I’m recently divorced. And sometimes I’m completely content to tell myself: “it doesn’t matter what other people believe about our marriage, no one can know what it was like but me.” And then I can let it go. But sometimes all I want is for some understanding and compassion from my friends and family. My best girlfriend insists that my ex-husband loved me, that he loves the kids, and tells me that I should reassure them that he loves them when they feel like he doesn’t. Everyone tells me that he really loved me, and I want to make them understand that things he did to me in our marriage couldn’t be called love. My ex-husband tells the kids, “I love your mom, but she’s doing this to our family.” It’s also really hard when my teenage son says, “Dad loved you, why did you divorce dad?” I have no idea how to respond to others, especially my children.
You’re caught in a difficult situation. You want validation from your ex-husband that he hurt and betrayed you. You need your children to know that the decision to divorce their father was more complex and difficult than they could possibly understand. You long for friends to understand what it was like to be in your marriage. Simply put, you feel deeply misunderstood by everyone and only hope for compassion and validation for what you’ve been through.
While the demise of any marriage will impact children, extended family, and friends, the decision to divorce is so deeply personal that no one, except you and God, can fully understand what’s involved. Even though you will have some people who support you and others who don’t, this decision is ultimately a lonely one.
Sometimes when our very survival is at stake, the Lord counsels us to move away from destructive relationships. Nephi and his family recognized the need to separate from his older brothers and their families.[i] The Book of Mormon clearly tracks the aftermath of that fateful decision. There were gross misunderstandings and generations of people who believed things about Nephi that simply weren’t true. The take-home lesson here is that even inspired decisions can have painful consequences.
Where Do Answers Come From
Only you can know whether the answer to divorce came from Divine inspiration. While your children and others might someday receive a confirmation of the truth of your decision, there is a possibility they will go through life completely misunderstanding your experience and intentions.
Thankfully, you can seek comfort from the most misunderstood man who ever walked the earth. I love the way Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described this difficult reality of the Savior’s life and ministry:
To a degree far more than we will ever understand, He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Indeed, to the layman in the streets of Judea, Christ’s career must have seemed a failure, a tragedy, a good man totally overwhelmed by the evils surrounding Him and the misdeeds of others. He was misunderstood or misrepresented, even hated from the beginning. No matter what He said or did, His statements were twisted, His actions suspected, His motives impugned. In the entire history of the world no one has ever loved so purely or served so selflessly-and been treated so diabolically for His effort. Yet nothing could break His faith in His Father’s plan or His Father’s promises.[ii]
There is nothing wrong with telling your friends that it’s not helpful for them to speak for your ex-husband or to speak for you about something they can never understand. Ask them to stay with you and support you through this, as uncomfortable as it may be for them.
It’s unfortunate your ex-husband is waging a campaign to discredit you in front of your children. This benefits no one. Clearly, you can’t control what he says about you to your children. Obviously it would be more damaging to the children to put them in the middle as you build a counter-argument against their father.
Involving the Children
However, you can visit with your older children and acknowledge how unhealthy the marriage was and your decision to leave the marriage is complex and painful. You don’t need to blame and put your children in the position of choosing sides. As your children grow up, they will form their own opinions of their father’s love for them as well as your love for them. The personal experiences they have with each of you will be more important than anything you could say at this time. Ultimately, your best option is to hold fast to the truth you have received, the decisions you’ve made, and then have compassion for the hurt and confusion of your children.
Continue to show your children how much you love them and care for them. It’s normal for children who go through divorce to question everything, including their parent’s love for them. Even though you did what you had to do for reasons beyond their understanding, the difficult reality is that their whole world is different now. There will be days they feel your love and days they doubt your love. It will likely be the same with their father. It’s not uncommon for them to even struggle with understanding God’s love for them.
Your love for them won’t waiver, so stay steady, accessible, and responsive to them for as long as they need reassurance. You don’t speak for their father. You only speak for you. Others can’t speak for you, only you can. Your compassion for the pain and confusion they feel will be a blessing to them.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author would like to thank Jill Call, MS, MFT for her helpful feedback on this column.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.
lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:
[i] “Zion and the Spirit of At-one-ment“, M. Catherine Thomas,