Common Question from Spouses: “How could I have been deceived for so many years?”
Soon after my husband and I got married, one of our cars died; and, we were left with a car that can be summed up in a few words: Beater with a Heater. The gauges on that car were not exactly reliable. One of the gauges that could not be trusted was the gas gauge: It would run out of gas before the gauge reached the red zone. I had to remind myself constantly that the gauge was not showing me the accurate amount of fuel. If I forgot the gauge was off, I could end up in a mess.
I believe this illustrates how wives can be married to a sex addict and not realize it for so many years. I mean, hopefully their car gauges work, but their healthy/unhealthy gauges do not. In other words, their discernment regarding what a healthy person versus an unhealthy person or relationship looks like is off. And there is only one thing worse than a car’s gas gauge being off, and that is: when it is off, but I do not realize it. Because then I am driving down the road, wind blowing through my hair, singing along with the radio, and suddenly I hear a putter. I find out this person I am married to has been acting out in deviant sexual behavior for many years, and I am absolutely shocked.
During the ten years I have been involved in the Partners in Process group for wives of sex addicts, I have seen many ladies ask themselves this question: How were they deceived for so many years? How did they not know about their husband’s sexual addiction? They thought things were OK. Now, they fear they will never be able to trust again. They feel crazy, like they cannot trust their own senses. Recently, I listened to yet another wife ask me how she could have been deceived for so many years, and it really got me thinking: “how it is that a wife can be married to this man and not see that something is terribly wrong?”. Most wives have some inklings over the years that something is off, but they are floored when they find out the depth of what has been happening.
So, how does this happen? How can my gauge regarding reality be so off?
In pondering this question, it is common to believe that maybe the sexual behaviors are isolated, that this man is a pretty healthy person in almost every other way. Otherwise, I would have noticed, right? He was just really good at hiding these behaviors? Unfortunately, no. This thinking falls short because that is not the way addiction works. An otherwise healthy person does not become a sex addict. The sexual addiction is only the tip of the iceberg. Under that iceberg, there is a whole slew of issues. The tip of the iceberg is just the most obvious. So, if something is terribly off in every way, why did I not recognize it?
It is a sign that my unhealthy/healthy gauge is off, which brings up a question worth looking at: How do each of us personally decide what is healthy and what is not? Well, I am sure this is not an all-inclusive list, but here are a few factors that can negatively impact our discernment.
The first thing that influences us is our relationships, especially our closest relationships. Our view of what is healthy and what is not, what is okay and what is not okay, can become very wacked out beginning at a young age. As children, we tend to believe that what is happening in our home is normal. Even in the most extreme situations, such as sexual abuse, children do not know that what is happening to them is horribly wrong. And, the messages we received as children become very ingrained in us. If we always saw our parents talking badly about each other, we might believe that is normal. If we did not see boundaries being set in a healthy way, we may not realize healthy boundaries are an option. I have heard it said that if we do not actively strive to change family patterns, we will repeat them. The generational cycles are not broken without diligent effort. We have to be intentional about challenging our ingrained viewpoints of healthy and unhealthy. It is our responsibility to do so.
With these unhealthy relationships, we develop relational dances. So, for example, if my parents are addicts or simply have issues they have not dealt with, I find a way as a child to dance with that. Maybe when they got in fights, I tried to soothe things over. Maybe when things were unstable, I disconnected and pretended like everything was fine. Well, these patterns do not just go away. I must actively work, in submission to the Lord, to change them. If I do not, I will surround myself with people that are willing to engage in my unhealthy relational dances. I will marry someone that fits with my patterns and then will develop relational dances with my unhealthy spouse. Once we have a dance, it becomes the norm. Most likely, I do not even realize it is unhealthy. I figure it just works. If the other person tries to change the dance, my toes get stepped on and it is very uncomfortable, even if it is right.
The longer I wait to deal with these unhealthy patterns, the worse things get and the more engrained the patterns become. Eventually, I will get to a place where I cannot trust my discernment. Or, worse: I will convince myself that there is nothing I can do differently. People somehow deceive me, but I am just a victim of random circumstance. This is how ladies end up marrying three different men, all of them unhealthy.
Another thing that hinders my ability to properly discern is my own issues and the sinful patterns I justify in my life. When I let my issues (anger, pride, overspending, overeating, laziness, control, manipulation, etc.) dwell in my life, the line between healthy and unhealthy becomes more and more blurred. After a while, I may stop recognizing sin as sin. This results in blind spots. When I have to squint to feel good about my own actions, it impacts my perspective.
Change is Possible
The good news is: I can choose to change. I can get to a place where I recognize unhealthy as unhealthy. I can fix my gauge! It begins with honestly looking at why I did not realize something was so terribly off. Once I admit I have a problem I need to change, I am on the path towards victory.
Ultimately, the goal is to get to a place where we listen to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. God should be our guide in all things. He desires to show us truth, and He is constantly speaking to us. Unfortunately, far too often, we do not hear Him. We do not always want to hear Him, and sometimes our lives are so clouded by our issues and mess that we give up trying to hear Him. Wives have often asked me “Why should I trust God to show me if my husband goes back to his addiction? God left me in the dark for many years.” They justify that they need to be in control, to take things into their own hands by constantly checking up on their husbands. But, I can tell you with confidence: God will show each of us truth if we ask and listen. This does not mean God will show us everything. But, it does mean God will show us what He wants us to see if we truly listen.
But, how do we get to a place where we can hear God speak to us? Well, this is the ultimate goal of recovery. We confess our faults to each other and pray for each other that we may be healed (James 5:16). We speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We get out of our own heads and draw into God through His people, who point us to Him and help us get to a place where we hear Him. When my relational gauge is off, it is not isolated to just people. It has also impacted my view of God and my relationship with Him.
God wants us to get a place where we are mature and able to discern good and evil. I came across these verses this week and thought “ouch”, but I felt convicted that this speaks directly to the topic at hand:
For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
It takes practice. If you need this growth, make the decision today to draw into people that will point you towards God and walk with you on this journey.