Looking, Noticing and Seeing

This little write up could potentially cause a stir. I haven’t written it for that reason. I’ve written this to open up a different dialogue and hopefully shed some light on a dicey area that causes much strife for both men in recovery and their wives.

Let me start with my premise: there is a difference between looking and noticing.

I may have lost some of the women reading this already. Hope not. Hope you’ll read on.

In the context of sexual integrity issues or sexual addiction, men develop a habit of looking. There becomes an automatic response that once a woman (or man, if that is your style of acting out. For the sake of this conversation I’ll use ‘woman’, but both apply) enters the periphery our eyes are drawn there. The more depraved and deeply entrenched our sexual integrity issues, the more focused that looking can be. We can develop a habit of looking at exactly the right height to notice the body parts we’re most interested in. I’ve talked to men who have an uncanny ability to pinpoint a woman’s ring finger when he turns to look at her. To be clear, by saying it becomes automatic I am not excusing the behavior. It’s become a bad habit because of deliberate choices that over time have sunken into our subconscious. To that end, men entering the recovery process often don’t even realize they are doing it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the conversation where a wife is demanding her husband admit he intentionally checked out a woman, and he swears up and down he didn’t. Typically they find a stalemate at the point where she is fed up with trying to convince him to own that he looked, and he is feeling powerless to convince her that he simply noticed. Ugh.

Unfortunately the way many men (Including myself in the beginning) handle this difficult situation is to act like a petulant child and start in with the all-or-nothings. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I can’t remove all women from this world”. “Am I supposed to quit my job and live in a cave?” “She’ll never believe that I didn’t look – she only believes what she wants to believe”. “Fine, we’ll just never go out in public together”.

But it can go other unhelpful directions too.

Some guys will land at the ‘its my recovery’ place where they further jeopardize their wife’s heart. “Well, I know I did the right thing and I can’t convince her otherwise, so she’ll just have to deal with it”. This will go south quickly.

Or here’s another one I used to justify my looking behavior: “She’s just a pretty woman, and God made her that way. It’s not wrong for me to appreciate her beauty”. Nice….cloak it in Scripture and make God the scapegoat. I wonder how that conversation will go when God looks us in the eyes and asks why we used him as the ‘out’ for our sin?

Then there’s the minimizing route. “Hey, I just looked…I didn’t touch. At least I didn’t flirt with her, or hit on her, or [fill in the blank with some past acting out behavior]. Just FYI, when wives are triggered, it is almost never helpful for them to hear you measure present progress against past acting out behavior. The guys in your accountability group can high-five you for not flirting or whatever, but most of our wives don’t want to give kudos for doing what we should’ve been doing in the first place: living with integrity.

Anyway, I digress. For men who are actively working recovery, managing their eyes and thoughts, as well as trying to honor God and wife, inevitably they will notice other women. Their eyes will be drawn that direction. After having lived by objectifying other people and trying to get a hit of the lust drug, the old habits and mechanics won’t die easily. But there is a difference between noticing and looking.

Looking is a willful, intentional behavior specifically connected to a lack of integrity. Noticing is a twofold thing. First, it is the residue from a life of looking. It may now be a habit, but in recovery noticing lacks the willful intent. I don’t say this to excuse it, nor to convince a wife that it shouldn’t be hurtful, but the heart attitude is different. Further, if a man in recovery bounces his eyes, replaces his thoughts and honors God with how he handles it, those notices that are residual from the addiction will gradually decrease over time. But I don’t know that they’ll ever go away, which leads to my second point.

Some noticing is normal. We notice people; because of their looks, their clothing, mannerisms, gait, etc. It is part of life. I didn’t say oogling, double or triple-taking, staring up and down, or laser focusing on specific body parts.

If this debate has led to a stalemate at your house, I urge you to talk about the differences. Talk about the heart attitude behind what your eyes take in.

Finally, what I hope we all move toward, is seeing. Not looking, not just noticing, but actually seeing. Let me explain.

God the father and Jesus the son both saw people as image bearers. Throughout Scripture we see interactions between the Divine and humanity where He sees beyond skin to what is happening in the heart. In John 4 we find a story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well. While she’s bending over to draw water, I suspect Jesus isn’t looking down her shirt! He’s not gawking at her and he’s not checking her out. He even reads her mail in a sense and knows her promiscuity. Opportunity perhaps? No, Jesus sees beyond all that to this woman’s heart. My hope is that we can all begin to see people through the lens of image bearers. May God work in us to see beyond boobs, hair, butt and body, to instead see people as He does; broken, beautiful and in need of a relationship with Him.

Prison

This weekend at the Every Mans Battle workshop I heard someone say they finally have hope they can life free. Like they were getting out of prison.

While hard for some people to believe, living the sexually addicted lifestyle is not fun; it is horrible. Sure there are moments of excitement, where getting away with something taboo feels like an adventure. And moments where we feel self-confident and reassured, like we measure up. There are brief periods of feeling like we matter, are wanted and even needed.

Then we get slapped in the face with reality. It’s not exciting; it’s a prison. And a hellish one at that.

The shame that drives the addiction is compounded by living in the addiction. The prison door swings open wide for us to escape, only to be handcuffed and locked up again – by ourselves. It’s not the life we want. Most guys I talk to want to be married, to be in love, to serve and honor their wives, to feel deeply respected by their families, to be pillars of leadership at work, church and home. If singleness or the playboy lifestyle were all they wanted, they would’ve pulled the ripcord long ago.

Instead, the authentic man is trapped inside a self constructed prison. We sometimes look out on the lives we wish we had like an inmate stares through the fence to freedom. To carry the metaphor further, we’ll even try to make a break for it, all the while knowing the guards of the addiction are tracking us down. It feels like it’s only a matter of time until we’re locked up again. It can seem like a life sentence.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be.

Freedom is possible through the power of Christ, changing our hearts, minds and character. Shed the jumpsuit and take the steps of confession, repentance and doing the next thing to get help. Maybe that’s come to the workshop. Maybe its just tell your counselor the truth. Perhaps its call off the affair. Whatever it is, take the next step!

Motivator vs. Motivation

A quick bit of info on motivation for recovery.

First, a note to husbands. Your wife probably doesn’t want to be your motivator to change. She wants you to change for you. And for God. It is way too much pressure for a wife to be the motivator. With that pressure, there is often a trap that wives feel caught in. On the one hand, some wives feel like they have to be the encourager or cheerleader, praising you for making meetings, counseling, etc. But that comes at a price; having to be the positive takes away permission to be angry, hurt, sad and disappointed. Without the freedom to feel this range of emotions the grieving process is stunted. In other words, when she has to be your cheerleader and feels like she can’t express this stuff she can’t heal.

On the other hand and different than the cheerleader, is the wife who feels like she has to stay angry and on your case. These wives feel like if they let up and give an inch of breathing room, you’ll take a mile. They often believe that if they aren’t holding you accountable for changing you’ll either go back to your acting out (at worst) or you’ll simply settle for a crappy status quo. Here again is a trap; well meaning wives who want to be encouragers to their husbands feel like they can’t or they’ll pay for it.

Either way, for your wife to be the motivaTOR is a bad thing. But, for her to be some part of your motivaTION is a great thing.

It’s fantastic that your wife is a motivation for you. This need not be vilified. The catch comes when she becomes the only motivation and/or you allow her to be the primary motivator.

 

Now a note to wives. There are a multitude of reasons for your husband to change. There are a number of different motivations which, at any given moment, may be at the top of the list. One morning you may be the motivation; earnestly striving to keep you and keep the marriage. That afternoon it may be his legacy to his kids. That night it may be because of what God is calling him to. The next morning it may be so he doesn’t lose his business. Another time it may be to simply keep you and any body else (his counselor, perhaps? ) off his case.

This is normal!

The merry-go-round of motivation is okay. Give him permission to be motivated by any and all these things, and be required to have the right motivation all the time. No, you should not be his motivator, but you can be some of his motivation. And listen, if you’re reading this thinking, “But Jason, if I don’t keep being his cheerleader, or keep being angry, then he’ll quit doing the work”, then you need to stop and let him.

Give him the power to either pull the ripcord and walk away (and yes, settling for mediocrity in a life of ‘just not acting out anymore’ is walking away), or to find new motivation. A different motivation. Sometimes this is simply a necessary part of the process, because both of you need to see him engage new motivations. I can almost guarantee that if you do ease up and he finds new motivation, works his recovery and strives to be who God is calling him to be you will respect him more in the end.

Certainly there are caveats and every situation is unique. My primary point is for husbands to do recovery in a way that wives don’t feel like they have to be the motivator, and for wives to give their husbands permission to be motivated by a multitude of things at different times.