That was it. That was the dream. I played house for as long as I can remember and was constantly imagining what my husband and family would be like.

 

Marriage, to me, was supposed to be forever. A lasting, committed relationship between me, my spouse and God. I believed that if God was at the center, that it was a bond that could never be broken. That my husband was commanded to love me and I was commanded to respect him.

 

At the ripe age of 18, this was what I went into marriage believing.

 

My wedding day was perfect. The dress, the venue, the décor, the family and friends – it was everything I had ever imagined and hoped it to be. I cannot lie and say that I wasn’t nervous….that I didn’t have doubts and reservations….but those around me told me it was a good match. They said my feelings were “normal” – just the pre-marriage nerves. So, I trusted and I went all in.

 

I was told that the first few years of marriage would be the hardest. That I should expect difficulty in communication as we “learned” eachother. This was certainly the case.

 

Without going into details of my first marriage, I will say that I had no clue how to navigate the waters we ventured into. I didn’t know about dark secrets, anger and violence – I didn’t imagine that intimacy issues and spending nights crying alone would be part of the story….but, whether I wanted it to be or not, that was where this marriage brought us.

 

A marriage is long gone before someone files for divorce.

 

I think that is one of the truths I had the hardest time telling. Because, my husband in many ways, had left years before I filed. But because I left publicly, I was ridiculed and blamed for abandoning my marriage and God’s will.

 

I was asked to leave my church.

Friends who I had loved and cherished for years all acted as though they didn’t know me.

I was now the person “to be prayed for”.

I was the subject of loads of gossip and shame.

 

I was angry. Angry at him – so angry that I said and did many things I now regret. I felt abandoned, forgotten and alone. I blamed the man who I believed was supposed to have loved me and protect me….

 

But, now, nearly 15 years later, I see the reasons for his hiding and secrets. I see the reasons behind his anger and shame. I understand the reasons behind our intimacy issues. I see the damage that was done long before he and I ever met – and my heart can look back and break for the both of us. And, in his own way, he tried to protect me from a world he didn’t want me involved in. And, did his best to control any damage that could land on our front door.

 

In our own ways, we were both trying to be what those around us wanted us to be.

 

After the dust settled, much damage had been done. But, with a little one in tow, we split ways and attempted to rebuild our lives. I formed new friends, a new community and tried to “re-start”. (But, how much did I really know about starting over? I was only 23…)

 

What I did know (or thought at the time), is that good Christian women have families. They have marriages and children….

 

I met and fell head over heels for my soon to be next husband. He was young too, but was willing to take on the responsibility of a young single momma and her little girl. Again, I had reservations, but I was in love. Crazy, wild, hopeful, in-love.

 

I thought this would be when everything clicked. When I would finally have the family I had dreamed about….

 

We married and had 3 beautiful daughters. But, after 10 years, with a tired and aching heart, I filed for divorce. I wish I could tell you that the damage in that relationship was repairable. I wish I could tell you there was a possibility for a happy ending. But, there just….wasn’t.

 

Often, people like myself, don’t want to believe their dream of their family is dying. We want to believe things are better than they actually are. We want to believe that things will one day change for the good. We want so badly to believe…

 

But, after years of what felt like trying to force someone to love me, I just cracked.

People….eventually crack.

 

The shame around divorce inside Christian circles is awful. Down-right close to abusive. We are shunned, looked at as “fallen”, shamed and cut off. There is gossip and rumors and accusations of who is at fault. We are branded as broken.

 

But, I would argue that divorced families are not unlike many Christian married families. All of us are hurting and broken. The only difference with divorced families, is that (at least one person) is willing to expose just how broken their marriage actually is.

 

The person who files is typically the one who waves the white flag and surrenders. They are not necessarily saying they are hardened, bitter and unforgiving. They are simply saying, “I’ve tried everything I know to do and at this point, I am exhausted. I simply can’t do this anymore”.

 

I have faced a lot of scrutiny over the years….and, I would be dishonest if I didn’t say it has been painful.

 

Yes, I filed for divorce.

 

(Everyone knows that)

 

But, what people don’t know, is that for years I fasted and prayed for my marriage to be saved.

 

I filled up countless journals with tear stained pages of my broken, bleeding heart. Although my heart was weary and tired, I continued to do my best to forgive and choose to let go of betrayals and hurts. I tried.

 

What many also don’t know, is that I did all of this behind closed doors. I didn’t wear my pain outwardly, nor did I invite many into these struggles. Because, I deeply loved….with everything I had.

 

However, I too am not perfect. I didn’t do everything right. And I made many mistakes along the way. But, I didn’t want divorce….no one wants divorce.

 

Divorce is awful.

 

But, for some of us, it is the only option we have for peace in our home. And for our hearts to be able to heal.

 

I don’t expect everyone to understand, nor do I blame those who don’t. After all, if you have a spouse who you connect with and can work through issues with, then I completely understand your confusion by those who choose to divorce. To you, it looks like giving up. It looks like we just aren’t “trusting God” enough.

 

I don’t judge you for thinking that way. But, I simply want to offer another perspective. One where the person has trusted God, forgiven and chosen to cover their spouse with protection. And, yet, the pain of feeling unloved is nearly crippling.

 

Instead of choosing to numb their heart, they choose to allow God to walk them through ending a painful relationship. With the hopes of them each finding healing and peace.

 

Another stinging argument I often hear is that those who file for divorce are being selfish and not thinking of their children.

 

I believe that to be very much the opposite. At least it was for me. The environment my children were growing up in, was the number one motivation I had for choosing to divorce. I would argue that sometimes, not choosing to end an abusive, toxic or unhealthy relationship is incredibly selfish when there are children involved.

 

I made a tough call. And, truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have made it either time if children weren’t involved. To me, they deserved a peaceful, loving home. At whatever the cost. Even if it meant ripping my own heart out, they needed peace.

 

What I have learned through all of it, is that good Jesus loving women don’t have to be married to be respected.

 

They need not do anything but speak their truth with dignity and grace, in whatever form that takes. They extend love towards those in front of them – even those who speak unfavorably about them behind their backs.

 

Jesus loving women don’t have to “be” anything other than themselves. And, if they are brave enough to battle a divorce alone, they are certainly some of the strongest individuals you will meet.

 

So, if you hear of or learn of a family going through divorce, please love them. ALL of them. Please do your best to not shame them or treat them like damaged goods. Those who bravely face the reality of their broken home are battle worn soldiers. They are tired. And they are craving peace.

 

Please do not send them messages telling them of a new “series” your pastor is teaching about marriage, or shame them for being “selfish” and not thinking of the kids. Trust me, they have most likely exhausted all possible roads before coming to the point they are at.

 

Simply, embrace them. Love them. And, help them rebuild.

 

Anna

 

Proverbs 30: 21-23: “Under three things the earth quakes, and under four it cannot hold up: a slave when he becomes a master, a fool when he is satisfied with food, an unloved woman who is married…”

 

 

Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.

22 Comments

  • jesus

    Your story reminded me very much of my own, day dreams of a Christian Family, a wife, children, serving in the church together, yet separately, doing life with a community of Believers, all for the love of the Lord.

    Married and divorced twice, by the time I was in my late 30’s. I too faced the shame, as I became a man I did not like, the ridicule from church members who never tried to hear my heart or understand.

    What we tend to forget is that we jag live in a world of brokenness, where the Enemy is still walking around like a roaring lion.

    But God. . .

    Thankfully, six years later, I am back where I started, in the Garden walking with the Lord, and because He is in the business of redemption, the Father has opened the doors to being able to serve in the church, to be part of a loving community that I do life with. Are there still internal struggles left from the pain of divorce, of course there is.

    For al your readers, know that there is Hope, know that there is Grace, and more importantly, there is His Love that never changes for you.

  • bridgetbusby7584

    I’m sitting at my desk at work crying over this. As a single mom of a 7 year old son who went through a tough divorce after 22 years of marriage, the guilt and shame have been there the entire time! I wish the best for my ex-husband and will maintain a friendly relationship with him for our son, but ALSO because we’ve known each other half our lives and have been through so many things over the years. That being said, I’ve continually dealt with hurt feelings that he’s moved on and over the past year has dated and been happy – and people continually tell him how great it is to see him happy – and I have felt stuck, alone, and unloved. I love my church and they are not judgmental, but I’ve had no one step in to ask if I’m ok. I’m not upset with anyone about this, but living in a town where I have no support system, this has been the most difficult part in moving forward. Or when I go home and visit my mom’s church, i get the sympathetic looks, hugs, and reminders that they’re praying for me – all incredibly precious people who mean well, but for some reason it makes me feel even more like a failure. My ex-husband wouldn’t go to counseling with me and for a long time I blamed him for not wanting to work on our marriage, but I have recently come to realize that it had been over for quite a while prior to that. I’ve apparently used my grief, guilt, and shame over the loss of my marriage to allow temptation to try to lead my down paths I would normally not even consider and it has terrified me. I’ve pulled away from God and have become so closed off to others and that is the opposite of my “norm”. In a nutshell, I’ve been unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings about everything and when I read this, it resonated with me so profoundly!! Thank you for sharing!!!

    • Anna Dimmel

      Oh girl. I so feel your pain – that pain of being “stuck” resonates for so many of us. I see you and I get you. But, one thing that I continue to tell myself is that my life isn’t over. It doesn’t “stop” just because my marriage ended. My life – and your life – is an invitation into something new; something really, really good. The beauty in this life is that we are given endless opportunities to try again. Your story is far from over!! Hold your head high and let a beautiful new chapter begin. Hugs to you!!

  • Esther Goetz

    Oh my goodness. My heart is for you and this is beautiful! I am passing this along to so many friends. You have done my heart good and those who I love. I am not divorced and am still madly in love with my husband of 28 years, but THIS.IS.TRUE on so many levels for those I love and know and are going/have gone through. Thank you for your words of wisdom to heal and encouragement and share the truth of what so many don’t see: the fasting, the praying, the tears, the journals, the sheer pain, and then the letting go. Thank you again Anna! I am just a Jesus follower along with you.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Madly in love for 28 years!!! YOU are my hero!! I love that so darn much. Thank you for loving so well; and embracing those around you. You are a precious gift!

  • Sharon Vanhoose

    I was raised that way too ug and I stayed and was miserable. My children never said then but they were miserable. Then my husband left. My daughter told me recently. I don’t know why you stayed married we all would have been better off. She said I love my Dad (and she is a daddy’s girl) but I would have totally understand if you left. Hindsight.
    The hard thing for me was all my friends were married and suddenly I didn’t fit in so it was a total new way of life. It is not an easy road – none of the roads are. I just wish people would let me take my road without telling me how its wrong. God knows where I am going and where I have been and he still loves me.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Hindsight is crazy isn’t it?? So many things we see looking backwards seem so obvious. But, when we are in the middle of them, it can seem anything but clear. I hear you – and I totally get you. Not fitting in anymore once you are “single” is soooo tricky. But, like you said, God knows where you are going and where you’ve been and he is crazy about you just the same. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Hugs to you my friend!

  • Billie

    Wow! This could be my story! I too, walked away from 2 marriages but like you said, the marriage was over long before the divorce. My second marriage was filled with mental and emotional abuse, no physical, but years of anguish. I finally had to walk away with my little girl in tow. 25 years ago I met my soul mate and we have been wed 21 years now. He is everything God wants for me and I thank the Lord everyday for him. When my second marriage ended I too felt shock and shame from my church, pastor included. It took me over a year before I could enter a church without tears. A wonderful pastor and his wife helped me heal over time. Years later I ran into someone from my old church and she told me she wanted to be there for me back then but didn’t know what to say. I told her this, “Be there for the person going through a marriage break up. Invite them for coffee and let them know you care. Don’t turn your back on them. They are in greater pain than you could imagine and they need to be shown love.”
    Anna, my heart aches for those who have to go through what we have. God does not want for His children to suffer the pains of divorce but He knows we are only humans. We just need to keep our eyes on Him. He will lead and guide us all the way.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Your story offers so much hope!! I love that you have been happily married for 21 years now – what a GIFT! I empathize with your friend…so often friends don’t know what to do when they see us in the ring having stones thrown at us. But, your words were spot on: “Be there for the person going through a marriage break up. Invite them for coffee and let them know you care. Don’t turn your back on them….” It’s so simple and so, so good. Hugs to you!

  • Connie Fuller

    Your story could be my story, too, Anna. I remember going to a session at my church for people who were divorced. It was a small group, all women. The first question the pastor asked us was, “Before you got married, what was your plan in the event of a divorce?” Something like that. To a person, every single one of us said, “We didn’t plan for or expect a divorce before we got married!” He seemed genuinely stunned. I never went back. I am happy to say that after 16 years in a bad marriage and seven years raising my children on my own, I am happily remarried for 30 years this year. However, to this day, if my husband and I get in a fight, the first thing he expects from me is that I will leave him — as I did my first husband. It hurts every time.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Oh friend. First of all, that pastor?! Uhhgg. That right there just shows the stigma and social misunderstanding around divorce. I’m so proud of you for your determination to fight for you and for a better life. I love hearing that you are happily married now! I am so sorry to hear that he expects you to leave when you argue….but, next time he says that I’d say, “the best way to predict the future is to look at the past. I’ve been with you for 30 years. Doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere! So, get used to me staying”. You’ve shown your marriage that you’re IN. Don’t allow his own fear or insecurity to be your own. YOU are a gift. Hugs!!

  • Kristin

    I’m so sorry to read about all the pain and rejection you had to go through with church and friends on top of the pain of your divorces. Thanks for reminding us that sometimes even the best efforts and prayers don’t fix the relationship to a safe level. I hope that we all can learn from your story and give love and support when most needed, in place of shame and rejection.

  • Lori Sorrell

    I am helping a mom in my church escape (I hope… it’s not over yet) an abusive marriage with her two kids. It is astonishingly sad how little experience leaders— pastors etc- within the church have with this issue. I’m no Einstein, but I have learned so much trying to navigate the world of domestic violence, shelters, the legal and financial messes that go along with it all… I am convinced that many many women give up trying to leave because it’s just so hard and very few people really want to help to the end. Your post was really encouraging and hopeful

    • Anna Dimmel

      So, very true. There is much learning needed in churches around the subject of abuse and divorce. People like you continuing to speak out, brings awareness and attention to such a needed topic. Thank you for the support and aid you are giving this precious mom and her children. You are a hero.

  • Bob Mueller

    I’m on my second marriage – 25 years this July. But we almost called it quits two years ago. We didn’t though, and we’re doing a lot better.

    At any rate, I think one of the things that screws couples up is the idea of success and failure in a marriage. We assume that if there’s a divorce, something–or someone–must have failed, because otherwise the marriage would be a success, right? But plenty of successful things end. Successful businesses sometimes close. Successful TV shows end (wasn’t M*A*S*H a success? But it’s no longer on the air.)

    Success and failure in those instances almost always involves an objective standard. Widgets sold. Households watching. But a marriage is an organic, living thing. How can you define success for a living thing? Is it the number of kids born? Then no infertile couple can ever have a successful marriage. We can’t define it by the length of the marriage either, given the number of marriages that have been cut short by death or disease.

    I think success and failure are bad terms when you’re talking about a marriage. By imposing an indefinable binary standard, we’re setting people up for emotional issues when their marriage ends. If something is not successful, then by definition it’s a failure. If something fails, then someone has to be responsible for that failure, and I don’t know that blame always needs to be assigned when a marriage ends. Any human relationship has a beginning and an end. It’s better to have a calm and amicable fade-out than a bitter, painful explosion.

    And that indefinable binary standard is a major cause of the shame that gets imposed on people who divorce. Take away that indefinable thing, and accept that every relationship has a beginning and end, and you’re well on the way to healing a lot of people.

    Sorry for rambling. Grace and peace.

  • Jeanette Hanscome

    This is such a beautiful post! I am one of those who filed for divorce–after my husband abandoned the family. For years, I avoided sharing the detail that I’d been the one to file the papers. He’d told me he wanted a divorce; he’d left US, and I still felt like I had something to be ashamed of.

    I was one of the fortunate women who received a lot of support from my church and had friends who stuck with me through every painful step. They were such an example of how to walk with someone through this kind of trial, that when I wrote a book about my experience (Suddenly Single Mom), I felt like it was as much their story as mine. But I learned very quickly to be careful who I told, “I’m going through a divorce.” It still shocks me what people consider okay to say or ask a divorced woman–things that caused me to fear fellow believers more than “the world.”

    Thank you for this reminder to show Christ-like love to those going through the pain of divorce, because like you said, nobody wants to experience one, but sometimes our survival depends on it.

  • tonycutty

    This is so moving. Thank you for your honesty, your vulnerability, and your courage.

    I have just discovered your podcast and your blog, and I am looking forward to reading more of your wisdom. I am a widower; I lost my wife of 33 years to cancer, 2 1/2 years ago. In a lot of ways, I think divorce is harder than bereavement – although of course both are horrible. But I am glad to see that you, as I have, have learned so much wisdom through your difficult time. No-one can ever take that away from you, no matter how many of ‘heaven’s gatekeepers’ you might encounter on the way. The gems you have are yours forever. Peace and Grace to you.

  • Connie Connie Fuller

    Anna, reading through these posts reminded me of a Christ-centered happening while I was going through my divorce that I failed to even think of when I wrote my original post. My children were in Confirmation. Classes were held during the Sunday School hour at my church. So, for the first time in my life, I went to the adult Sunday School class. My very first time there, as I walked toward the back to get coffee, an older woman who I had never seen or met before reached out and grabbed my hand. As she held it, she said, “God told me to look after you.” I thanked her, got my coffee, and sat down at the table with her and her group, who accepted me because of Hilda’s invitation. Hilda did, indeed, look after me. She called me every week to check on me, wrote me notes, sat with me every Sunday while my kids were in Confirmation, and was my anchor of love for several years. Hilda was, for me, Jesus with skin on, sent by Him to help me and my children survive. Pastors, as you know, aren’t the only ‘Men of God’ on this earth. True Men (and women) of God live His teachings in their everyday life. Actions always speak louder than words.

    • Anna Dimmel

      That story is beautiful! What an angel she was. That is something I try to remember to do in hard times…..when I don’t see God near: look for the helpers. They are always there. And in them Divine love is dwelling. Love this so much.

    • tonycutty

      My wife was like that. She was Jesus to everyone she met, and her funeral service was packed! Packed with all the people whose lives she had impacted. I think this is the calling of God on each Christian – to be Christ, each in our own way, to those whose lives we are part of.

      This is why it is so tragic when you see so many Christians being all harsh and judgemental…I sometimes think they have missed a turning somewhere and haven’t quite ‘got’ it. So life becomes about judging and condemning others rather than about manifesting the life of hte God-made-flesh that is mirrired within us.

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