Ask Dr. David: Healing from Adultery
- 2006 9 Dec
Dear Dr. David:
I have just read your article on the crosswalk.com. I hope you can help me with my problem. I am a Christian woman who has been married for fifteen years. During the fifteen years of my marriage my husband has cheated on me several times. I have threatened to leave him but he has said that he will not have it. My husband attends church but does not live by the principles of being a Christian. In the last year or so, he has promised me that he will never cheat on me again, but I now have the problem that I cannot get myself to trust him. I have not noticed any significant change in his behavior--he is very secretive about his finances. We hardly ever talk about our problems and he wants me to behave as if nothing ever happened. I now find it difficult to be intimate with him because there is always this dark cloud hanging over us. This situation has made me very sad and depressed. How am I supposed to deal with this? ~ Insecure
Your letter indicates that you have been traumatized repeatedly by infidelity. This is enough to cause incredible pain and anguish in most people. Those whose marriages have been damaged by unfaithfulness know your pain-there is little as hurtful as unfaithfulness. There is a tear in the sacred fabric of your marriage.
I am concerned that you threaten to leave him, but do not follow through. Remember, a boundary without consequences is no boundary. If you are going to threaten a separation because of his unfaithfulness, you need to follow through. To do less risks him not taking you seriously and losing respect for you.
You also note that you two don’t talk about your problems. This is like trying to pretend there is no stinky elephant walking around your living room. It is hard to ignore. Those who have committed infidelity often want to ignore the severity of their problems. Yet, this should not happen. You must talk about the circumstances in your marriage, and in him, that allow for these behaviors. Don’t enable him to continue ignoring the problem.
To make matters worse, your husband is not helping you to heal from the trauma. You note that he simply wants to behave as if nothing has happened. This is not scriptural and cannot work. Confrontation is needed. The Apostle Paul says, "If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." (Galatians 6: 1) There is a process to restoration, which includes him accepting responsibility for the offense and the severity of it. It requires him making amends to those who have been harmed, leading to forgiveness and ultimate restoration. It does not mean simply ignoring the problem and forgetting about it.
Finally, you note that he remains secretive. His affairs have been secrets, and this must change. There were undoubtedly other secretive behaviors as well which need attention. His secretive behaviors are likely to keep you feeling distrustful, stopping any possibility for healing and healthy intimacy in your marriage. Healthy relationships are marked by openness and trust, and boundaries of protection from harm in the future. I encourage you to insist on marriage counseling where you can talk about the affairs, learn about the circumstances and problems leading up to them, and discover ways to create health and safety in your marriage.
Dear Dr. David:
I have been married for two years, during which time my marriage has been on a real roller coaster ride of highs and lows. My husband was deeply hurt as a child. Most of the hurt came from his father, but now he has real issues with any woman in authority. Every movement I make is a threat to him. I see him as the head of the home. I do not have an issue with that, but somehow he always refers to his childhood. No issue seems to have caused as much pain as the abuse by his father. He is constantly depressed--happy in the morning and in a rage when we go to lunch at midday. He says hurtful things to me, then says he is sorry and does it all over again. I am often in tears because of the pain it is causing me, especially daily threats about leaving me and our marriage not working out. I try to do everything to make him happy. He has serious trust issues. He asks for prayer. I pray for him and he goes okay for a day and then he goes back into old behaviors. Please help me know what to do. ~ A Praying Wife
There are many issues needing to be addressed in your marriage. Let’s consider them briefly, one at a time.
First, your husband has trust issues stemming from childhood. It is unlikely that you will be able to heal those issues—he needs to address them. He needs to seek his own counseling and talk about the rejection and pain from his childhood. He appears to be nursing grudges and anger, spewing forth onto you. Only as he embraces deep healing will those issues not be carried into your marriage.
Second, you suggest that your husband is depressed. He appears filled with resentment, anger and hostility, all signs of possible depression. Sadly, many men are reluctant to seek help for their depression. The only way out of this depression is for him to look squarely at the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of his depression. I talk more about this problem in my book, Does Your Man Have the Blues? Again, he will need to seek help for this problem.
Third, continue to encourage his leadership in the home. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have no voice or that you succumb to abusive behaviors. You need to walk a fine line between honoring his leadership, and setting boundaries on abusive behaviors. Let him know that you will not tolerate hurtful words, angry outbursts and threats. Insist that along with apologies come repentance—turning away from sinful actions. If you don’t hold him accountable for these changes, you enable him to remain stuck.
Finally, you are to be commended for continuing to pray for your husband. Hopefully he too is praying for the welfare of his marriage and for his healing. Continue to hold him and your marriage up in prayer. God certainly hears your prayers for wisdom and will honor them.
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.