Good morning friends,

I need your prayers. I’ve been convicted that I’m not practicing what I preach. I want Christ to be first yet I find I’m too busy to relax and enjoy him. I’m always thinking of the “next” thing that is due or has to be done. Pray for me, that I would put him first, above all else. That is what I want but my behaviors are not lining up with my desires. So I share with you my struggle so that you, my friends, will pray and ask me the hard questions. We all need support, prayer and accountability. I don’t want to ever think I can do this life by myself.

Question: My husband has had several affairs. One sexual and the other emotional. After each one, I have tried to work on myself and felt the affairs occurred because I needed to fix things in my own life. I needed to be more loveable, appealing and easy to be with. In so many ways I have been completely humbled and broken, but despite the changes in my own life I recently discovered he had resumed calling the woman he had been having an emotional affair with 4 years ago. In addition, he has confessed to having a sexual addiction or integrity issues involving pornography and pleasing himself sexually. Yet, even while he has been doing this, I have felt loved and cared for by him most of the time.

My biggest concern has been however, when we have discussions, I feel very intimidated by him and end up backing away or apologizing profusely because I’m afraid of his anger and intimidation. I’m not perfect and see so many of my own faults and insecurities but I desire to have intimacy with God. I’m fit, I have a great profession, close relationships and work at being a good parent to my son (16) and daughter (18).

So here is my dilemma. My husband and I are separated. After the last affair, it was agreed if he ever did this again it would mean automatic divorce, no more counseling, etc. When we first separated I felt scared, but now after 5 months I’m fine and our children are fine. They say they prefer him gone and we have needed time to heal. Before, I tried so hard to re-build my marriage that our children took a back seat. Now I’m enjoying the peace of our home instead of always being anxious that I would make a mistake that would drive him into the arms of another woman.

I’m thriving, going to a great Christian counselor and reading and trying to understand sexual addiction. However, my husband wants another chance and feels he now understands why he made so many hurtful choices. He periodically meets with a pastor from our church but has not sought counseling or a recovery group. He seems softer, has realized much and constantly says he misses me and loves me, but I have lost my desire for him. I almost would be embarrassed to put myself through this again but feel guilty or unsure if I’m disobeying God. Isn’t God a God of second or fifth chances?

I have never been good at discerning when my husband was betraying me how can I ever trust him? How do I know if he is fully recovered? Am I being disobedient at not giving him another chance?

Answer: Oh how we wish life’s decisions could be black and white and that God would just tell us what to do. I struggle with the same dilemma of “not knowing” the future, or the reliability of a person’s words. Talk is cheap and insight, even good and truthful self-awareness, is still a long way off from faithful and consistent change in a person’s heart and habits (as I mentioned in my own struggles lately).

The good news is you don’t have to decide just yet about whether or not to follow through with divorce. You indicate you are getting good counsel so I’m going to just give you some things to talk about with your counselor to make sure you are moving in the right direction.

Pay attention to your feelings but don’t allow yourself to be ruled by them. You feel anxious by his anger and intimidation. Is this true in other relationships as well or mainly with him? You indicate your own insecurity issues and sometimes people who fear rejection are easily intimidated into compliance because they fear disapproval or loss of relationship even when the other person isn’t intentionally trying to be controlling.

This season of separation can be a good test for you to observe the fruit of your change as well as his. Are you able to speak up and say no, even if you still feel anxious or intimidated? And, can he hear and respect your “no” the first time, without arguing, trying to change your mind or threatening you with loss of potential reconciliation? If you’re still not able to be clear and direct with what you want or don’t want because of fear, you need to figure out why. Is it him or it is your need to please, to not disappoint, and to always be the accommodating one?

Your husband has done great damage to your family and marriage yet he seems to not want to work very hard at making sure he never does it again. That does not sit well with me. Why has he not gone to personal counseling, joined a recovery group or taken other steps to deal with his problems? You say you’re reading about sexual addiction, but is he? You seem to have done lots of work to mature, grow, and become a more godly woman but what exactly has your husband done to identify his problems and change them?

From what you describe, it seems to me that your husband has been ruled by a selfish and a lazy heart. (These are defined more fully in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.) Pornography and masturbation are selfish and lazy ways to have sexual pleasure and release without the responsibilities of relationship or mutual giving. It’s all about him! From what you describe, most of the marriage has been all about him and what you’ve lacked or not done to make him happy or keep him faithful to you.

Affairs are also selfish and indulgent. He wasn’t thinking of you or your children, only about what he felt and what he wanted. From my vantage, what you describe as your husband’s change is really just more of the same but now instead of the other woman, you’ve become the desired object he wants.

Yes, God is a God of second chances, of fifth chances, of hundredth chances, but you are not God. You do not know his heart, only God can discern his true motives. However you can use the growth you’ve achieved to speak the truth in love, ask him to do the work required in order for you to be willing to consider reconciliation and build trust again and see what happens. If his heart is truly changed, he will. If not, he will get angry, blame you and want you to do the work to trust him. You’ve already been around that bend several times and you’re wise to not repeat it.

I’ve been pondering the whole paradox of thinking in categories of both/and versus either/or. I’ve written more about it in my latest book, Lord, I Just Want to be Happy. But we humans like things to be either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful, hard or easy, etc. But I’m afraid things are much messier than that. There is good in bad, bad in good, suffering in blessing, blessing in suffering. There is both/and in much of life and in our spiritual walk.

God calls us to be loving and truthful, forgiving and prudent about dangerous or destructive people, as well as tough and tender. How we navigate through those biblical paradoxes isn’t always clear and that’s why we need a community of believers – our church family, good friends, pastoral help as well as wise Christian counsel to understand not only the big picture of our situation, but also the big picture of scripture. It’s so easy to take one verse out of context and try to make it a rule or principle that we must follow in order to be right with God. God knows your heart and scripture says we walk by faith not by sight. We don’t always know the right way, but if we are seeking God’s best, he promises to direct our steps (Psalm 32:8). I believe that when we do that by faith, we do not need to be anxious. God understands our humanness and is gracious even with our failures and mistakes.

 

5 Comments

  1. Kris on September 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

    My heart cries for you as I have been where you are. Firstly, you are NOT the reason he cheated…that was HIS choice. My ex had MANY affairs and one night stands that I was unaware of for 20 years. He also had an anger issue that I spent much of my life living to avoid his temper. I recently read through the journals I kept during my time of finding out, learning about addiction, and after much prayer, coming to the decision of divorce. My ex often told me how I needed to be like God and keep forgiving. He didn’t understand that forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to put myself into that same position to be hurt so much. There were so many times he “finally understood” how much he hurt me and would never do it again, only for me to find out he continued to lie and cheat, even while in counseling. Does this sound familiar?

    If you are learning about addiction, you may learn that porn is just the entry drug into worse behavior. You will also learn that in the scopes of addiction, sexual addiction is the most difficult to overcome. And as far as sexual addiction is concerned, it’s not “if” they relapse, but “when”.

    My ex was my best friend…..I thought. But I was living in a world of lies. I was afraid I wouldn’t make it alone, but like you, I found it very freeing, and the kids thrived without the stress of his temper flaring every day at the drop of a hat.

    You have a big decision…..keep listening to God speaking to your heart. He is so loving, caring, strong….this was an incredible time of spiritual growth for me…..you will find He will take care of you. He loves you so much.

    Prayers and peace to you….

  2. Bettina Morton on September 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Leslie, Thank you for taking the time to encourage us. I will pray for you as you desire: heeding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, quieting your mind and gaining quiet times with the Lord. Bettina

  3. Tracey on September 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Leslie, thank you for your biblical insight in responding to this question. I could relate in many ways and this clearly spoke to me and what I have been feeling lately.

    Your book “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” empowered me to see the reality of what was going on in my marriage and helped me to make changes. I am still trying to figure things out, but have freed myself from the dire straits I was in 2 years ago.

    I will pray for you! You have been a great blessing in my life.

  4. Leslie Vernick on September 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks so much for all of your encouragement and prayers. They are needed in this new book I’m writing on destructive marriages.

  5. Ann L on March 13, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Weighing in years later on this thought: “I have never been good at discerning when my husband was betraying me how can I ever trust him?”

    Same situation here. I have a great spidey-sense except when it comes to my husband. The counselor I see suggested that I focus only on what I know to be facts and ignore the doubts (what if I’m wrong? What if he finally gets it? etc).

    The result: What I know is pretty damning. I know the facts of (some of what) he’s done. I know that in counseling he continues to blame me for “triggering” his behaviors. I know that in times past, when I was feeling most loved, he was being extremely dishonest. I know that this is a continuing pattern of behavior throughout our 30-year marriage.

    I also know that I have made the choice to change my part of our relationship dance. With the help of Al Anon I know that I did not cause his behaviors, I cannot control his behaviors, and I can’t cure his behaviors. With the help of counseling and this blog, I know that my perceptions about our relationship are valid. I know that being honored as a person is separate from being “right” or “wrong.”

    Most importantly: I have come to understand that I do not trust him. With my fact-based approach, I can rationally see that he is not trying to re-build trust. He is doing what he always did in the past, with loving looks, and thoughtful gestures.

    My fact-based approach lets me step away from the guilt and doubts. I can say, freely and clearly, that I don’t owe him yet another reconciliation.

    If it look like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s a duck. My guilt and second-thoughts can’t, won’t, don’t change that.

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