Toxic Marriages, Unfaithful Husbands, and the Women Who Love Them…
My thoughts on Lysa Terkeurst’s divorce announcement
By: Raychel Chumley
“Imagine with me a young mother sitting on the 3rd step of a gorgeous open staircase. She is sitting on the steps of the first home. Their 6 month old baby girl is fast asleep in the room beside her. Her red bag packed with essentials for her and the baby. The decision had been made…she is leaving.
She can’t believe she is here. Again. How many times will she have to play this same scene out before it will be the last time? She looks at the clock on her phone. It reads 2:00 am. She had been asking her husband to come home for over an hour already. His reply is the same as it always is, “Soon.” She knew what that meant-“I’m having too much fun without you and I’m not coming home any time soon.”
She is sick to my stomach and fighting back tears. As she sits by the door of their baby girl’s room she wonders what is going to happen when he finally does come home. Was he going to be mean and yell and wake the baby? Was he going to be calm and act like she was the crazy one, just to manipulate her? Was he going to make good on his threats and finally hurt her because he drank too much?
Over and over she keeps questions herself and the decision she doesn’t want to make.
“Do I stay or do I leave?”
It is not the first time she has asked herself this question and it won’t be the last. At the same time she questions her own will-power; and, she worries incessantly. Where is he? What is he doing? Who is he with? Is he punishing me because of I left 3 years ago? How drunk will he be when he gets here? When will this stop?
While she worries she prays, “God keep him safe while he drives home. Help him not to hurt anyone else. Give me strength. Forgive me for wanting to leave.”
She hears his diesel engine coming 6 blocks away. She breaths a sigh of relief. Then she gets angry with herself. How can she be so happy this man is finally home AND so angry at him at the same time? It is so confusing and emotionally exhausting.
He walks in the door and she can tell right away he should not have been driving. He did that a lot. He has the same sheepish stance he always has when he comes home after a night of drinking and partying with other women. Like a dog with his tail between his legs. It is infuriating. She gets instantly angry at his denial of being drunk and that he should not be driving. His eyes flash with anger at her accusation.
This is it she thinks. Time to prepare for battle. Whatever you do, don’t cry.
She demands an explanation. She demands an apology. She tells him she is done and she isn’t going to put their daughter through this. She isn’t going to let her baby girl watch her daddy get sicker and sicker and refuse to help himself.
And he just stands there.
And, as the accusations fly she starts to get hysterical. She can no longer control what is coming out of her mouth. All she can do is say the meanest, nastiest, most hurtful things she can think off. She calls him an unfaithful husband. She calls him a horrible drunk. She calls him a bad father.
She says their marriage is a mistake and that she should have started the divorce process 3 years before-when they separated. Nothing has changed and it’s only getting worse. All she can think is to hurt this man who keeps hurting her over, and over, and over again. She is standing on the edge of insanity…”
This is my story.
This is the opening to one of the keynotes I gave at the Beautiful Wholeness event in 2015. I’ve shared it many times from a stage over the last few years. I’ve never shied away from the fact that Brandon and my marriage isn’t picture perfect. I’ve shared our intense struggles and our brief moments of triumph over the years with all of you. And I share the above story not to shame my husband but to shed light in dark places. To help other women see they are not alone.
This week the President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa Terkeurst, announced she will be divorcing her husband of 25 years. She describes her reasons why in the most beautifully honest blog post you can read HERE. She says,
“My husband, life partner and father of my children, Art TerKeurst, has been repeatedly unfaithful to me with a woman he met online, bringing an end to our marriage of almost 25 years. For the past couple of years, his life has sadly been defined by his affection for this other woman and substance abuse.”
Substance abuse, and the violence that goes along with it, has been a part of my family’s story for a very long time, too. I’ve left many times over the last 15 year because sometimes it’s all just too much.
It’s too much to be the long suffering wife when your husband chooses the bottle, or something/someone else, to fill the void in his heart over and over. It’s excruciating to watch the father of your children slowly implode because of his own choices. And, it is heart-wrenching to give chance after chance and nothing ever changes.
It breaks my heart to read Lysa’s story.
Her choice to divorce is a shock to many because her marriage struggles were not a story she shared publicly. Now she deals with the fallout that happens when a women who is famous for teaching the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman admits what has been hiding behind closed doors and walks away from her marriage.
When things like this happen to women like Lysa we can’t help but think, “Wow. I never saw that coming. She is such a nice woman!” And as we watch the divorce play out our emotions range from disbelief to shock to sadness.
Even when we are not directly affected by a couples choice to separate, divorce has a way of feeling like a group wound. It reminds me of throwing pebbles in a lake. The ripples stretch far beyond where the rock enters the lake and sinks to the bottom.
The choice to divorce has long reaching ripples, too. Every woman who has contemplated leaving deeply understands how far those ripples can go- and the sheer magnitude of the consequences can keep her in toxic circumstances for years to avoid them.
I admire her bravery to leave when God said, “It’s time.” It’s takes a strong woman to stay with a broken man, and an even stronger one to leave him in God’s hands.
Especially when she faces the rejection that happens in the faith community when you wear “Divorced” as a label.
Sadly, in the church, a divorced woman often joins the ranks of other undesirables like:
- People in the LGBTQ community
- Abuse & Domestic Violence victims
- People struggling with Addiction
- And, those with Mental Health challenges
As much as we try, we don’t handle brokenness very well in the Christian community. Like, not even a little bit. Trust me, I should know.
I’ve sat in many pastoral offices only to be handed a book because the pastor has zero advice on how to fix the issues. Even some Christian counselors are hesitant to tackle the issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, and infidelity head on; and, instead give you every resource they can on how to “stand by your man.” Sigh.
I’ve yet to hear a sermon about the horrors of psychological, emotional, or physical abuse in a family that is dealing with a marriage breakdown. Or, the things that happen behind closed doors when a partner is suffering from an addiction. I’ve never heard from a pulpit how we should react when a marriage breaks up and how to love BOTH parties in the mess that happens when the walls cave in.
I get it. You preach what you know.
And taboo topics are called “Taboo” for a reason. But, what happens when a large portion of your congregation is suffering in silence with marriage issues you can’t even begin to imagine and they would never admit to out loud?
We need to do better. We have to do better. Precious souls are suffering in silence because of fear of our reaction… or rejection. I share my story with you today because it’s my way of doing better. It’s my way of wrapping my virtual arms around another woman and saying, “I get it.”
So, dear Lysa if I could have coffee with you right now I would say,
“You don’t owe me an explanation. You don’t have to prove your loyalty or commitment to your wedding vows by staying and giving him chance after chance after chance. I see your pain. I see your struggle. I see the hurt in your eyes. You made the hardest choice of your life. You are not alone. You are brave and you are so very loved. Your story isn’t over. Your redemption story is just beginning.”