This discussion topic is a question we received from a friend in recovery. His concern is about how he can help his wife feel safe and how he can be patient with her when he feels she’s far away. If anyone is interested in sharing a discussion topic, please reach out to me here.
I’ve had a good week. I reached out and got a sponsor from arpsupport.org. I started with him on Sunday. It’s made a huge difference in my recovery this week. I’ve struggled with actually working the steps on my own, so the structure of this sponsor system has been helpful to give me that extra push. I feel I still need to reach out and get a sponsor who is a close friend rather than some guy in AZ, but for now I feel it’s a step in the right direction.
I currently have 5 days of recovery…it’s not a long time, but I feel it has been 5 days of quality recovery.
My question is, in your experience, how were you able to be patient with your wife? I have always tried to force our relationship…whenever I relapsed I would try to fix our relationship right away, try to get her to treat me well as soon as possible…in a way try to brush the problem under the rug asap. I know this is wrong, but I still struggle with being patient and giving her the time she needs to recover.
My therapist helped me with this by explaining I need to gain a better sense of myself…do things for myself so that I’m not acted upon but rather act for myself when negative emotions come…not let her actions (or lack of action) affect how I act, but CHOOSE to act for myself. These things include step work, journaling, reaching out, running, etc. Those things have helped tremendously this week, but I still have those negative emotions that come because my wife is so distant.
Is there anything that has helped you with this?
Any advise you have to help me give her the time she needs…not try to rush back into everything appearing to be good on the outside?
Or is it more about me learning to deal with these emotions better/more healthy, and figuring out how to let them go?
What are your thoughts on the question?
I had some very strong feelings when reading your post.
First off, yes it’s great that you are now working recovery, and that you have five days of success so far. It really is.
But that doesn’t negate all the pain and suffering your wife has been going through, and likely still is. I’m going to be bold here. You have been committing adultery, which is the very definition of distant. Your wife likely needs time and space to heal. She needs to know how sincere you are in your recovery before she can risk being vulnerable with you again. Have you asked your wife what she needs from you at this time?
My advice? Ask her what she needs from you. If it’s time and space, give it to her. Focus on your own recovery, independent of her or of her choices/behaviour. Recover for yourself and the Lord, not for anyone else. Your recovery should be more dependant on your relationship with the Lord more than your relationship with your wife. Love her – and understand that truly loving someone means putting their needs above your own.
You’ve made a good start. Now you need to keep going with it.
Thanks for the question.
I don’t know that I have a “best answer” other than this – expect nothing and worry about rowing your own boat (not sure if you’ve heard that analogy or not). The only connection you can really “control” is your connection with God. Other connections with family, friends, etc. are always up in the air. Due to the level of trust that you’ve lost because of your choices, your wife has no responsibility to trust you at all. If she does, at some point, trust you again and open up, consider yourself lucky.
Surrendering your negative emotions and expectations to God and to others in recovery is the only real answer I have. We can’t fix our wives. Our wives are going through betrayal trauma because of our selfish choices. Period. She will need time. She will need her own recovery. She will need to see and FEEL that you are working on your own recovery (and every relapse is a strike against that rebuilding of trust no matter how many other great things you may think you’re doing).
I’ve been in recovery for over 2 1/2 years and there are still days where I can tell my wife is detached and that something is off (may or may not be my fault). I have had to learn to let her know I’m here, I’m present, and that I want to help her feel safe. I can’t run away from the feelings, I can’t shame them either. I have to sit in them and try to feel what she’s feeling and empathize. If I’m not ready to do that, I have to look in the mirror and find out what I can change about ME.
I also think it’s important to realize that recovery and sobriety are different. Sobriety is just the START of recovery, but recovery takes time and consistency.
If I’m acting out, going through my ritual of addiction, and then, after a few days, feel like I’m “in recovery,” that can be a false belief system that I have to let go.
If you’re telling your wife you’re in recovery but don’t have much sobriety, it’s going to be hard for her to believe you or feel safe. Just my thoughts based on my experience.
My wife stayed with me through many years of my choosing to be an addict. She loved me despite more relapses than I can count. When I finally hit rock bottom and got a sponsor she stayed with me and supported me. Then, almost near the end of my 90 days with my best sobriety streak in a long while, she decided she wanted to pursue a divorce. It was as if she was finally able to begin looking at her own recovery and she was able to begin repairing herself once I was no longer relapsing and causing so much stress and grief in our family. It caught me off guard and was stressful but eventually I had to accept her decisions as her own and I came to better understand how I cannot control others or manipulate others and that God’s view of me is all that truly matters. It was through God’s grace and blessings that we actually made it through some very difficult months and stayed together. I learned that intimacy and love go far beyond a physical relationship and that has led to a current relationship I never thought was possible. Reflecting back on those months I can tell you that giving a wife time, space, service, unconditional love, not forcing my issues or agendas with her but turning instead to the Lord, avoiding self-pity, not forcing physical intimacy or guilting a spouse into it are a few important things to remember. I know one of my friends in recovery really wanted to have sex with his wife and it pushed her further away. Once he stopped pushing that and let that aspect go and he gave her the true love and intimacy she had lacked for so long, the physical relationship was able to begin to heal and progress gradually. Ultimately, our wives are incredible for sticking with us and deserve our very best. We owe them so much and we cannot fathom the pain that we’ve caused them. Truly, unless your wife has lusted after a lot of men around you, essentially cheated on you in various ways (or perhaps actually had an affair), compared your body to others time and time again, belittled you in a number of ways, broken your trust a number of times, etc… You don’t understand what she’s going through. The Lord can help you as you try to heal your relationship and love your wife. With Him you can do all things and he is a great healer. Give it time. God bless you and your wife! – D
Justin B says
I also am very happy that you are moving in the right direction. But I must also speak boldly here.
Your wife has zero proof that you have changed… zero. 5 days, though a great start, is nothing compared to the years (I am assuming the time you have been together) of proof that she has that you will keep acting out. All you can control is yourself and your own efforts and reliance on God as you walk this path of abstinence, then to sobriety, then to recovery, then to healing. It is a life-long path you are on. Her healing is also a life-long path.
My hope is that your wife will seek out a HEALTHY support group with live sisters that she can see face to face. One that helps bring her to the Atonement of Christ, and not into a state of victimhood and blaming. Perhaps even work the steps herself. You cannot make her do that. It must be her choice, but it can make a huge difference in her healing process.
I have been really blessed that when I disclosed my addiction to my wife about 10 years ago (almost 7 years before I really started working any kind of program) that she immediately sought support. She started attending the spouse and family support groups and started working the program herself, with a sponsor, to get healing. It was not anything I requested she do. In fact, I was mortified that she would go… What if she saw someone who knew her, and thus knew me? What would they think? How could I bear being seen as a pervert and less than perfect? Well… All of those fears, as most of us now know, are bunk. And I am SUPER grateful that my wife kept pushing through and found her own recovery and healing from my addiction. In fact, her healing is what brought me to finally admit that I had a real problem. She came to me one day and said “I am good. I know that I am going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you aren’t there with me, I will be sad, and I will miss you. But, I know that God will provide me with someone who will be my eternal companion at that point.” Talk about a kick to the gut. But she found her own recovery and was on the path to healing, and that was a big motivator to me to find abstinence, sobriety, recovery, and to be on my path to healing.
When I finally – FINALLY “came to myself”, she was there to lovingly (still not trusting, though) help me find a group and then support me as I started working the steps with a sponsor. Even today, almost 3 years later, she still doesn’t completely trust me. But we are on the path of healing, that we will both walk, hand-in-hand with each other, and arm-in-arm with the Savior, until we are both safely dead.
Here’s a simple analogy. If your wife was diagnosed with cancer, would you spend time wondering if/when she’s going to get better so you could stop having to worry about being patient with her recovery? Would you expect anything from your wife to help fulfill your “needs”?
There is no quick fix to betrayal trauma. There is no guarantee of full recovery from such trauma either. And there is definitely no end to the recovery work required of both spouses to get to a point where healing (aka trust) is found, built, and maintained.
We addicts tend to have a difficult time seeing past the end of our own desires and needs, because we’re really really good at fulfilling them in whatever means is easiest/closest/most potent. As such, becoming sober—deeply, comprehensively sober—is a very painful process of letting self-gratification in all its forms wither and die. It usually doesn’t die quickly or quietly. It takes time—lots of time working the steps with full purpose of heart—for all of self-gratification’s forms to manifest themselves completely.
While this hasn’t been a very warm-fuzzy comment, I don’t believe that false hope or positivity is going to make the most helpful impact. Truth, no matter how painful, is the antidote to addiction.
Time is the answer. Time in sobriety and recovery. Time in showing up in nothing but empathy and selfless kindness. Time proving that you have no expectations of her or her recovery from what you did/do to her. Time spent loving her as if she were fighting cancer, remembering all the while that, while you can’t row her boat for her, you can absolutely help make the waters she’s rowing through much calmer by your acts of selflessness, service, and commitment to your own recovery.
Kevin B says
Thanks! This analogy to a chronic illness helped me relate to my wife better. Though, it is backwards. I have learned to relate to her dealing with my addiction and now I can attempt to use those same skills to deal with her chronic illness. It is interesting how learning how to apply the Atonement and how to manage stresses in life can be related to many different circumstances I face.
Kevin B says
I agree with everything that has been said in the comments so far. I too agree that the wife requires time and patience. I will add that it requires some significant time before she can even hope that this time is different and that recovery is occurring. In my case, I was able to be sober for extended periods of time between my relapses. I mean, extended – as in up to a year or so. Through 26 years of marriage my wife experienced this pattern of yo-yoing between sobriety and acting out. The reality is, I wasn’t really as sober for as I thought I was, but that is a different topic. To me and my wife, I was sober. When I began true recovery, I had already been sober for a year. My wife was resigned to the fact that it was only a matter of time until I acted out again. In my case, my wife knew before we got married that I had a “problem” with masturbation. Neither of us really understood the extent of that problem. Anyway, I started the arpsupport program and truly began to recover. I was behaving differently in all aspects of my life. I mean, I began to actually help around the house. I began to look at what would help her instead of being selfish. I began to do things without being asked or pressured. I truly was changing. To me this seemed like enormous changes – and they were enormous. Yet, in reality, they were just little things. There was a little improvement here and there. Over time, I improved and my wife began to see that improvement. She knew I was working this intense program. She began to see changes. But, it was not overnight. It was over the course of months.
I tried to get her to attend the spousal support ARP meetings. She did not want to be seen by others she knew. She did not want to have to commit the required time (it was about an hour drive to the only meeting she would go to – one way). I was being very gentle in my trying to get her to go – I thought. She once told me, “I feel like I am being punished for your sins!” All I could do is say, “I am sorry. Yes, I agree that you are paying consequences for my sins. I can’t change what I did in the past.” I had to back off. It took a year to a year and a half before she would attend spousal support meetings. Then there were health issues that has prevented her from attending more than about three or four meetings.
I am over three years sober and over two years in true recovery. I am a much much more self-less person. I do many things for my wife. That is, I am less and less the selfish, self-centered person I used to be. My anxiety level is so much less than it used to be and I am not quick to anger anymore. There are many more evidences that I am in true recovery. My wife sees these and sees that I am sponsoring others. She sees that I am facilitating ARP meetings. She sees me working to magnify my callings at church. She truly believes that I am in recovery. But…
She still has many things in her life that she needs to recover from as a consequence of my addiction and destructive whirlwinds through the decades. And this is with my being totally honest with her at all times – at least as honest as I was with myself. She did not have the shock of betrayal after years of thinking everything was alright. That level of dishonesty hurts and scars more. She is confident I am doing well and will continue to do well. However, there are still times she fears; times she tells me she sees some of the signs starting to peek their tentacles into my life.
A wife’s recovery is indeed a life-long journey just like the addict’s recovery. There will need to be patience with my wife for the rest of our lives.
Let me share with you a few of my feelings about my brother who is a reformed drug addict. These feelings are likely similar to what my wife feels, though I cannot know for sure. My brother was a teenage alcoholic and drug addict. He was certainly that tornado of destruction and fear ripping through our family. He continued that destruction well into adult life. In his 30’s he became sober for ten years. It was great! Yet, he hadn’t repented and he still had behaviors consistent with an addict – though they were greatly diminished. It was really no surprise when he relapsed after those ten years of sobriety. This time he really spun out of control. He was living in a cardboard box under a bridge. The entire family, except my father, turned our backs on him due to how destructive his life was and how we had no hope. In his mid-40’s, when my parents passed, he ended up in jail. This is when he turned around and started his recovery. It took us, his siblings, several months to even begin to have hope that this time was different. I began to hope – yet, I did not want him to stain me and my family. It took a while with the beginnings of this hope to actually transition to hope, then finally belief. It took a couple of years before I felt comfortable enough to have him around my family. I now fully believe he is in a good strong recovery after 12+ years. I see him actively involved in service. He regained his membership in the church. He found a wife and was sealed to her in the temple. I have great faith and expectations that he will be clean for the rest of his life. Yet, and this is important to recognize, almost every time I see him going through a stressful situation, I have this unsettling fear trying to rise up in me that this will knock him back into his addiction. I find I must actively work to suppress that fear and exercise faith that God is helping him and will uphold him. It does not come automatically. I have to work at it.
I think this must be similar to what my wife goes through. I must think of this and I must remember how much pain I have put her through and tell myself, how can you expect her to not have issues at times?
Robert D says
First of all, congratulations on 5 good days of recovery. That is a great start. It’s difficult, I think, to get a clear perspective of the damage we (addicts) have inflicted on our wives through the years. For me, it’s been over the course of about 18 years. So much trauma inflicted and with only just recently identifying my addiction and making my way to start the steps of recovery in the past 3-4 months, I know I haven’t even begun to scratch surface of how deeply I’ve hurt my wife.
I know that when I start feeling like I’m hurting, like something she’s doing to neglect me in some way, making me “feel” unloved or unwanted, that in that moment I HAVE to take pause and reflect. Who controls how I feel? I do. Why is she distant/neglecting me? Because of what I’ve done to her. She has every right to feel the way she does. Do I? When she has a bad day, week, month, or whatever, it’s imperative that I am vigilant about my self awareness and what I’m feeling. If I emotionally withdraw, or isolate myself from her, or stuff what I feel, it’s so easy to drop that golden token of resentment onto the balance. It’s so easy for me to fill up those coffers of excuses to justify a relapse in an attempt to sooth my perceived pain and neglect.
I know that my wife has the right to be mad at me whenever she damn well pleases. I did that to her. Do you know what helps me? Serving her. Helping myself improve. Working the steps. Identifying my weaknesses and figuring out how to strengthen them. Reaching out. She’s heard “sorry”. She’s heard “I’ll never do it again”, and she’s heard all the excuses. What really brings her closer is her feeling safe with me. That only happens when she SEES real change in my countenance and actions. Not when I feel like I deserve a reward for all my effort. Everytime she is distant with me, I let her know that I love her, that am here for her if she wants to share with me what she’s feeling, that I know she’s feeling the way she is because of my selfish acts and the real trauma I’ve inflicted on her. Then I share with her what I’m doing to improve. That last part has to be real. Real effort. Real work. Real progress. If you’re just saying it, she’ll know, and she won’t feel safe. She doesn’t run to embrace me after we share on the bad days.
After nearly 2 decades of betrayal, I consider myself lucky that my wife didn’t just kill me. There were more than a few of times I think she was very close.
I know that if it weren’t for my diligence in seeking a real relationship with God, actively seeking for the companionship of the spirit, and seeking to work on my many flaws I would not be married now.
I love SAL. I love all of you. I’m grateful for the brotherhood here. This program works, I can see that already and I’ve barely started in recovery. Every good day my wife has far outweighs 20 bad days, because it gives me hope for the future. I choose to focus on the good days, and when she’s having bad days I “make ready my ship” so when she’s ready to “come back”, I’m present. You’re stronger than you think you are. She wants to love you. Show her it’s safe to. Keep up the hard work. It’s worth it. Sorry if I went too long.
There’s been a lot of good advice already given on this post, and I really don’t have much to add. Rather I’ll just repeat. Row your own boat. Her recovery is not up to you. There is no supplement for time. And recovery takes a lot of it. For both you and your wife. But your timeline will never be hers and vice-versa. I will say though, that when things start to get uncomfortable, and my wife starts saying things that I just want to get away from, I’ve learned to just stick around. To let it come out, and let it flow. Not fix. Not respond even if I can help it. Just listen and let her get the guck out. I try to give my wife space when she needs space, but I also try to stay close when she needs to get something out. It’s interesting because often the times I try to get close are the times I’m trying to fix something and she needs her space. Whereas the times I need to be close is when she’s saying things that are uncomfortable and I don’t want to be anywhere near her. It’s a tough thing to navigate at times. But ultimately, I can only control my own choices, other things will take care of themselves, however it is they need to, as I commit to recovery.
Author of this post says
The honesty is good for me. None of you are candy coating answers and I like that. It will be good to have this to go back to when I’m feeling depressed about it in the future.
It’s been a hard idea to grasp…and will probably continue to be for me. That of “sex is optional”. When I asked this originally last week I was still really asking “when is she going to have sex with me again.”
However, since then I’ve had some (not much) but some recovery from this mental state. It’s been great learning about lust…and how that drives it all. And how I’ve not been able to make real connections with God or anyone else b/c lust has perverted my mind as to what a real connection is. My mind has tried to fill the void from the lack of any real connection with sex…hence my obsession with sex and ONLY feeling connected with my wife through sex. It doesn’t surprise me why my wife doesn’t want to have sex with me like it used to…I KNOW why now.
It’s been a good week.
Thanks for the honesty. I’ve realized that sex really only happens if there is emotional connection FIRST. Otherwise, sex is just a form of lust and will only make the feelings of safety worse for my wife.
I think THIS is the stuff that, as an addict, I need to be reminded of, realize and understand – that SEX is NOT the first connection I need to seek with my wife – it’s emotional connection first and sex will come naturally when there is true emotional connection.
Kevin B says
Sex. I have heard of many different ways addicts and their wife deal with sex after disclosure and during recovery. I have had a sponsee who was seeing a therapist and the therapist has put restrictions on when he can ask for sex. I have had another sponsee who was doing a 90-day sex free period. I am not sure if that was his therapist or if it was a lifestar thing.
The point is that sex for an addict who is still in the thralls of lust gets in the way of true intimacy. Some cannot overcome that lust while still having sex regularly. I had an experience while I was working through my step 4 inventory. I was blessed – let me repeat that, I was blessed to have my wife out of town during the most difficult part of my inventory. I was triggered more greatly than I could remember being triggered in years, but my wife was not there to USE as a release. That was a huge blessing because I had to rely on the Lord and deal with it. Had my wife been here, I would have used her as a crutch to my addiction. Because of this, I have learned that if I am triggered, even if it is just triggered for my emotions, to not use sex with my wife to attempt to manage it. That leads me back towards my addiction. I am now able to recognize, at least most the time, the difference between the lack of intimacy and need for true intimacy and the desire for sex. True intimacy never was sex. Love making is different than sex and is a byproduct of true intimacy.
This should be the goal – to strive for true intimacy with our wife and not worry about the sex. When true intimacy is there, this naturally leads to love making.
Justin B says
I love this response. I too have learned that sex is entirely different and far inferior to love making. True intimacy makes sex feel empty and love making way better than sex ever was. Why? Because we are present. We are there, with each other, and not with someone or some way else in our mind. The goal is the now and not the end. And that makes the end so much better and more fulfilling for both partners.
The “Helping Her Heal” video lectures are well worth the watch/listen and will put into perspective betrayal trauma and the damage we have all done to our tender wives. Not that it makes it any easier sometimes in the moments like Sean mentioned when I should be connecting but instead have distanced myself, but it does help me to try and not perpetuate her hurting by being resentful that she hurts. One thing too, the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. Sometimes I am glad my wife just temporarily hates me, because it means she still loves me. It is when she started to not care anymore that I knew how deeply I had damaged her. I remember the first week after I hit rock bottom I was scrolling for hope from other sex addicts who had found recovery and saved their marriages. I found one from a non-lds christian who said something very profound to me at the time. He said that he had damaged his marriage beyond repair, and that Christ had to give him and his wife a new marriage. I think that’s where I’m at, and letting go of what is is broken beyond repair is hard for an addict, but critical if I want an opening for Christ to heal and make new again.
I’m a pleaser, and I hate it when my wife feels hurt/angry towards me or distant from me. In my experience, it took over a year for us to traverse the initial trauma and loss that came from disclosing my acting out. Once I got some sobriety under my belt, and finally began to recover and seek healing then we finally began to connect again. But I think the answer to your question is mindfulness! She hurts and still is hurting just like you are, and that’s okay! You each have to pass through grief and pain before, and while you begin to reconnect. It is hard and takes a lot of time, but now as you learn to tolerate and deal with your emotions and let them come and go, then you can allow her to have her emotions and let them come and go. I have realized in the last few months that if I’m mindful (read, aware) of my emotions, I don’t have to feel anxious, or stressed, or panicked, when my wife is hurting. She can hurt and I can be okay, until she is feeling safe and connected again. Don’t try to rush her, just know that when true recovery, healling, and connection happens, it is worth the effort. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m saying this but I am so grateful for the last 2 years. Our relationship went through 18 months of hell, before it got better, and now I feel more love, happiness, and connection with my wife than ever before, and it’s amazing. When we get mad or argue or feel alone it doesn’t last as long and it’s not as painful as it used to be.
So in short, my answer is to mind your emotions and don’t try to control hers. Make peace with yourself and then let your wife find her own peace, and then you can reconnect in a stronger way.
Sometimes I have to,say a prayer or call a sponsor or write things down. If I find my self becoming stressed because my wife is stressed I know that’s not a healthy pattern and I have to let her emotions be her emotions, and sometimes that means staying in the emotion! It is hard at times but it gets easier as you become aware of your emotions and they have less effect on us.