David and Sarah sit in front of me on the couch both looking uncomfortable. They have come in at Sarah’s urging following revelations of David’s ongoing sexual promiscuity. There is a lot going on in the room even though it’s very quiet. Let’s take a look “under the hood” for each of these individuals.
David appears stoic and withdrawn. It was not his idea to come here and spend money “we don’t have.” David had assured Sarah his sexual behavior was simply a matter of selfishness on his part. He tells her all about recommitting his life to God and repenting of his actions. David even met with their pastor a few times to talk through his life changes. The pastor seemed satisfied, telling David he was on the right track, and “the pastor didn’t charge by the hour like this snake oil salesman”, thought David to himself. He knows what he did wrong and what he needs to change. David believes people are too emotional and make things needlessly complicated. He takes moments like this to remind himself of the beautiful simplicity of the Bible, at least as he reads it. It tells him what he should not do and what he needs to do. There’s no need to make life harder. Do what you need to do and get on with life.
Sarah, however, is uneasy. It’s true David is helping more around the house and is being attentive to her. His past tendency to let her carry the vast majority of the weight in the household and with the children has been replaced by a sudden willingness to help. Although, Sarah also reminds herself David has made such “temporary” changes before. She feels guilty and uncertain about questioning David’s change. After all, she really could use the help, especially since David has always insisted they both need to maintain full time jobs to ease the financial pressure on him to provide. But it’s really hard to work full time and then come home to care for a home and young children. Most nights, Sarah gets off work, and comes to her “second job”, working until 8 or 8:30pm when the kids went to bed. She would finally get 20-30 minutes of time to herself before the exhaustion of the days sets in and she can no longer keep her eyes open because she needs to be ready to do it again tomorrow.
Sarah feels anger as she remembers too, how David’s life did not seem to be impacted by these pressures. He took his role as primary bread winner seriously and emphasized his need to rest in the evenings and on the weekends to be ready for work. David rarely got up with the children when they were sick or crying at night. He was moody and withdrawn if Sarah did not have dinner prepared or the house was cluttered. His periods of relaxation and bedtime were set in stone, regardless of the family’s needs. On top of that, David would frequently make sexual passes at Sarah as she was frazzled, trying to do all her different chores, and then he would become dejected if Sarah was not receptive. David did not seem to grasp what great restraint she was exercising by not screaming at him to get away from her. If Sarah ever questioned these behaviors or expressed her own exhaustion, David was irritated or seemed discouraged. He reminded Sarah of how hard he was working and pointed to his efforts never seeming to be enough to satisfy her.
As Sarah sits on my couch she is fearful. Is she pushing too hard? Is she rubbing David’s face in the mud by needing to talk about what has happened? Maybe she just needs to forgive and move on. Additionally, some of David’s prideful self-assurance has rubbed off on Sarah, and she doubts this counselor’s competence to be of any help, even though she made the appointment.
It’s a common dynamic I see regularly in my office. While it may seem daunting at first, there is great hope for both these people and their marriage if they are willing to consider a few things. Here is what I would like both David and Sarah to take time to think about.
David, I need you to seriously consider questioning your own confidence in your perception of reality. You have, for far too long, relied on how life looks from your point of view. The problem, my friend, is you are on the wrong side of your eyeballs. Of course things should be quick and easy, as far as you are concerned. You are living life with a suit of relational armor on. This armor protects you from the criticism and feedback of others while freeing you from having to deal with the shame of your actions and their impact. Some men I work with even coat this armor with Teflon so that any critique given to you not only doesn’t penetrate, it slide off without leaving a mark. I work with men who are self-centered, emotionally immature, and have weak egos. You desperately need to get over yourself and read the mail that has been delivered to you. This problem is about you. It is a problem of your character and of the condition of your heart. The fruit of your life offers clear testimony of your struggle. Overcoming this struggle is going to take hard work and determination over time. Thinking you can change core issues woven into the fabric of who you are in an instant is a form of denial. You are lying to yourself, and, as a result, lying to others. The only place that instant change exists is the fantasy in your head. I work with men, I get it, I get men, I am a man. I’d like to help you, but you will need to bring some measure of courage and humility to the table if anything is going to really change. Are you willing?
Sarah, it has taken tremendous courage for you to get to this point, sitting in an office with a stranger, acknowledging your marriage is in trouble, and asking for help. I appreciate your dedication to David and your marriage, as this is a very brave expression of love. For years, I believe you have lost who you are and lived from the outside in rather than living from the inside out. You have put aside your own thoughts, feelings, and preferences, choosing instead to respond in the way you believe David will approve of. You have lost your relationship with yourself and are operating as a shell of a person. I want to contrast this with a woman who has relationship with herself, knows who she is, and acts authentically and freely in relationship. This women is living from the inside out. She is more fully able to over both herself and her husband. Additionally, I want you to consider placing more trust in your own perceptions than in David’s preferences. If something doesn’t feel right, I don’t want you to ignore it, but I want us to stop and take a look, honestly assessing what is going on and then solving any problems we find. I want you to stop ignoring David’s destructive behaviors, so you no longer enable and reinforce such behaviors. Please understand me, you are not responsible for his behavior or changing it. You are responsible for stopping your pattern of enabling his behaviors to continue by agreeing with his denial of reality. You do your husband and yourself no favors, and do not glorify God by denying the truth.
If David and Sarah can consider the mail which has just been delivered to them, if they can resist the strong urge to run away or rage against the messenger, they have a good chance of saving their marriage. It’s not easy to receive a rebuke. Correction can be quite difficult, but the wise will weigh what has been said, find the truth in it, allow God to help them make changes, and reap the blessing that results. We want to help you because we believe in marriage at The Relationship Center. If your marriage sounds like David and Sarah’s please contact us. We would love the chance to walk along side you as you take hold of the blessed marriage God has for you!