When wives share their triggers and the accompanying pain, their husbands are often hit with a tidal wave of shame. When hit by the tidal wave, it’s easy for husbands to feel overwhelmed and to buckle under it. Many husbands go back into that shame shell where they shutdown, get angry, lose empathy, etc. Many wives 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, and healing response, there is a block to her grieving process. It can even feel like that is the point where the couple remains stuck.
Second, a wife’s respect for her husband is further eroded. Some would say there’s nothing left to erode, but often there is a little reserve of respect remaining in the tank and that gets tapped when a wife sees her husband as fragile. One wife said 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.
If you’re a husband who’s committed betrayal, you will have to develop fortitude when facing your 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 your anger and just saying the right thing — although that’s better than popping off and saying hurtful things.
Fortitude means you bear pain with courage. When encountering your wife’s triggers and pain, you must develop the mental and moral strength to persevere through the danger, fear, and difficulty.
You can’t just will yourself into this. It’s a reminder that you need a Savior. You need the Spirit of God to develop character – the kind of character that leads to courage and fortitude. And thankfully, Jesus is committed to doing just that!
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 hopefully say she is thankful for, and admires 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. Thus, try to be gracious knowing she isn’t manufacturing this stuff or making it up. You may want to encourage her to attend the Restore: Hope for a Woman’s Heart workshop.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20