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.

Recovery Resentment

I want to write about a strange phenomenon that happens for wives in the recovery process that I’ll call Recovery Resentment.

The confusing thing about this resentment is it seems to show up most often when a husband is doing really well in his recovery work. You might think a wife would be happy, thankful and excited about the changes she sees, yet at times she may seem angry about it.

What typically happens is a husband gets discovered or does disclosure, gets plugged into counseling, attends an Every Man’s Battle workshop, jumps into a group or develops friendships and becomes accountable, and finds himself hopeful about his future. For some guys, it’s the most free they’ve ever felt, and they experience joy unlike anything in a long time. There are powerful insights about addiction and personal idiosyncrasies, and realizations that can sometimes explain decades of lifestyle choices.

Then there’s his wife. She gets the backpack of his pain. She has to reconcile her whole life and make sense of her hunches and where she overlooked the clues. She has to find a way to not feel crazy as she looks back on her life. She has to struggle through sticking around, riding the roller-coaster of feeling love towards her husband one minute, hate the next. The disparity between how joyful and hopeful he is and how hopeless and devastated she feels becomes stark. For some wives, this is where resentment starts to creep in. And it’s a real catch-22: she feels resentment that she’s been put in this situation, and also resentment that her husband is changing and things may be getting better. Talk about confusing!

Here are some things I hear from wives that indicate the recovery resentment is building:

  • “He starts to feel better and I start to feel worse”
  • “He gets to attend a retreat, while I am stuck giving up more time of my life to his recovery.”
  • “He gets to hang out at breakfast with his friends once a week while I’m stuck getting the kids ready for school”
  • “I have to struggle through a day of triggers reminded of pain and feeling anxiety, while he seems to pass the day without thinking anything of it or feeling any remorse.”
  • “We’re having to spend money cleaning up his mess, when for years I’ve wanted to spend money on _______ and he’s refused to do so.”
  • And finally, one I heard last week that I think strikes such a chord for so many wives, “Sure, he’s changing, but who is he becoming? And how long do I have to wait to see if I like who he becomes? I don’t want to waste more of my life only to find out I don’t like who he is, or worse that this new man decides he is getting rid of me!”

The key here is to remember that the emotional craziness and the building resentment are all part of the grieving process. Not everyone grieves in the same way, but know if you (or your wife) experiences recovery resentment it is not abnormal. It is grieving, and that means making sense of chaos.

A few steps to take if you’re a husband watching your wife experience this:

1)   Don’t call her crazy or too difficult to please.

2)   Be patient, continuing to put one foot in front of the other and work your recovery.

3)   Let your heart break that your actions have brought this on.

4)   With input from your accountability folks, make sure you are diligently practicing empathy. Your excitement for your recovery and new found freedom cannot overshadow your connection to your wife’s pain.

5)   See #1

 

For wives going through it, a few suggestions:

1)   Be sure you have your own support; women who can help you process the resentment without having to make decisions based on it.

2)   Make time for yourself, and give yourself permission to use that time.

3)   Insist he maintain his commitments to the household on top of recovery work.

4)   Remember that his enthusiasm for his recovery is a good thing. There is growth. Its not the same old, same old. You can certainly ask him to temper his enthusiasm, but don’t forget that his excitement for change is a direct offset to his stubbornness to stay the same.

 

3 things my sons need to hear

3 things.001

We have 3 boys and my middle one, Harrison, turned 4 recently. He is so excitable, energetic, fun, cranky, deliberate and fearless. When I think about what his future holds I’m filled with excitement, speculation, hope, expectation and also some trepidation. I’m scared he’ll end up struggling with the same junk I have. I’m fearful he’ll be unfaithful to his wife, assuming he marries. I’m even more concerned over the self-hate he might have to deal with from the shame of his behavior. So, along with my other 2 boys, I have begun the process of (hopefully) preparing him for the road ahead. Specifically, I’m trying to prepare him to not need porn, sex, etc. as a way to cope with life. Here’s how I’m approaching it…

The issue with using our sexuality sinfully is not a problem with sex. It is not about sex. It’s about what sex (and sexual things from lust and fantasy in the mind to the act itself) does to us emotionally. I ended up using my sexuality as a mood-altering drug, and further, as a way of coping with insignificance, inadequacy and a sense powerlessness. If I want my boys to avoid getting tangled up in the web of misusing their sexuality, I need to first address these underlying issues. Since I can’t reason with my 4 year old, and his understanding of himself is in part formed by the feedback he receives from me, I’ve decided to tell him what he needs to know about himself. The hope is that my words (reinforced by my actions towards him, of course) will sink into the deepest recesses of his heart and soul. My words to him are setting the model for God’s words to him. In all likelihood some concept of who and how God is will be predicated on how he experiences me. So I want to be incredibly intentional about what he hears.

Since being born, almost every night (I’ve missed a few here and there) I tell him (and my other boys) these 3 things:

1)   I AM PROUD OF YOU. Just because you’re you. Just because you’re my son. Not because of anything you say or do, but just because you’re you.

2)   I LOVE YOU TO THE MAX! Nothing you could ever do or say would make me love you any less, and nothing could ever make me love you any more. I love you to the max.

3)   I BELIVE IN YOU. And I know you have what it takes to make it as a big boy.

What message does your child need to hear from you? Remember, its never too late to tell them!