Fragility or Fortitude

When our wives share their triggers and the accompanying pain, it can bring a tidal wave of shame. When we get hit by the wave, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to buckle under it. We can go back into that shame shell where we shutdown, get angry, lose empathy, etc. Many wives will say when they see this happen (and they definitely see it happen) they begin to think of their husbands as fragile. They start feeling like they can’t share what they are really thinking or feeling because it will crush him. Underlying this is often a fear, sometimes unspoken, that it will ultimately lead to acting out or relapse. So wives will sometimes hold back because of this.

Two unfortunate things happen when this is the case. First, the wife’s process is halted. When a wife can’t share her pain and receive an empathic, receptive, humble, healing response there is a block to her grieving process. It can even feel like that point is the stuck point that the couple keeps coming back to.

Second, a wife’s respect for her husband is further eroded. Some would say there’s nothing left to erode, but I often see that there is a little reserve respect in the tank, and that gets totally tapped when a wife see’s her husband as fragile. I heard a wife recently say to her husband, “You gave me this pain, now I want to give it back to you but you can’t take it, so I’m stuck with it.” Pretty accurately describes the situation to me.

As husbands who’ve committed betrayal, we have to develop fortitude when facing our wife’s triggers. Take a look at this definition-

\ˈfȯr-tə-ˌtüd : Strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage.

Fortitude isn’t the same thing as being stoic. It is not stonewalling and lacking compassion. It also isn’t simply caging our anger and just saying the right thing; although that’s better than popping off and saying hurtful things.

Fortitude means we bear pain with courage. When we encounter our wives’ triggers and pain we must develop the mental and moral strength to persevere through the danger, fear and difficulty.

I don’t know about you but I can’t just will myself into this. It reminds me that I need a Savior. I need the Spirit of God to develop character in me that leads to courage and fortitude. And He is committed to doing so.

All that said, here are a couple of practical steps you can take:

  • Remember that every trigger is an opportunity to develop fortitude and to cultivate respect. It is likely that on the other side of all this your wife will say she is thankful for and admires by your willingness to lean into the process of her sharing her pain.
  • When your first reaction to your wife’s sharing is anger or defensiveness, it is probably about self protection. But in the process of grieving and healing, self protection is always the enemy of empathy. Let your heart break for the pain of the situation, rather than trying to avoid feeling it.
  • Remember that she hates it too. She wants it to go away more than you do. She hates that a good day is interrupted by painful thoughts too. Thus, try to be gracious knowing she isn’t manufacturing this stuff or making it up.

Protecting Me at Your Expense

One thing a lot of married men don’t realize in the recovery process is that self protection always does damage to our wives’ heart. In effect when we lie, excuse, blame, hide, avoid, criticize and minimize we are saying, “I am willing to protect myself at your expense”. We like to think self-protection has a zero impact. We like to think that not acting out anymore is enough.

But it’s not.

We have to decide that we will stop protecting ourselves for the sake of our wives. We must deliberately engage their pain, some of which we caused and some we didn’t, to become an accessory to her healing. For some of us, that means we’re going to have to stop demanding that our wives fix themselves, and instead focus on creating a safe container for them to come to terms with their own brokenness.

If your wife feels like she’ll be blamed, shamed, criticized, rejected, abandoned, or will hear “I told you so” for admitting her own faults and insecurities you are NOT creating a safe container.

Just a few weeks ago Shelley qualified a statement she was about to make to me by saying, “I’m afraid to share this with you because I’m afraid of what you’ll think of me”. Translation: Jason hasn’t created a safe enough container for Shelley to be vulnerable with her deepest insecurities.

So what do we need to do to create a safe space for our wives’ to heal? I obviously haven’t done it perfectly, so here are 2 key things I’m working on:

1) Remembering that I’m no one to judge, and I am called to extend the grace I’ve been given. After being addicted to porn and committing serial adultery, I’d say I have no leg to stand on to judge her sin. I need to remind myself of that, not in a shaming way, but in a grace way.

2) Intentionally monitoring my response when she shares something less vulnerable. I realize that sometimes when she shares simple, kinda silly things with me I blow them off. I’ll dismiss them, laugh at them and minimize them. Logically, if I can’t take a small thing seriously, how can she possibly trust me to take a huge thing seriously?

After I post this, I’m going to ask Shelley what I need to work on to be more safe. I want to know what she thinks I need to tweak so that she can naturally share more of her heart.

Will you ask your wife the same question?

 

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.