On April 7, 1984, Laura was planning on attending an annual luncheon with her mother. She was expecting a pretty normal day.
But for some reason that morning she asked her husband an unexpected question. “He had been a little bit odd for several months, but I couldn’t really put my finger on it,” Laura says. “Finally I just, out of the blue, asked him, ‘Is there someone else?’”
“Well, there could be,” he replied.
Laura was not fooled by the waffling reply. “Yes or no?” she asked. “Are you in another relationship or not?”
His answer tore Laura’s world apart. She was 28, married just two years, and had long vowed, “I will never be divorced.” But when her husband admitted he was having an affair and said he wanted a divorce, there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Today Laura Petherbridge is remarried and has two sons and three grandchildren. For years she has been involved in training couples in divorce care and divorce recovery, and this week she tells her story on FamilyLife Today. In the broadcast series Laura presents some great advice on many of the practical issues couples face after a divorce. But I was struck by her practical suggestions that any married couple could apply—no matter how healthy their relationship. This is advice that comes from a woman who learned her lessons the hard way.
1. Don’t ignore unacknowledged problems in your relationship. Laura realized that she shouldn’t have been surprised her husband wanted a divorce, because there were warning signs. “Sometimes I would say to him, ‘What’s bothering you?’ or things like that,” she says. “He ran a business and I just assumed there was a lot of stress. I was trying to be the supportive wife … don’t rock the boat.
“When you know there’s something wrong, don’t sweep it under the rug.”
2. Seek to understand and acknowledge the “baggage” you brought into your marriage. None of us enters marriage with a blank slate. We are influenced by our family background, our culture, our peers. We develop sinful and impure attitudes and behavior patterns. This baggage affects a marriage relationship in ways we often don’t fully understand.
In Laura’s case, one of the major pieces of baggage she brought into marriage was the pain of her parents’ divorce (when she was eight). “I believed that I was the cause of my parents’ divorce. And so that guilt and that shame, I brought all of that into the marriage, which also brought fear and a lack of trust.” This contributed to her deteriorating relationship with her husband. “When I look back on it, and I see just how wounded I was going into that marriage … it’s just very eye-opening.”
3. Consider any problems as an opportunity to draw closer to God for guidance, strength, and comfort. Laura went through months of grief, anger, and tears. “Unfortunately, the way I tried to mask my pain was with alcohol. I was in so much pain, the shame, the guilt, the sense of abandonment, the fear was so overwhelming that at times I would drink to numb that pain.”
She was fortunate to have some Christian friends and a church that refused to abandon her. “They wooed me back. They loved me back to fellowship with God, to finding Him as the answer to my pain rather than the alcohol.”
During her divorce, Laura says she often took comfort from Philippians 4:6-7, which urges us to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” At one point she wrote in her Bible next to that verse, “Oh God, when will the pain be over and a purpose clear?”
More than 20 years have passed, and the pain never fully went away. Laura says she’s glad, though, because she doesn’t want to forget it. And she can see how God has used her experience to influence others. “I look at what God has done with the most horrible thing that could have happened in my life—He has now turned it into something where I bless other people, I encourage other people, and sometimes I help them to restore their marriage.”
That’s a great message of hope for all of us.
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