Providing reassurance to our wives is an important part of trust building after betrayal. For most wives, just hearing “I’m not acting out” is not reassuring at all. If you have a history of lies and cover-ups, then it may even activate your wife’s fear and bring out her anger. She can’t believe your words. And as a husband that is incredibly frustrating because once you’re in the recovery process and you are sincerely living life differently, it can feel like all you have are those words. But, I want to show you another route to reassurance.
Think of reassurance as having 3 parts: the past, the present and the future. Each part is linked to the other, and none of them stands alone. A conversation about one must include a conversation about the others. Here’s what each part entails-
The Past –
Speaking to the past, for the sake of reassurance, means acknowledging what we’ve done and taking ownership for it. Remember that you do need to speak to the betrayal, but you don’t have to rehearse the gory details. And don’t just stop at what we’ve done acutely, but also the adverse effects of the character traits that drove the acute behaviors. To clarify, the acute behavior may have been years of pornography use. The character traits behind that use might include passivity, unwillingness to be vulnerable, and an unwillingness to admit weakness. Due to those broken aspects of our character, the relationship suffered. So, speaking to the past would include acknowledging the porn use, the broken character traits of passivity, being closed off and arrogant, as well as the loneliness and distance she might have felt in the relationship as a result.
NOTE** I know it seems counterintuitive to remind her again of how you’ve hurt her. And it can feel like you are just hurting her all over again by bringing the past up. But it is usually not the case. Unless she says specifically DO NOT BRING UP THE PAST then I encourage you to do so. Remember, you aren’t bringing it up in a snarky or defensive way, you are bringing it up in an empathic way.
The Present –
When attempting to provide reassurance you have to talk about how the present is different. Not just in terms of what you aren’t doing anymore, but in terms of what you are. Again, we’re dealing in the character traits and behavior patterns here. So I urge you to simply juxtapose the old ways versus the new. Describe how the old you would’ve handled a situation and contrast that with how you are handling it today. Example-
Today at work so-and-so came into my office and tried to guilt trip me into taking on more work than I’m responsible for. In the past when he would do that, I’d take on the work and then be bitter and resentful, vilifying him for even asking. Enough of that bitterness piling up and eventually I would act out to cope. I’m not acting out and doing that today. Instead, I worked on healthy boundaries and explained to him that I’m not willing to give in to scope creep. I dealt with his disappointment by praying for him and reminding myself that I don’t owe him anything. His wonky work does not constitute and emergency for me.
Also, for what its worth, I get a little uncomfortable when I hear a man who is 3 months or 13 months into recovery say, unequivocally, that he is a different man. Change is a process. When you say you’re an outright different man, it needs some years of proof with it. So rather than saying you have changed, I encourage you to say you are changing. Rather than say you are a different man, say you are becoming a different man.
The Future –
The last piece, dealing with the future, is quick and simple. It’s just a reminder of how you want life to be going forward. It is a statement or two about who you want to be and what you want life to look like. It’s not pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff, nor is it making promises you can’t keep. “I swear I’ll never ever do something remotely like what I’ve done ever again in a million years” is not helpful. Instead, reassurance of the future can simply be: “I don’t want to go back to that old life and I’m working hard to become the man God is calling me to be”. Or, per our example in The Present section: “I don’t want to act out again. I want to be a man of healthy boundaries and aware of my tendency to people-please.” The goal here to give some sense of a different life ahead.
If this all sounds verbose and like way too much work, well, it might be for you. But, how has under-communicating and way less effort worked for you? At our house, I had to do this consistently for a long time before it became second nature. Now, its more fluid and effortless. It doesn’t take as much work. And our relationship is better for it. In fact, today I don’t believe communicating this way is a consequence of betrayal, but instead a skill of healthy relationships.
Let me also manage your expectations. I wouldn’t expect your wife to be giddy and high-five you after you do this. It may trigger her and end up in more fighting. I’m sorry. It may take consistency before she starts to believe this is who you’re becoming, rather than just thinking it’s the next gimmick tool to get her off your case.
Stay with it, you can do it.
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