Updated: Oct 21, 2021
You’ve been married for 20+ years, praying faithfully for your marriage to be healthy, godly and an example to those around you and your children. Your world is shattered when you learn of your husbands sex addiction that you had no clue existed, even though you knew that intimacy was lacking. His addiction is exposed. Now knowing that you aren’t crazy and that you aren’t to blame for his choices, even if he or others try to place blame, you know that healing can begin.
So you seek out help…you find groups, books, blogs, counselors and experts in the field. He is willing to dig in and find out what brought him to this place and these choices, knowing that his life, marriage and family hinge on his recovery. He is doing the work. But it’s slow. It often seems as though it will never happen or that it will take f-o-r-e-v-e-r.
What do you do??
This is a great question asked by partners who wait. It feels like their marriage has been marked by waiting of some sort, but now this new journey feels so hard and so long.
And so out of their hands.
And it is. The thing to remember is that this is HIS recovery. It’s his work to do. You didn’t cause this addiction. You didn’t do anything to make it worse and you can’t do anything to make it better, contrary to what friends, family or religious organizations will try to tell you. This is on him and him alone. That doesn’t mean that you can’t walk with him, but that doesn’t look accountability-less. It doesn’t look anger-less. It doesn’t look like forgetfulness.
So what does it look like and how do we handle another wait?
For him, it looks like taking responsibility for his actions. It looks like knowing that his choices have placed you, your marriage and your family in this position. It looks like him seeking out the help he needs and if he doesn’t know where to go, find someone who can help him take the next steps. It takes a long time of intentionality, diligence and commitment. It’s truth telling, offering information on recovery instead of waiting to be asked. It takes doing the hard work of facing the pain the of past and the things that led up to today.
Can it be done? Absolutely! I’ve seen it time and time again and I am more than encouraged to see men with their recovery plans, reading, leaving the home if the wife needs space to heal, consistently doing the work, and being encouraged to stay in the fight by other men who have gone before and are still fighting.
As a coach I get to see this first hand. I know the success stories. But when you are the partner who is living this out and struggling to know if recovery is even real or if it’s just one more lie, I want you to know that it happens. But only if he wants it. You wanting it for him isn’t his way to recovery.
So again, how do you manage the wait.
As hard as it is to say, you have to wait…that is unless you don’t want to. That is a whole other story. But only you know when enough is enough. Waiting is hard. No one likes it and often it feels as though nothing is happening.
This is where you need to focus on you.
My biggest struggle was focusing too much on what he was doing because I was afraid of being duped. But that isn’t our problem. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t expecting too much from him so I sought out what recovery looks like and a reasonable time frame. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the main focus needs to be on our own healing.
So while we wait, what does focusing on ourselves look like? That’s the real question.
It means to identify where you need to grow and the places you need to heal. As a partner, we experience betrayal trauma and there are people who can help us heal. Start there. You need to know that you are normal for the feelings that you are experiencing. You need to know that grief is a very normal stage and is not linear. Anger is part of grieving. I have found that those who skip over anger thinking that it’s not biblical, have it wrong or are in denial. It doesn’t make you more spiritual to skip the anger stage….Jesus got angry and we have permission to be angry. There’s a lot of loss that has happened. When we gloss over the anger thinking that we too have done things that we shouldn’t have (that’s true) or that we have our own stuff to deal with or that he had a horrible upbringing (these can also be true), none of that excuses his behavior. Not everyone who has a difficult or traumatic upbringing or an unhealthy past makes continual choices to hurt those closest to them by way of lying, hiding or choosing an addiction.
Friend. Grieve the losses. Remember that addiction isn’t a marriage problem or a lack of forgiveness problem. It’s a problem that only the addicted can work out and he has to do it on his own, with or without you.
Through your own work and healing, you will become stronger in the sense you will now know how to set healthy boundaries to keep yourself safe. Most importantly you will learn that you are worth being safe. In addiction, the partner often loses her sense of self worth and this is the time to get that back. Get to know who you are, who God intends you to be and what He says about you. I like putting reminders in places that I will see often, of what He believes about me. A life changing book for me was, “Identity Theft” by Mike Breaux. It’s out of print but you can read it on Kindle or buy a used copy. Not new information, but it helped me to be reminded of the fact I allowed my identity to be stolen by the enemy and my spouse. We don’t base who we are on anyone other than the Lord. Friends. I pray you know that and you will use the wait to be assured of who you are.
Next, take care of you.
Many ask what that looks like. It might be different for each of us, but knowing who you are is one way, as well as taking time to heal yourself. It can also mean getting together with friends who can encourage you in your wait. Pamper yourself on occasion. If you need a weekend away, do it. If it means him leaving for a bit, ask him for that. It means taking care of you... not in a way that is selfish or unhealthy, but one the promotes healing. Philippians 2:4 was revolutionary to me in this. It says, “…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”. I had always interpreted this verse to mean that I am to put others before me. You know, JOY=Jesus, Others, You. But that isn’t what Paul is saying. He’s saying that we are to look out for others in the SAME WAY that we look out for ourselves. This implies that we are to take care of ourselves, not in place of others, but in addition to others. I can’t take care of anyone else without taking care of me.
So what does that look like?
It can mean exercise, eating well, reading things for healing, therapy or coaching, surrounding ourselves with healthy friends, doing something fun, healthy boundaries around all relationships. And saying no when needed. By the way, saying no isn’t a sin. If something is going to mean sacrificing a healing activity for you, learn to say no. Without guilt.
And always listen to God. You will have well-meaning people in your life who will offer you their opinion on what you should be doing to save your marriage (and please know, I am all for saving marriages), but they are not walking in your shoes.
Often forgiveness is slow and doesn’t mean reconciliation. Listen to God.
Often his recovery will be slow or even go backwards. Listen to God.
Often people might say that you are to blame or you are co-dependent. Listen to God.
Often people and books will say that if you have more sex it will solve the problem. Listen to God.
There’s more but you get the idea. Listen to Him. He’s allowing the wait so that we can heal, we can learn to trust our gut again, we can remember our worth and value in Him, and to return to Him knowing that He is where our focus needs to be for our own healing.
Forgiveness comes in time.
Recovery comes in time.
Realizations of places to heal come in time.
Resuming your sex life comes in time, IF that's where God leads you.
Take care of you in the wait. This is your time to heal so use it wisely. Trust Him and those He has put in your life to show you the way to your own recovery without getting caught up in his. Jesus will take care of the details and He’ll show you clearly when your spouse is trustworthy. And if he isn't.
Until then, trust Him in the wait. He will help you manage it well.
How are you doing in the waiting?
In what ways are you taking care of yourself that you didn’t before?