The day I walked into a professional counselor’s office started the change in my life.
It was hard, and I wanted to disappear. I had chosen an older, christian male counselor because I desperately wanted to know if I was wrong. He looked at me kindly and said, “So, you’re a strong woman, aren’t you?”
All I could do was whisper, “I hope so”, then cry for the next hour as years of pain surfaced and I shared the dilemna I was in with my husband’s repeated suggestion that perhaps marriage should be “open”. He’d promise me that he’d never live it out unless we were both okay with it, and he didn’t know where he stood on the matter as of yet. But it threw me into turmoil, and lots of it.
I remember asking myself if I was selfish for wanting to be the only woman in my husband’s life.
I wanted God’s will, I wanted to please my husband, but when it came to this topic I would have rather been alone than be in an open marriage.
For many years, I kept hearing things like “Maybe God designed men to have multiple women and that’s why they struggle with lust.”
Or, when seeing one man surrounded with three beautiful ladies at dinner, “See? Isn’t there something exemplary about that?”
I’d shake my head and want to gag. No, that didn’t look exemplary to me; that looked needy and sinful to me.
The pornography topic wasn’t even mentioned in our home as a problem until one night, out of nowhere, I was prompted to ask him about it. The answer I got put me in turmoil for many years.
“I’ve been looking at some to pray about whether or not it’s right to view. I can’t lie about that—and you shouldn’t have asked me about it.”
At that moment, my inner reality changed while my outer world kept spinning as if nothing happened.
Amish girls are raised with the three big S words: submit, serve, and silence.
So, though my stomach tied in knots, that is what I did. Obviously, with the three other S words, there came a fourth S word: SEX.
I absorbed blame in our relationship and took internal responsibility very quickly. Saying “I’m sorry” was much easier for me than learning how not to say “I’m sorry” while asking for what I needed and deserved in a relationship.”
Writing about all this sickens me because I see who I used to be. Pathetically naive and dependent, with no ability to see beyond the perceived safety I felt in marriage to a man who would confuse my brain, then leave me with four children to figure life out on my own.
I thought he was good. I idolized him as good. And I was determined that nothing in all the world would wreck our marriage.
I should have known, right after marriage, when he told me I wasn’t allowed to go home to see my parents and siblings “because you’re addicted to them”, that something was dreadfully wrong. But, I wasn’t raised to think—I was raised to obey and serve.
I don’t know if I had even heard the word narcissism.
I had watched little to no movies or television, so I operated with an incredibly small worldview. I had never traveled out of the country or lived on my own. From working hard to please my father (who is a good man), to working hard to being a good wife and mother, this is what I knew to do.
The Jesus I know now was more of a God to please, back then. I didn’t know I could trust Him fully to love me unconditionally. I had no idea of a relationship where I didn’t have to perform in order to be loved and accepted.
I had little autonomy, but even while married, I began to see that something was off balance. God used friends to show me what could be, and I embraced it eagerly. I was beyond excited that God had a beautiful balance for women, somewhere between the door mat thing I saw in one world, and the feministic attitudes I saw in another world. Slowly, I learned that it was ok to be myself, that my voice really mattered, that I could think, reason, and be alive with or without the approval of others.
The voice of God was strong enough to start changing me while I was still in an almost hopeless situation that only got worse with time. As with everything else, I started writing out what I was learning, so when my publisher asked me for a book, I hesitated, then gave her that file on my laptop. I have no regrets in letting her publish it, even though my marriage ended afterward.
The only thing any one of us can do is change ourselves. We have no responsibility or ability to change another person, but growing ourselves up is imperative.
I thank God for healing me, for loving me, for giving me a voice to use, for giving me life apart from any man on this earth. I thank God that I now know this one thing—I am as important to God as any man could ever be. He loves me, and I trust Him.
But many years ago, though my heart was crushed over the answer I received about the pornography issue (many years before my husband left), all I knew to do was pretend nothing happened. Hear me carefully—this brought fake peace while it allowed the problem to continue until one day, years later, I received an email telling me that we disagreed on this matter and I was free to leave him.
“I might come back to you in five years,” he’d tell me and others. The pain and confusion of it all rocked me.
I continued to fight for our marriage until he packed his bags six months later and told me that he doesn’t want to sleep with other women while he’s married to me, but after the divorce he’s not sure. In reality, it was only a very short time until he was sleeping with our daughter’s friend, a few long years before the divorce was final.
Do you see the confusion here? And you, men and women whose spouses are acting up in similar ways—- know that freedom comes when you no longer try to make sense of the mess. Evil is often confusing and doesn’t make sense. Give your brain a break.
Hear this carefully—for many years, I was too frightened of the trouble that would come if I didn’t “submit and be silent”. Are any of you in that place? Please know that you don’t have to stay there.
No one has to suffocate under a religious definition of “submission”.
The patriarchal system gives the picture of a perfectly loving man IF the woman does everything right. “If you give your husband lots of sex, he won’t be tempted to have an affair.”
“If you submit to him well, he will never raise his voice.”
I tried it, friends. I tried to be “perfect” so the end result would line up with what I was basically promised—a kind, loving husband who would adore me and treat me well.
That never happened. Outward, public chivalry, yes. Holding my hand, yes. But emotional healing, mutual respect, love in the places of my soul that were hurting, no.
Anyone can pull off decent outward behavior. Only some will wound your soul with moral issues while they hold your hand, pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
Before I go further, let me assure you that I’m a firm believer in the goodness of sex. What I’m calling our attention to is something different—and that is, either partner shutting down vital parts of their emotions in order to function well in the bedroom. Marriage should be a safe place for body, soul, and spirit together, with neither part of us shutting down but all aspects of us becoming better.
When either partner is breaking trust, it is not only right to discuss and work through the pain of it all; it is vital.
But many of us do the opposite. We shut down our brains so our bodies can comply with our inner false responsibility to give and enjoy sex while the other partner breaks trust. We do this out of fear and a desperation to connect on some level.
I was determined that if my husband was into pornography, it wouldn’t be my fault.
If he ever left me, he wouldn’t be able to say it was because I didn’t give him enough sex.
So, I did what it took with my emotions so that I could keep doing what I thought constituted a “good wife”.
I kept the house clean, home schooled the children, cut the grass, did the grocery shopping, laundry, packed his lunches and cooked his dinners.
But, I hurt my heart and soul by not validating the pain. I didn’t know how to live as if I was worth something, too.
Later, the truth met me that there were some things no one can fix, no matter what they do. That truth saved me.
“Am I selfish for not wanting to study open marriage with my husband?” Is he right that we should be able to discuss these things together?”
My husband ordered a book for us to study on the topic, which I agreed to study with him. I was desperate for his approval and reasoned that God could keep me in truth by His Spirit.
But when the book arrived, I could read one page before begging him to remove it from the house. My husband was disappointed and said that time was the best time of our marriage as he felt we could talk about everything.
Do you see the number this put on my dependent brain? He wasn’t mentioning SIN; he was talking God’s will, an open mind, best time of our marriage because we could communicate about everything.
He used everything I wanted most to pull me into the thing I wanted least. Hear me carefully on this—this is a very, very common tactic for narcissists to use.
I needed help to keep my head on straight. And whether or not your situation is as drastic as mine was, you need the same help. The kindness we get one day mixes with the abuse we get another day, until it is very difficult to think clearly on our own.
Keep your brain sharp. Keep your mind above the fog. Reach out for help. This is point number three. Please don’t do what so many men and women do—stay silent out of “respect” for their spouses. That, my friend, is not respect; that is fear.
Those who truly love you will assure you that you’re not selfish to want answers. They will tell you that you’re right on track. You need to hear truth verbally, whatever it is—and you need it now.
This time, don’t walk to a closet to cry it out–walk to a counselor’s office to find answers. Trust Jesus and His heart for your emotional healing and mental clarity, trust that others will surround you with love, trust that you can and should reach out.