Empathy Barrier

One of the biggest challenges in the relational recovery process is for a husband to have empathy. I wrote another post about that recently here. I think its important to understand a key barrier to empathy. That barrier is a lack of self-intimacy; knowing our own hearts and our needs.

As we navigate life, our emotions are stirred and we are impacted by the world around us. We have good days, and we also have those days where we wish we had a mulligan. Those tough days, especially, affect us. Our car breaks down and we feel powerless, disappointed and angry. Our stocks go down and we feel the same. Our boss yells at us, or we yell at employees. Or kids. Or our wives. And we feel guilty and remorseful. A deal falls through, a vacation gets canceled, etc. Or perhaps we act out again and relapse with porn, strip clubs or cross-dressing. You name it, the emotional impact of life can leave us feeling hurt, disappointed, ashamed, guilty and fearful to name a few.

Unfortunately, many men don’t give credence to these emotional impacts. A lot of us will  cruise through the day, trying to let this stuff roll off our backs, knowing tomorrow we’ll just start over and hope it goes differently. Wash, rinse, repeat for many of us. But along the way, our hearts are hurt. We end up with legitimate emotional needs that never get addressed. Needs like reassurance, affirmation, validation or perspective. And those needs build, functioning like a kettle on a stove. They heat up and heat up, then eventually when the kettle whistles we’re at critical mass and we’ll move into a reactionary posture. At that point automatic processing kicks in and old habits show up – angry outbursts, shutting down, acting out, acting in. All the while, we’re denying our hearts by ignoring them.

Think about it for a second – how can I have tenderness and compassion towards my wife and honor her heart, when I’ve locked my own heart in a vault? If I don’t allow myself to feel then I’m not going to know my own needs. Nor will I get those needs met in healthy ways. Thus it’ll be nearly impossible to be available for someone else’s needs. Especially those we love the most.

So if you’re struggling with empathy, chances are high that you’re not dealing in self-intimacy; knowing your own heart and your own needs. I don’t mean this in a selfish way, I mean this in a serving way. I am responsible to protect and nourish my own heart in order to have gas in the tank to protect and nourish the hearts God has entrusted to my care.

If you are wondering what that even means, I encourage you to talk to your support guys, your counselor and/or your pastor.

 

Bottom Line

A quick thought to ponder-

What’s your bottom line purpose for today?

What is that baseline commitment that if you meet it, whether or not your day went well, whether or not you performed as a zero or a hero, you can hit the sack with peace?

For me, that is honoring God by being authentic, transparent and speaking truth. If I can function today living out who God has called me to be I can rest. If I tell the truth, both of my life and the life of Jesus, I can rest. If I can be vulnerable and avoid masks and pretenses that portray I can handle life by my own strength, then I can rest knowing I’ve done all I can do.

If we’ll chase after that bottom line commitment today, with all our strength and energy, it’s unlikely we’ll look at porn, go to a strip club, have an(other) affair or be tangled up in the barbed wire of our own egos.

You can do it.

Accommodation

Accommodation for too many wives has become the norm. I sometimes wonder if the biblical concept of submission gets twisted into and applied as accommodation. The idea being that in order to be a ‘good wife’ I have to accommodate my husband and his needs. Which, in theory, doesn’t sound all that bad. If there is reciprocity in fact it could make for a really sweet relationship! But what ends up happening is that the accommodation becomes license to live dysfunctionally.

It shows up in so many ways. Accommodating by having sex when there’s no real intimacy, by acquiescing to irresponsible trips or purchases that hurt the household finances, by overlooking emotional abuse because there’s no physical scars. It also happens around the kids. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from women in their 50’s and 60’s whose husbands were so tangled up in the barbed wire of their own ego, that the wives ended up basically single-parenting and making excuses for why dad wasn’t present or engaged. They were willing to sacrifice on behalf of the kids, which is amazing, but along the way ended up giving him license to shelf his responsibility to his family.

Taking it a step further, it happens on a micro level in my office. I’ll see wives who’ve become so desensitized to it that they take care of making the appointments, they supply a pen and paper for him to take notes and they remind him that he has homework. It’s painful to watch.

Now don’t confuse accommodation with codependency. I’m not talking about wives finding some identity in this. Although that may happen, I’m simply speaking to the unhealthy and dysfunctional pattern of doing life that too easily becomes the norm.

If you can see that your wife has grown accustomed to accommodating, I urge you to take a stand against it. Be the one to call attention to it and go out of your way to ensure she doesn’t have to. She’ll probably thank you in the long run.