Debbie never wanted her family to be a statistic, but finally knew it was time for a divorce. She shares how she regained her self-worth with God’s help.
Rediscovering my Self-Worth
Debbie Ihler Rasmussen opened a dance studio and began teaching when she was 17 and that developed into a 44 year career teaching dance. Debbie was married for 25 years and then divorced. She has six children and 17 grandchildren, 19 depending upon how you count them.
Debbie’s passion for writing has been there for as long as she can remember. She has been writing since she was 12 and finally published her first book in 2014. She’s been able to express herself in happy times, sad times and hard times through writing. Debbie has written a book series called The Mystic Trilogy. Her three books take people into another world, if only for a little while, because it’s just good to have fun and imagine.
Debbie is incredibly fun-loving and adventurous. When she was 18, she remembers seeing some skydivers with her mom. She told her mom that she had always wanted to try skydiving but her mom informed her, “One splat and you’re dead.” Years later, after her divorce, Debbie would go out to the Elsinore drop zone in California and watch people jump. She decided she really wanted to sky dive. So she worked at the diving school to earn the money to do it. She rode the plane up 13 times over the course of 3 years before she finally jumped because she was so afraid.
Finally, she was tired of the painful pressure on her ears when the pilot dove back to earth, so she decided she would just jump. Back then, you didn’t have to do a tandem jump so Debbie was just freefalling on her own and pulled her own ripcord. She loved it and went back often after that, but it wasn’t the kind of habit she could keep up with because of the expense. But she would highly recommend it to anyone, even if you think you’re too old.
Marriage to Bob
Debbie met her husband Bob shortly after high school. After being married a few weeks, Debbie saw a different side of Bob. One day Bob was mad at Debbie and picked her up and dropped her. It didn’t hurt her so much as it hurt her feelings.
She was so surprised that she wanted to talk to her dad about getting an annulment, but she couldn’t get ahold of him. Things calmed down a little bit and she decided to just ride it out and move past it. Thanksgiving rolled around and she remembers telling her dad that the turkey made her feel sick. Her dad said, “You’re going to have a baby.” He was right, Debbie was pregnant. So she doubled down and decided she was going to make it work.
The First Affair
For the first 10 years, there were some little control issues with Bob but he was a good dad. But when Debbie was pregnant with their sixth baby, she discovered Bob was having an affair. Debbie had been pregnant off and on for three years and had lost two babies at that point. They had six children under the age of 10.
She didn’t feel very pretty and finding out about Bob’s affair certainly didn’t help. Debbie’s dad came to visit them for Christmas that year and she told him about the affair. She did not expect what he said next. He said, “Well Debbie, just look as pretty as you can every day when he comes home from work.”
Debbie was shocked. Her whole life she had been her dad’s girl and always felt like a princess. She distinctly remembers standing in her room after her dad left trying to figure out what to do. Again, Debbie decided to stick with it and push through and she believed everything would be fine. She stayed in her marriage for another 13 years.
Two More Affairs
At one point, Bob left the family and moved to California. He would come to visit occasionally. Debbie decided to move the family to California to try and fix their marriage. After three years of trying, she was done.
Bob had two more affairs and started to get abusive towards the kids. Debbie says she sort of just woke up and realized she didn’t have to deal with this anymore.
The hardest part for her was that she didn’t talk to anyone about what was going on. Later, a counselor told her it was because she had grown up in a house where they didn’t talk about their problems, and Debbie says that Bob perpetuated that. She often heard him say that, “what happens in this house stays in this house.”
Working for Her Family
With the divorce, Debbie realized she would have to start working full time. She started teaching dance full time instead of just part time. It was tough on her kids. Her youngest, Jeff, was 13 and would often come home in the afternoons to an empty house.
His other siblings had either grown up and moved out or were working with their dad. Eventually, Jeff asked if he could just move in with his dad, like his older brother. Debbie’s heart was broken.
Looking back, she wishes she had fought harder to have Jeff stay with her. But at the same time, she understood that he was pretty lonely. She didn’t get home until late from teaching. Jeff tried to move back in with Debbie a few times but his dad told him, “Are you going to hold onto your mother’s apron strings forever?” So he quit trying. Debbie made enough money for them to get by, but it was never much.
But running the studio was her saving grace. At the studio, she was in control and the rest of the world melted away.
Deciding on Divorce
Coming to the decision of getting divorced was a long process for Debbie. She prayed about it and talked to leaders in her church. Almost all of the clergy told her to try make it work. So she would go home and try harder.
Finally, someone in California told her, “Debbie, you’ll have to forgive Bob someday, but you don’t have to live with him.” That was the first time anyone told her that she had a choice. Up until that point she hadn’t felt like there was a choice to make.
She went to the temple for five days straight to think and pray about her decision. Debbie felt this feeling wash over her that it was ok to get a divorce. She came home and told Bob that she wanted to do a garage sale so she could get some money for a trip to Salt Lake.
On her trip to Salt Lake, Debbie visited all the places they had been together. She was looking for some straw to grasp at to keep them together but she couldn’t find anything. So she drove home crying the whole way. She got there on a Sunday and asked Bob to come talk to her in the yard. She told him she wanted to get a divorce and he was shocked. Debbie finally felt free.
But along with that feeling of freedom came fear. Debbie tried not to let the kids see how afraid she was, but she was truly terrified about what would happen next. Debbie had always thought that if she did everything right, if they had family scriptures and prayer and family home evening, everything would be fine.
She had grown up in a home without that and while her home life was good, she had always wanted more. She was truly taken aback when it didn’t turn out.
Debbie realizes now that both people have to be working toward goals to make things work. You can’t do it by yourself. Debbie had tried everything she could think of for years, but no matter what she did, things seemed to get worse. Eventually Debbie understood that she was a person too. She didn’t have to live like that. She says that no one wants their family to be broken up, no one wants to be a statistic. But you have to do the best you can.
Lesson #1: Forgiveness
Forgiveness was something that took a long time for Debbie. The first time she confronted Bob about his affair, she really felt like they could get past it, and for a while it seemed like they had. Looking back, she realizes that they never fully addressed it though.
When the next two affairs happened, it was a totally different story. It was like reliving the first one all over again. She couldn’t believe that he would do this to her again.
For about eight years after her divorce, Debbie hated him. Part of it was the hurt she was feeling, but part of it was missing their family. Debbie thought they’d had a good life, they had six beautiful children, and she just kept wondering why that wasn’t good enough for her husband.
Eight years after her divorce, Debbie’s oldest son went to a healing weekend with his wife and mother-in-law. He invited Debbie to go but she declined. The next year, he invited her again so she accepted.
They were there for three days and Debbie listened and learned a lot about how to get rid of the baggage you’re holding on to. There were stories about people who called estranged parents and siblings and reconciled.
Debbie kept wondering who she should call. First, she thought of her sister who she wasn’t particularly close to, but didn’t feel that was quite right. The last day of the conference rolled around and Debbie still hadn’t called anyone, and she was one of the last to do so. Finally, she asked her son for her ex-husband’s phone number.
The Phone Call
At that point, he was married to a new wife. But she called him and apologized for any part she had played in their marriage ending. She apologized for any distance he had felt from their kids for the last eight years. She told him that she just wanted him to be happy.
He asked her if he could say something. He then went on the list everything he felt that Debbie had done wrong. She listened to him for 45 minutes. She’s sure she even took responsibility for world hunger at some point. He told her she needed to set straight all of the lies that the kids believed about him.
Finally she told him that she had to get back to class. Once back inside, they asked Debbie how the phone call had gone. She said, “This had been the stupidest weekend of my life!” She got nowhere, even though she had done everything they’d said to do. After a little while longer, she just stormed out of the class. When she opened the doors, there stood her son and his wife.
Debbie just fell into his arms and cried. He came to the conference because he knew that Debbie would need him after talking to his dad. They all went to dinner together and she told him about the phone call.
At one point, her son said, “Mom, what did you expect? It’s dad.” Her ex-husband never took responsibility for anything. And that was that.
The Turning Point
Debbie went home that night but that weekend was a turning point for her. From that day on, she has not been angry. She realized that she actually feels sorry for her ex. Every once in a while it all comes back to the surface and she still feels that hurt, but the anger is gone.
Debbie realized it takes too much energy to be angry. Someone once told Debbie that being angry with someone is like letting them rent space in your head for free. Debbie had finally reached a point where she was able to give God her anger and let go of those expectations of hearing her ex apologize and just leave it with God.
Lesson #2: Accept Responsibility for Your Choices
At one point her son asked her if she had ever been angry with God. Debbie says she wasn’t. There is an object lesson that Debbie remembers where you pick up a stick. The other end always comes with it, no matter what. That’s like our choices. The consequences will come, and we have to take responsibility for the choices that we make.
Debbie takes full responsibility for the choice she made to marry Bob. She had only known him for three months. Debbie kept trying when things got bad, she tried to get Bob to go to counseling, but he didn’t want to. She made a lot of choices but she never blamed God for those choices. You have to live with your choices.
But she also never could have gotten through without God’s help. She knows He was there helping her, even though things were difficult. People can’t help you the way God can. They can give you advice and encouragement. But at the end of the day, you go home to your life and they go home to their life. And you still have to deal with everything. Only God that can be there for you full-time.
Looking back, Debbie realized she hadn’t prayed very much about marrying Bob. She wishes she had taken that choice more seriously. She says that when you marry someone, you are literally marrying the other half of your kids.
Debbie says that her kids are all amazing and wonderful citizens and amazing parents. All of them have faced major challenges, like facing abuse from their dad. But they are the most loving, kind, parents. Debbie loses sleep over the abuse her kids faced at the hand of her ex. It was never to the point that they had to go to the hospital, but the emotional abuse was very scarring too.
Lesson #3: Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce
Debbie has a list of do’s and don’ts for those going through divorce:
Don’t stay in a marriage where there is abuse.
- If you have done everything you can to figure it out and nothing is working, it’s not worth it. Debbie says she stayed 13 years too long. Get help if you can. If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org.
Don’t discuss your problems with your children.
- They don’t need to be burdened with that. When Debbie was a kid, she remembers one Christmas when her dad was gone and she was really sad about it. She told her mom that she felt bad that he was alone. Debbie thought he was just working (which he wasn’t), but her mom told her that he wasn’t alone and left it at that.
Don’t speak badly of the other parent.
- Kids love both their parents and need to be able to make their own judgements about their parents when they are old enough.
Don’t fight over the holidays.
- Try and work out a schedule where the kids can see both parents during the festivities. They shouldn’t feel pulled or like they have to choose.
Do support your kids no matter what.
Supporting children and grandchildren in their activities is so important–even if the ex is going to be there. Sometimes Debbie would go to a grandchild’s soccer game and Bob’s new wife would be there. She would wonder why that woman was holding her grandbabies. But you have to get past stuff like that. The kids had nothing to do with the situation. The grandkids don’t even know that Debbie and Bob were ever married. There’s just no reason to bring them into it.
6. Do Make Up Your Mind about Being Married or Single.
If you get a divorce, decide that you’re going to be single until your kids are raised. Debbie never got remarried but she did date for a few years and she doesn’t recommend it. (Although each person should pray about their unique situation).
While there are lots of people that end up in happy marriages, you have to nurture that new relationship, and for Debbie that takes times away from your kids that they deserve. Through the divorce process, you aren’t all the way there emotionally for your kids. Debbie feels bad she wasn’t there for her kids emotionally through high school. So why try and do another relationship on top of all that?
Debbie says that for situations where there is not abuse going on, it may be worth it to even stay until your kids are out of school so that you can continue to nurture your relationships with your kids. After some of her boys moved in with their dad, she never got to tuck them in again. There are experiences she wishes she’d been able to have if she had stayed until they were done with school.
7. Do ask for help.
Debbie was so embarrassed about her situation and she was so confused. She didn’t go to any professionals for help. She tried to get Bob to go to counseling, which he refused.
But Debbie still wonders maybe if she had reached out to someone else, if it would have made a difference. There are lots of resources you can access, and your best friends aren’t one of them. Find a professional.
Lesson #4: Find Yourself
Believing Your Worth
Growing up, Debbie had always felt like a princess. When she was a kid, Debbie was sure the whole universe revolved around her. She always won races, she got everything she wanted, she had lots of friends, and she was sure everyone was always happy when she entered the room.
Debbie was sure she was her dad’s favorite too. So when he told her to look pretty for her husband every day, she was shocked. She felt like a shell of her old self. She didn’t know what to do or how to act anymore.
Debbie started wondering what she had done wrong or why she wasn’t good enough. In a subsequent relationship which didn’t work out, Debbie’s self-esteem plummeted again.
Re-Discovering Worth & Self-Esteem
But the one thing that kept her on track was teaching seminary. She spent a lot of time studying scriptures and that really helped her feel her self-worth increase. Being a successful dance studio owner and teacher was another thing that really helped her feel in control and more like a princess again.
But her self-esteem really didn’t get back to a good level until she came back to Salt Lake. She started running marathons when she got to Salt Lake, which helped her feel physically better about herself.
She remembers standing in front of her house one day and thinking about how our lives have chapters. Debbie had to do a lot of praying in that chapter of her life to recognize that she does have worth.
She had worth as a mother, a dance teacher, a seminary teacher, but she also just had inherent worth. Just by being Debbie, she had worth. When she realized that, she felt like a princess again. We all are royalty. We all get beat up with things in life. When Debbie was betrayed by someone she loved and trusted it was devastating.
But finding out who you are through study and prayer helps you to keep going. You can learn to be okay with yourself. At one point, Debbie’s brother said to her, “It’s good to see Debbie back.” She hadn’t noticed, but she wasn’t herself at all throughout her marriage.
We tend to mold ourselves to where we think we need to be in relationships. It’s kind of a survival tactic. Debbie was trying to survive emotionally. But when she was finally on the other side, she found herself again.
Favorite Bible Verse
Debbie loves Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.”
What’s interesting about that verse for Debbie is that when she and Bob were trying to work on things, they went to a little shop together and she saw that verse on a plaque. Bob saw her looking at it and bought it for her. That verse got her through her divorce.
“The Mystic Trilogy”
Debbie started writing “The Mystic Trilogy” when her kids were young. She stuck the pages in her writing file and forgot about it for years. In 2009, she came to Salt Lake to help when her mom was sick and the pages resurfaced in her writing file. So she started writing again.
A lot of what the characters experience in the book is based on Debbie’s own life and experiences. You can find “The Mystic Trilogy” on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.