Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Addi, How Can I help My Wife Heal? Step 4, Honest Answers!

Honest Answers

4. Humbly Listen to and answer questions.

Let me tell you that for me, this is the hardest point of all. Why? For a couple reasons I think.

First off, it requires us to be humble.  We have become so guarded and protected by our pride and lies. It is the shield that allows us to still function even though we are riddled with guilt. Pride offers us the illusion of being normal.. even when deep down we know we are anything but. It helps us mask our behaviors and desires and allows us to be convinced that perhaps our sins are not all that bad… at least not in comparison with the other sins we see people committing. Dropping that protective shield for even a minute is difficult for those of us who have spent a lifetime behind its facade.

The other reason is fear. We are in constant fear of both the questions and the honest answers they require. We fear the questions because the very fact that our spouses need to ask them means we have done something that brings them to the surface. I still panic whenever my wife says to me…. “I was thinking of something the other day and I was hoping you would clarify it for me.” I hear those words and want to crawl into a hole. Its not because I fear the questions… or even the honest answer… but I fear how that honest answer will affect her. Will she think about this for the next few days? Will it hurt her self esteem and self worth even more to know that I still fight and battle each day to keep my thoughts clean? Will it damage the trust we have built if she thinks I am not progressing at the same speed she wants me to? 

No matter how difficult the questions and how brutally honest the answers, every one of them has to be discussed. And not just once. It may takes answering the same questions 50 times before she is ready to move past it for good. I can tell you that in the last 15 months I have answered the same questions dozens of times. I will openly admit that I still battle pride when those questions come up. But here is the truth I have discovered: honest questions and painfully honest answers will do more to heal your marriage then any other thing you can do.

  1. She already knows you are broken… so why keep up the act? There is nothing to be gained here by faking that you're living in perfection.
  2. She has lived the last several years believing lie after lie and now feels like a fool. When you honestly share true feelings, even painful feelings, she can at least know that it is truth and truth goes a lot farther than deceit. Truth heals.

Wive (or husbands if the roles are reversed): The question and answer process can be detrimental if it is done for the wrong reasons. Remember this is not a game of "gotcha." Here are a few things to consider as the 2 of you go through the discovery process.

  1. Remember, you already know he is an addict but some of his revelations may still be sharp and painful to hear. He will be far more open to share if you receive it with kindness. Do your best not to act offended or surprised when he begins to reveal to you the details of his addiction.
  2. Help him feel safe enough to share. He has hidden these things for years because he is ashamed. He wants to get better. He needs help and you help. But if his confessions are met with disgust and anger, he may retract instead of opening up.
  3. Don't ask about the gory details. I know you want to know everything but remember.. every detail is added weight that moves off of him and presses down on you. With it comes thoughts, imaginations, and a new wave of pain. Decide what you need to know and what you can live without knowing.  The goal is to heal, not to write a gossip column. To alleviate the weight, only ask for those things that give you the clarification you need. Remember, if he is willing to talk about this with you at all, it means he is trying to change and repent. Don't force him to drudge up thoughts and memories that require him to relive his sin over and over.  Don't let the details pull you down like the anchor they are. Once you have learned them you can never unlearn them. They become new memories that haunt your marriage.

Husbands (or wives if the roles are reversed): Don't use this as an opportunity to be a jerk. It is hard to have to relive the sins of your past over and over again, but your spouse is going through a trauma that she didn't ask for. You must try with all your might not to become prideful, angry, or mean. I know it's easy to sit back and say, "I would never treat my wife that way," but I can tell you that for some reason, we turn into that which we despise when we feel backed into a corner. I'm not sure exactly why a series of questions such as these could make one feel backed into a corner, but that seems to be the emotion I have experienced throughout this process. Be kind. Be gentle. Remember, she is hopefully not trying to “Catch You” or blame you. The time for that is passed… at least it is if you have already confessed and are trying to live an honest, sin free life.  What she is trying to do is simply understand. 

This is tough because there is no amount of explaining that you can do that will ever completely make things clear for her. The pieces will never fit exactly into place in her mind. And truthfully, they shouldn't. Nothing about this makes sense. Both the addiction and the recovery are madness. Here is the thing to remember most of all: If you are intent on saving your marriage, it's time to give up the selfish routine. Every moment of the last umpteen years, my addiction has been about me. The recovery, even though it has multiple parts and affects both you and her and your family and others, must be focused on her needs. Before it was 90% about you and 10% about her. Now it needs to be at least 60% about her, and pride has no place in those kind of ratios.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dear Addi, How Can I help My wife Heal? Step 3, Get Into the Game!

Get Into The Game!

3. Be Engaged in the process

When I was in Middle school, I was an awkward dorky kid and I had no athletic skills whatsoever. I felt out of place and unequipped to participate. I eventually figured out that if I just played near the edge of the field, that no one would pay me any attention and the game would simply go on around me. I would hide in plain sight, never wanting to face my biggest fear of all… playing the game.

During the last 15 months in my recovery process, I have met some amazing men working through the pornography addiction recovery course. I have heard many of their stories and seen them go through many phases of the process. I have a great deal of respect for these men for simply showing up at all. They have taken a step onto the field of play. 

However, every once in a while a brother will come through who you can tell is only there because they were drug there by their wife. They are not excited to be in the game at all and would prefer to simply stay on the sidelines.

One such Brother came for several weeks and each week simply ‘Passed’, when given the opportunity to share in group. He seemed distracted while group was going on. I often caught him playing video games on his phone, sketching pictures, or texting. It seemed very disrespectful to the others and it was obvious he didn't want to be there. Over time I got to know the brother and his wife. I eventually asked him if he felt he was getting anything out of group. He said, “No. Not Really. I'm not ready to give up my addiction yet. I just go because my wife yells at me if I don't and it's easier to just go then to fight.” I watched him after group each week as he would meet his wife in the parking lot and could see the look of hope on her face that perhaps today he heard something that would inspire him to engage in the process. But, up to that point, he hadn't. He seemed sad, depressed and generally negative. He put zero effort into his recovery and she could see it.  

Its time to play the game. Do not be a side-liner. 

After a few games, on my middle school team, one of the older boys pointed out an area of field that he wanted me to be responsible for. He said, “If the ball comes into this area, its yours.”. I was petrified. I spent most of my time hoping it never came near me. Eventually I learned that if it did come into my zone, it was easy enough to kick it on to the person in the zone next to me. On one occasion the ball came into my zone and I immediately passed it on to the adjacent zone, hoping that the more experienced player would know what to do with it. It rolled into his area and then to a stop. My teammate was no where to be found. He had gone to block for me. He hoped that I would follow the ball and continue on toward the goal. But in my mind, I had done my job. I had covered MY zone. Could he really expect me to cover his too? Needless to say, the opposing team got the ball and returned it for a goal. I was chastised and reminded after the play that, this was a team sport and that we have to be willing to back each other up when needed.

Another way we sit on the sidelines is to assume you have done your part and the rest is up to your wife. I know this sounds callous. How could anyone treat their spouse this way after all the damage we have caused? It does happen though and is an easy trap to fall into. The problem is, we are really fighting two separate battles. His is a battle to overcome sin and fight off the demons that pull him into a world of filth. Hers is to piece back together her life and try to find a way to both forgive and continue to live with, this new knowledge. 

The other difficulty is that each battle has a different definition for success. Your success comes when you feel a sense of control over your life. You see a long stretch of sobriety as winning the war and start to feel like you can conquer your demons. Her success however is based on whether or not she can overcome the pain of your revelations and your weaknesses. Can she learn to cope with this new knowledge? Can she trust you again? She will undoubtedly have a longer battle to fight before she sees the the victories. 

Simply because he is doing well at defending his zone, doesn't  mean she is always successfully defending hers. Our victories do not always happen at the same time. We can not simply sit back and enjoy our spoils while our wives are in the midst of an epic onslaught. The ball is still in play and it still needs our attention. Remember, this is a team sport. It requires both of you to overcome the opponent.

Unlike my middle school experience, this game will come to an end. Those who either don’t get engaged or are satisfied that their job is done, will eventually be defeated.  The truth is, you, the husband, are the MVP of the game. You are the only one who can make the critical plays to move the ball in the right direction. If you never get engaged or only engage in your zone of the field, the game will come to an end and you will be left on the side line.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dear Addi, How can I help My Wife Heal? Step 2, Take Responsibility!

'Take Responsibility'

2 - Take responsibility. Don't make excuses.

Kent Crockett shared the following story in his book ‘The 911 Handbook’.

One day when my son Scott was two years old, I heard him crying.  I went into his room and my daughter Hannah, who was four, was there also.  A plastic bat was lying on the floor.  
     "What happened to Scott?" I asked.
        Hannah answered, "He hit his head."
        "On what?"
        She pointed toward the bat on the floor and said, "The bat."
        "Where was the bat?"  
        She said, "In my hand."

We learn the Blame-It-On-Someone-Else Method at such an early age.

I once had a dear friend confess to me that over the course of several months he had met with a handful of women privately for secret late night rendezvous. This happened as his wife slept. “My wife”, he said, “has a debilitating disease and we have not been intimate in several years. She has denied me intimacy for so long. I was just looking for a way to fill that gap in my life” This was the basis for his decision to meet with strangers for sexual favors.

Another friend, after having been caught in an affair and excommunicated for his sins, told his wife that “I am tired of trying to live up to your image of what you think I should be.  Maybe if you weren't pushing me so hard I wouldn't have had the affair.”

In both cases, the men  were quick to offer excuses for their actions. The knee jerk response was to somehow shift the blame to something their wife either did or didn't do.   Passing blame is the perfect way for us to shift some of the weight and guilt for our choices. But there is no question that these flimsy excuses won't hold up in front of a council. No bishop will listen to such excuses and say, “You know what, you’re right, she is kind of bossy.  You are justified in  lusting after another.”  They would never do that.  No matter how difficult or perilous one’s marriage or family life is, only we can take ownership for our choices.

Don’t fall into the trap of the blame game. It will only break down lines of communication and make it impossible to move past current hurts onto healing. Take a step back and look to see who is the one crying and who is the one holding the bat.

A few months back I had a ‘slip’. I broke one of my personal rules and stayed up too late alone. It led to viewing a program that had far too many triggers in it. Those triggers eventually led to viewing pornography. This ‘slip’ devastated my wife. After more than a year of sobriety, she was suddenly faced again with the questions “Am I safe in this relationship? Is he going to be true? Is he going to have another affair?”. You might think it extreme to jump to such thoughts immediately after a year of sobriety, however, she knows that my addiction led me far beyond looking at pornography and into an affair that nearly destroyed our family. So a slip to her is only inches from a full blown affair.  At the time, I was feeling guilty and ashamed and I felt that her response was an over reaction. I let her know so. For the following weeks she was far more observant of my comings and going and would sometimes hourly ask me how I was doing that day. ‘Did I feel strong?’ I allowed myself to get prideful and take offense. I began to think, “Hadn't I just proved my dedication with a year of sobriety? Hadn't I earned a small level of trust? One slip up was not the end of the world was it?”. At one point I pushed it back on her. “Stop asking me if I feel strong or if I feel ok”, I would say, “Its as if you are saying ‘I Don't Trust YOU!’, and I hate that.”

In this moment I took her need to feel safe and her genuine concern for me and meshed it with the shame and the guilt of my own failure. I then turned it around on her. I wanted her to stop asking. Not because I was worried about her level of trust, but because it made ‘ME’ feel guilty about ‘MY’ mistakes. And so, I went out of my way to make ‘her’ feel guilty for asking at all. Did I feel guilty?, Yes! Did I know she had problems trusting me?, Yes. But I made my guilt… hers. Even after putting weeks of space between the sin and the present, She still felt in danger.

As we, the offender, begin to heal from our sins and feel the forgiveness that comes through the atonement of Christ, we can become comfortable and slowly start to slip back into what feels like a “normal life”.In this new place of feeling forgiven, we may choose to act out in what we think of as a ‘Righteous pride’, and begin to blame her for ‘making us relive the sins of our past’ or ‘ Wanting to rehash old sins instead of focusing on the repented person we are’. Its easy to, even after months in recovery, somehow make them feel guilty for not recovering quickly enough from the crime that WE committed.

Again, we need to ask ourselves, who is the one holding the bat.

We can go a long way to helping our loved ones heal by simply accepting responsibility. Confess it all. Leave nothing in hiding. Answer every question, and above all… beware of pride. Pointing fingers or making excuses is a recipe for failure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dear 'Addi', How Can I help My Wife Heal? Step 1, Recognize the Repercussions!


How can I help my wife heal? Step 1

It has been several months since I confessed to my wife about my pornography addiction that led to an affair. We have chosen to work through this and save our family. With the passing of time we have had many good days, however, she still weeps in pain several times a week. I am trying to to prove I can be trusted, but she still hesitates when I leave the home or look at my phone. I know this is a long process, but what more can I do? Please, help me to help her heal.

Desperate for her to be whole

Dear Desperate,

I applaud you for your willingness to help your wife heal. I hate to say it but,  I think you are the exception rather than the rule.  I’ve talked to and read about many couples in a similar situation where it, more often than not, seems that once the husband has confessed his sins, he simply leaves his wife to heal on her own.  This happens, I think, because as an addict, we live our lives in this self centered world of indulgence. Just like the trained circus lion, when the craving came and cracked its whip, we responded, ready to  jump through the ring of fire.  It tries to control our actions and, conditioned as we are, we dutifully obey.

Furthermore, our obedience to our lustful desires has, over time, decreased our ability to feel empathy or concern for others. It is a singular focus and for those filthy moments of indulgence, we are a slave to the drug, blocking all others out until the fix is complete.  After years of selfishly responding to the crack of the whip, is it any wonder we have a difficult time placing anyone else's needs before ours?

When the offender is finally on the road to recovery and his own burden of sin is lifted, he will feel a sudden and immediate release from the cage of guilt and sin. He will proclaim his freedom from the adversary and with joy look forward to a life free from the clutches of Satan, followed by a desire to return to a normal life.

But what of his spouse? Only weeks before she thought her marriage was complete and whole. She believed the man she clung to for strength, protection, and guidance, was being faithful and true. Now,  she is left struggling to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.  But he, in his habit of selfishness, simply wants to move forward, putting his painful past behind him and in most cases, never wants to speak of it again.

This, I believe, will sound familiar to many who read this post.

Now, lets talk about what we can do to heal. First of all, we need to dispel the idea that you can, of yourself, do anything that will heal your wife. You must accept it up front: you can't fix this, not on your own.  The healing that takes place must involve all three members of your marriage: you, your wife, and your Father in Heaven. Leaving any one element out of the process will either destroy your chances of success or make for a longer and much more painful process.

I offer the following suggestions.  Please be aware that I have come up with these suggestions through my learning at the school of hard knocks.  It has been through much trial and error that I have learned what works for my wife and marriage. These suggestions may or may not be helpful for you and your spouse...they are just things that seem to work for us.  Here is the first suggestion:  (The remainder will come in subsequent posts)

1 - Recognize the repercussions of your choices.

*Note:  These are the repercussions that I have seen in my wife.  They may not apply to every spouse.

Have you ever tried to clean a lawn mower with a pressure washer? The bottom of a lawn mower is curved in such a way that as you spray it with the powerful jet of water, rather than watching the clumps of grass and dirt slip away, they often rebound and splatter in every direction. I found once after attempting to clean my mower in this way, that while the machine ended up pristine, I walked away covered in filth and grass and grease.  Confession to your spouse might be considered in this light. While you may have felt a cleansing and lifting of the stains of sin, she is now covered in the dirty over spray of your confession.

Confession is messy. There is no perfectly imagined scenario that shields a loved one from the pain that it brings. But it is essential. For years you have secretly participated in your private addiction that led to either the actual or virtual breaking of your covenants. For years she has obliviously thought that nothing is wrong. Finally, you choose to confess and purge your soul of all the filth and guilt that has been stored deep inside, hoping to rescue yourself and your marriage in the process. If your wife chooses to forgive you and work through the issues, then you need to stand back and take a good look at what the aftermath of your confession looks like. As you release yourself from the filth of sin (which we know is a GOOD thing and necessary), your wife is suddenly weighed down with the reality of what has been going on in your life.

She will begin to question what was real. She will question her memories, special moments, spontaneous gestures, and anything prior to the revelation. This is OK… it has to be done. There is no moving forward without reconciling the past. This will take time. Your humble willingness to go through the process with her will soften the pain and reassure her in time of doubt.

She will assume that she has done something wrong. And who wouldn't? Life is smoothly moving forward with little to no sign of rocky ground when suddenly, the revelation of  deceit, depravity, or infidelity is shared. She is thrown off kilter and her first response will be to assign blame. Logically, she knows the blame lies with you, but emotionally, she wants to affix it to herself. No amount of explaining will ever wipe the idea out of her mind that she is not to blame. You will have to reassure her frequently that she did not cause this.

She will lose every sense of self worth and question her own identity. This is such a hard thing to watch a loved one go through, especially when YOU are the reason they have to go through it. But she has been stripped of the rudder that steered her ship. Her Identity had become tied to you and your unconditional love for her. Now she searches for that sense of safety that was found in the knowledge of fidelity.

She will question her weight, clothing, and appearance.  I know that many women struggle with the way they look (especially after they have had a few children.) Suddenly struck with the knowledge that, "My husband would rather look at porn or other women than me," consider the blow that that realization does to her already fragile psyche. She will think she is old, ugly and fat. Daily loving reminders of her beauty will go a long way to reassuring her that she is truly gorgeous in your eyes.

She will see a threat in women on TV, in magazines, and in public. Suddenly every women in a tight skirt or low cut blouse is the enemy. She will begin to see them as attacking her family. They are a threat to her marriage, her husband's soul, and her eternity.  She will begin to despise their open airing of their body parts, even though they are completely unaware of any offense to her. She will begin to hate them as they flaunt their sexuality in a way that feels like a personal and pointed attack. (Women in yoga pants severely trigger my wife as she knows that they severely trigger me.)

She will carry the hurt and heaviness of worthlessness, betrayal, and humiliation. She is going to feel like a fool. She will think, “How could this have been going on under my nose and I didn't notice?” Of course she will feel betrayed. Her husband, confidant, and secret keeper has been living a double life.  She will be overwhelmed with this new knowledge. She will eventually be able to sort most of it out and come to an understanding, but it will take time. which means you will need patience.

She will begin to question her Heavenly father's presence in her life. For me, this has been the most painful thing to watch. She has spent her life feeling comforted, protected and watched over by Her Father in heaven whom she has learned to trust, and yet for some reason, He chose not to warn her of her husband's addiction that would escalate into a battle to save her eternal marriage. Though she understands that God cannot step in and change or alter our decisions and the way they will affect others, She now struggles to trust her impressions. She questions whether they are divinely given, manufactured out of a worried mind, or the devices of the adversary.

She will hurt and ache and even at times, want to die. Even as time passes and you are able to prove to her your willingness to do whatever is needed to preserve your family, she will still at times be pulled back into those dark memories of first learning about the betrayal done to her. She will re-live that pain and in so doing revert back to those painful feelings of being lost and alone. The ache runs so much deeper than we could possibly understand and may bubble to the surface and overflow unexpectedly. Again, a loving patient husband who puts her needs first will go a long way to reminding her of the changes that have taken place and the safe place she is in now.

She will allow her imaginations to conjure up scenes of infidelity and betrayal that will plague her dreams. She will have a difficult time not imagining the most hurtful parts of your betrayal. She will on her own, conjure up the illicit images you have viewed, videos you have watched, or encounters you have had. These images and scenes will haunt her. It will become her personal battle to fight them off and keep them from creeping into her thoughts, even in the most spiritual of places and occasions.

Don't assume that since your sins are in the process of being forgiven, that she is clear of the over spray. She is now in Satan’s direct line of fire. He will see her weakness and he will exploit her insecurities.

I want to be clear.  DO NOT delay confession for fear of hurting your spouse.  You are doing far worse damage by staying silent and not ridding yourself (and ultimately her) of this addiction.
Consider how much easier it will be on your spouse to confess a pornography addiction then to put off confession until your addiction escalates to adultery with all of the repercussions that come with it.  Oh how I wish I would have confessed earlier.  It would have saved my wife so much pain.

Stay tuned for step two.