CONQUER, the educational support group for women in destructive marriages has opened its doors for one week only. If you’d like more information click here.
More than ever, especially in this time of social distancing and isolation, if you are a christian woman in a destructive and/or abusive marriage you need help. You need to get godly support, education on what the Bible and God says about abuse as well as practical help to grow, to set boundaries, to develop a safety plan, to talk with your kids, and to heal. CONQUER will help you do all of that and more. We will be starting all new members on their CONQUER journey of Safety, Clarity, Stability, Strengthening and Confidence on Wednesday, April 29th. If you’d like more information click here.
Today's Question: My husband has had several affairs. One sexual and the other emotional. After each one, I have tried to work on me and felt they occurred because I needed to fix something wrong with me. I needed to be more loveable, more appealing and easy to be with. In so many ways I have been completely humbled and broken, but despite the changes, I’ve made 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 secretly doing this, I have felt loved and cared for by him most of the time.
My biggest concern has been, however, when we have a talk. 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 I work at being a good parent to my son (16) and daughter (18).
So here is my dilemma. My husband and I are now 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 rebuild 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: We all wish life’s decisions could be black and white and that God would clearly tell us what to do. I have the same struggle 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.
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 paying attention to what’s important to pay attention to.
First, pay attention to your emotions but don’t allow yourself to be ruled by them. You said you feel anxious by his anger and intimidation. Is this also true in other relationships or mainly with him? You indicate your own insecurity issues and sometimes when we fear rejection we are more easily intimidated into compliance because we’re afraid of their disapproval or loss of relationship even if the other person isn’t intentionally trying to be controlling. However, if you just feel anxious around him when you talk, pay close attention.
Second, pay attention to the fruit of your own life changes as well as his. For example, are you able to still speak up and say no, even as you feel anxious or intimidated? And, when you do, does he hear and respect your “no” the first time? Without arguing or trying to change your mind? Or threatening you with loss of potential reconciliation? If you aren’t clear and direct with him with what you want or don’t want because of fear, you need to figure out why. Is it him? Or, is it your need to please, to not disappoint, and to always be the accommodating one?
Third, your husband has done a lot of harm to your family and marriage yet he doesn’t seem to be working very hard to make sure he never does it again. That does not sit well with me, how about you? For example, why hasn’t he gone for 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 godly woman but what exactly has your husband done to identify his problems and change them?
His infidelity and sexual addiction are not marriage problems. They are personal character issues that cause marriage problems.
From what you describe, my guess is your husband is ruled by a selfish and lazy heart. (These are defined more fully in chapters 4 and 5 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 a 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 based on what you describe as your husband’s change, it’s still more of the same. He wants what he wants, but now instead of another woman, you’ve become the desired object he wants.
You’re right. 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.
Finally, we like things to be crystal clear. We want them black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful, hard or easy, etc. But I’m afraid real life is messier than those simplistic dichotomies. There is good in bad, bad in good, suffering in blessing, blessings in suffering. There is both/and in much of life and in our spiritual walk. Click To Tweet
God calls us all to be loving and truthful and forgiving and prudent. When dealing with dangerous or destructive people, He also tells us to be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents. How we navigate through those biblical paradoxes isn’t always clear and that’s why we need wise others, CONQUER, a strong 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.
Therefore, you won’t always know the perfect right way when you try to figure it all out, but if you are seeking God’s best, He promises to direct your 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.
Friends, how have you learned to be less anxious about decision making regarding whether or not reconciliation is possible?
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A key question to ask: Do you trust your husband based on how he lives? It hurts to realize you don’ trust him, if that’s true. Base your decision on truth. I’ve had to step back in my marriage of many years and look at who my husband has chosen to be based on his words and his behavior toward me. For me the truth is quite painful, but I choose to live in truth and face what God is showing me. Now I have what I need to make decisions!
What a loving and truthful response!
You wrote: “ His infidelity and sexual addiction are not marriage problems. They are personal character issues that cause marriage problems.”
This is critical for anyone facing these areas of betrayal. My hope is that more courageous women are teaching the younger generation of women this truth!
For me, I think what is helpful is having a multitude of counselors that bring a bigger picture.
One common pattern is that betrayers and those with characters issues tend not to be fully invested in doing work on themselves or surrendering to a life of transformation.
Some places that have helped me discern areas-
The posture of the heart and what one does to take full responsibility for their actions.
If you are working harder than the offender, then often that’s a helpful clue as to the health condition of the relationship.
There is a good book out that i read “Too good to leave, too bad to stay” that helped me alot
Yes, this book has helpful questions to ask yourself when you’re on the fence about whether to stay or go.
I’m thinking that the children’s attitude speaks volumes. Most children want both parents at all costs, so if they are ok with him gone, he doesn’t seem to have had much of a relationship with them, at least not a good one. I would pay a lot of attention to that. And, he could build trust from afar. He doesn’t need to move back to do that. I’m guessing you would know that you know if he was safe, and wouldn’t even have to ask the question here.
Maybe it was convenient? He now has to cook and clean and all that? How nice to run off and do your own thing and come home to a woman who turns herself inside out to be the best wife possible? I bet he misses that.
You are never responsible for another person’s sin. Ever. Let God show you how precious and valuable you are to Him and you will not be wishing for second best anymore.
“You are never responsible for another person’s sin. Ever.” Excellent point, Connie. I wish all wives would hear that. Then they wouldn’t take the guilt load that “If I had only….” What? lost weight….been nicer….cleaned the house better…. All the lies he uses to blame you for not being a better wife. What about him being a better husband? What about him being faithful? We don’t ever have to put up with adultery; God doesn’t.
If the previously agreed upon consequence was immediate divorce, then that is what you need to do. Otherwise you are setting the precedent that your words mean nothing. He must know that you will follow through with what you say every time. Now, that doesn’t mean that if he doesn’t actually change (which I am not at all convinced has happened yet because most of the evidences of true change are absent) you cannot get back together at some point in time. But that would need to be after EVERY evidence of real change is present, you are 100% sure you can trust him again, and he is willing to have continuous accountability throughout the remainder of your lives together.
Excellent counsel about HIS selfishness.
It seems like the abuse in this marriage is being minimized by the counsel. Sometimes you aren’t aware of all the subtleties of abuse because it is just a normal part of your life. There are lots of “acceptable” excuses for bad behavior that we get used to. It’s one thing to be irritable after a tough drive home, it’s another when you end up apologizing to him because you weren’t able to stroke his ego while he’s pitching a fit over supper not being ready (or whatever he’s mad about). I don’t want you to put too much into my example. What I’m concerned about are the effects on you. Consider these to be the “fruit” of the abuse he is constantly throwing at you:
1. You end up taking responsibility for his behavior as evidenced by your apologies.
2. You are confused (because his behavior makes no sense-it’s crazy making)
3. You’re afraid of him
4. The kids are glad he’s gone
5. You’re finally able to be at peace.
Now here’s the kicker. God calls you to be at peace. It’s virtually impossible to know God when you’re living in chaos. Doesn’t God lead you by still waters? And make you lie down in green pasture? How can you lie down if you’re always on the alert for when the next thing bad happens? How can the water be still when it’s constantly being stirred up?
We all want to hear the “I love you’s” and the devil you know sounds better than the uncertainty of what you will find around the next corner. But you have a long way to go to untangle all the lies you’ve been living by. How do I know? Because of your uncertainty. You have to become more important. It should not be a sin (in your mind) to do what is best for you. Your life is upside down when your faith is used against you to confuse you and make you the one responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.
It’s not your fault that he’s been running around. That’s completely on him. He’s still trying to skip out on his responsibility by trying to get back into your life. He’s not concerned about what his behavior has done to you. Talk is cheap. Growth is hard and takes a long time, and a lot of work.
I’m running on and on so I’m going to quit now. I hope you can find some clarity from what I’ve written. I’m wishing you the best.
I have started a praise journal to acknowledge every person who comes into my life and treats me with kindness and respect. For me, this has been healing. When I compare how ordinary people talk to me compared to how my abuser spoke, I see his terrible lies. Now, I have blocked out all people from my life who are not edifying to me. I treat others with respect and I deserve the same treatment. God continues to send me messages through those people. For example my neighbor said, you are a kind woman. Yes, that is true! I accept that. I am a kind woman. How sharply this contrasts to the lies my abuser has fed me. If someone doesn’t show you common courtesy and respect, doesn’t apologize for mistreatment or won’t accept responsibility for their actions, cut them out of your life.
Excellent, Leslie. Such wise words.
I have been married to my husband for over 25 years now. When we were courting my husband used to love bomb me and he could not keep his hands off me or see enough of me. After our marriage, even on our first night together, i could see that he was cold and not into me. As the years wore on, it was obvious that he did not really love me. He did all the outward stuff like repair my car and help with the household chores and look after our child but he was not interested to develop a relationship with me.
He was hardly into sex and after 5 or 6 years of infrequent sex, that too came to a permanent end. MY husband stopped working a couple of years after our marriage and he remains unemployed till now. He wants to have his own business but that is not feasible as he has no savings and I am reluctant to give him any as I am not sure if he has what it takes to run a business.
The bottom line is I feel he targeted me for marriage so that he could have this life where the wife will provide for the home and he can just sit back and not worry about finances. He is into porn and masturbation. He refused counseling for porn. Later he had an affair and also refused counseling saying he knows the answer but cannot follow it. I think what he was trying to say is that he knew the pastor will tell him to work on our relationship but he could not. Meaning he does not love me. My pastor does not believe that my husband “plotted” to marry me, he just thinks the marriage went bad and I sat on it for too long.
I just feel used and discarded. My husband accused me of being cold and distant and that was why he was driven into an affair. I think he stays around as I supply the money. He is almost 60 years. He refused divorce citing that we have so much history together and that he wants to keep the family intact.
He has this entitlement attitude like he has a right to all the money I own. My pastor insist that my husband has a right to what money I have. I no longer trust my husband and although I let him have a joint account he has taken so much of the funds and gave no account to me.
I am also nearing 60 and am at my wits end. I don’t know how to deal with my husband. I am too scared to cancel the joint account and I try to save what I can. I don’t think this marriage can be saved no matter how many chances I give him because he is not interested in me as a person.
all these years I thought I was to blame and that I was too ugly and fat and horrible that my own husband could not love me. I don’t want to be filled with self loathing anymore.
I’m so sorry. Your story sounds very much like mine. Twice. 25 years the first time, and now 15. Sexual sin ruins them completely . I’ve dragged them to counseling, and no change besides learning the lingo to better impress others, and to keep us sucked in if we make moves to leave. Mine told me last week that he knows what do, he just doesn’t want to.
I’ve learned to detach emotionally and to live my life for my Lord. It’s a daily surrender. I don’t feel I can leave just now, so I’m distantly polite, set boundaries for the safety of my heart, and pray a lot. I insisted on a separate bank account, which he still resents, but that’s ok. Like Pharaoh, he has hardened his heart and I trust God to deal with that.
The best thing I did a few years ago was stand before a mirror and ask God what He thinks of me. In the next few days He answered me and I haven’t been the same since. What those men think or say just doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, it’s pathetic!
it seems so scary to leave. The thought of being alone frightens many people into staying. What you are doing is not marriage, it is exploitation. What could be your first step to kick the bum out of your home? Have you seen a lawyer? You deserve a better journey into your golden years. Push forward and safe yourself from this mistreatment. The journey is difficult at first but the freedom you experience is worth every difficult day you experienced to get away from an abusive spouse.
Your brain is in a fog at the moment. He likes that and he did it to you. Trust your gut. Be brave. Call a lawyer, find out your rights and then act.
Susan,I am so sorry that you have experienced such mistreatment,first from your husband and then from your pastor.” You waited too long” is blame shifting and not true.Your husband has serious life issues related to his selfishness and immaturity and he has harmed you by his sinful behavior.These are not marriage issues. It is time for you,dear sister,to think of your future and all that the Lord has for you,his precious daughter.It is hard and scary to shift our perspective about marriage but Leslie’s mantra was what woke me.God cares about the safety and sanity of the people in a marriage and not just about the sanctity of marriage.Lean into the Lord and let his love and truth speak into your heart.Educate yourself about what a destructive marriage is by reading Leslie’s books and listening to her videos.So glad you have found this blog.It is a safe place.
Susan, there are a couple of very important points that the others have made that I’d like to underline. I am so sorry that you have had to put up with such a destructive marriage. And I am even sorrier that your pastor has shifted blame to you instead of your husband. Your h is committing adultery with his porn addiction, which gives you the right to kick the bum out. There are scriptures that tell us that if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t expect to eat. (1 Thess. 3:10) Doesn’t your pastor know these things? Again, nothing you do or don’t do gives your husband an excuse to sin. He is sinning against both you and your daughter and the Lord with his behavior, and now you must pray for the courage to say “NO MORE!” Unless you are concerned that he will turn violent, just go ahead and set up that separate account. By all means, consult a lawyer to learn what your rights are in your state. If you want to give him an allowance until he can find an apartment of his own, be sure that there is a time limit on that, but you don’t need to be supporting his sinful behavior. If you are concerned about violence, then you must prepare for separation secretly. Please read Leslie’s book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and for sure, get yourself a therapist who is trained to work with abusive marriages. Your pastor isn’t trained, and he sure isn’t helping. You don’t need marriage counseling; you need help to stand on your own feet and stand up to this man who has been abdicating his responsibilities as a man and as a husband. for many years….since the wedding! Pay attention to the others here who have been where you are; there is help for you, and we all can be praying for you, too.
Your statement, “He refused divorce citing that we have so much history together and that he wants to keep the family intact,” seemed to me to be evidence that you are still in an abuser’s FOG—induced Fear, Obligation, Guilt. It takes two people to birth and nurture a marriage, it takes ONE PERSON to file for divorce. I’m not sure what you meant by the statement, however, YOU have the power—and responsibility—to steward your soul, your finances, etc. One spouse can file for divorce.
May God heal your soul and guide you. Much love . . .
Thank you for this timely post Leslie
If only it was one more chance! If we are honest with ourselves we have given him “one more chance” one hundred times. If something has truly changed you wouldn’t be asking this question. The answer is, “No.” No more “one more chances!” Let’s be wise and not take the bait, one more time, accept another excuse, one more time, or disrespect ourselves by subjecting ourselves to evil, one more time.
I really needed to see this today! God always brings things to me at the time I am questioning things and wondering how I am supposed to know if h is being real or playing games. Thank you for your insights on this, Leslie.
Thank you for your ministry; when I am confused about how to maintain my personhood while engulfed in a marriage with a malignant, covert narcissist so much of your writings clarify the issue and gives me insight so as to survive another day. God bless. Vicki