My husband tells partial truths and it drives me crazy. I find myself interrogating him for hours on end to the get to the truth. Eventually, he admits to what he’s done wrong. We’re both exhausted and I’m not sure how I can keep going with this pattern. These aren’t small things he’s lying about. He’s had an addiction for years and when he starts to slip back into patterns that pull him right back into his addiction, I start asking questions. There is always something there, but he denies and minimizes it. Eventually, he admits that he was going down the wrong road. I feel like I’m the one that has to notice, redirect, and stop him from destroying himself and our family. His harmful behaviors are upsetting to me, but it’s the lying and hiding that are eroding any trust I have left in him (which isn’t much). What do I do in this situation? I’m tired of trying to keep our marriage and family stable while he lives in denial of the impact he’s having on our family.
The only way you can ever trust your husband again is if you see him stopping his destructive behaviors and then coming toward you to bring you the truth. If you are the one catching him and forcing him to admit that he’s making mistakes, you will only believe that your marriage will survive if you stay in the detective role. I think it’s safe to say that not one person signs up for marriage so they can be an untrusting detective.
You’re in a difficult situation because your trust is so fractured that you don’t believe he’ll stop himself and bring the truth to light. You probably don’t have any experiences where he’s done that on his own without your involvement. Most partners feel mixed about their involvement in stopping these destructive patterns. Some partners go to extremes and either become overinvolved or completely detach. Both approaches are understandable, but they each create their own problems when trying to stabilize the marriage.
Instead, let’s talk about a different way of approaching this that will allow you to maintain your sanity and keep the accountability square on your husband, which is where it should be.
Recognize that when your husband is keeping secrets about his harmful behaviors, he’s moving away from the marriage and family. That distance is something you’ll most likely notice and feel a need to respond to. You can chase after him and pull him back to the center of the marriage or you can ignore it and detach. It’s hard to have peace with either response.
Instead, acknowledge the reality that he’s moved away from you and the family by keeping secrets and engaging in his unhealthy behaviors. Stay centered and don’t become reactive in response to what you’re sensing from him. This doesn’t mean you can’t describe what you’re noticing, but the panicked lectures and interrogations need to stop.
He needs to move back toward you and the family by stopping his behavior, telling the truth, and getting the help he needs to be healthy. You will drive yourself crazy trying to compensate for him by pointing everything out and dragging him back to your marriage. Pulling him back only leaves you feeling more insecure and untrusting of his desire to be in the marriage.
Sometimes we chase unhealthy people to fix them because we don’t want to deal with the difficult decisions we’ll have to make if they do something hurtful to others or us. Let him decide what kind of relationship he wants to have in his life. All you can do is honestly and courageously decide what you’ll do in response to his choices.
You can know that he’s returned back to the marriage and family when he’s able to talk about why he left, why he kept secrets, and makes a full and humble accountable apology for his behaviors. You may need time to figure out how to respond to his choices. There is nothing wrong with this. It doesn’t mean that you immediately jump right back into normal life. It may mean that you need some space emotionally or physically. It may mean that you expect him to do things differently like get professional help or work with other supports. Regardless, you’re allowed to respond how you need to respond if he turns his back on your marriage and family with secrets and harmful behavior.
It’s scary to stay put and watch another person spin out in their addiction or denial. However, like jumping into the lake to rescue a drowning swimmer, you risk your own safety and sanity when you jump toward someone who is floundering and not taking responsibility for their own behavior. Granted, they may not know how to help themselves, but there are plenty of supports within reach. Stay on the shore and let them choose on their own to grab onto those supports that are available to them. You need to know they want to be in this relationship and you deserve to have the experience of seeing them take personal responsibility for their behaviors and how they affect others.
You need support for yourself to stay in the center place and not get pulled into strange roads that turn you into someone you don’t recognize. I encourage you to read the family support guide from the LDS Church website https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/spouses-and-families/1?lang=eng and attend a local meeting so you can connect with other family members who are working to better understand how they can navigate the difficult terrain of living with someone with an addiction.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.