“For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.” Isaiah 25:3
There are days when it feels as though the battle is never-ending, when assaults on your reputation and your credibility are coming at you from every side. So know this: No matter what your enemies and detractors say, you have a Defender who knows and sees all. You can be strengthened by the knowledge that you are never alone as you walk this often lonely journey.
Even clinging to that truth, though, there will be times when you will thirst for a word of compassion and validation from someone with skin on.
When you find yourself desperate for a kind, supportive word, don’t be surprised if the dam of restraint finally breaks. A lot of painful history may pour from you un-sanitized, and your stories could be shocking and difficult for others to receive. Those who have never lived with abuse may doubt that a relationship could be so horrific. Furthermore, although your intentions are good and you kept your abuser’s secrets out of a sense of loyalty, the perception of your relationship that you helped create may compel those you might have counted as allies to find your revelations too extraordinary to believe.
Rather than sharing your burden with you, I am sad to say that some in your circle may push back as you bare your soul, and may perhaps even heap more guilt upon you for failing to do enough. You may be viewed as an embittered woman, a liar or a gossip. The depth of loneliness and sense of betrayal you might face as a result of your confidantes’ skepticism can be truly devastating.
But such tepid responses do not change what you know to be true. If you wait for others’ approval to do what you must to reclaim your life, it may never happen. You know the truth about your history, and that is your ultimate defense, whether or not there are others who are willing to validate you in it.
So what can you do?
First, measure what you share. Test the waters and see if your audience is receptive. If not, don’t waste time investing where you cannot anticipate a return.
Second, trust your own experience. It cuts deeply when friends don’t support you, but their ignorance or insensitivity doesn’t alter the truth.
Third, continue to conduct yourself according to what you believe is right. Don’t allow others’ skewed perspective to govern the decisions you alone must live with. This is your life. Base your decisions on the truth, hold to your convictions, trust your God-given instincts and act in accordance with the peace you have.
Then there is the question of what to tell your kids, knowing that a battle for their hearts and minds could negatively impact all of you. It is tempting to explain your actions to them in depth or to verbally shred their father when the opportunity presents itself. Generally speaking, I would say that the priority should be to assure your children of your love and devotion to them while avoiding the details. They do not need to see all of the dirty laundry that has piled up around you over the years. Find a friend or a confidante with whom you can process your emotions rather than unloading on your kids. That is not a role they should be expected to fulfill.
On the other hand, however, your kids should have the freedom to talk about their fears and feelings with you (if you can handle it without becoming toxic) or perhaps giving them the opportunity to meet with a professional child counselor to allow them to process their own wounds. Listening well and validating their experiences is just as important for them as it is for you. But if you take every opportunity to criticize your estranged spouse, your kids may soon learn to avoid talking to you about their relationship with him at all. If you want to keep the lines of communication open, try not to damage them.
I know how difficult it can be to hold your tongue and remember well those days when my kids’ father was working hard to buy them off with pizza and ice cream, movies and outings and gifts. My job was to hold steady, to make our home a safe place where they knew they would be loved and accepted, even if they were expected to complete their chores and their homework. I trusted that over time they would see the healthy contrast between the life we shared and the one their father had chosen, and ultimately they did. The man continued to poison his own well and, over the course of several years, he single-handedly destroyed his relationships with all four of our children.
I did tell my children that they could ask me any questions they had, recognizing that their father might feed them a diet of lies and half-truths about me during their time with him. Anticipating that, I pre-planned how I wanted to deal with those situations. So when my kids came home confused and upset by their dad’s accusations, they would ask to talk in private. They didn’t want to believe the things their father had told them, but neither did they want to believe that he was lying. I would listen and calmly try to provide a more factual, minimal response, never calling their dad a liar but offering them my perspective and the freedom to decide what to believe. Even acknowledging some of my failings, I don’t think it was difficult for them to trust me because they saw my values and my priorities lived out every day.
When pressed, though, it can certainly be a challenge to remain silent. At one point, my angry teenage son confronted me in the presence of a counselor. He asserted that my decision to divorce his father was unbiblical and insisted that we could have a happy family if I just allowed his dad to come home. I could have pulled back the curtain to reveal all of the bad stuff I had endured during my years with his father. Doing so might have satisfied a desire in me to expose the man, but it also would have imposed upon my son a burden of knowledge that was not his to carry. So I explained only that the actions I had taken were based on what I believed was best for our family. Raising his voice, he attempted to antagonize and shame me into giving in to his demand, expecting me to either offer a worthy defense for my actions or agreeing to take his father back. Instead I calmly looked him in the eye and refused to reveal anything more. Over time, to his grief, he discovered the truth about his father’s character without an explanation from me. Did I handle every situation perfectly? Heck, no. Sometimes I said too much, and sometimes I even tried to make their dad look better than he was. A healthy balance is not always easy to find, so the best we can do is to just keep working at it.
As for those dear friends who are willing to hear and encourage you, receive their validation and encouragement so that you can begin to let go of some of the hurt and anger you carry. Let them help you heal. Purging is a necessary part of the process, but as time goes on, you don’t want your pain to define you. The goal is to let go of the past so that you can keep moving toward your new, abuse-free life.
As you slog your way through this sometimes grueling process, remember you are not obligated to defend yourself or prove to anyone what you have been through or what you are trying to do. Some will graciously come alongside and support you in every possible way while others may never understand or validate you and may even – in their ignorance – judge you. Remember that God knows the truth about your life, and trust that your children will be able to see who you are by the way you live, even if takes some time for them to get there. Give them the freedom to choose what they believe and whom they want to emulate.
Ultimately, God is your defender, and the honorable life you live before Him will be the only defense you need. Do not be ashamed and do not feel obligated to offer a defense where it will not be received. Then hold your head high as you walk in the light of truth.
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a large place.” Psalm 31:7-8
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