by Lindsey Abston Painter  |  25 June 2018  |

This is an actual letter I received recently. Out of kindness to the writer, I’ve changed her name to “Judgy Church Lady”.

Dearest Lindsey,
It was a sad day when I heard you and (ex-husband) are getting a divorce. You are too young to be making such a decision without some objective counsel. Your parents will not be objective, I’m sorry. I’m guessing this because as a parent I don’t think I could be objective. Maybe your parents are different. This is not to be a flowery letter, full of support and prayers.

I am upset that you chose not to honor your marriage. You instead opted to be a child of children, move in with your parents so they could help you, deprive the children of their father, and think this is okay. This is not okay. I have seen many young couples do this and they have their reasons. I am a child of divorce. The grass is not greener on the other side with someone else. No one will love your children more than (ex-husband). You will regret your immature decision not to stick it out, no matter what the circumstances. That was what you vowed to do.

One day your parents will no longer be able to help you because they will grow old. Sad fact we are all heading there. It is possible your children will have step-parents and half-siblings. Gatherings of family will become complicated- weddings, graduations.

Face your marital issues with (ex-husband). We all parent differently, young mothers like you don’t make time for sex, when a husband feels most connected to his wife. Where else will he go for this delightful interaction?

Stop what you are doing. Put your family back together. Let your parents be on their own. Be pissed at me. I care!

I have never written a more agonizing letter in my life. I wish you would listen to me. I love your family so much, but you are not seeing the long-term consequences of your current decision. Too long apart already? Well, you left! Go back, apologize and commit yourself as wife and mother of (ex-husband’s) children. They have 2 parents.

Call me (phone number here). I know you and your parents will be very upset that I have “the nerve” to write to you in this fashion, but no one will tell you the truth. You are making a big mistake! And I care and am willing to risk your love and our relationship.

(Judgy Church Lady)

PS I have not spoken to (ex-husband) and know nothing of your circumstances. Go home to your husband!

Dear Judgy Church Lady,

This is perhaps the most ungenerous letter I have ever received in my life. I was shocked to receive it from you, a person I have always admired.

Fortunately for me, I am blessed with an ironclad conviction that my decision to leave my ex-husband is the best for me, for him, and for my children. Your words cannot break that conviction. I have total peace in my heart.

But I know many women who, for many reasons, do not have that peace, or that conviction that I have. Letters like yours are, unfortunately, not uncommon in churches. Women are shamed, guilted, and oppressed by words just like these every day within our church walls.

Since I am blessed to have this platform, and I do not succumb to this kind of toxic theology, I would like to use your letter as an illustration. This letter is to you, but it is also to all people in the church who think they should send a letter like this. Shaming women for making the most agonizing, terrifying, expensive, and embarrassing decision of their lives, is, to use your words, not okay.

In this letter you call me immature, young, a child, dependent on my parents, and blind to the consequences of my decisions. You imply that I am a bad parent to my children, and that my parents are fools for supporting me. At the same time, you freely admit that you have no knowledge of my situation, a fact that you prove by getting several major details about my life situation wrong. I am, for example, not living with my parents, taking my children from my ex-husband, or being supported by my parents. My point is not to defend myself, but to illustrate how crazy it is for you to make so many assumptions about me when you obviously know so very little about me or my life.

If I were a woman with less confidence in her decisions, your words might have made me feel shame instead of anger. What if my ex-husband beat me? What if he molested my children? What if he raped me? For the record, he didn’t do those things. But the point is, you don’t know. I personally know women who have been married to violently abusive men, men who manipulated, raped, and beat them—and who have been sent letters like yours. What right do you have, you who know nothing of me or my marriage, to give me any advice at all?

I am a child, at 36 years of age? But I was old enough 12 years ago to get married, 10 years ago to have my first child, start a career, and run a household? I was old enough at 23 to make a commitment to a life partner but not old enough at 36 to realize that it is no longer working for my family? Interesting logic. Is there some kind of secret Christian breakdown of which major life choices I’m old enough to make and which I’m too young and immature for?

You imply that my choice was trivial. That I was a bored housewife, or simply didn’t put the work into my marriage that I should have. You, of course, don’t know about the thousands of dollars, and years of marital counseling, we went through. You don’t know about the nights we stayed up talking and talking and talking trying to understand one another, trying to find a bridge to close the ever widening gap between us.

It reminds me of a phrase that has been popping up in my life since I left my ex-husband: that I “took the easy way out” by getting a divorce. It always makes me laugh. Let me tell you about “the easy way out.” Giving up the dream of the life I always wanted, the one where I had the perfect nuclear family, the one where I grow old with my partner. Finding a way to support myself financially when I have depended on my husband’s income for the last 10 years. Thousands of dollars and hours of time with lawyers, filling out paperwork. Explaining to my children that mommy and daddy aren’t going to be married anymore. Years of being a single mom stretching bleakly before me. Loneliness and fear. Risk of rejection by people who don’t understand.

Is that really the easy way out? No. The easy way is to stay in a toxic marriage, one that is killing both partners and seeping negativity, anger, apathy, resentment onto the kids. At least I know how to do that. This? Going out on my own? Not knowing what my future holds? This is the hard way.

Letters like yours place blame on the woman for the decline of the marriage. According to you I should go home, apologize, and give my ex-husband more sex.

Let’s talk about that. You know nothing of the intimacy between me and my ex-husband. There’s a reason you don’t know. Because it’s none of your business. This is my story. And I will share it with the people who have earned my trust. You are not one of those people.

Can we please stop telling women that it is their responsibility to provide sex for their husbands? That if a husband strays it is the wife’s fault for not satisfying his desires? I can only assume that’s what you meant when you asked where else he would be getting that “delightful interaction.” I could write a whole article about that damaging message. (Women of the world, married or divorced hear me: it is your responsibility to have sex when you want to. The end. Husbands, it is your responsibility to remain faithful to your wife. It isn’t on her when you make bad choices.)

I was drowning. He was drowning. Our kids were drowning. I left and I can breathe for the first time. I will not apologize or be shamed for making the difficult but right choice.

Your words betray you as a person who cares more about the institution of marriage than the people inside it.


Lindsey Painter is a writer, teacher, and mother of two. She enjoys reading, playing with her cat, writing about feminism, and strawberry pie. 

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