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.

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.

Silent Struggle

Last week Shelley and I both had the privilege of speaking at Biola University in La Mirada, Ca. We’ve had other opportunities to speak to students at schools and ministry events through Campus Crusade for Christ, and every time we are blown away.

There is so little pretense.

It is almost like they haven’t had enough time in the Christian sub-culture to figure out they need to wear masks. Or maybe better said, there is still enough sensitivity in their heart that when they are invited into authenticity and transparency they can throw caution to the wind and enter that sacred space.

Shelley and I challenged the students to make a decision to be radically vulnerable about their struggles. We urged them to risk rejection and take the first step to open up. We tried to help them understand the value and reward of true intimacy. We talked about teenage pregnancy, bestiality, shame, guilt, pornography, sex addiction, anorexia and body image, work-aholism, abortion, forgiveness and redemption.

The stories that were relayed back to us from students covered all these topics and more. They were vulnerable, gritty, sometimes empowering and made us want to cheer, other times painful and hopeless, bringing us to tears.

Interestingly, two consistent themes came out as we engaged the students’ stories. First, the reality of a silent struggle. So many times we heard, “I’ve never told anyone” or “I’m afraid to tell anyone that I’ve…” I even received a handwritten letter from a student describing her shame and disappointment of struggling with repetitive sexual sin, and I’m the first person she has told [written to].

The second theme was that of divorce in the home. Several students came up and said their folks are currently or have recently divorced due to sexual integrity issues. One girl, in tears, talked about how at 20 she’s realizing that her father’s sexual sin has affected her deeply. It pains her to see her mom so resentful and bitter, and her dad simply declares it covered in the blood of Jesus so it doesn’t need to be spoken of again. Heartbreaking.

All in all, I walked away from that campus with hope. Hope because of the raw, unfiltered, willingness of the students to engage difficult topics. Hope because the faculty and staff decided its important enough to address from the main stage and create an open dialogue about. Hope because God is still in the business of redemption and those stories we heard are, for many, a turning point that will change the entire course of their lives and legacies.

If you are in the silent struggle, it doesn’t have to be that way any longer. If you are the ones divorcing with college age children, it doesn’t have to be that way any longer. Change, real lasting change, may be right around the corner.