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We’ve talked about blame shifting before and how hurtful it is to a betrayed spouse. Unfortunately, blame shifting has a close cousin: shame shifting.
Shame shifting occurs, at my house, when I feel ashamed of my self for something that I’ve done wrong, or didn’t do right, and my wife calls attention to it. Not because she is trying to poke at my shame, but because my choices have affected her. Instead of owning it and being humble, I’ll instead shame her about something, usually related but tangential, in an effort to avoid dealing with my own insecurities.
I had a knack for doing this in the beginning of our journey. When something would happen and Shelley was triggered, she would share it with me. Sometimes calmly, sometimes not so much. Either way I was reminded that my poor choices and infidelity deeply hurt her. Enter shame. And guilt, which was healthy, but not the shame. Rather than practicing empathy, apologizing (again) and trying to be present in her pain I would pop-off calling out something I perceived her doing wrong. Statements like these, that I made, are indicative of shame shifting:
“You’ve moved past sharing your pain; now you’re just being mean”
“My sin against you doesn’t give you the right to sin back”
“If you wouldn’t yell at me I wouldn’t get angry”
“Are we STILL not past this? We won’t get past it til you let it go”
For a few minutes it felt really good to put her in her place. Then, like a boomerang, the shame would come right back. Only now it was amplified, because not only had I hurt her by my past actions but now I’ve hurt her again by my response in the current conversation. That’s the problem with shame shifting: it always comes back worse than before.
A couple of suggestions should you find yourself shame shifting.
1 – Stop It!
2 – If only it were that easy. Try to recognize the thought patterns of shame shifting. If, when reminded of your sin, your thoughts quickly move to criticism of the person calling attention to it, you’re probably beginning to shift it.
3 – Own it. If you can’t seem to pull the ripcord and stop the words from coming out of your mouth, then when you do realize you said what you said, own it. “I just shamed you instead of owning my own junk. I’m sorry”.
4 – Many people can be the recipient of our shame shifting. For me, it was Shelley, my bosses, people in traffic, baristas, you name it. No matter who it is, we harm ourselves by shifting it. When we allow ourselves to bear the full burden of our sin, we give ourselves a chance to grasp the gravity of its impact on us and those around us. That will get us a step closer to hating our sin.
If getting attention from a certain man (or various men) consume your thoughts or if you have compromised your sexual or emotional integrity in ways you never thought you would, then this workshop is for you. Perhaps you are on the opposite end of the spectrum, attempting to “shut down” sexually, unsure why you have such little interest in being sexual. Whether you find yourself swinging too far to the left by acting out, or too far to the right by shutting down, this workshop involves you finding the healthy balance— where sex is enjoyed freely without guilt, shame, or inhibition, but only with your husband!
Since we were in Orange County speaking at Voyager’s Church last weekend, Shelley and I went and walked along the beach together. (by the way, if you want to listen to our story you can do so here: Voyagers) I can’t remember the last time we were at the beach. This experience was definitely unlike any in the past.
Over the course of a half hour or so we talked, walked, and stopped periodically to take in the sights and sounds. People body-boarding, surfing, playing volleyball, and then, inevitably, women in skimpy bikinis. For a moment I felt uncomfortable. Not for my integrity but for Shelley’s security. Would it bring up old memories? Would it trigger body image issues for her? Would it remind her of a time when my eyes would wander and my mind would drift?
I was the one to say, “hey, I want you to know that my integrity is intact. It sure is nice to be at the beach and not be struggling to look at these women. I want you to know that I am not lusting, and while there has been some temptation, I’m thankful to being seeing people as people, not as objects and bodies.”
And it was so nerve-racking to bring it up! You just never know how a conversation like that is gonna go. It could go south before the first sentence is complete. It could ruin the whole day. And night. It could be a setback. Even 11 years later I still feel anxiety.
Or it could be the way forward.
Of course she was wondering. She was about to ask, in fact. Want to know what it gets built when the wife is thinking it but the husband is the first to bring it up? Yep, you guessed it: Trust. It gave us a sweet moment to reflect on where we’ve come from and what God has done in both our hearts and our relationship.
I encourage you, if you’re married, to talk about how you want conversations like this to go. As a wife, do you want your husband to bring it up and reassure you about his integrity, unprompted? As a husband, do you have fear and anxiety that you need to lean-in to and perhaps break through?
There are moments when recovery from sexual addiction is a war against shame. That can be especially true in sexual intimacy.For a man in recovery, sexual intimacy with his wife can be a battle against old thoughts and shameful feelings. It can have an impact on his ability to stay engaged mentally, emotionally and even physically. In fact I’ve talked to 3 men in the last week who’ve lost an erection in the middle of sexual intimacy because their shame was so present. The guilt and shame associated with having previously committed adultery, for blowing up the family, for hurting his kids, for viewing outrageous pornography can be overwhelming.
For each of those men there is a wife who, sometimes equally, struggles with shame. The shame of insignificance and questioning if he’s thinking of the other woman. The shame of incompetency and wondering if she is being compared to women from the porn pictures. For some wives all the old messages come flashing back and the allegations are levied against herself: I’m not enough, I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too prudish, If my body were different, if I didn’t have a checkered past, etc.
Here are a few tips to deal with shame as it pertains to sexual intimacy:
1) Pause – Stop the process and take a timeout. Many men, and women, will try to continue and just get the thoughts out of their head. They’ll try to ignore it, refocus, turn the lights on or off, change positions, say different things and so on. Don’t try to get around it; instead work through it.
2) Talk about it – Yes, it may ruin the mood. But the mood isn’t the most important thing! Your personal and marital healing are the most important thing. If you’re the husband, remind your wife that you love her enough to not have sex with her while another woman or pornographic thoughts are in your head. Talk about the pain it brings up, engage empathy and let your heart break for the situation. That conversation may not be pleasant. Here are 2 ways it could go:
“Honey, I’m stopping because I’ve got old memories in my head and I can’t get rid of them. I don’t want them, I wish I didn’t have them, I wish I had never done the horrible things I did. I am so sorry that even this sacred place in our relationship is ruined. I’m sorry.”
“Let’s stop. I’m thinking of how some of the women in porn seem to enjoy sex so much and you just don’t seem to enjoy it at all.”
Hopefully you see a difference. That second one is a direct quote from my someone in my office. As you might imagine, that conversation did not go well.
If you’re a wife, honor yourself enough to use your voice and share your pain and disappointment with your husband. You don’t have to shame in that moment, but you can express your hurt. And you can ask for reassurance. Give him a chance to assertively say that he is in fact NOT calling up old memories and is fully present with you.
NOTE: Guys, whatever you do, DON’T use pornographic thoughts or memories of a mistress to stay engaged in sex with your wife. This will only cause you more damage in that you are still not connecting in intimacy with your spouse, instead you are connecting with intensity via euphoric recall.
3) Don’t make sex the focus - Instead, make the focus intimacy. Make the point of your being together connection, vulnerability, security and reassurance. Sometimes we can experience that using our bodies, other times (especially in early recovery) we need to experience that with our words. If you’re having difficulty shifting the focus invite help from support folks or a counselor.
Remember that recovery is about intimacy, not intensity.
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
God is interested in Legacy. He was interested in his own legacy, in his son’s legacy and he is interested in your legacy. We see Jesus as the reflection of God; he was a visible, tangible portrayal of the Father’s love and mercy and was devoted to living out the Father’s legacy. He believed the way of the Father should be his way. And he became the Way. His legacy rolls on over generations, in the most widely published book on earth, through the most powerful movement ever known to man.
The early disciples believed in the Legacy so much they carried it on. And how they lived their lives, chronicled in the Scriptures, became worthy of following. Their legacy is carried on even today. They were sold out to God and His purposes; so much that they left everything secure to be a part of the movement.
We also are leaving a legacy. Whether intentionally or not, we’re writing a story with our lives to be read by generations to come. We are setting an example and a tone for the next generation to follow.
What will your legacy be?
Will it be one marked by bad decisions and unfaithfulness, by besetting and addictive sin patterns? Or will it be one characterized by humility, contrition, boldness and change. Will you be known by your stubborn resistance or by how you sold out to God and his purposes? God’s desire is for you to leave a positive legacy; one that points this generation and those to come back to Him.
Today we all get to choose the legacy we’ll leave.
While this post isn’t specifically sexual integrity related, it is a tool that I commonly use at home and with couples in my office. It’s simply a way to raise a conversation (often amidst conflict) out of the muck of the subject to actually see what’s happening relationally.
If you’re into tech-talk, you probably know what Meta-Data is: data about the data. In this case a MetaConversation is, you guessed it, a conversation about the conversation.
Specifically it addresses 3 keys points: how you are feeling, how I am feeling and what’s happening in our relationship at this moment.
When a conversation feels stuck, often it is because the root relational issue isn’t being addressed. Being locked up in a he-said-she-said usually indicates there are emotional nerves that have been tapped, but aren’t being talked about. Thus, the conversation often ends in one or both people having hurt feelings, a stalemate of “agree to disagree” (which often provides no real resolution) or a combination of the two. When that stuck feeling occurs, it can be a signal to both parties to stop the current conversation and switch gears to a metaconversation. In other words, to literally talk about what’s happening in the current conversation.
An example might be a conversation about money. He thinks they should spend the tax return and she thinks they should save it. He’s been wanting some toy or gadget, and she’s been stressing about how they’ll pay for summer vacation, much less fund their retirement. She’s getting angry that he insists on spending, he’s getting frustrated that she won’t let loose a little and enjoy the hard-earned cash. Spend or Save? Is the issue really about the money? Probably not.
A metaconversation might reveal that he is feeling insignficant. Spending the tax return would signal recognition of his hard work, a reward for faithfully doing his job and providing for the family. She might be feeling insecure and anxious. Having the vacation paid for ahead of time provides a sense of security and planning for retirement actually adds an element of respect for her husband. Relationally, we might find that both are pulling back, walling off. She wants to feel protected but he is threatening that, so she’s going to protect herself emotionally. He wants to feel respected and validated but she is withholding it, so he is going to nearly demand it. The metaconversation can provide a space and language for both to recognize what the other is feeling (which 99% of the time seems to be unintentional) and to identify the divide developing in the relationship. Finally, it gives an opportunity to address a specific emotional, relational dynamic.
In response they both can speak to the others needs:
Husband: “The last thing I want you to feel is insecure and worried about our finances. I also want you to be confident that I have our family’s best interest at heart. I want you feel protected, and to know that a short term want won’t replace our long term goals.”
Wife: “I appreciate your hard work. I am proud of you, your commitment and your provision for our family. I want you to know I respect you.”
They can now make a decision on what to do with the money without it being a wedge in the relationship, and without the decision being motivated by shoring up emotional needs.
Men in my office typically ask something to the effect of, ” couldn’t we bypass all that stuff by just agreeing to compromise- spending half and saving half?” Well, yes, if by “all that stuff” you’re referring to the meaningful, relational communication that builds relational currency.
The metaconversation can be used regardless of the subject matter. Money, sex, addiction, parenting, moving, work, hobbies, dinner, you name it. And it doesn’t have to be in conflict, but that’s often where it can be a handy tool.
Remember that in conflict we want to value the person over the problem, and the relationship over the result. Metaconversations can help achieve this.
Its Sunday, and the Every Mans Battle workshop ended just a few hours ago. One of the guys said before he left:
“Today I choose to live as a son, no longer in the shame of my addiction but in the freedom of what Jesus has done for me.”
His perception of himself shifted this weekend. He arrived defining himself as the sum total of his bad choices. He left acknowledging that he has done a bunch of really bad things, yet that’s not who he is. Or better said; Whose he is. He was able to see that the very fact that he had done so many bad things was indicative of his need for a savior. And not just to remove guilt, but to confirm belonging. He belongs to Jesus. In Christ we find the truth that we are dearly loved and infinitely valuable.
Does all this mean he isn’t responsible for the pain he’s caused? No. Does it guarantee he’ll never do it again? No. Does it mean his marriage will be restored? Not necessarily.
But it does mean that he can stop hating himself. It does mean he can stop trying to perform his was into a deeper relationship with Jesus. And the byproduct of those 2 things alone often result in less acting out. The downward spiral is coming screeching to a halt and a new, redemptive ripple effect is beginning.
And that’s just 1 guy!
I love these weekends.
A devotional thought for the week…
Jesus responded, “Haven’t I handpicked you, the Twelve? Still, one of you is a devil!” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. This man—one from the Twelve!—was even then getting ready to betray him.
Judas was handpicked by Jesus to be a follower. We don’t know when he made the fateful decision to betray his friend and leader. All we know is that he did, and became a glaring example of how to blow up our lives. So often the Scriptures about Judas are the proof text for betrayal, for deceit and for back-stabbing. But within the story is also an incredible example of mercy and grace. Think about it; Jesus knew Judas would betray him, BUT HE HANDPICKED HIM ANYWAY!
Jesus called him a “devil” in this passage; the original, Greek meaning of the word was ‘to oppose the cause of God’.
So let’s get this straight; Jesus knew Judas would betray him and that he was opposed to the cause of God the Father. Yet Jesus intentionally chose into a relationship with Judas.
If Jesus had mercy on and a relationship with the guy who would ultimately get him killed, don’t you think he could have mercy on us?
You need to know that you’ve been handpicked. You’ve been selected based on no merit of your own. Loved in spite of your bad behavior. Graced in spite of some future sin. Jesus knows our past, present and future, the Father forgives it, and we are free to live in light of Grace.
We are handpicked to be in a relationship with Him!
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