SOURCE: Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick
Question: My husband has had several affairs. One sexual and the others emotional. After each one I have tried to work on me and felt they occurred because I needed to fix things in my own life. I needed to be more loveable, appealing and easy to be with. In so many ways I have been completely humbled and broken, but despite the changes in my own life I recently discovered he had resumed calling the woman he had been having an emotional affair with 4 years ago. In addition, he has confessed to having a sexual addiction or integrity issues involving pornography and pleasing himself sexually. Yet, even while he has been doing this, I have felt loved and cared for by him most of the time.
My biggest concern has been however, when we have discussions, I feel very intimidated by him and end up backing away or apologizing profusely because I’m afraid of his anger and intimidation. I’m not perfect and see so many of my own faults and insecurities but I desire to have intimacy with God. I’m fit, I have a great profession, close relationships and work at being a good parent to my son (16) and daughter (18).
So here is my dilemma. My husband and I are separated. After the last affair, it was agreed if he ever did this again it would mean automatic divorce, no more counseling, etc. When we first separated I felt scared, but now after 5 months I’m fine and our children are fine. They say they prefer him gone and we have needed time to heal. Before, I tried so hard to rebuild my marriage that our children took a back seat. Now I’m enjoying the peace of our home instead of always being anxious that I would make a mistake that would drive him into the arms of another woman.
I’m thriving, going to a great Christian counselor and reading and trying to understand sexual addiction. However, my husband wants another chance and feels he now understands why he made so many hurtful choices. He periodically meets with a pastor from our church but has not sought counseling or a recovery group. He seems softer, has realized much and constantly says he misses me and loves me, but I have lost my desire for him. I almost would be embarrassed to put myself through this again but feel guilty or unsure if I’m disobeying God. Isn’t God a God of second or fifth chances?
I have never been good at discerning when my husband was betraying me how can I ever trust him. How do I know if he is fully recovered? Am I being disobedient by not giving him another chance?
Answer: Oh how we wish life’s decisions could be black and white and that God would just tell us what to do. I struggle with the same dilemma of “not knowing” the future, or the reliability of a person’s words. Talk is cheap and insight, even good and truthful self-awareness, is still a long way off from faithful and consistent change in a person’s heart and habits.
The good news is you don’t have to decide just yet about whether or not to follow through with divorce. Although you certainly have biblical grounds. You indicate you are getting good counsel so I’m going to give you some things to talk about with your counselor to make sure you are moving in the right direction.
First, pay attention to your feelings but don’t allow yourself to be ruled by them. You feel anxious about his anger and intimidation. Is this true in other relationships or mainly with him? You indicate your own insecurity issues and sometimes people who fear rejection are easily intimidated into compliance because they fear disapproval or loss of relationship even when the other person isn’t intentionally trying to be controlling.
This season of separation can be a good test for you to observe the fruit of your change as well as his. Are you able to speak up and say no, even if you still feel anxious or intimidated? And, can he hear and respect your “no” the first time, without arguing, trying to change your mind or threatening you with loss of potential reconciliation? If you’re still not able to be clear and direct with what you want or don’t want because of fear, you need to figure out why. Is it him or it is your need to please, to not disappoint, to be a good Christian girl, and/or to always be the accommodating one?
Your husband has done great damage to your family and marriage yet he doesn’t seem to be working very hard to make sure he never does it again. That does not sit well with me at all. Why has he not gone to personal counseling, joined a recovery group or taken other steps to deal with his problems? You say you’re reading about sexual addiction, but is he? You seem to have done lots of work to mature, grow, and become a more godly woman but what exactly has your husband done to identify his problems and change them?
From what you describe, it seems to me that your husband has been ruled by a selfish and a lazy heart. (These are defined more fully in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship). Pornography is a selfish and lazy way to have sexual pleasure and release without the responsibilities of relationship or mutual giving. It’s all about him! From what you describe, most of the marriage has been all about him and what you’ve lacked or not done to make him happy or keep him faithful to you.
Affairs are also selfish and indulgent. He wasn’t thinking of you or your children, only about what he felt and what he wanted. From my vantage point what you describe as your husband’s change is really just more of the same but now instead of the other woman, you’ve become the desired object he wants.
Yes, God is a God of second chances, of fifth chances, of hundredth chances, but you are not God. You do not know his heart. Only God can discern his true motives. However, you can use the growth you’ve achieved to speak the truth in love, ask him to do the work required in order for you to be willing to consider reconciliation and build trust again and see what happens. If his heart is truly changed, he will. If not, he will get angry, blame you and want you to do the work to trust him. You’ve already been around that bend several times and you’re wise to not repeat it.