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?