Note: See Lessons from a Wife’s Heart for an introduction to this post.
For many years in my marriage, I had a hurting heart—some because of my own baggage and some because of my husband’s words and actions.
Feeling hurt was no fun—but it was familiar. I avoided any work on my own healing, afraid of what I would find—evidence that my husband and I were completely incompatible, proof that I was screwed up more than I thought, or a clear sense that I was the reason for our marriage problems.
I didn’t want to identify the true source of the hurt, and I suspected that the process of healing whatever it was would require more than I had to give.
So, instead of working on healing my heart, I did . . . nothing. Time heals all wounds, right? I thought I could just wait until God decided to heal me instantaneously. Then everything would be better.
If God didn’t fix me, I figured my husband should undo the damage he’d caused. I thought it was the least he could do. Even more, because I resented my husband for the hurt he’d caused, there was a part of me that thought he didn’t deserve to have a happy and emotionally healthy wife. Yup, that’s right. I kept myself in pain for years while waiting for God or my husband to do all the work of my healing.
I was complacent in that I was self-satisfied that I had done all I should (in other words, nothing) toward my healing and was unaware that doing nothing could make things worse.
Complacency did more damage to my marriage than my years of resisting sex in some respects because of how it allowed bitterness to grow unchecked in my heart.
For two years after I began to work on the sexual intimacy in our marriage, the emotional pain and bitterness were still part of my heart. It was only when I took charge of my healing instead of waiting for my husband to make it all up to me that I began to heal.
The Fear of “What if…?”
I was afraid of what I would learn if I really worked to deal with my hurt feelings. What if I find out that we never should have gotten married? What if I discover that I’m even more unhappy than I realize? What if I remember things from the past that I’ve repressed? What am I supposed to do with all that? What if I figure out that we should get a divorce? What if I find it out it’s all gulp my fault?
Fear of “what if…” incapacitated me—until I decided to take control of that fear instead of letting it control me. By then, I had already done most of the hard work on changing my thoughts and actions about sex. I realized that a baby step approach had worked well for me. I could work on what was in front of me and not pay attention to what was beyond that. It worked for sex, so I decided to use the same approach to addressing my hurt.
Every time one of my “what if…” questions popped into my head, I pushed it out by reminding myself that I could deal with it when I got there and that for now I would deal with what was right in front of me. I told myself that while there was much that was unknown to me, it was not unknown to God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
God already knew what I would learn, and he would guide me on my path to healing. I didn’t have to face any of it alone.
To the Other Side of the Pain
I was also afraid that facing my hurt would cause me even more pain. Why would I want to do that?
As I considered the possibility of facing more emotional pain, I found myself thinking about a conversation from years before. A woman in my prayer group was talking about watching her young adult daughter go through something very difficult. What she said seemed very profound to me:
“I wish I could take this pain away from her, but I can’t. Pain is like a huge swamp. You could walk around the edges, but that would take ten times longer and you’d probably get your feet wet anyway. The only way to the other side of the pain is to go right through it. It feels so amazing to be on the other side of the swamp and know that you survived the journey. I can’t take that experience away from her.”
As I replayed her words, I realized that if I stood on the hurting edge of the pain, I was either going to be stuck there indefinitely or have to work ten times harder and longer to plod around the edges of it. I’d been doing that already, and I was still hurting. The only way through my hurt was to go right through it—and when I did, I would be on the other side of the pain. Is it possible that I can heal? That this hurt doesn’t have to be part of how I feel every single day?
As I thought about the possibility of feeling healed, I ran across the Footprints poem, my eyes drawn to the line “it was then that I carried you.” I was again reminded that although facing the pain might hurt, I wouldn’t be alone. God would be with me, every step of the way. And I would arrive at the other side of all my hurt.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
I might experience pain in the healing, but God would provide comfort and I would be okay.
Resentment or Forgiveness?
The resentment in my heart was the hardest thing to overcome in ending my complacency in healing.
In my mind, my husband had created much of the problem, so it was his to un-do. It was unfair for me to have to do all the work of un-doing my hurt while he got to sit back and do nothing.
Because he’d done and said things that had hurt me, I’d clung to the idea that he didn’t deserve an emotionally healthy wife. At some point, I finally realized how ridiculous this was. In punishing my husband for having hurt me, I was choosing to keep myself in pain. Am I really that crazy? I thought. I’m paying him back for the hurt, but all that does is keep both of us in pain and dragged down by the past.
For years, I’d faced two choices: do the work myself and have us both benefit, or don’t do the work and keep both of us hurting. I’d chosen the option that kept both of us hurting. Maybe it was time to try the path that could heal.
It was helpful to remember that he, too, was hurt—and I was the creator of much of that pain. Although my frequent refusal to sexually engage with him was often a response to his actions, that didn’t change the fact that my refusal had hurt him emotionally.
He was going to have to deal with the feelings that grew out of his memories of feeling rejected and unloved, just as I realized I would have to deal with the feelings that had grown out of my own memories of feeling hurt by him.
In thinking about the work that both of us had to do for ourselves, I realized this: no matter what my husband might ever try to do to help me heal, if I didn’t pursue that healing for myself, I was likely to stay stuck in pain. Even if he apologized and repented, if I continued to hold on to bitterness and let the hurt fester, my husband’s efforts would accomplish nothing.
I’d turned what was once genuine hurt into a grudge; it was time to let go. It was time to forgive my husband—not for his sake, but for my own. My resentment was a dark spot in my own heart, and until I forgave, my heart wouldn’t be whole and clean.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
God had forgiven me. It was past time for me to try to forgive as well.
Complacency can keep you mired in the pain of the past. Fear, avoidance, and resentment will continue to grow unless you choose to move forward and pursue healing from that pain.
If your heart has been hurt, your husband should support you in our healing. However, it is your responsibility to pursue that healing—whether or not your husband is supporting you, and even if he is responsible for that hurt.
It is up to you to deal with your pain.
Once you conquer your complacency, even though it may be hard, you are on the path to healing.
Let go of the power of the past to control your present. Facing the fear, walking the painful steps, and forgiving your husband can free the pain in your heart.
It may not be easy, but you are worth your own effort.
Seek healing so you can heal—and feel whole.