By Rodney and Carol Holmstrom
Coming into marriage, we brought in our individual hurts from the past. We both had low self-esteem and a dysfunctional view on what a family was supposed to look like. We bought into the lie that marriage would fix all our problems; in reality, it only amplified the issues we needed to face.
When things got tough due to my (Rodney) core beliefs that “I am not enough” resonating in my heart, I slipped into the protection of performance and proving to the world that I was enough. As a result, I hid myself in my work and became a workaholic. This caused an emotional separation between my wife and me. My false understanding of my identity and my low self-esteem affected how I treated her. One day, I came home to an empty house—my wife had left me, and we were on the brink of divorce. There had been so much damage done, I thought that there was no hope for reconciliation, much less a healthy marriage.
I (Carol) retreated behind my familiar emotional walls and masks. Within three and a half years of getting married, we were separated. A few months into our separation, I agreed to Rodney’s repeated attempts to reconcile. We got into marriage counseling and started attending a healthy church.
We started attending Celebrate Recovery®, and I (Rodney) went through the steps with great leaders, as God began working in me. I was able to identify patterns of isolation and depression that easily entrapped me. Through this process, I learned that I needed to surrender my entire life and will to Christ’s care. Working through these steps enhanced my relationship with not only Christ, but also with my wife and children.
I (Carol) also joined a Celebrate Recovery Step Study group. As I trustingly followed the process, I began to forgive others for hurting me. But most importantly, I learned how to accept God’s forgiveness and how to forgive myself. My internal thought processes began to change, which transformed the way I responded outwardly.
Through our own growth process, we began to understand that every couple has an unhealthy cycle that they fall into, which causes hurt and amplifies the pain. As we have worked through Celebrate Recovery over the last several years, we’ve learned to recognize our own broken cycle.
Sometimes the smallest thing can set off that cycle.
For example, Rodney is a big-picture thinker and I (Carol) am a detail-oriented kind of thinker. He would share an idea with me, and I would be thinking about that idea and the steps involved to make it happen.
While Carol was thinking about it, I (Rodney) would see a blank stare that I perceived as her deciding it was a bad idea. Inside my heart, I would think, “That’s a stupid idea, so I’m stupid. I’m a failure. I’m inadequate and not good enough.” Then I would get defensive and withdraw from her.
When I would see him get defensive and withdraw, I (Carol) would perceive his reaction as me not performing in the way he needed me to, and therefore not worthy of love and acceptance. Then I would respond by pursuing him and trying to fix the problem. I would work hard to gain back his love and acceptance, which often came across as criticism, judgment, and anger.
This response from Carol would reinforce my core beliefs that I (Rodney) don’t measure up and that I’m not good enough, and the unhealthy cycle would continue.
What we learned through our own recovery process in Celebrate Recovery is that the cycle is the enemy. Once I (Rodney) began to understand and believe that I’m not a failure and that I am good enough and acceptable, it changed the way I responded to my wife in daily interactions. There’s a new word that we’ve learned to embrace in our vocabulary: curiosity. I needed to learn how to stay curious about what was going on in my heart and how it was affecting my core identity. God created our marriage as a special union where the two become one—in our souls, our minds, and our hearts. What we’ve learned is that when the cycle is happening, we are both grieving the loss of intimacy. This is where we have to slow down to recognize how we see ourselves and each other in the unhealthy cycle.
Understanding that my (Carol) false beliefs are based on perceiving performance as the means to gain love and acceptance helped me battle those beliefs with the confidence in Rodney’s unconditional love for me. I don’t have to perform to earn his love and acceptance. Even more, the unconditional love that Rodney has for me is based on Jesus’ unconditional love for me. My identity is not in what I do, but in who I am in Christ. When I take hold of that truth, I feel comfortable coming to Rodney in my distress, telling him what I need, and trusting that he will respond.
The difference that our growth in Celebrate Recovery has made is that we’re not fighting life’s battles on our own and on different teams anymore. Rather, we fight them together as one, the way God intended. In growing our trust for each other, we learned to be vulnerable—showing the scary parts of our hearts, instead of placing blame on each other. Staying curious about the pain arising from our hearts grows our empathy for each other in times of distress. This has not been an instantaneous process but remains a lifelong learning in identifying our broken cycle and making it the enemy, rather than each other.
When we individually worked through our own hurt and identity issues, we began to see the truth, and those “marriage lies” lost their power. As we began to live out our true identity in Christ through Celebrate Recovery, it completely changed our perspective on marriage and our relationship with each other. Through this healing process, with the help of Celebrate Recovery, we revitalized our commitment to God and each other.
We thank God for Celebrate Recovery and our forever family for helping us change our unhealthy patterns and destructive cycles.
Thank you for letting us share our story!