Recovery Resentment

I want to write about a strange phenomenon that happens for wives in the recovery process that I’ll call Recovery Resentment.

The confusing thing about this resentment is it seems to show up most often when a husband is doing really well in his recovery work. You might think a wife would be happy, thankful and excited about the changes she sees, yet at times she may seem angry about it.

What typically happens is a husband gets discovered or does disclosure, gets plugged into counseling, attends an Every Man’s Battle workshop, jumps into a group or develops friendships and becomes accountable, and finds himself hopeful about his future. For some guys, it’s the most free they’ve ever felt, and they experience joy unlike anything in a long time. There are powerful insights about addiction and personal idiosyncrasies, and realizations that can sometimes explain decades of lifestyle choices.

Then there’s his wife. She gets the backpack of his pain. She has to reconcile her whole life and make sense of her hunches and where she overlooked the clues. She has to find a way to not feel crazy as she looks back on her life. She has to struggle through sticking around, riding the roller-coaster of feeling love towards her husband one minute, hate the next. The disparity between how joyful and hopeful he is and how hopeless and devastated she feels becomes stark. For some wives, this is where resentment starts to creep in. And it’s a real catch-22: she feels resentment that she’s been put in this situation, and also resentment that her husband is changing and things may be getting better. Talk about confusing!

Here are some things I hear from wives that indicate the recovery resentment is building:

  • “He starts to feel better and I start to feel worse”
  • “He gets to attend a retreat, while I am stuck giving up more time of my life to his recovery.”
  • “He gets to hang out at breakfast with his friends once a week while I’m stuck getting the kids ready for school”
  • “I have to struggle through a day of triggers reminded of pain and feeling anxiety, while he seems to pass the day without thinking anything of it or feeling any remorse.”
  • “We’re having to spend money cleaning up his mess, when for years I’ve wanted to spend money on _______ and he’s refused to do so.”
  • And finally, one I heard last week that I think strikes such a chord for so many wives, “Sure, he’s changing, but who is he becoming? And how long do I have to wait to see if I like who he becomes? I don’t want to waste more of my life only to find out I don’t like who he is, or worse that this new man decides he is getting rid of me!”

The key here is to remember that the emotional craziness and the building resentment are all part of the grieving process. Not everyone grieves in the same way, but know if you (or your wife) experiences recovery resentment it is not abnormal. It is grieving, and that means making sense of chaos.

A few steps to take if you’re a husband watching your wife experience this:

1)   Don’t call her crazy or too difficult to please.

2)   Be patient, continuing to put one foot in front of the other and work your recovery.

3)   Let your heart break that your actions have brought this on.

4)   With input from your accountability folks, make sure you are diligently practicing empathy. Your excitement for your recovery and new found freedom cannot overshadow your connection to your wife’s pain.

5)   See #1


For wives going through it, a few suggestions:

1)   Be sure you have your own support; women who can help you process the resentment without having to make decisions based on it.

2)   Make time for yourself, and give yourself permission to use that time.

3)   Insist he maintain his commitments to the household on top of recovery work.

4)   Remember that his enthusiasm for his recovery is a good thing. There is growth. Its not the same old, same old. You can certainly ask him to temper his enthusiasm, but don’t forget that his excitement for change is a direct offset to his stubbornness to stay the same.


The Conclusion of Love

I’m glad to be wrapping this up! Let’s jump right in.

Love does not delight in evil. The verse characterizes evil as unrighteousness of heart and life. It means that true love does not delight in someone’s misfortune or disgrace. You ever have those moments where you hear, perhaps even second-hand, about someone’s misfortune and there’s a sick little enjoyment that you get out of it? No? Oh, me neither.

Loving well means taking no pleasure in someone else’s difficulties. Further, love rejoices with the truth. It is to be delighted when truth is spoken, even sometimes when the truth hurts.

Here’s how this plays out at my house. Shelley is pretty meticulous, and manages life by files. I, on the other hand, manage life by piles. I forget things, misplace things, and often my mistakes will negatively impact her. She has become TREMENDOUSLY gracious about these things, yet sometimes still gets pretty frustrated with me. When she gets this way, I feel stupid because I’ve made a mistake, and incompetent because I can’t seem to stop making silly mistakes. Here’s the catch; every once in a while Shelley makes a silly mistake too. Minor things, you know, like forgetting to pick up a neighbor’s 2nd grader after school. Then I’m faced with a choice. I can rub it in and remind her that she’s not perfect, so she shouldn’t expect me to be perfect. Or I can engage empathy and help her navigate the embarrassment and shame of her mistake. Pretty clear at this point what Love does, right?

This leads to the first of the “all” or “always” verses depending on translation. In effect, these ‘always’ statements are summaries of what has already been said. I wonder why Paul felt it important to restate them in this way?

Love always protects tops the list. In the scenario above, to love Shelley would be to protect her from further embarrassment, to empathize with her out of my own mistakes, and to shield her from any ongoing shame from someone else or even from herself.

Next, love always trusts. The connotation here is, in an ethical sense, to have confidence in the goodness of man. I appreciate this. My friend Paul was recently talking about this and it rang true for me. He said sometimes when he sees people driving crazy and being dangerous in traffic, rather than write them off and label them as reckless, he assumes they have a good reason for it. Maybe they are late for a funeral or their wife is going into labor. Perhaps they’re trying to get to the most important job interview of their life. Love, always trusting, assumes the best, not the worst in people.

Love always hopes and endures or perseveres. To always hope means to hold out for the best possible to outcome. It means not jumping to conclusions but instead waiting for the final verdict. Innocent until proven guilty. And to endure simply means to be patient and longsuffering, especially under pressure. This circles back directly to the opening statement in Paul’s passage – Love is Patient.

Finally, closing out the whole thing, love never fails. The term used here means to perish or fall. So, the verse is saying love never perishes, or never falls. Love will survive any war waged against it, will make way through any obstacle, will move mountains if it has to, all in maintaining its existence. Love isn’t going away.

It is fitting that in 1 John 4:8 we see that God is Love. The Greek word used in that verse is agape’; in other words, God embodies all that we’ve been describing love to be.

So where does this leave us? What difference does all this make?

Love isn’t one action, isn’t a feeling, isn’t a just mindset. It’s more than just being nice. Love is a way of life, brought about by the Holy Spirit in us. It is the byproduct of a mysterious interaction between our intentions and God’s intentions, between our will to live well and God’s sanctifying work in us. It isn’t simply there; it is developed. It has to be honed, crafted, and practiced. By God’s grace we learn to follow his prompts, to behave differently, to be different. Living in a loving way is worshipful, delighting a father watching his kids honor himself.

My big takeaway from all this is simply: One of the highest forms of worship is Loving my wife well.

Love – looking out for number 1

Continuing the work of unpacking what Love is, this post will focus on a couple more characteristics. Between this post and the next one, I’m hoping to wrap it up.

The first is thing we’re looking at is the notion that love is not self-seeking. Here the idea is that to act in love means not seeking to further ones own profit or advantage. The easiest way for me to conceptualize this is simply that love isn’t “looking out for number 1”. All of us know someone whose mission in life is seemingly to make sure they always get ahead or come out on top. They insist things are even or fair, and they give to get. I again can see myself in this, where so much of our relationship (both dating and early marriage) was me trying to make sure I benefited. I would do nice things, fully expecting to have nice things done in return. I would go a little out of my way serve Shelley expecting that she would go farther out of her way to serve me.

Just like everything else we’ve seen about love so far, Paul again is stressing unselfishness.

Love keeps no record of being wronged. The King James version says, [love] thinketh no evil. The Greek words here are are logizomai and kakos. Logizomai means to keep record or account of, and also can be translated as to pass to one’s account, to impute. Additionally, kakos is the Greek word for wrong or evil. To be honest, the research on this one aggravated me. Some of the commentaries I read made me cringe. The reason is that some folks translate the meaning of this verse to be ‘forgive and forget’. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how someone can actually believe that we are to forgive and forget. One commentator even insinuated that not forgetting wrong’s committed against is sinning. To forgive is, supernaturally, a gift to ourselves to release us from a prison of bitterness and resentment. It is worshipful and God honoring. Without spending too much time on this rabbit trail, to suggest that we forget wrongs committed against us is to demand we do something beyond our control. I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to will myself to forget something. I can try not to dwell on it, and I can do my best to not put myself in situations to be reminded of it, but I cannot force myself to forget.

Anyway, I think the gist here is three-fold. First, that love doesn’t keep a tick-mark tally of wrongs. It’s easy to keep score, but its also incredibly damaging.

Second, that when we love well, we don’t keep that tally in our back-pocket to use when we need to feel justified or exonerated. We don’t use those things as leverage to get our way, nor to rationalize our wrongs.

And finally, when we love well we don’t let our spouses wrongs become what defines them. None of us want to feel like we’re the sum total of our bad behaviors. When we love well, we guard against allowing ourselves to believe the worst about our spouse. No matter the wrongs committed, we’re still made in the image of God, infinitely valuable.

Here are a couple questions I’m challenged with:

1)   What’s my motivation for keeping a tally of my wife’s wrongs? I’d like to say I don’t keep a tally, but the truth is I do.

2)   When I act in self-seeking ways it is usually because I feel a sense of injustice. I think I’m getting the short end of the stick. What keeps me from simply talking to Shelley about it, rather than pulling some self-seeking stunt?

3)   Why do I feel a sense of injustice when Shelley benefits in our relationship?