“John” came into the counseling office looking very despondent. “I don’t understand what happened this week,” he said. “’Jane’ had been doing so well and I have not seen her angry in more than a month. Then she just exploded. Crying, throwing things, cursing at me. I thought we were good. What happened?”
“John” is a recovering pornography addict who has been in therapy for nearly one year and his wife, “Jane,” is working on her own betrayal recovery. What “John” encountered is not unusual for a couple doing the intense work to get their marriage back on track.
“Jane” was going through another bout of grieving over the betrayal she experienced from “John’s” use of pornography during their marriage. What happened with “Jane” is simply part of the recovery process. Men tend to forget the average recovery time for a woman dealing with betrayal is 12-24 months.
Over the past month, “Jane” had been practicing self-soothing herself when she was feeling angry or sad as she thought about “John’s” actions. She was trying to reduce the amount of negativity she was experiencing when spending time with her husband.
There is nothing wrong with “Jane” trying to stay more positive around “John,” her only mistake was she should have told him what she was attempting to do. This would have helped set “John’s” expectations about her recovery.
But he also made mistakes.
Enjoying the stability of a peaceful home, “John” didn’t take opportunity to ask “Jane” how she was dealing with her recovery. If he had, she most likely would have shared her emotions, instead of holding them in.
His second error was mistaking “Jane’s” calm demeanor to indicate she was no longer emotionally or mentally troubled by his pornography addiction. As I tell my male clients, while your wife may be presenting a calm and peaceful appearance do not underestimate the amount of emotional distress that still lies under the surface.
A woman’s grieving is like ocean waves. There are periods in which they are large and powerful, and they can feel overwhelming. There are other times when they are smaller and seem calm. This can give off mixed messages and lead men to have a false impression everything is back to normal.
First, things are never going back to normal. She doesn’t want to return to the marriage you had. For her, the marriage is tainted and dirty. She wants to take the relationship in a new direction that brings a renewed sense of hope and healing. And you need to go there with her.
Second, she is looking for the “new guy.” Recently, a wife who was struggling to re-engage with her husband after nearly a year of recovery work, put it this way, “On one hand there is my husband who cheated on me with multiple women. On the other hand, is my husband who no longer cheats on me. So, tell me, what’s the difference between them?”
It is critical a partner understands the changes being made by the man in recovery. She needs to know there is something different about him that will enable him to guard her heart and make healthy decisions. And if you don’t explain to her how the “old guy” has changed, you are leaving her in the dark.
In order not to be blindsided like “John,” take the following three steps in working with your partner:
1. At least once a week, ask your spouse how she is doing with her recovery. If she simply says “ok”, follow up by asking what has happened that she is now feeling “ok.”
2. Make it a point to check in with your partner on a regular basis and share with her what you are learning in your recovery. More importantly, communicate how the insights you are learning are helping to change you to become the “new” guy.
3. Be fully aware of the time a woman needs to heal from betrayal and understand although at times she may seem calm and peaceful under the surface could still be a great deal of fear and emotional pain.