I hope you joined my 7 Day Challenge of Moving Beyond ….. So far we talked about moving beyond our negative thinking, moving beyond overwhelm, our fear of failure, bad moods, unrealistic expectations and finally, our last challenge for today (Wednesday) is moving beyond people pleasing.
If you missed this challenge you can go back to my FB Fan Page – Leslie Vernick – Enriching Relationship That Matters Most and read through the tips that will help you with these particular challenges. For those who would like to go to the next level, I have an updated class coming up called Moving Beyond People Pleasing.
If you are a chronic people pleaser who is tired of always saying yes when you should or want to say no, this class is for you. If you want to listen to my own struggle saying no to a friend click here .
This week’s question goes right along with this theme of pleasing, pretending and placating with her unrepentant spouse.
Question: I am so exhausted from two unsuccessful years of couples counseling (two therapists with one year each, and a husband that quits when they focused on him). I just don't have the strength to become the peacemaker.
I have been a peacekeeper for about three years now, and probably a number of years earlier too. What do you suggest? I don't have the strength anymore. I am 62 years old.
Background: I have been in a declining marriage for the past 20 years. I would describe it as emotionally and sometimes verbally abusive. After a lot of work and study, I know that the root problem is that my husband, also a pastor, used to be a practicing homosexual who “gave it up for God.” The problem is that he didn't become a heterosexual. He is in denial. It took me becoming a student of my husband to learn many things, and it took a lot of study to understand the root: idolatry. He is a Mama's boy (mutual pedestals), most likely a victim of childhood sexual abuse (highly buried) and a narcissist who needs over-the-top approval/worship from me and anyone else. One therapist told me after my husband quit and he became my therapist alone, that my husband is “brittle.”
The second “therapist,” who was actually not a psychologist but an M.Div, said that my husband clearly has psycho-sexual problems. I didn't figure out the idolatry-homosexual aspect, my epiphany, until December 2014.
Answer: I don’t hear a specific question from you other than perhaps, “Do I have permission to stop being a peacekeeper?”
You also say that you don’t have the strength to enter into becoming a true biblical peacemaker, so I think it would be helpful to first explain how I define the difference.
God calls us to be Biblical peacemakers – in other words, being willing to enter into conflict and address issues head on in order to bring about a peaceful resolution to a problem or reconciliation to a relationship (See Matthew 5:9, Matthew 18:14-17; 2 Corinthians 5:11-24). We are to initiate this action (Matthew 5:23). However, our efforts don’t always lead to true reconciliation or peace. Sometimes there is still brokenness but Paul tells us, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace” (Romans 12:18). This Biblical word for peace is shalom which means harmony, wholeness, and tranquility. Shalom peace is not a fake, pretend everything is fine, type of peace.
But it sounds like you have used up all your energy trying to be the peacekeeper, which has drained you and dried you up. In contrast to a Biblical peacemaker, a peacekeeper avoids conflict. Instead, she attempts to keep the peace by pretending things are fine or resolved when they are not. A peacekeeper has to be a good faker, but inside her body and spirit, she is at war because she knows that the peace is not real. That is why you are so burnt out.
If you want to stop, then it’s time for you to lay it all out on the table. In a kind, yet firm way, you need to say to your spouse something like:
“Our counseling has not gotten us to any semblance of Biblical peace. As soon as the counselors confront you with anything, you don't want to go back. Our marriage is in shambles and has been for years, even though you are a pastor. I am done pretending our marriage is stable so that your image doesn’t tarnish. Our relationship is broken and I can’t act like we are fine when we are not fine.”
You may want to add a few more things to that statement that reflects where you are at such as “I’m going to start my own personal counseling so that I can get stronger and recover from what pretending our whole marriage has done to my soul and spirit.” Or, “I will no longer attend joint counseling with you but I hope you continue to go so that you can work on the things that have hindered our marriage and your ministry.” Or, “I have no idea what is going to happen but my next step is ____________________.
I understand this is going to rock your world and his. It feels easier to continue to hunker down and pretend and placate. But where has that gotten you? You know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results.
You are 62 years old. You may easily live another 20 years. How do you want those years to be different for you even if they are not different for your marriage? What changes do you need to make to build or rebuild your own life, facing the truth that your husband is incapable or unwilling to do the work he needs to do to heal his own hurts and face his own sin?
These are tough questions with no easy answers but the alternative isn’t rosy either. You are at a crossroads. You must either move through the pain of change or live with the pain of regret. – Click To Tweet
Only you can decide that, but I highly encourage you to find a group of women who you can be honest with about your situation. I know this is very tough as a pastor’s wife, but if you are no longer hiding or covering up for his image as the pastor, that may give you more freedom to get the support you need. I don’t mean that you spew all his dirty laundry for the world to see. That would be cruel. But I do think you can state the simple truth. “My husband and I have been in counseling for two years with no progress and I have lost hope that he’s willing to look at himself or change.” Period. No more details. But now you have stopped covering up, pretending or enabling. Now perhaps you will have more energy for doing your own work instead of continuing to prod him to do his.
Friend: When did you learn to stop pretending and how did you move through the fear of rocking the boat?