My husband and I were married in the temple almost 50 years ago. We have raised our children actively in the church. One year ago, I found out that he has been involved with prostitutes throughout our marriage. He wants to sweep it under the rug and just go on like nothing has happened. He did agree to go to an addiction recovery group, but he refuses to talk with the bishop and will not be truthful with me or talk about any of this. He says that he can’t talk to the bishop because he has not had that lesson yet in his 12-step program (he has been attending for a year). He also says he needs to select a support person to help him confess but he can’t decide on one.
It is difficult living with someone in this situation, however, I don’t want to be alone or blow up my family by leaving him. We have a large family who all think the world of their dad and grandpa. I truly feel paralyzed and I’m not sure what to do.
It’s understandable you’re still in tremendous pain, even a year post-discovery of your husband’s secret life. You have been waiting for him to do something about his infidelity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like he’s embraced much, if any, responsibility for his actions. Consequently, he’s failed to extend healing to your marriage. Even though he’s refusing to engage in the necessary steps required for full recovery, you don’t have to stay in this awful state of inaction as you wonder what he’ll ultimately choose. He chose a life of secrecy, and you get to choose how you respond.
When determining the trustworthiness of another person, pay close attention to movement. You said you don’t have the truth of what happened, but you do have the truth of how he’s responding right now. He’s making excuses, dragging his feet, and using his family as a human shield to protect himself from doing the required soul-wrenching work required to thoroughly heal. You’re right that it’s terribly difficult to live with someone who won’t take responsibility for their task. You know that this isn’t something you have the power to fix. However, you’re not powerless to act in the best interest of everyone involved.
He’s certainly put you in a tough situation where it seems like you only have the two awful choices of either staying and faking it or finding yourself alone for the rest of your life. Both options cast you as the sacrificial victim of his choices. Perhaps you limit yourself to these choices because it’s easier to sacrifice yourself instead of causing him or other family members discomfort. I’m not recommending you go out of your way to retaliate, but I am recommending you don’t take upon yourself all the consequences of his choices.
What do you need to move out of paralysis and begin your healing? As mentioned earlier, he chose a life of secrecy, but he can’t choose how you’ll heal. It’s common for betrayers to want those they’ve betrayed to collude with them by ignoring reality. The pain of healing is so overwhelming that it’s tempting to go along with numbing that comes with passivity and avoidance. The only problem is that the pain doesn’t go away and creates unhealthy coping, physical health issues, and other forms of breakdown.
Elaine Marshall, former Dean of Nursing at Brigham Young University shared she learned early on in her nursing career how important it is to face the tough work of healing instead of looking for a quick cure. She said:
“On that first day as a nurse, I assumed cure, care, and healing to be synonymous. I have learned they are not the same. Healing is not cure. Cure is clean, quick, and done—often under anesthesia. The antibiotic kills the pathogen; the scalpel cuts out the malignancy; the medication resolves the distorted chemistry. Healing, however, is often a lifelong process of recovery and growth in spite of, maybe because of, enduring physical, emotional, or spiritual assault. It requires time. We may pray for cure when we really need healing. Whether for cell reconstruction, for nerve and muscle rehabilitation, for emotional recovery, or for spiritual forgiveness, healing needs work and time and energy. Cure is passive, as you submit your body to the practitioner. Healing is active. It requires all the energy of your entire being. You have to be there, fully awake, aware, and participating when it happens.”[i]
You have an opportunity to work on your own healing by starting a process that will cause you and those you love terrible discomfort. However, I also know that the same healing that is available to you is also available to them. He’s tried to control the damage of his choices through secrecy, manipulation, and control. You don’t have to engage in these same behaviors at the expense of your own dignity and wellbeing. If what you need to heal causes pain to others in your family, then invite them to do what they need to do for their own healing. Everyone must be in charge of how they’ll heal from the impact of his choices. You’re not the one causing the pain. Make sure you allow him to carry the responsibility of his choices.
If you’re ready to get started in your own recovery, focusing on your own safety is paramount. I recorded a podcast interview with Dr. Jill Manning that will give you some ideas on where to start I also recommend women in your situation seek out support from partner support groups like the ones provided by the Addiction Recovery Program. If you want to receive more education on what it takes to heal a marriage impacted by sexual betrayal, you can also download my free video series to learn more about the steps to rebuilding trust.
You don’t have to hold your breath and hope he does something different. You can begin your own journey of healing with the hope that someday he’ll embrace true healing. I know you don’t want to be alone, but please recognize that it’s more painful living together in a lie than living alone in the truth.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If broken trust is an issue in your relationship, download Geoff’s FREE video series “The First Steps to Rebuilding Trust” to help you begin healing: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/freebie
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.
Corey D.January 29, 2023
As scared as she is of being lonely or affecting the family she needs to divorce this guy and when any family members ask her why, she needs to concisely and honestly tell them why. He needs to be shown to the family what he really is, a serial adulterer, dishonest and a liar. A one time honest mistake with sincere repentance is a whole different thing than what this guy has done. No one can blame another for breaking their covenants. Being in a sexless or non-adventurous or non-affectionate marriage, which is what the comment by H North is implying does not justify infidelity or breaking ones covenants.
CindyJanuary 27, 2023
H North's comment is disgusting! Don't blame the victim. Even if his statement were true, lack of affection, or anything else a wife may or may not do, does not give a husband the right to cheat nor excuse his behavior. There are many ways to handle an unhappy marriage and cheating is never ok.