My primary struggle, now that the habitual sexual sin is behind me (only by the power of God!) is in developing a relationship with my wife. I’m frustrated to say that I have made much less progress on that front than I have in stopping the sexual sin and in growing my relationship with God.
I don’t mean to negate or lessen the progress He has empowered me to make in those areas; it’s nothing short of miraculous. However, my wife is still married to someone she does not feel close to, which is a whole other issue from the past sins and my relationship with God. She’s glad, of course, about those two areas. But, she needs so much more.
She doesn’t feel loved and treasured like she should. She doesn’t feel secure in our relationship. She isn’t getting her needs met by me. That makes our marriage a horrifically difficult thing for her, when her marriage should be one of the best things in her life.
I realize that, as her husband, I am not called to meet her every need. I know that God and other people are to meet the needs of our wives that we as husbands cannot meet.
On the other hand, I am responsible for meeting every need of hers that a husband can. So, can I meet any of them? Well, in my power, absolutely not…not one of them. But I know that God can empower me to meet them. So far, if He has, I haven’t seen it. But many times (maybe most, or all of the time), He requires action on our part all the way to the very line where our ability ends and His must take over. I believe, before He steps in, I need to take every possible step that I can take on my own. Then, He’ll know I’m serious and want this. And, it will require me to trust Him.
I can give all sorts of reasons/excuses for not meeting her needs, like the lack of training I received in showing love while growing up. Exactly where do other people learn it, anyway? But, regardless of the reason(s), she needs a husband/best friend/confidante/laughing partner/lover/comforter/sounding board/knight in shining armor — not just a roommate and someone to provide dirty laundry for her to wash and an empty stomach for her to fill. And it’s up to me to do something to get from where I am (clueluess about how to be any of those) to where I actually fulfill those roles for her.
Becoming that “Heaven-sent husband” is really for me, too…I want all those things, just like she does. Well, not a husband or a knight, but you get what I mean. Let’s face it: regardless of the macho image portrayed in the media (as well as the buffoonish image of men — especially fathers and husbands — also portrayed on today’s TV shows), men have feelings and a need for emotional intimacy just like women do.
We men really do want someone with whom we can share every thought, lesson, dream, frustration, epiphany and joy in life. We aren’t always brought up in an environment where we learn to share (or learn how to share), but we really do want it, which we can admit, if we’re honest. We want to be held, gently touched (non-sexually), needed, admired, liked, desired sexually, respected (that’s a big one) and all the other things women want. We’re very different from women, yes, but in many ways, we’re alike. This is something God has taught me.
Because my wife has been without this for so long (27 years, at our last anniversary), she is understandably close to the point of giving up. We both believe that God hates divorce. But there comes a time when one has to wonder, is the emotional abuse of a spouse who doesn’t put forth anywhere near sufficient effort to develop a relationship with you, who makes you feel no more important in his life than anyone else on earth (and less important than some people in his life), is it really what God wants for you, to stay in that relationship and continue to suffer that abuse?
That’s a big question. A scary one, for me. Recently, my wife expressed it, and not for the first time. And, by that I mean, she brought up the “D word” in a conversation. She said she was just about at that point. Now, while she may have been there for a while, she only recently mentioned it (again). Did something drag her closer than usual to that edge? Yes. Something I did? Yes. Something I should have known better than to do? Yes.
One of the things I used to do as part of my sexual sin routine was chat with other men online. These were not, “Hey, how are the wife and kids?” type of chats. They were sexual in nature. This is one of the sins I gave up. A few months after I did, I developed (or God developed in me) a desire to help others escape the sin, like I did. I set up an anonymous Twitter account, and eventually started this blog. Though the blog was partially to help others, it’s also my journal, to help me process this stuff in my mind. As a result of my online presence, I would sometimes be contacted by men who struggle with sexual purity in their lives, and I would attempt to help them.
Two of these men who contacted me, I started conversing with via text message. Daily. Sometimes, with numerous texts over the course of a day. There was no sexual element to these communications; I no longer look at other men that way. Instead, we became friends (something new for me…having male friends). I enjoyed our interaction, and since they continued it, I assume they did, too.
What I realize now, after a multi-day and often uncomfortable conversation with my wife about this situation, is that I replaced the sexual chats with the non-sexual texts. At first, that didn’t seem to me to be a problem. I was keeping it clean, after all, and I know I helped these guys with the words that God gave me to say to them. And they helped me, too, with things they said, and just in learning to carry on a conversation. And I made sure these conversations took place during my work day, when it wouldn’t take time away from my wife (though I did let them slip in when I was with her, on occasion, until she voiced her displeasure over that and I set a boundary that we would only communicate during my work hours).
What she helped me figure out, however, is that while I was developing these friendships with them, my relationship with her was not improving. In other words, I was getting the emotional connection that we all crave (a good thing), but I was getting that need met outside the marriage, when neither of us was getting it met inside the marriage (a very bad thing).
Now, my wife doesn’t want me to never have friends, even male ones. She knows I need friends, like everyone does. She even knows that men with same-sex attractions especially need it, because the lack of it while growing up is one of the causes of those attractions (at least, they were in my life).
What she didn’t like was that I’ve never met either of these men in person (just like the ones I used to have sexual chats with), and that the conversations were too often and too long. Now, she doesn’t begrudge me contact with guys who need help with purity. But it should be in person, like with the guys in Celebrate Recovery with whom I work; or when it is via text or some other electronic method, it should be limited contact; a short conversation, and only occasionally. Not daily spending more time talking to them than I do talking to her.
There’s the rub. Without realizing it or meaning to, I was getting the benefits of friendship — the emotional connection — with them, and she was getting no emotional connection with me.
Eureka! I finally understood her problem with this arrangement.
I would love to say that I understood it the first time she said it. I don’t tend to do that, however. But, over the course of several days and several conversations between us, with God bringing it to my mind inbetween those conversations, He enlightened me. At first, I said she was wrong. And I really did think she was wrong. But, as God always does, He gently brought me around to realizing that she was exactly right. Crap! Another win for her.
My flesh likes to win arguments. But being defensive is no way to sustain or improve a marriage. I’m always defending myself. She brings up an issue and I offer excuses for why I’ve done nothing wrong. Or, I bring up something I don’t like that she does. When will I learn? It’s to the point where she’s afraid to bring anything up.
Deep down, below where I consciously operate too much of the time, I know it’s not about one of us winning. Yes, it gets tiring being the one in the wrong virtually every single time we have a “discussion.” But, I’m pretty messed up. It’s just one of the consequences of that. I should expect there to be issues that she brings up. And I must learn to not go into defense mode, but instead, agree with her that it’s an issue, repent of it (making it a true repentance by not returning to the offensive activity). Even if I don’t see it as offensive. If she sees it that way, then it is; my intentions don’t matter. The fact that I had no idea that something would hurt or upset her doesn’t matter. And then, I must ask her for her forgiveness. My human, manly pride makes it hard to do, but I will, because God tells me to and enables me to. And I want and need that forgiveness.
In case you’re wondering, I did cut off daily communication with the two men. I explained the situation, and they were very understanding. They knew my marriage had to come first. I am grateful to them for their reaction and cooperation. This is the only part of this situation that I handled well. Lesson learned, and remembered, I hope: the next time she brings up something that bothers her, I want to drop the defenses, agree with her, fully turn around in repentance, and ask for forgiveness.
As I said earlier, it’s up to me to do everything I possibly can to build a relationship with my wife, so God will step in and do what I cannot. And that’s why I’ve decided to get counseling.
I’ve thought about it before, but money has always been an issue. Have you ever had one of those “slap your forehead with the palm of your hand” moments? That happened to me the other day, when I realized I have an EAP (employee assistance plan) and health insurance where I work (of course, I knew I had health insurance!), both of which cover counseling. Duh!
I’m feeling positive, upbeat and I’m even bordering on being excited about the counseling. Perhaps this is that next step I need to take to be what God wants me to be. I fully believe God could just instantly change me into all my wife needs. So far, instantly is not how He’s done anything for me, though. And I believe there’s a purpose for that. He’s used other people in my recovery. Every step has involved interacting with someone, or multiple someones. And friendships have resulted. I do believe He wants us to live in community with other believers, and I certainly needed to step outside my box of little to no social interaction. I’ve also wondered whether He has allowed me these other relationships (the online ones that I mentioned, as well as those with people in person at Celebrate Recovery) to prepare me for relating to my wife, since my experience relating to anyone at all has been so limited.
My first counseling appointment was supposed to have been three days ago, but the counselor called and a conflict had come up. It will be tomorrow instead. Interestingly, I felt no relief at it being postponed, but disappointment. I had been looking forward to it. I still am; I just have to look forward to it a little longer now. All in God’s timing.