I’m back at our little cabin at Pinetop, AZ. The weather has been wonderful. Lots of rain, which we desperately need. The temperatures are cool and my five-mile daily walk is a joy. I was joking with my husband that I kind of like the smallness of our space. It’s easier to put things away because leaving them out quickly creates a messy look, plus it’s only a few steps to put things away. It’s easier to hear him because even if I’m a room away, I’m only a few steps away. It’s easier to clean. Just a few swipes of the mop or vacuum and the job is done. I’m not ready for a tiny house just yet, but this has been a nice change.
Today’s Question: Twenty-three years ago (after being married 5), I had an emotional affair at work. The church advised me to quit my job. I did and immediately got pregnant with our first. I separated for a while because he was so mean to me, but the church said I needed to be with my husband for protection (nobody ever questioned my husband. He was the victim of an adulterous wife).
After the birth of our son, I divorced him. I made him an even bigger victim within the church. Women felt led to focus on me and get me back into my marriage. Four years later we remarried. Submitting to my husband, I found myself constantly trying to please him (I have a bookcase full of books on how to be a good wife), which resulted in a bad case of people-pleasing.
Not realizing how easily I was being manipulated, I allowed myself into a situation three years ago, that resulted in gross sexual imposition, which I am being blamed for because I was told I wanted it. I feel like a fool!!!! I am stupid trusting! I had to tell my husband to call this man to leave me alone. I had given him my number before he tried to rape me thinking he was a nice older man in the military taking care of a military wife on her way to visit her husband out of the country.
I am such a trusting person and a people pleaser. Crushed I cried to God. I am hopeless and such a bad person. God could not love me. That is when a friend showed me the book Boundaries. I woke up and realized I was being used by people. Boundaries and saying no were ok. These past three years have been a journey with God. A journey of healing and finding out how much He loves me and it is wonderful.
I try to share with my husband, but he says he feels threatened by me and feels I judge him. My marriage is not any better. We are in counseling (again) and now the counselor wants to see my husband alone. After his first session (and only alone session), my husband told me we had to reconcile over my unfaithfulness. It was put in my lap. What or how do I make amends for my stupidity? These past three years God has shown me that he loves me unconditionally. That I am here for Him and not to please people. My husband is hurting from my mistakes and bad judgment. I was wrong, but how do you get past this? He now uses these issues to blame me for all our problems. He cannot trust me.
Before this, he did not trust me and his behaviors were the same. He was always controlling and obsessively jealous. Now I gave him ammunition to make me owe him. Do I? I made a mistake. I have repented. How do you get past these kinds of trust issues in a marriage? Can you ever? I was looking at a divorce, but I have been home for 18 years now and have two kids with special needs. I cannot work outside the home and I feel trapped. I am trying to find peace through the Lord and not my marriage. Do I owe my husband any more than what I have already done? I want to move on from my past. I hate reliving those unwise choices. I learned from them and praying that God does not ever put me in that situation again, but if I am, I pray I can do a better job of resisting manipulation and or being preyed upon for a loveless marriage that I find myself in. I am not proud of my choices, but I know me. Had I been in a healthy relationship, I would have no need to even have stepped foot into the attention that it gave me.
Sometimes I feel like I blame my husband for my situation, but that isn't right either. I made the choice because I chose to marry a man that cares nothing for me, but just that his meals, laundry, and home are run from top to bottom. I am a slave. The slave who strayed and now I am being punished. I want to be free of this chain. With God, I am forgiven. With my husband, I am not. What do I do and how should I react to him?
Answer: First, I’m so sorry for all the pain you’re going through. Marriage, even good marriage is hard work and over time exposes our own issues – jealousies, insecurities, immature coping mechanisms, wrong thinking patterns, etc. We can blame marriage for exposing them, but they were in us. Your husband’s jealousy, entitlement thinking, and selfishness were in him before you had the emotional affair at work. Your people-pleasing and naivety were in you before your husband treated you so poorly.
But that’s not all. You also have strengths. You separated after your first baby was born because of your husband’s mistreatment of you. You sought counsel from those you believed had godly wisdom, even though they too were naïve and idealistic about how a destructive marriage is reconciled. You were an eager learner, reading a lot of books on how to make your marriage work. You care for two special needs children. You took what you read in Boundaries and applied it to many areas of your life and your relationship with God grew stronger and more secure than ever.
Currently, you are telling yourself that you must stay married for financial support. Yet you recoil at the thought of being just a slave who does his meals, laundry and takes care of the home. No one who is married wants to be “Just a paycheck” or “Just a maid”. Your question is where do you go from here?
It’s your choice but my advice would be to have an honest conversation with him (if it’s safe). If it’s not safe then you also have other issues to address because you cannot live peaceably with someone you are afraid of or who is afraid of you. You said he feels threatened and judged when you try to talk with him. I’m not sure what he means by this but what if you asked him? Does it mean you can’t be honest? Does it mean he never wants to hear your thoughts and feelings? What can you and he do differently to create a safe environment for both of you to talk honestly?
[Tweet “Rebuilding broken trust in a marriage relationship is possible but it’s not easy.”]It requires change and work on the part of both spouses. You are receiving inadequate counsel if all the counselor focuses on is you and what you did wrong. From what you say, trusting you was never easy for your husband but since these two episodes, his fear and mistrust are high. He also feels entitled to punish you for your betrayal. This is not God’s way. If he’s interested in what God has to say to him, then he has work to do also. Here are his two Biblical options.
Option #1 – Forgive you and work with you to rebuild broken trust and safety with you. Or Option #2 -Forgive you and acknowledge that marital trust and safety is irreparably broken and end the marriage. Biblically he does not have the option of staying married and punishing you forever for your wrongs.
I’d also encourage you to get some good counsel or coaching for yourself. From what you’ve said, your previous counsel has all been around “saving the marriage” yet the marriage relationship itself is broken even if the two of you stay legally married. You used to believe you were a bad person, stupid and unforgivable, but you don’t believe that anymore. You know God’s love for you and feel forgiven by him. But you still believe that you are incapable of working and supporting yourself with your two children. Your belief limits the options you think you have moving forward.
There are other women who have special needs kids who also work. They may run their own business from home or work remotely for someone else. There is community support for your children, especially job training for them as they become adults. Please don’t stay stuck in the belief that you have no options but to stay in an emotionally abusive situation. God has grown you up so much. He will show you your next steps forward. He wants healing for you, for your husband, and for your marriage. But each of you has your own work to do.
Friend, how have you overcome a limiting belief, realized it wasn’t true, and become stronger?
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What resources would you recommend to better understand this post? Quite a few different assessments being made would like to understand how to make wise assessments.
I’m not sure what you mean by assessments made. I answered her question as per her assessments – he emotionally abuses me, he doesn’t trust me, he told me I’m judgmental and unsafe to talk with etc. I was naive, too trusting, had poor boundaries, didn’t understand God’s love, etc. If the counsel from her church and counselor just focus on “returning home” or staying married, then the counsel has not been adequate. She broke marital trust, but from her own words, it was shaky to begin with, not because of her behaviors but because of his own issues. Her lack of confidence in herself and vulnerability to other men was not solely due to her husband’s indifference or harshness but because of her own issues before she got married. This was all already stated in her question. However, if you are a pastoral counselor, or someone who wants to understand these issues I’d encourage you to head over to my other website at http://www.leslievernick.com/counselors to get more information on how to recognize these issues. Rebuilding marital trust is a huge area where Christian counseling has been inadequate. Without trust and safety an intimate relationship is not possible and I’m not just speaking of sex because you can have sex with a stranger, but a biblical marriage is not possible even if you stay legally together. If you read my books, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I have two assessment tests at the end of Chapter 1 in each book that you would find helpful.
I am so sorry for the pain and struggle you are facing. My heart is heavy, but hopeful for you. You are worthy and deserve freedom. God bless you.
Thanks for your reply. Yes, you did answer her question per her assessments and showed great empathy as if you were walking in her shoes and then also suggested that she should have an honest conversation with her husband. So, for my understanding should I always accept the person’s assessment of the situation and give them advice based on their assessment? Or would it be good to direct them to first get an objective assessment from outside the marriage but close to the situation? I know how blind I can be at times and could be assessing the situation incorrectly when I put myself in her shoes.
I do have your book “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” and am going through it right now. Thanks for the link to your training area on your website, I am a lay leader and people helper so I will go through that area. I like your statement “Rebuilding broken trust in a marriage relationship is possible but it’s not easy.” Do you have some suggestions along rebuilding trust even after a high conflict divorce and to now in a position of co-parenting four young children?
You’re asking two different questions. Your first question is “Should I believe her assessment of her situation?” Or should I take my client’s word for it that what she says is true. The second question is is “your assessment correct as a people helper or observer of the situation or could you be blind to some things?” And I’d say yes you believe your client’s when they tell you something unless you have a reason not to. But part of listening is asking good questions. So for example, “my husband emotionally abuses me.” That’s her assessment. A good follow up question would be, “If I were watching what was happening last night, what would I have seen him do or say?” Also getting the history of patterns of “abuse” behavior. Was this the first time it happened? If not when was the first time? When was the last time? What’s a typical time and what’s the worst time? These are standard good questioning techniques that all people helpers should be trained in to understand what the client means when they say certain words. “I”m depressed.” What does that mean? Does that mean you’re sad? Does that mean you feel like ending your life? What exactly does a client mean in their words are important to assess but to deny her reality and say, “Well I don’t think you are abused.” or “I don’t think he meant to harm you” is not your place because that is saying to the client – I don’t believe you, and don’t trust your own experience. I know better than you do what happened. If you hear contradictory statements from a client such as “He’s such a nice guy – but he’s abusive. I’d say, “Help me understand what you mean? And let he explain. Don’t put words in her mouth. And just because your experience of someone doesn’t match what she describes does not make it not true. Domestic abuse is called interpersonal violence because it ONLY happens in the context of intimate relationships, not in general with others.
Thanks again for giving me a fuller picture of what it takes to be a people helper. Great clarifying questions or gathering information type questions. That is what I do most of the time trying to be careful to get more understanding of the situation and then help them as they think through to their own solutions to their situation. In the end it is their responsibility and they will be living with the solution. I do not much like giving advice and expecting the person to follow it because I am not in their shoes, I leave that to more experienced and trained counselors. I only consider myself to be a coach. When I see abuse in any form it is really a rough situation to navigate. That is why I asked if you have some suggestions and resources along rebuilding trust even after a high conflict divorce and to now be in a position of co-parenting four young children? I have not really been able to find many trained or experienced counselors that are adequate to take on a situation like that.
When there is a high conflict marriage and a high conflict divorce, most times working together in a counseling/coaching situation will not work. When there is not safety – then productive conversations are impossible. When there has been a history of deceit, broken promises, unreliability or threats, you can’t “trust” the person to keep their word even if they make agreements. Rebuilding broken trust takes both people really willing to look at the areas they broke trust in – safety, honesty, reliability, care for the other, or financial integrity and if the person who is not willing to look at that, and make significant changes over time, you can forgive your enemy, but you ought not trust him or her.
In my experience in listening to this person caught in this exact situation with an unwilling ex-spouse you are absolutely right “you can forgive your enemy, but you ought not trust him or her”. What breaks my heart are the four young children that the ex-spouse continues to use as pawns. Is there a counselor network that you know of that could help? Once a counselor is found, no coaching would happen on my part, just the expert counselor would be involved with this person and hopefully the children. The poor children are really hurting emotionally but there seems to be no physical abuse to be seen.
There are coaches and counselors who have experience in parental alienation which is what I suspect is happening. If you’re more interested in knowing more about this area, I’d encourage you to check out EQUIP, a membership group for counselors, coaches and people helpers who want to know more how to help this population. You can find out more on that counselor/coach website I gave you earlier.
I have been counseling, too, and I find that many times a person will know what they need to do, but something is stopping them. So, you can ask, “what would you like to do, if nothing stopped you?” Then you ask to find out what stops them, or what do they think would happen if they did that. Then you can work on finding solutions together, without telling her what you think she should do. Most of the time she knows what she needs to do, but there is something stopping her. that’s where the real help is: how to get past the hurdles.
I was in the almost identical situation. Many, many years of trying to be the perfect wife, doing bible studies, counseling, whatever I could find. I had to make up for all I had done. It wasn’t until 2020 and 34 years of marriage that I learned of Leslie’s book, The emotionally destructive relationship. I felt I was stuck and could never leave this awful marriage. My counselor shared a quote from her book, “God does not value the sanctity of marriage more than He values the people in it.” This set me free and I was able to move forward and claim my voice. I’m still working on me and am part of Conquer. I have been separated from my h for 1 year. God continues to show me He is in this. Things won’t change if you keep doing the same thing. Take the next right step, one at a time. Praying for you and your freedom in Christ ❤️
Her husband may have had issues going into the marriage ( which also made/makes healing from a betrayal more difficult) but that is never an excuse to commit adultery.
In the poster’s writing she doesn’t take full responsibility and justifies her actions several times.
“Not realizing how easily I was being manipulated, I allowed myself into a situation three years ago, that resulted in gross sexual imposition.”
Sounds like she didn’t do any work after she committed her first adulterous relationship, which led to more poor CHOICES to become too close/trusting of a man who was unsafe. Technically she shouldn’t be having any relationship like that with any man but her husband especially after already committing adultery. I say “choices” as she says “mistake.” A mistake is forgetting milk at the store. Committing adultery is a choice one commits over and over. She minimizes her actions.
“Had I been in a healthy relationship, I would have no need to even have stepped foot into the attention that it gave me.”
This is a serious problem for her to state this.
“Sometimes I feel like I blame my husband for my situation, but that isn’t right either. I made the choice because I chose to marry a man that cares nothing for me, but just that his meals, laundry, and home are run from top to bottom.”
Actually, yes she would have cheated no matter if she had the perfect husband because nobody would be able to fill her bucket constantly. That comes from God. She had no boundaries so whether it be one guy or another she would have succumbed. Her issues to fix.
She went into the relationship unhealthy herself and CHOSE an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with whatever void (s)she was looking to fill!
She hasn’t stopped playing the victim for her own choices.
So she quit her job, got pregnant and read books about how to be a “good” wife. When someone betrays you the first thing is to take FULL responsibility and have humility, which then allows empathy to occur. Sounds like she is STILL blaming and did not make amends. Doing laundry and dishes are normal household tasks that anyone in a marriage does. Performing tasks does not cut it when healing from being betrayed. She should have been reading betrayal recovery books.
Then she went and learned nothing from her first poor boundaries choices and cries that it “happened” to her again!
Now I’m not saying that her husband doesn’t have a responsibility to heal and if he was controlling and emotionally destructive prior, then he has work there too and maybe he has some amends to do there. But the healing from adultery ALWAYS has to come first.
Maybe he is punishing her which also not okay.
She needs to ask herself the last time she fell on her needs, in humility, for destroying him and showed him sincere empathy?
A true reconciliation cannot happen until the betrayer matures, accepts FULL responsibility for their choices, has humility and shows empathy.
She says she has repented but that also involves more than just a “turning away” from your old ways.
Sound like this is what her husband is saying when he says…
“ my husband told me we had to reconcile over my unfaithfulness. It was put in my lap. What or how do I make amends for my stupidity?”
And the above is exactly what needed to happen 23 years ago that didn’t. Healing doesn’t start until empathy is shown. And she says, again, playing the victim, “it was put in my lap.” No, she put it there!
It matters what you do with the time.