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Question

I am trying to learn to stop looking at my husband as the person who betrayed me, let me down, and didn’t turn out to be what I hoped for and what he promised to be when we started our lives together. Or, simply put, I’m trying not to see my husband as a disappointment.

This has been more difficult for me because he is my second husband. My first was unfaithful and dishonest as well, and the last in a long line of poor choices with men in my younger years. My husband was my “good choice” as I had decided I was done making poor choices in men and married a gentleman and returned missionary in the temple who I could finally count on to feel safe with.

I know that is not Christ like to look at others this way. I have studied many, many articles and books on forgiveness and healing, tried to understand his side and feelings and emotional issues from his difficult childhood, tried recognizing my imperfections, weaknesses and hurts that I have caused him in our marriage and my great need for forgiveness, mercy and love from my husband and the Savior also. I have tried some counseling, support groups, EMDR and a serious effort to grow myself spiritually.

I still love him very much and want our marriage of nearly three decades but fight the feelings of loss and disappointment constantly. My husband was an amazing man for 25 years before I found out about multiple affairs and years of dishonesty. The shock and trauma I experienced on the three occasions when more information surfaced is hard for me to describe.

I know he still has all of the same value if I truly believe in the power of the Atonement and I want to continue to work to heal our marriage and myself, although safety and trust are still very fragile. I just struggle with frequent feelings of mourning the loss of what I believed I had for so long and the disappointment that he chose to do things I didn’t believe he ever possibly would or could.

I don’t like feeling like I’m not a good or strong enough person to see him more as God does. (He has helped me with giving me of His love for my husband and helping me to feel more compassionately towards him) but the disbelief of what he has done and grief are still so real, even though the shock and chaos has settled down. It just still hurts so much though and I have trouble not thinking of it very often, even when things are going really well.

Answer

I think it’s remarkable that you’re able to see your husband’s worth and value as a human being and a son of God, even though he’s deeply injured you and your marriage. This isn’t easy to do when there is serious betrayal, but it protects you from having a hard heart. Even though you have worked hard to see him as God sees him, it’s still understandable that you are going through tremendous grief and loss.

In fact, one of the primary reasons you’re feeling so much grief and loss is because you’re trying to have a soft heart. When we’re in the crisis of discovery and our survival instinct is fully engaged, we don’t have the capacity to feel the softer emotions of grief and sadness. It’s totally appropriate for you to feel these deeper feelings of loss.

You have lost much and it’s uncertain what you will ever regain. This uncertainty is troubling and unsettling, so it naturally preoccupies much of your waking hours. Based on what you wrote me, I can identify several significant losses you are currently grieving. You’ve lost the security of a faithful husband, you’ve lost the dream of a perfect man who wouldn’t hurt you, you’ve lost confidence in your ability to trust your own judgment, and other losses.

It’s difficult to grieve and let go of something you’ve not fully identified or named. I encourage you to write down as many of the losses you can see and journal about each one of them. Let yourself fully accept the losses and share your journal entries with someone who is emotionally safe and mature. Choose someone who can just sit with you and listen to your pain and heartache. Trust that as you name and release these losses in the company of a loving witness, you will continue moving through your healing.

The goal right now is to allow yourself to experience the full measure of grief and loss that you’re passing through. This can be terrifying, as we naturally don’t want to invite more of these painful feelings. However, it’s been my experience that when we try to suppress these feelings, we make ourselves more sick and distressed. As long as you process these feelings in a way that stays respectful and congruent with your desires to be a compassionate and stable person.

Share them with your friend. Share them with your Heavenly Father. If your husband is humble and responsive to your pain, feel free to share these feelings with him. This will help him know your heart and take deeper accountability for the pain he’s caused you. If he truly cares about your healing, he’ll put aside his own discomfort and tend to your deepest needs.

Even though your husband is a good man, he’s hurt you in profound ways that have changed the way you see him, see yourself, and see the world. Even though he’s worked hard to be accountable for his choices and is providing a measure of comfort and safety for you, the losses you’ve experienced need to be organized, understood, validated, and released. This is a gentle unfolding that will take months and possibly years as new losses surface. Allow these losses to move through you instead of trying to block and suppress them. They won’t harm anyone, but will help you begin to order your world again.

I love Nephi’s courage in 2 Nephi chapter 4 as he allows us to see his process of grief and loss. He just finished a terrifying and traumatic journey with his abusive brothers and their wives. They were on the brink of starvation, deprivation, and disorientation multiple times. He had left his home country and was a stranger in a new land. His father and leader had just passed away. I’m grateful Nephi didn’t spare us the details of his angst and sorrow to prove that he was strong. He showed us how to grieve and pass our sorrow to the Savior.

As long as your husband continues to provide stability, fidelity, and accountability, you’ll be able to move through this grief process. It will take time and space. Please be gentle and patient with your emotions and your body as you make sense of your new life. Integrating these new realities into your life require time and movement.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT