What Could Have Been

First, thanks to everyone who has responded to the survey. I’ll be taking it down soon, and will follow with a post on the results.

Next, I just want to address an issue that keeps coming up when I’m working with couples in recovery. I’m hoping that it saves some heartache, especially for wives, and also some exasperation for husbands.

The issue is stating what bad things could have happened but didn’t. Let me explain. A wife went out of town recently and her husband stayed home, lived with integrity, and honored her. Once she returned, they were talking about how the trip had gone and whether or not he had any struggles with temptation. He honestly admitted that yes, he had thought about looking at porn one night. She was irritated, but not angry. She expressed how disappointing it was to hear, and how she wished it was never an issue for him. Rather than hear her pain and empathize, he retorted with something along the lines of “give me a break, I handled it. I didn’t act out. I could’ve gone to a strip club and you would’ve never known, but I didn’t. Sorry, I’ll never be perfect”.

Now, he was genuinely trying to shed light on progress. But with poor delivery. And rather than make her feel safe and secure with his progress, she was simply reminded of how hurt and betrayed she felt. It wasn’t the least bit comforting to know he even thought about what he could get away with while she was gone. As you can imagine, the whole thing went south from there.

For this wife, her declaration of disappointment wasn’t a jab at her husband; it was simply an expression of emotion. It tapped into his shame though, and his response was to manipulate the situation to make her the problem by having unrealistic expectations (via the “I’ll never be perfect” comment). It would’ve been a simple conversation that ended rather quickly had he not popped off.

Remember that reassurance is underscored by empathy, not by painting a picture of how much worse a situation could have been.