Defining your self-worth or tying your self-esteem to your spouse makes confronting a troubled marriage even more difficult. Sometimes, working on your self-esteem first will give you the courage to address your marriage while other times, divorce will force you.
My current guest, Carol Round was married for 28 years and has been divorced now for twelve years. She sees now that her self-esteem was low as a teenager and as an adult she defined herself through her husband. All that is different now. Here’s Carol:
I think a lot of women stay in unhappy marriages because they’re afraid that they can’t make it on their own. I think a lot of women don’t have the courage to do what it takes to make it on their own.
I would say not to make any rash decisions. One of the things that I’ve learned to do—I learned to keep a prayer journal before the divorce, but it wasn’t in-depth like it is now. I have been doing it now for over 12 years now. In fact, I’ve written a book on it and have a workbook that goes with it, Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God.
We have a local domestic abuse shelter and the lady that runs it goes to our church. I gave every woman in the shelter a copy of my book and then she asked me to come to speak to them. We’re talking about women that had been physically abused.
I was never physically abused, but I was verbally and emotionally abused. I was told when I was married that, “You shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t say that.” It was like he was my parent sometimes, even though I was really his mother, taking care of him. But you have to be able to acknowledge another person’s opinion. He was very controlling.
One of the things I shared with the women that were in the shelter was using the prayer journal to find their worth in the Lord. Because once they’re out of there, they go back to the same situation and find a man just like that. I said, “You can’t hide your self-worth in another human being, especially in a man. You have to find your self-worth in a relationship with the Lord.”
That’s what I know now. I had found my self-worth when I was 19 years old and married him. That was my self-worth, because I was married to this good looking, charming man.
When I taught high school, I would tell the girls, “You need to know who you are and do not let a man define you.”
I think a lot has to do with society and how we as women perceive ourselves. I had low self-esteem as a teenager. I saw a lot of young girls that did. We had to learn that our self-esteem should not come from the world. It should come from the Lord. Once we have that worth of knowing that God loves us unconditionally no matter what we look like, no matter what we’ve done that he loves us, nobody can take that away from you. Nobody.
My mom raised two daughters to be self-sufficient, because my dad and mom dated for six weeks before they got married. It was after World War II. They didn’t know each other. They were not right for each other. They stayed together for over 50 years until mom died. My dad always said, “If you’re not happy, get out.” That’s the reason my sister’s been married four times. But mom made us very sufficient so we wouldn’t have to depend on a man. But she didn’t feel like she could leave my dad and he cheated on her.
I still love my dad in spite of that, and both of them are gone. But our mother did not have the courage to leave my dad and strike out on her own. She did not think she could make it with two daughters. Both my parents made sure that I had a college education. And we are very independent and it’s hard for a lot of men to handle that.
Women—we can lose ourselves in a man’s world. The advice I give someone before they contemplate divorce is to maybe get out a piece of paper and write down on one side why they want a divorce. And then on the other side write down what it would mean if they stayed. Try to go to counseling first. Counseling didn’t help me, but I think in the beginning, if I had had a relationship with the Lord, it might have been different. I didn’t have that until after the marriage.
I would’ve been changed—I would’ve not been the same person. My self-esteem would not have been based on how he did or didn’t treat me.
The Divorce Coach Says
I see three steps to Carol’s journey. The first is an awareness that your self-esteem is low – I don’t think that’s always obvious. I think that fear of the unknown and the future can cloud the picture hiding the possibilities that open up with believing in yourself.
Second step is taking responsibility. Your spouse might be verbally or emotionally controlling, might put you down or not support your efforts to develop new skills and that may play into your lack of confidence but you control how you choose to behave and how to let others treat you. Recognizing that choice makes a difference.
Third step is getting help and that can come in a variety of different forms. It’s all about what speaks most to you. The strength and comfort that Carol found in her faith wouldn’t work for me. What worked for me was these interviews and hearing other people’s stories. You might have to experiment a little to find your particular medicine but keep an open mind and you’ll find it.
Carol’s also right – no matter when you do this work, hang on tight because it will change your future.