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Question

My husband isn’t a member of the Church and drinks alcohol, which he is ashamed of because he knows it’s not a healthy behavior. So, he lies about it. He’s never aggressive or gets mad when I bring it up, but when I ask if he has been drinking, he lies every single time. Never once has he said “yes” the first time I ask if he’s been drinking. It’s been going on for eight out of the nine years we’ve been married, so trust is almost nonexistent.

I’m confused about how I should act. When I know my husband has lied to me, do I then act like everything is fine and wait until he is ready to come to me? This would probably take months or years, if it even happens at all. Or, do I acknowledge the lie? I’m so tired of having to catch him in a lie, but I can’t just pretend like my feelings aren’t hurt. Any advice would be great, thank you!

Answer

It’s agonizing to know that your husband refuses to be honest with you even though you both know the truth of what’s happening in your relationship. You’re both caught in a familiar dance of cat and mouse that somehow keeps going despite your desire to end it. However, you don’t have to stay in this maddening cycle with him. He’s not the only one keeping you both stuck.

I hear how awful this is for you to watch him choose to drink and then continually hide it. The scriptures remind us often how the Savior and our Heavenly Father mourn over the misuse of agency and long for all of us to choose the less painful path.[i] It truly is heartbreaking to witness a loved one choose to stay in a destructive pattern. 

Recognize, however, that you’re both choosing to stay in this pattern. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, that there is no such thing as “agency avoidance.” He further taught that, “No decision is a decision. Delay is a delusion, and that delay always discards the holy present. It simply throws it away.”[ii] Both you and your husband are active in using your agency every moment of every day. Neither of you are powerless against the forces that appear to keep you trapped in this miserable dance.

Please recognize that you’re both making choices in this situation that perpetuate the endless cycle of disconnection. You are in the role of checking on him and asking about his behavior. He’s in the role of avoiding and pretending it’s not happening. However, you’re the one who appears to hate this situation more than he does, as you’re the one who is reaching out for help and support. Instead of trying to get him to admit the truth, it’s important for you to decide what you’re going to do in response to his lies.

I don’t have a specific recommendation for how you should respond him, as I don’t know more of your story. However, I do want you to know that you can respond to him and that the active use of your agency will be your ticket out of this painful cycle. You may decide to be more direct with him and let him know how his behavior affects you. You may choose to intervene and get professional help. You may feel it’s best to separate and protect yourself from the constant lying and disrespect.

Whatever you choose, you don’t have to keep choosing to avoid and hope he does something different. He’s showing you what he’s going to choose, even though it’s deeply painful. It’s normal to hope the other person will do something different. But, remember, he’s not motivated to do something different about this pattern. You’re the one who wants it to change and you have the ability to do something different.

The options in front of you are not your ideal options. They’re not going to fit the dream of what you had hoped for when you married him. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is more terrifying than the familiar present, even as awful as that may be. Moving out of an unhealthy pattern will require the deep faith of trusting that you don’t need to see the next step in front of you.

Dr. John Tanner, in his classic BYU devotional speech on faith, taught:

“Because our tribulations unfold in real time, the only way out, alas, is through. This means we must endure not only our hardships but the ordeal of anxiety within the ordeal; it means we must live on promises and walk by faith. To walk by faith is to follow in the footsteps of Abraham, the spiritual father of the faithful (Galatians 3:7), who must sojourn as pilgrims and strangers on this earth. In Hebrews we read: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.’”[iii]

That phrase, “not knowing whither he went”, is our path here on earth. We enter relationships not knowing how they’ll turn out. We work to change ourselves and our relationships hoping for the best. We sometimes have to exit toxic relationships and situations facing yet more uncertainty. However, one thing is certain in all of this uncertainty. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminds us that, “[Christ] knows that for the faithful, things will be made right soon enough.”[iv]

Keep moving forward in the prayerful use of your agency to break this cycle in your marriage. You don’t have to stay here in the belief that your husband needs to do something first. Even though he will need to do things differently if the marriage is going to heal, you can still move forward toward health and healing and hope that he’ll decide to join you in a better way of living.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recovery. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery

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). Geoff also hosts the Illuminate Podcast (https://soundcloud.com/geoff-steurer/sets/illuminate-podcast) and has produced programs and resources to help couples rebuild broken trust. 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:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT
Instagram: @geoffsteurer


[i] Here are a few examples of their lamentations: Nephi 10:5; Luke 13:34; Jacob 5:47

[ii] Neal A. Maxwell, “Free to Choose,” BYU Devotional, May 16, 2004

[iii] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/john-s-tanner_one-step-enough/

[iv] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1999/10/an-high-priest-of-good-things-to-come?lang=eng