Exoneration or Empathy

How do you handle conversations when your wife is triggered…

When our wife is asking us questions it can often feel like an interrogation or cross-examination. Once we’re on the witness stand, we can easily adopt a defensive posture, where we try to say enough to satisfy our questioner but not so much that we incriminate ourselves. Genuinely, we don’t want to make things worse or hurt our wives any more. We also don’t want to be indicted for crimes we didn’t commit. So we get hung up trying to navigate the details rather than engaging our hearts and emotions.

Sometimes we end up responding to the questions (usually after there are a lot of them) in a way that looks like we’re seeking exoneration. Here’s a quick definition of exonerate:

-to prove that someone is not guilty of a crime or responsible for a problem, bad situation, etc.

I know my tendency is to get released on a technicality. In the past, when my wife didn’t have her facts straight, I’d argue the loophole. And, truthfully, we know were that ends up don’t we? Very little healing happens in those conversations.

Instead, a better way to engage is to practice empathy. To feel her pain. Answer the questions asked and try to connect the pain, fear, disappointment, shame and sense of betrayal that may accompany them. Most wives in my office say that when their husband try’s to argue/correct/restate the facts it seems like he is trying to get out of being responsible.

The next time the conversation unfolds and you start to feel like you’re on trial, remember that to pause before you respond and ask yourself: “Am I about to practice empathy or am I trying to be exonerated?”

Faulty Core Beliefs

Every month at EMB we talk about faulty core beliefs. These include beliefs about ourselves such as “I’m a monster”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m unforgivable” and “I’m worthless” to name a few. We also have faulty core beliefs about our needs and the ability and/or willingness of the people near us to meet them.

This past weekend at the workshop, while having a dialogue with the attendees about intimacy aversion, someone said, “I’ve convinced myself I am the only one who can or will meet my needs.” Guess who that automatically sidelines….

  • His wife
  • His God
  • Other healthy, safe men
  • His kids
  • His parents

Unfortunately, he expressed a core belief that most men with sexual integrity issues have. Whilst the belief is present, people (wives, friends, pastors) try desperately to get inside the walls around the guy’s heart only to be catapulted back over when real or perceived rejection is a risk. It is INCREDIBLY frustrating to wives. They get tired of being catapulted.

For me, the only way this belief was dismantled and eventually jettisoned was to begin allowing guys in. I couldn’t even let Shelley in at first. It was only a few safe men I was willing to trust. And I was skeptical and resistant even to that. But with time, I realized and experienced those guys meeting my needs. Not ultimately and with finality, but in those dire moments, they were there.

Sometimes the need was simply for perspective, that it wasn’t all lost. Sometimes it was reassurance that I wasn’t a monster, but instead a broken man. Often it was a simple reminder that God hadn’t given up on me. Every once in a while it was a hug.

If this describes you, perhaps its time to let some people in. Not another image. Not another mistress. Not another prostitute. Some people who will hate what you’re doing and love you along the way.

By the way, that’s one of the great privileges of being a part of the Every Mans Battle weekend. For a few, brave men, they will allow us (staff) access to their hearts. We can be a conduit of God, meeting their needs for the moment.

In a couple days I’ll post about another, even more detrimental faulty core belief. Stay tuned…