Over the course of my time working with partners of sex addicts (PSAs) I've heard a number of stories of women who have been accused of being "judgmental" for calling their husband out on his sexual sin. The bible obviously has a lot of stern warnings about being judgmental, so this is a concerning accusation, one that bears looking at.
In both Beyond Betrayal and past posts I have discussed a number of the "sins" against their spouse PSAs are regularly accused of committing. These include shaming their husbands, not forgiving them and unrighteous anger. These accusations can come from various quarters: family, friends, therapists, church leaders, his group, her own group... and most likely, "him." For example, I've told the story of one 2014/2015 survey respondant whose husband was damaging their relationship by telling her, “I've asked forgiveness from God and I am forgiven so you must forgive me too.”
I've also quoted another woman, who in response to being told by her 12-step group she was being judgmental said: “The co-addict model sent me deeper into depression and I never felt like anyone could see or understand I genuinely wasn't trying to control my husband, nor was I being judgmental and trying to make him pay, I was simply TERRIFIED and I needed comfort and reassurance...”
In many instances when PSAs are being accused of being judgemental, it's more of this same misunderstanding of betrayal trauma... and in some cases our propensity to punish the victim for drawing our attention to a problem we'd rather not face (in others or ourselves).
Sometimes the problem arises from a misunderstanding of what "judgement" is. In her article entitled "The Art of Being Relationally Angry," Pastor Charlotte Lehman writes:
"We use the word [judgement] commonly in a number of different ways, so I want to make some clarifications. There is a kind of judgment I prefer to call discernment – or... good judgment – which is essential to life and to our functioning as individuals and as a community.... If Jesus meant that we were to be completely undiscerning in our lives as His disciples, then why would he tell us later in Matthew’s gospel, that if one of our brothers or sisters sins against us, we should go speak to him or her, etc. (Mtw 18:15) How could we ever risk calling anything a sin, if Jesus wanted “Do not judge” to mean that we never discerned any course of action to be better or wiser or more in line with God’s ways than another? So that can’t be the solution. We do need to evaluate and discern which choices are better for us, according to Kingdom values, on a regular basis. That kind of discerning together is what happens when we practice healthy conflict."
Thus, there is a type of wise evaluation of behaviors that God endorses. Lehman goes on to argue that getting angry about sin and injustice is something else God endorses. This anger is meant to move us to Godly action against injustice, and that action will probably involve putting into words what we have discerned. To those looking to avoid the pain of having their sin brought into the light, calling this dicernment "judgemental" is a great tactic. However, it's the same tactic that God's "stiff necked," unrepentant people have used for centuries against the prophets (and Jesus)... to their own demise.
So, there is a time and place where most us are going to be called to put on the prophet's mantle and call sin, "sin" and use boundaries to protect ourselves from it. However, if you're at all like me, then it's important to be aware of the clever trap commonly found in a situation where we are called to confront. Lehman puts it like this:
"I believe the kind of judgment Jesus is referring to here, that is problematic, and that He wants us not to practice, is a combination of condemnation and self-righteousness. Condemnation is deciding that the person who I am judging is not just pursuing the wrong course of action, and stands in need of correction – it is evaluating his or her fundamental worth as a human being, and finding them not good enough.... Self-righteousness is an attitude of moral superiority – though I may hide it in nicer words, underneath it all, I really believe that I am better than the one I’m judging – I am somehow made of fundamentally better stuff than him – such that if I had been given his life I would have done it better. If he were just like me, he wouldn’t be in this mess."
Now, some of us may be saying, "Hang on. Actually, I never would have become a sex addict. I never could have lived that kind of a duplicitous life, betraying and abusing those closest to me, using others for my own sexual gratification ... never."
And some of you would be right. I'm not so sure I could say that, mind you. I had my own bit of sexual brokenness in my life (going back to childhood sexual trauma), so that had I been a man with no one to sexually shepherd me, bad cultural influences and too much opportunity, I don't know what might have been the result. I'd like to think I'd have chosen better, but if I had, all the credit would have been God's, not mine.
And I guess that's what it all comes down to. Side-stepping this trap means remaining aware that, whether or not we have sexual sin in our lives, none of us is righteous. All of us are in need of a savior who loves and forgives. That includes forgiving us (well me, at any rate) for using self-righteous judgmentalness to shield ourselves from the soul-searing pain of betrayal. It is an effective, but oh-so-isolating tool. Jesus wants to be that "safe place" for us. Choosing Him means experiencing the pain... but we won't face it alone.
For more on the issue of how the idea of " don't judge" is used at times to support wickedness and condemn righteousness, see Chapter 10 of The Pandora Problem: Facing Narcissism in Leaders and Ourselves, by J. Wilder.
Also, if you have a question for one of our sex addiction or betrayal trauma specialists, send me your questions and we'll do another of these series next month.