Dear Dr. David,

I left my husband about three weeks ago.  We have been married for ten years and have two small children. We have been having problems for several years.  I have stayed in the relationship trying to make it work and I am at my wits end.  I got so depressed I didn't want to get out of bed and I started having several health problems.  That's when I decided it's time to get out.

Our problems began several years ago when my husband thought he overheard me talking to a man on the phone. We had been married for about eight years. I am not able to convince him that I was not talking to another man and that I would never cheat on him. While it is true that my focus was on the children at the time, I did not cheat on him. My husband was also doing drugs at the time, but has since stopped. 

My husband has been very insecure ever since believing I was talking to a man. He wants to know everywhere I go, who I talk to, and control my friends. Since I left he has begun going to church and wants our family to go to church every time the doors are open. He preaches to me and the kids and wants me to confess a “sin” that I have not done. While his going to church is fine for him, going that often is too much for me. 

I have told my husband that I can no longer live like this. I have not cheated on him and in fact wonder if he cheated on me during his drug use. Is it possible that he is projecting his own guilt on me? Even though I’ve separated from him, I don’t feel right as a Christian to do this. He was willing to go to counseling with me, but only went two times before he decided he no longer needed it. Please help me know what I should do. ~ Stressed Out

Dear Stressed,

I have counseled people in your situation quite often. Too often someone feels wronged, becomes obsessed about, and then focuses on the wrong, becoming hyper-critical about it. This certainly seems to be the case with your husband. 

You indicate that your husband became obsessed and insecure during a time he was using drugs, and has not been able to let the obsession go. Drugs, of course, create an altered reality, and individuals using drugs often become paranoid and cannot process events accurately. This seems to be true for your husband. You also don’t mention whether or not he is in a recovery program, which might help him grow beyond the dark days of drug use. You may also be right that he is projecting his own guilt onto you. What can you do now?

First, refuse to discuss the alleged incident any further. Don’t defend yourself, explain yourself, or discuss the matter. It is futile. Lovingly tell your husband that the matter is in the past and you won’t discuss it further. Reassure him of your faithfulness, and leave it at that.

Second, encourage him to get into a substance abuse recovery program. These programs help alleviate “stinkin’ thinking,” where we blame our problems on others, exaggerate problems, and become obsessive in our thinking. It sounds like your husband desperately needs to participate in a recovery program, such as Celebrate Recovery. Christian programs follow biblical principles of “being transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2)

Third, there is the matter of church attendance. While attending church is a good thing, in this context your husband is using church attendance to control you. This is wrong. We are never to control another’s behavior in this way. Were he living a spirit-filled life, he would realize that being harsh with you is antithetical to biblical love. Christians are called to lives of peace and love. Consider the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3: 12)

Fourth, a little counseling is not enough. This is like taking part of a prescription and leaving the rest of the bottle on the shelf. Insist that he seek, and dedicate himself to, Christian counseling with you where you can address your concerns with a trained professional. When you, and the counselor, are convinced that the issues have been addressed, reconciliation may be possible.

Your husband is, sadly, exhibiting symptoms associated with what we call a “dry drunk.” His behavior is marked by extreme and obsessive thinking, and compulsive behavior. This is not to say he is not making progress in his life, but he has room to grow. It will take loving confrontation for him to see the error of his ways. Your behavior, too, must be marked with love and gentleness toward him, setting healthy boundaries to help him see you are different from him, yet love him. Your taking such a stand may be the impetus needed for him to seek treatment along with couples counseling, leading to reconciliation.