Did you know that marriages with a spouse that has bipolar disorder have a 90% failure rate? NINETY PERCENT!!! I did not know this when I married my husband, and it’s probably a good thing. Our vows have certainly been tested since that fateful day in September 1999 when we got married. And yet, even with all we’ve been through, I never could bring myself to seriously pursue the idea of ending our marriage.
Now, I won’t lie and say the thought didn’t cross my mind a time or two…or ten. Who wouldn’t in my situation? My husband was absent from us twice over the years. The first time was for a year, the second time was for almost five. Both times were because of his illness. The odds were not in our favor. Being in an interracial marriage probably pushes that statistic even higher, but that has been the least of our issues! After experiencing a few episodes, his leaving, and the endless road of recovery, I can see why relationships can be maxed out. Sure, he was legitimately sick, and not just irresponsible or a jerk. But gone is gone, and it still hurt.
Yet, I just could never bring myself to follow through with filing anything legal to end our marriage, and there are five reasons why.
1. First and foremost, my faith in God.
As I prayed about it, (and I had many discussions with Jesus about it, trust me!) I did not feel the Lord’s peace. In my heart of hearts, I knew that, for me, divorcing my husband would do more damage to my relationship with God than it would my relationship with my husband, and that was not something I was willing to sacrifice. Even though our marriage was broken, and there were some dark moments when I considered it, deep down I believed that divorce would make it worse, and I did not see it as an option.
That is not to say that I don’t believe divorce is an option, EVER. I know that especially in Christian circles, to be divorced or get divorced is like having the plague. (That’s another post for another day!) What I AM saying is that, as I pursued God’s will for MY life, and the life of MY child and MY family, I felt a clear leading from Him that divorcing my husband was not His will FOR ME. So it has nothing to do with my personal feelings about divorce in general. It just means that God had something else in mind for us. For me, it was a matter of obedience.
2. I’m super loyal by nature, maybe to a fault.
My personality type is hardcore INFP. Otherwise known as the “idealist”, the “healer”, or the “peacemaker/mediator”, it is a personality that hates conflict and always looks for the good in others. Coming to an understanding about my personality has helped to explain so much about myself. I highly recommend taking an online personality test. I don’t know who came up with them, or who decides the criteria, but it’s definitely a fascinating tool. Mine comes out INFP each and every time, so I’m pretty sure it’s on point.
One of the main characteristics that always jumps out at me is that my personality type is “fiercely loyal” when it comes to relationships:
Slow to trust others and cautious in the beginning of a relationship, an INFP will be fiercely loyal once they are committed.
Perhaps this characteristic of my personality is also a factor in my not ever seriously pursuing divorce. Not just in my loyalty to my husband, but also my commitment to follow the Lord’s will for my life.
3. It was not just about who I am, but also about who my husband is.
People have said to me things like, what a good wife I am, what a selfless, amazing woman I am, etc. I don’t know about all that, but I can say this: The factors in me choosing NOT to divorce my husband, and to remain open to accepting him back, have as much to do with the kind of person HE is, as it does the kind of person I am.
The details of his absence is his story to tell. While he did fall prey to many of the pitfalls of serious mental illness, (including falling through the cracks of a flawed mental health system), I can tell you that at no time in our marriage, or during his time away from us, has adultery, addiction, abuse, violence, self-harm, harm to others, financial mismanagement or any kind of betrayal been an issue. What he was was very, very sick, and I knew that, even in the hurt. I also knew that underneath all that sickness and confusion, my husband's true spirit was committed to our family. Had he been in his right mind, he never would have left.
There were many times on his journey when people could see that he needed help, and bent over backwards to help him. Even at his worst, he found favor. In fact, it was the impression he made on some folks in a position to help him, that ultimately led him back home. Somehow, even in the muck and mire of the ugliest parts of his illness, a certain character and integrity remained in him, that has miraculously kept him from serious harm. Not to mention, nothing short of the hand of God Himself. As difficult as things got for my husband, things could easily have been far, far worse for him.
Plus, one thing to remember is that my husband and I actually have a good relationship. We’ve always gotten along well, and we’ve always had a great friendship. I know who he “really” is, and he is NOT his illness.
So in all fairness, I really can’t say whether or not my decision to pursue divorce would have changed, if he was simply an abusive, narcissistic, adulterous, addicted jerk. I have my limits, and if he was any other kind of person, I am certain that even my INFP loyalty would have been put to the test.
4. What kind of message would divorcing my husband send to my daughter?
I did not want my daughter to see me giving up on her dad. She needed to see that he was worth fighting for because of who he is. So I always kept him as “part of the family.” We talked about him and why he was gone, and I assured her it had nothing to do with her. We talked about mental illness and how it can change a person. We kept his pictures up and kept him “alive”, so to speak, in conversation and memories. We prayed together, and believed God's Word. I made sure her father was still an active part of our lives, so that when he came home (which I firmly believed he would), it would be a fairly smooth transition. It got through to her, too, because while my faith wavered at times, hers never did. She ALWAYS knew her Daddy was coming home. That stand paid off, because when Jasmyne’s dad returned last year, in her mind it was if he was never gone.
5. I wasn’t sure of the legal ramifications, so I just didn’t bother.
To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I could legally divorce my husband without his consent, or in absentia. I never got that far into the process of investigating it. It just didn’t seem right to file for divorce without his knowledge. Plus, since he was only God knows where, and I had NO idea if he was dead, alive, hurt, or worse, remaining legally married to him made me automatically next of kin. If anything DID happen to him, if he was in a position where he was incapacitated in any way, I would be the one to make any decisions. So staying married to him, in a sense, protected him.
Here is the bottom line. If I had chosen to divorce my husband, I simply would not have been able to live with myself, and I definitely would not have had peace with God. I heard His voice clearly, and the Word was “restoration.” I held on to that, against all the odds. It’s called faith!! I was also blessed to be surrounded by amazing supportive people in my life who encouraged me not to give up on him. That can make a huge difference, and again, I believe it is a testimony of who my husband is, for people to see the good in him and hold on to that, and encourage ME to hold on to the same.
For people who find themselves in a tough situation where there’s no clear cut answer, or you feel like you’re in a strange, awkward limbo, the best thing to do is simply WAIT, and listen. I could not act in haste or in anxiety. I had to really quiet my spirit (again and again and again) and listen to the Father’s heart. I firmly believe that He could just as easily have released me from my marriage, and I would still be in His will. But how would I know that, without intimate relationship with Him? That was the key, and that is THE main reason why I did not divorce my husband.
And I’m so glad I didn’t!!!
"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."