I have been married to my husband for three years, though we’ve been dating for six years. Last week we had a heart to heart where we spoke about his first marriage and I expressed to him that I wish he could realize that it wasn’t all negative and some positive elements came out of his failed marriage. He eventually shed a tear. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry.
I’ve always known that he had some hurt feelings and has felt disappointed in himself. I didn’t realize that he still had deep wounds from his failed marriage. I don’t know if he will ever be the same man he was or be able to give as much, as he still holds on to the pain so much. He was married for four years. Is it possible for him to ever not feel pain from his loss? I know he doesn’t want to be with her, and he will not be able to be honest with me regarding how he feels about her. I’m now uncertain on whether he had sufficient time to deal with his feelings for her and the loss of her. I don’t know if that influenced how he chose to show commitment to my kids and me by waiting so long to marry me.
How do I help him? Can I help him? Does he even need help? Does anyone ever recover from being abandoned in their marriage? Can I really feel secure with someone who holds the pain from his first marriage? How do I deal with this and make sure that as a family we heal together and that he is able to trust fully and let go of the pain? Please guide me.
Your husband is lucky to have your sensitive and patient support. Yes, he’s grieving the loss of his marriage. Virtually every person who goes through the trauma of divorce experiences grief. Even if they aren’t sad about losing the person they are divorcing, they are always sad to lose the dream of the marriage. No one gets married expecting to be divorced.
Our American culture doesn’t give men permission to express vulnerable emotions. It’s not because men don’t feel vulnerable emotions. It’s because men are taught that they should hide weakness and failure. Consequently, we have millions of men pretending they aren’t feeling what they’re feeling. This creates tremendous suffering for those men and for their families.
Pat Conroy described this experience perfectly in his novel, Beach Music. He said:
“I could feel the tears within me, undiscovered and untouched in their inland sea. Those tears had been with me always. I thought that, at birth, American men are allowed just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our lives eaten away by [addiction] because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”[i]
Your husband needs gentle permission from you to share what happened to him as a result of the loss of his first marriage. You don’t need to feel personally threatened by his feelings of loss and grief. This isn’t a comparison between you and his first wife. It’s him releasing the feelings of failure, pain, and sadness that he lost something he hoped would work out.
You don’t need to sit him down and pressure him to get it all out in one conversation. Instead, let him know you are available to listen to his thoughts about his first marriage. You can gently bring it up on walks, drives, and other times when things aren’t hurried or stressful. This is a long conversation that will take months and years to fully resolve.
Your compassionate encouragement to share his story will be a great support and blessing to his aching heart. This is a marriage ministry that allows you to mourn with him and help him bear this burden of grief.[ii] We all need angelic support when we’re burdened down. Even the Savior benefitted from the direct support of an angel during his heaviest hours.[iii] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “Not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind.”[iv]
If he closes down and refuses to talk about it, please be patient. Your presence and concern for his grief is felt, even if the words aren’t always there. These things take time and are worth the wait. Pray for him, pray with him, and let him know that there is permission and room for him to feel what he’s feeling.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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.marriage-recovery.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 and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Pat Conroy, Beach Music, p. 216
[ii] Mosiah 18:8-9
[iii] Luke 22:43