In the closed group I was leading last year, an interesting topic came up one night. A few of the women had husbands who had been really engaging the recovery process for many months. The result was that these men were changing... in ways that were good (having gotten past those first "angry, ugly" months as I call them).
What was interesting about this was that many of us had been caught off guard by this new man our husband was becoming. Some of the old ways we had previously interacted with him... were no longer working so well.
For example, we were accustomed to assume that our husband's hard, selfish exterior meant that brusque treatment and sarcasm aimed at him would always just bounce off. Suddenly we were seeing that this treatment was causing him pain. For the first time were feeling uncomfortable, even somewhat ashamed, of our responses to him.
We were also noticing that some husbands who had never taken any interest in the family, were wanting to become involved. Some who had been happy to let (or make) us do all the decision-making were now wanting to lead. Still others who had taken no notice of us in years, suddenly wanted to connect (sexually and otherwise).
It all felt a little confusing and dangerous.
No matter how much we may have longed for some of the changes mentioned above: it can still feel disconcerting when those changes come. One of the key reasons is that we have had to live in a "defensive posture" (i.e. guarding our hearts) with this man for so long that the idea of letting down our guard (and putting down the arrows) can feel really frightening.
If our husband is healing deeply, he will be increasingly able to accept the consequences of his sin. One of the consequences he must face is our distrust of him. A natural part of this distrust is an unwillingness to make ourselves vulnerable.
Nevertheless, as his healing goes on (not over the course of days or weeks, but months and years) and he works steadily to rebuild trust, at some point we have to consider how we will respond to this new man.
Timing is Everything
Now, it's very easy to jump the gun on this. It's not uncommon for women to decide after a month of recovery that she now has the marriage of her dreams and she can throw the doors of her heart open wide — only to discover more acting out a few weeks later.
There's a balance we need to find between believing in him implicitly and "writing him off" as hopeless. We need to find a space where we are (at leat most days) hopeful for change, but moving on with our own lives (healing, growth, etc.)
Recovery is a long, messy journey. Most women have been burned numerous times on it. It's ok to be sceptical. It's ok to wait until he's:
- Expressing empathy
- Becoming more self-aware
- Taking responsibility for his actions
- Connecting regularly with God and others (including us)
before we trust again and let down our guard. Still, if it seems like something in "our guard" is being pinpointed by the Holy Spirit as "not on," we should be having a conversation with Him about it. How would He like us to practice detachment? How would He like us to respond to someone who has been (but perhaps is no longer) so poisonous to us and those we love?
Assuming our husband's growth and recovery is ongoing, this will be an ongoing conversation that results in ongoing changes on our part. A lot of the key to opening up—when it is appropriate to do so—is making our loving God our "refuge" and "high tower," i.e. our number one safe place.
Change? I Wish!
For some of the women reading this today, the idea of their husband changing falls in the "I wish" category. If that's where things are at for you, your Father's heart aches with yours.
He also wants to become your "high tower" and "refuge." He wants to show you how to maintain protective boundaries and detachment, while responding to your husband out of the safety of His love.
A beautiful woman I have the honor of supporting, recently felt to give her unchanging husband a new response: firmer, more serious boundaries. She was really struggling one day with whether this response was the one God wanted. As she flipped through her bible, He brought Psalm 101 to her attention:
I will sing of your love and justice;
To you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
When will you come to me?
I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.
The "new ways" He calls us to respond will sometimes require softness and vulnerability; at other times, they will require strength and resolve. The God who is "with us always" wants to show us which is called for in each moment. He is patient to teach and guide his wounded daughters.
"We are made to enjoy God enjoying us" was one of the key takeaways from a recent counselling conference I attended. Maybe reflect on that idea while you listen to this rendition of Nearer my God.