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.

 

What Could Have Been

First, thanks to everyone who has responded to the survey. I’ll be taking it down soon, and will follow with a post on the results.

Next, I just want to address an issue that keeps coming up when I’m working with couples in recovery. I’m hoping that it saves some heartache, especially for wives, and also some exasperation for husbands.

The issue is stating what bad things could have happened but didn’t. Let me explain. A wife went out of town recently and her husband stayed home, lived with integrity, and honored her. Once she returned, they were talking about how the trip had gone and whether or not he had any struggles with temptation. He honestly admitted that yes, he had thought about looking at porn one night. She was irritated, but not angry. She expressed how disappointing it was to hear, and how she wished it was never an issue for him. Rather than hear her pain and empathize, he retorted with something along the lines of “give me a break, I handled it. I didn’t act out. I could’ve gone to a strip club and you would’ve never known, but I didn’t. Sorry, I’ll never be perfect”.

Now, he was genuinely trying to shed light on progress. But with poor delivery. And rather than make her feel safe and secure with his progress, she was simply reminded of how hurt and betrayed she felt. It wasn’t the least bit comforting to know he even thought about what he could get away with while she was gone. As you can imagine, the whole thing went south from there.

For this wife, her declaration of disappointment wasn’t a jab at her husband; it was simply an expression of emotion. It tapped into his shame though, and his response was to manipulate the situation to make her the problem by having unrealistic expectations (via the “I’ll never be perfect” comment). It would’ve been a simple conversation that ended rather quickly had he not popped off.

Remember that reassurance is underscored by empathy, not by painting a picture of how much worse a situation could have been.

 

Measuring Up

Are we measuring our recovery by what we’re not doing anymore?

In the beginning of recovery it is important to celebrate the victories of not acting out. While taking it one day at a time, we need the motivation and encouragement of seeing the end of a day lived with integrity. We also need the hope it brings; that maybe these days can be strung together to form weeks, months or even years.

But somewhere along the way that has to change.

There comes a point where we can no longer measure down, we have to start measuring up. We can no longer measure our recovery by what we’re not doing, but instead have to look at what we’re being called to. I hear too often, after an integrity lapse, a man say “well, at least I’m better than how I used to be” or “at least I’m not doing what I used to do”. I think in many ways this excuse/rationalization is a way to hold onto hope. It’s a coping mechanism to avoid slipping into the despair that comes with feelings of failure and disappointment. It is an attempt to escape the shame of sin.

The good news is that our hope is not in our best behavior; it is in our Savior. God promises through the words of Paul the Apostle that He will complete the good work He began in us. He is committed to our sanctification and will empower us to fight another day.

Don’t let yourself be lulled into measuring your journey down, against what you aren’t doing anymore. Instead, be committed to measuring up, setting your sights on becoming the man God is calling you to be. Each day lived a little more like the men He is calling us to be is another day farther from being the old men we were.