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.


8 thoughts on “Recovery Resentment

  1. Jason Matinkus,
    I believe you are correct. There needs to be a healing process for the wife as well as the husband. There are times when the wife will resent him able to go even to a support group to get help because he is taking time away from her. It is a Catch 22. Part of the problem too is helping the wife to be able to come to realization that she may need to go through the healing process, versus reading every book and looking for that “big” change in her husband. And with media out there, if her husband does not do what others have done to reconcile with his wife then she will feel as if he is not sincere. I believe that part of the healing process for the husband should include marriage counseling for the couple and counseling for the wife as well.

    • Hey Jeff, great input! And you are right, most wives need their own healing work. The only issue is timing. If a husband (or counselor, for that matter) insists the wife needs to do her work simultaneously, there is a risk of it seeming like a 50/50 deal. I’d rather see a husband model what it looks like to allow God to change him, and pave the way for his wife to follow. Then, when she and Jesus work out that its time, she’ll have an idea of what it looks like.
      It only took Shelley 6 or 7 years before she was ready and willing to do her own work. If she had started that day 1, she might have gotten healthy enough to leave me! Kidding. If she had started in the beginning when I did I think we would’ve missed something special in that her respect for me is higher because of that modeling.

  2. Well hello!
    I must have motivated Jason to post this after my wife and my counseling session with him yesterday.
    Good stuff

  3. Thanks Jason. Very helpful to know it took your wife 6 or 7 years to begin her own work. It’s been a year and a half and I get impatient when, like you said, I’m feeling so great and free from the grip my addiction had on me, and she doesn’t share that. This post was good timing.

  4. Jason,thank you!
    After reading this, I have come to the same realization I had at EMB:I am NOT alone!
    Interesting that my wife has compared this whole process to childbirth. With my joy and her pain and suffering I guess she’s pretty well dead- on. This is sure a much longer process though,

  5. Yes, both spouses need healing work. However, if you find your wife is frustrated because you’re taking time away from her to go to a meeting, it’s not because she doesn’t want you to go. It’s because there is no healing with her. She is not included in the process. She wants to be confided in and needs comfort as well as reassurance that there is a reason to stay married to you. There is no intimacy without communication, respect, trust, or loyalty. Your wife doesn’t want to feel that her husband’s addiction has been replaced by a new addiction, even if he is getting help. She has already been dealing with the pain of being replaced and put second and many times last. Maybe before the discovery, she has been frustrated for many years that her husband was not an active participant in the marriage and has already been tired from the lack of intimacy and teamwork. Your wife needs your healing and her healing to be equally important. She is tired of being put last. She needs to be the first thought, not only thought of when she makes you think of her. Your wife needs to see the selfishness end in order to feel loved and truly support you. It’s selfishness under the guise of healing. That selfishness has been replaced and projected into something else. Her support for you completely depends on your support of her and supporting the marriage. Her healing depends on it. The marriage healing depends on it.

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