What Not to Say

This is a super quick post to address a simple but particularly infuriating issue. If you are in the process of healing and restoration with a significant other there are inevitably moments where that other can’t see progress. Some conversations just feel like nothing has been accomplished and zero forward momentum can be found. When that happens, and the hopelessness sets in, some men will try to manufacture a sense of hope and progress by comparing what they are doing now to what they could be doing wrong now or what they used to do wrong in the past.

Examples of what not to say-

  • I used to lust after almost every woman I saw (but now I’m not)
  • I could be looking at porn every day when I’m at work (but I don’t)
  • If I wanted to sleep with my assistant I could (but I’m not)
  • I could lie and completely get away with it (but I’m not)
  • I could still be deleting texts from my phone and you’d never know (but I’m not)
  • If I wanted to get around the internet filter I could (but I don’t)
  • I used to flirt with women at church all the time (but I’m not now)

Hopefully you get the point. It’s never helpful to measure today’s progress against what you aren’t doing or could be doing that is worse. We talked about this a little bit in the Measuring Up blog post here. It is neither comforting nor reassuring to for a wife/significant other to hear how bad things could be or used to be, as a way of seeing progress in the present.

Practically, when you feel hopelessness because progress seems elusive, focus on the future rather than the past. Invite the person you’re wooing back to you to hang on and watch another day. To give you another week. To reassess on Friday. Whatever the timeline, give them something to cling to, rather than something to try to throw as far as they can see.

 

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.

 

Out of Bounds

Recovery requires boundaries. Unfortunately we often think of boundaries as limiting factors. They’re the rules and regs we have to live by in order to maintain sobriety. But this is an entirely narrow view of boundaries.

Instead, I encourage you to think of boundaries as the guardrails you surround yourself with to protect your soul. These include what you look at, listen to, ingest, smell, where you go, and who you interact with. You are the primary protector of your soul. God gave you rule over that part of His kingdom. He owns it, but we are stewards of it.

When we relax our boundaries and engage pseudo porn, lustful looking, “harmless” flirting (quotes indicate denial) or drink a little too much we are dabbling with disaster. When we listen to podcasts or shows that pollute our thinking, go places or say or do things that violate our consciences we are fueling fallout. Its only a matter of time. Maybe you can relate in that when I relax a little boundary, it turns into relaxing bigger boundaries. And when I bump against them to see if they’ll really hold me, I’m actually seeing how far I can get. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Alternatively, when I live well within intentionally designed boundaries, I allow my soul to flourish. It’s life giving. It creates a lifestyle of abundance rather than a mentality of scarcity. The most important people get the best parts of me, rather than a dulled out version of me.

The sad truth though, is that when I live with poor boundaries I’m really being a poor steward of the soul God has given me. Rather than cultivating, sanctifying and treasuring it as a reflection of His glory, I’m covering it with grit, grime and pollution.

Recovery boundaries aren’t limiters. They’re life givers.