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?
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