Rebuilding Trust Again—Picking up the Pieces after You’ve Been Discovered – Part 2
With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This 3-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.
I mentioned in my last post (here) that one of the most devastating things that impacted your wife when your sexual sin finally came out in the open was this fact: You were living a double life. You lived one way in front of her, and you lived another way behind her back. That type of secrecy in a marriage causes great damage.
One of the first things you need to do to rebuild your marriage is to learn—carefully and with sincerity—how to rebuild the trust that you broke. I’ve already said a few things about the first step you need to take: take a hard and honest inventory of the damage you have caused to your wife and marriage.
And if your wife is still willing to stay in the marriage, here’s a second big step you must take:
Give your wife space to walk her road of healing. At her pace.
Don’t move toward your wife, trying to do all the right things this time, as if lots of doing good activity is going to fix everything. If this is your new focus, you will put a crushing weight of pressure on her. How? Because most likely underneath all your “good” activity, is an unspoken demand that she should respond and accept your earnest steps to change.
But when you do this, you are shifting the dynamic of the relationship, off of you and onto her. Now the future of the marriage depends on how she responds to the “new” you. Oh, this is subtle! You may not be aware of it. But if this is happening, and if your wife is having big problems accepting the new you, then you can justify that, whatever happens, at least you really tried. After all, marriage involves two people working at it, right?
Yes, start changing your behavior, begin relating to your wife as a man of honesty and transparency, but you have got to disconnect your behavior from expecting a response to it. You must.
The most important thing she needs from you right now is to give her all the space she needs to heal at her own pace. Not yours. She is disoriented from living with a man who lived two lives. Jesus said sexual sins were legitimate grounds for divorce. You need to face the reality that you crossed that line—whether your sexual sin involved a physical encounter or “just” a virtual one.
Your wife will be struggling with the reality that you crossed sexual boundaries; that you took your heart and your body outside of your marriage. That’s bad enough. But she will also be struggling—more so— with your deception. Your wife can’t fix that. You’ll have to give her emotional space as she struggles with how to move on. How to learn, slowly, whether she can begin to trust the person you are now showing her.
One thing that God will work in your heart is this: your desire to control things and make them work out your way. That’s what your sexual sin was about. Your desire for control is what plunged you into porn, or whatever you did to seek emotional or physical intimacy outside of your promise to your wife. Control, to be in charge, to make sure you got what you wanted—and avoid whatever it was that you hated—is what kept your deception going.
Your idolatry to control your life is one giant lie that God cannot satisfy you. Your refusal to seek him led you to seek something else that promised no disappointment, no pain, no struggle, no problems.
But now what you need to learn from God is that your control was an illusion. You thought being in control would give you what you needed. And now your continued desire for control will also give you what you think you need—to fix this relationship and get it back on its feet. And that’s not going to work this time.
This time, you are going to have to deeply rely on God to fix this. You can’t fix this on your own. Your promises, your new intentions, your new behavior, at this point, are going to have to be seen to be believed. Over time. Over a lot of time.
You must now learn not to depend on yourself—your “wisdom,” your schemes, your manipulations. You can’t make this thing work. It’s in the mess that you have made of things that God is trying to make himself real to both you and your wife. It’s in the brokenness that God slowly brings new life.
Don’t push this, don’t rush this, don’t expect things from your wife. Don’t pressure her to heal faster than she can. Love is a long road. It’s worth the trip. She needs to go at her pace, and you will need to learn to love her at that pace.
God is in the business of redeeming lives but he also insists in doing it his way. You’ve got to learn this yourself. Are you willing to be a disciple, willing to walk with him at his pace? Then realize that his pace for you includes the time your wife needs to heal, at her pace. When you give her space, you walk at the Master’s pace.