The Elephant in the Room
Used in the Pacific Meeting on 3/27/23
It’s happened to all of us. The week has been going great, no talk of addiction, no questions, and she is even smiling. Then it happens. You may be in a restaurant, driving in your car, or watching TV….an attractive women walks past the table, you pass a certain road or part of town, or some lewd commercial comes on while you’re watching the ABC Family Network of all things. Whatever it may be, your once happy ignorant bliss is now covered in a thick heavy blanket of unease, making it hard for you to breathe while beads of sweat appear on your forehead. You noticed it; and regardless if you bounced your eyes, took a second look, drifted off into fantasy or turned away and captured your thoughts as Paul instructs us to do, Dumbo is now flying around.
Is she aware of what has just happened? Well, it’s not so difficult to notice an elephant with big ears flying around. If you’re a Star Wars fan you can equate it to a disturbance in the force. Still, as obvious as it is, we remain silent. We think that if we don’t acknowledge it we can somehow return to the way things were two seconds ago. Two seconds ago when she was happy. What the heck just happened? Just like you have certain triggers, so does your wife. And as sure as your triggers bring up things for you, so do hers.
I can’t really put into words the trauma our wives have endured. As a man I can’t even fathom it. If someone were to tell me to try and put myself in her place, I simply couldn’t do it. If I’m honest with myself, and I think about if the table had been turned, I don’t think I would stay. I don’t know that I could bear the pain. Understanding the grace that our wives have extended us is a very difficult concept. The strength that it must take to persevere while being bombarded by constant reminders, nightmares, and visions is foreign to me. If you’re like me, I needed to “get it”. I had to try my best with my male brain to empathize, not only with what my wife has been through, but with what was happening to my wife during these times when she was triggered.
In Vietnam many American soldiers were subjected to horrible trauma, some were taken prisoner, and many who returned suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the time PTSD was not mainstream, causing our vets to become isolated. Many soldiers thought it was weakness on their part. We’ve all seen the movies where a soldier has a flashback that manifests with intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating, hypervigilance). These movies unleash the inner mindset of combat veterans trying their best to cope with the trauma of war. Characters clearly exhibit classic symptoms of PTSD such as uncontrollable anger, emotional numbing, denial, keyed up startle responses, an interest in recreating traumatizing events, and substance abuse. Likewise, our wives often experience symptoms of PTSD.
Barbara Steffens, Ph.D., and Marsha Means, MA address “The Trauma Perspective” in their book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse. “Prior to this discovery the person believed his or her partner loved only him or her and remained faithful. Suddenly their relationship holds danger and dark secrets. Discovering that much of your life is built on lies proves traumatizing and destroys one’s sense of safety and security”. Why can we accept this in others, but not in our wives? As husbands we have to be aware of what is going on and do whatever we can to help. Insecurity vs. trust- It is ludicrous for us to believe that because our wives go into a defensive position every time they are reminded of our acting out, that they are “just being insecure”.
If you have some strange notion that just because it’s been six months or even five years and you feel she should be “over it” by now, then I want you to be honest and think back to some traumatic event that happened in your life and ask yourself how long it took you to get over it. Most of us have never had to deal with our issues sober, so next time you think that she should be “over it” think back to that one issue that you’re still not over. Remember we’ve had our “drug” to help cope. She’s doing this sober (hopefully), scared, alone, and shattered; fearing the worst while praying for the best. Don’t allow things to become obscured. It’s easy to look at how far you’ve come in your recovery and feel really good about yourself. I know about resentment and how it’s easy to feel like she’s not seeing any change. To me it seemed as if every time I was really making progress she would bring something up. I hated it; I didn’t want to revisit all the horrible things I had done. I assumed that she could just see that I was a changed man. I was under the delusion that trust could be built over night……it can’t.
Fear can be crippling. I remember feeling frozen when some of the truth about my addiction first came out. Even in the face of hard evidence, when my wife was pleading with me to tell her the truth, I couldn’t do it. So by telling you this let me say emphatically how much I understand the overwhelming urge to keep the peace and stay silent. It’s critical for us to empathize with our wife, and during her time of need, overcome your fears. All of us have a protective instinct. We just have to realize when our wives are in danger.
So how do we come to her aid? Communicate. Let me say that again… communicate. This is scary but vital. For most of us, male and female, the fear of the unknown is terrifying. That’s what your wife is struggling with. “How can he say he loves me and still look at other women?” or “Why am I not enough for him?” or “Is he fantasizing about that woman right now?” These are but a few of the questions that have been posed to me in my own marriage. Men, you are going to see beautiful women, just as you are going to see nature’s beauty. I do not believe this is a sin, however let me be clear the fact that we are visually drawn to women does not make it ok to linger or give into lust.
So, when you feel the flapping of giant ears around you, become proactive! Reject passivity! Be the man your wife wants you to be, the man God has designed you to be (see 1 Timothy 1:11-12). It can be as simple as taking her hand in yours and giving it a light squeeze to let her know you are aware of what just happened or it can be as difficult as answering all her questions. Be ready, and be honest. The most important thing I’ve learned in my recovery is to be honest and forthright. If my wife asks me if I noticed a women I have to acknowledge if I did or didn’t. If she wants to know if I thought the woman was attractive….yes or no? It’s natural for us to want to avoid hurting our wives feelings but the honesty you provide will far outweigh the moments of discomfort. It’s your job to fill in the blanks. This will not be a pleasant experience but I am almost certain your wife will appreciate your honesty. Support her, comfort her, ask questions, and ask if you can pray with her……communicate. Destroy the fear of the unknown, break the silence, and watch Dumbo fly away.