Blessings Everyone!

Lately I have been deeply grieved by the depth of our own self-deception and how it so impacts our relationships with one another. Being a counselor you’d think I’d get used to it but I don’t. Sometimes I have to confront someone’s self-deception. Even after all these years, it always surprises me when an individual continues to prefer blindness to truth, darkness to light, and bondage to freedom.

Along those lines, I want to share with you a little story I’ve pondered for years. I don’t know who wrote it but it poignantly illustrates how cleverly we lie to ourselves in order to serve our own agenda.

A pious man explained to his followers: “It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. ‘Don’t be scared,' I tell those fishes. ‘I am saving you from drowning.' Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes.”

God says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10)

The psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

My challenge to you this week goes along with my answer to this week’s question. How do you and I speak truth in love to ourselves and one another so that we will grow and not continue to be self-deceived?

This week’s question: My situation is confusing and complicated and I feel very trapped. In addition to the emotionally destructive patterns encountered with my husband (of 25 years), it has also been discovered that he is addicted to pornography. I have started over and over with him, been in and out of counseling for over 7 years and there has been no progress. Due to his skill at fooling others, he has only been enabled more. There is much more to the story but the bottom line is, my trust in him is completely gone and I haven’t felt safe for a long time. Should I be giving him another chance and if so, how do I set and implement appropriate boundaries? Or would it be best to seek a separation and if so, how do I wisely do that?

Answer: You know by now (if you’ve been reading my blog) that I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I’m going to suggest some things to think about in order to make a wise and godly decision that is best for you and your family.

Let me start by asking you a few questions. What makes you feel unsafe and trapped? Since I have no details in this situation let me say right off the bat that if you have been physically abused and/or fear for your physical safety, separating from your husband may increase your danger. Even if there has been no physical abuse, some women tell me that their husbands have threatened them with physical harm, even death, should they ever leave the marriage. That does not mean that you shouldn’t separate, however it does mean that you need a plan to do so wisely. I would advise consulting with a counselor who is experienced in abusive relationships so he or she can work with you to develop a safety plan that will help you separate a way that is most likely to keep you, and any children you need to take with you, safe from harm. Here are some resources that can help you. National Domestic Violence Hotline 800 799 7233; www.awakeonline.org; www.peaceandsafety.com

If your physical safety is not an issue, I’d like you to ask yourself some additional tough questions. Why are you considering giving him another chance when you haven’t gotten anywhere in 7 years? You’ve already felt like you’ve enabled his deception to continue. Why would you partner with him in more darkness? The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results. You need to be as honest with yourself as you can in order to make the best decision.

For example you may answer, “because I can’t afford to live on my own”, or “I’m scared to leave and be alone”. Perhaps another reason is that you are feeling lots of pressure from the Christian community to forbear and give him another chance or another reason might be that your children wouldn’t understand and you’re afraid that they’ll take sides. Like many people, you might believe that God requires you to stay for better or worse and if you left, you’d be under God’s wrath and judgment.

After you’ve answered the question about why you are thinking about staying, ask yourself what do you really want to do and why? Not what you should do, but what do you want to do? These questions are important to answer before you move forward so that you can move forward in the wisest way possible.

I’ve worked with some women in your situation who choose to stay because they believe it is God’s will for them, and/or because they will be financially destitute if they leave. They are not prepared to be self-supporting yet feel pressured to leave by family or friends because of the foolish and sinful behaviors of their spouse. If you are leaning toward staying, understand it will be easier for you to stay if you don’t expect your husband to change or to be honest or faithful since his track record proves otherwise. You can’t trust him because he is not trustworthy. He has shown you over the past 7 years that he has no intention of building trust between you or doing the work he needs to do to change.

Please don’t misunderstand me. You can choose to stay in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage and make the best of it as long as you don’t expect it to be any different. If this is what you decide then focus on you and your children and your relationship with the Lord and what he can show you through this difficult season in your life instead of trying to get your husband to change. Like Abigail in the Old Testament (see 1 Samuel 25 for the story), you can still be a beautiful and intelligent woman, while married to a fool. Abigail is remembered for her ability to make the best out of a bad situation both in her marriage to Nabal as well as in her dealings with David.

On the other hand, if you decide to separate, be clear on your purposes. Are you separating because the marriage over and you are tired of the continued abuse, deceit and unfaithfulness with pornography? Or are you leaving with the hope that your husband will wake up, come to his senses and repent? If it is the latter, then boundaries are appropriate so that he realizes that he does not get the perks of marriage if he continues to deceive you, abuse you, and devalue you through his disrespect and his pornography addiction.

Boundaries are tricky to state and implement and they reflect something about you. For example, an ineffective boundary would be, “You cannot lie to me anymore”.

You have no control over your husband’s deceit. But what you can say is this. “I cannot (will not) continue to share a life with someone I cannot trust. You have repeatedly lied to me over the years and I do not want to continue to live this way because I can’t trust you.”

“If you want me to ever trust you again you will have to earn it. That requires you to be honest when you fail, honest with your counselor and honest about the past. If you do not do this or choose not to, then I will not be able to consider reconciliation.”

When you say this, then he knows up front that the marriage is over if he chooses to continue to lie. For more examples of boundary setting see my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship or Cloud and Townsend’s book, Boundaries in Marriage. Also you may want to go to my free resource page on my website and read my article on “For Better or Worse”

I could say more but I’ve tried to give you some things that I haven’t already said before in recent blogs. Should you give him another chance? No one can answer that one for you but you. Jesus tells Peter when he asked how many times he needed to forgive someone, “Don’t count” but Jesus also knew that when there is no repentance for continued serious sin, there is broken fellowship (see Matthew 18:15-17). Remember, unconditional love does not always merit unconditional relationship.

Every close relationship has certain basic conditions that are needed to flourish. Mutual caring, mutual respect and mutual honesty. It sounds like at least two if not three of these are missing in your marriage. What is going to be any different if you give him another chance?

11 Comments

  1. Anonymous on August 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    THank you, I'm struggling with a similar situation and needed to read this today.

  2. Anonymous on August 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I like the three points Leslie emphasizes here: honesty, respect, and care, and how closely they are intertwined.
    It is difficult, if not impossible to have genuine respect for someone that you cannot trust. When trust is broken it creates a feeling of disrespect for the you as the offended person. In that state, you can remain honest, treat someone respectfully and with care, but may not truly respect their character and struggle with loving them. When the honesty piece is lacking that makes it so much harder to allow yourself to be vulnerable to give and receive love (care) in that relationship.
    Aagh- these are such daunting thoughts and we are such broken people! Relationships with others are both a joy and a chore. That verse in Jeremiah is tough but so true.
    Blessings to you all in this journey!

  3. Anonymous on August 28, 2010 at 1:57 am

    To the woman in this week's question:
    25 years together and 7 years of counseling and he still isn't changing…hmm.
    You said you feel trapped, but I'm sure there are choices you can make. You could get out and get on with your life. True, God hates divorce, but he also hates abuse and deception and many other things. He can still use your life for good apart from your husband.

  4. Amy on August 30, 2010 at 3:46 am

    I lived 20 years in an emotionally, verbally and mentally abusive marriage and I can attest to the fact that leaving is not that easy. You do indeed feel trapped, especially if you are a Christian and are being told over and over that it is wrong to divorce and that with enough praying, submitting and respecting, you can get him to change.
    My husband walked out last year in hopes that I would see I could not live without him and would come to my senses.
    the Lord rescued me from a very abusive, destructive, unhealthy marriage, but it has taken me until right this moment in my life to realize that I have options. Three options in fact. One, I can go back and live another 20 years of my life trying to fix someone and pretending that a destructive relationship is okay. Two, I can stay right here in limbo, not doing anything and hiding my head in the sand hoping that somehow it will all just disappear. Three, I can divorce an abusive person and forgive him and myself, and accept that the Lord will still love me and accept me, and will work through this in my life.

    Getting out is the first hard step, and for me, if my husband had not left, I would still be there today.
    Getting on with your life, also very hard. Being in a relationship where you have completely given yourself up for someone else in an unhealthy way and had it drummed into your head day after day, that you are worthless, makes it very difficult to just get on with your life.
    There is much healing and when you are starting over at 45 as myself, it is much different from being 20-something.
    But it is possible and I would say now to women in this type of relationship…do not stay as long as I did believing the lies that not only your spouse tells you, but that of the church and Christian community.
    God does hate many things and He hates divorce because of the violence within the marriage that leads to it.
    For the OP, please find help and move on for your sake.
    God loves you.

  5. Anonymous on August 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

    all of this hurts! What is respect? What if he is trying to change and has convinced others by some external change- but his heart is still full of self?

  6. Leslie Vernick on August 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    My heart hearts for all of you struggling in difficult/destructive marriages. To some degree all of our hearts are full of self. I think the key factor here is not how much our heart is full of self, but how aware are we that our heart is still full of self and does that awareness bring genuine repentance. Only God can know for sure, but there are some definite fruits of repentance, one of which is a humility of heart that means I don't have to be first, right, tops, or best. I can give without always getting and I can also think about what's best for you, not only what's best for me.Hope that helps.

    Warmly,
    Leslie

  7. Anonymous on August 31, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Thank you Leslie for sharing your heart once again. I would suggest a few books for those who are hurting and reading your blog. THree books have helped tremendously this year. Leslie's book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart by Kathy Gallagher and At the Altar of SExual Idolatry by Kathy's husband Steve Gallagher. Read their books and most of you will realize that you have it so easy compared to Kathy and others who are mentioned in these books. Because of these three books, I've realized that I was wallowing in sin, I confessed and am now working on following Jesus, HIS WAY! Also, I have been led to realize that I AM BEAUTIFUL IN HIS EYES!!! Oh my goodness…I've seen those words so many times. enjoyed the song Her Father's Eyes and never realized it in my own life. I spent most of my fifty plus years feeling like a nobody, ugly, fat, etc. How freeing to know in my heart that I AM BEAUTIFUL!! Whether or not my husband ever tells me, I no longer need his affirmation of me! I'd welcome it, but it is no longer going to keep me down! I can still forgive him, love him and show him respect, which is what God has asked of me. This wife has chosen to stay through the worst, if necessary. God has not promised me happiness. He has promised to be faithful, caring, and to be with me always. I might as well live it out with this man as well as trying to find another guy who isn't going to hurt me also! I don't HAVE to stay in this relationship anymore like I used to think…but I CAN and Will with Jesus's help! Cause if I stay, and HE learns to take his faith in Christ to heart, we will have the victory over this sin in our lives! And my favorite of all…beating Satan at his game!

  8. Anonymous on September 8, 2010 at 2:43 am

    After 27 years of repeated adultery, porn, and the mountain of lies associated with them, I now see that my repeated "second chances" weren't seen by him as grace but as permission. He can keep at it because I keep forgiving him. He is quick to insist on me forgiving 70 x 7 but never shows the fruit of repentance.

    Thank you for helping me see it. Only way to stop it is to stand up and walk away because he just doesn't stop it. Please pray for me. I have no idea what lies ahead.

    • Ronda on December 1, 2016 at 9:07 am

      I’m in the exact situation but with 23 years. What has come of your situation?

  9. Anonymous on September 29, 2010 at 8:14 am

    It give me an odd sort of relief to know that I'm not the only woman who has been married 25 plus years and just having realized that it's not going to get any better. If anything, it's gotten worse. I now know what I need to do and feel like a dark heavy burden has been lifted. God does love me and I've found that I'm not such a horrible person to be around. No longer do I feel "if I just work harder" or "if I just do this right" and on and on. I can't fix things, I can't work hard enough to repair the damage that's been done. No longer will the muck-n-mire of his way of thinking and treating me pull me down into the depths of being suffocated by lies. Thank you so much for your ministry! Thank you to the other ladies who have written their comments… it does help to know that I am not alone.

  10. Ginny on September 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you SO much for this article! I filed for divorce after 27 yrs of marriage. tried to reconcile for the last year and my husband has continued to lie and look at pornography so I had no choice. Its been very painful. I have been judged by people in the church and have struggled for over a year with alot of emotional pain and grief. It is not what I wanted but he wasn’t willing to change and there were alot of other elements in the marriage. Still waiting after 16 mths for a court date and trying to live one day at a time. Believing God to help supply my needs as I wasn’t working at the time and am over 50 yrs old and just got a part time job. it hasn’t been easy thats for sure but the bible says he that looks at a woman with lust has already commited adultery. Plus in 2001 he cheated on me with another woman. I just couldn’t trust him anymore and he didn’t care, he is free now and enjoying his life and I am still grieving.

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