hopequest blog

Journey – Week Thirty

You might be thinking something like this right now: “Melissa, it would be different if I were grieving the death of my spouse. There is no shame in mourning a death. This is different, though. It is too embarrassing and humiliating to let others know I’m sad because my husband struggles with sexual addiction.”

I know. There is so much shame involved in sexual sin—whether you are the sinner or the one wounded by the sin. I would say to you that you don’t have to tell all the details of why you are grieving in order to be real with people. Pretending like nothing’s wrong, slapping on a fake smile and a plastic face is so offensive to the Father. Why participate in the same dishonesty that allowed your husband to slide deeper and deeper into sexual sin?

With safe people, you can be totally honest. “I’m really hurting today. I’m having trouble just getting out of bed in the mornings. My husband’s unfaithfulness has pierced my heart to the core. Will you help me walk through this?”

With unsafe people you can be totally honest. “I’m really hurting today. There are incredibly painful circumstances in my life that I’m not free to talk about. Thanks for asking why I look so sad. Would you just pray for me?”

The point is this: Walking through despair involves letting yourself feel the pain and being honest about it with others.

I do want to talk a little bit about depression for a moment. We can get stuck in despair, and when that happens, our bodies respond physiologically to the emotional pain we are experiencing. In many cases it then becomes necessary to involve a medical professional in our healing process.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Nine

One good thing about despair is that is doesn’t last forever. In the moment that you are feeling the worst emotional pain you have ever experienced, you wonder if you will ever be okay again, much less happy. But sooner or later, the despair will lift, and you will begin to live again inside. Let me make a few comments about feelings of despair as it relates to your grieving process.

First, it is important that you allow yourself to feel the overwhelming sorrow in your heart. I know that feelings of hopelessness and despair are scary, but if you prevent your heart from experiencing this deepest grief, you are putting yourself at risk for both a physical and emotional meltdown. My sister, your heart will not be denied forever. It will eventually grieve those very real losses with or without your cooperation. If you will embrace the mourning, inviting God and others to grieve with you, your heart will be able to empty itself of the despair. If you refuse to allow those feelings to overtake you, your heart will over-ride your mind, and you will find yourself in an incredibly deep depression, disconnected from others and alone.

In days long gone by, grieving was a very public affair. One who had experienced a deep loss was not only accepted as she mourned, she was expected to feel sorrow and despair. Any other reaction was viewed as abnormal and offensive. In our Christian culture, however, we have somehow come to believe that grieving is “unspiritual.” We buy into this idea that if we love God and trust Him, our circumstances—even grievous ones—shouldn’t upset us. This belief is entirely unfounded and unscriptural. We learned yesterday that Jesus Himself taught we would be blessed and comforted when we mourn.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Eight

Ah, despair. That’s the part of grieving that we’ve been avoiding all along. Here’s the pain, up close and personal. At this point we can’t run or hide. All we can do is feel. The tears come. Our heart feels like it is breaking. Fatigue captures our bodies, and it is difficult to even face a new day. This is the valley of the shadows—the dark night of the heart.

Despair comes to us when we let ourselves feel the full weight of the losses and we realize that there is nothing we can do to change our situation. I remember despair well. At times it would catch me off guard and I would find myself with tears streaming down my face and stifling sobs in the grocery store or as I sat in church. Then other times I could feel despair slowly descending over my heart like a huge black sheet of pain. Those were the scariest days when I went to bed feeling overwhelmed by grief and woke up feeling the same way. I wondered then if my heart would ever be the same again.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Seven

Today we are going to talk about the bargaining aspect of grieving. When I first learned about the grieving process, I couldn’t understand why bargaining was included in the grief cycle. What do you think of when you think of bargaining?

I think of trying to get the best deal for my money, open-air markets in Kenya where nothing has a “fixed” price, and giving a little here in order to get a little there. When we move into bargaining as part of our grieving process, however, the deal is already done. We’ve gotten the bad end of the bargain, and we are trying our best to make it a better deal somehow.

If we are grieving the loss of a terminally ill loved-one, for instance, we might ask God to give them a few more years in exchange for an equal amount of our fully devoted service. Perhaps we’ve been fired or laid off from a job we enjoyed. We might try to talk to our supervisor or employer in an effort to get our job back—making promises of renewed effort or taking a cut in pay or vacation time. Maybe we’ve just been diagnosed with a disease like diabetes, so we start exercising fiendishly and eating right in an effort to prove the doctor wrong. All of these are examples of bargaining with grief. We realize that something painful has happened that we cannot ignore or deny, so we try to find a way to minimize the pain.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Six

I promised you that we would talk about walking out of denial’s darkness into the light of truth. It’s kind of a paradox, really. We think looking at the truth will bring incredible darkness to our lives, so we avoid the truth. The problem is that the comfort denial brings is an illusion—a fantasy world where true relationships cannot exist. If we stay in denial we will ultimately shut out healthy interdependent relationships with others and we will then become ghostlike, living somewhere on the other side of reality and love, unable to connect with others. Denial for all its seeming comfort is really a very, very lonely place.

So, how do we begin to walk out of denial and into truth and healing? The first thing we must do is to admit our situation is as bad as it is…

Wherever you are on the journey, I want you to be encouraged. If you are aware of the areas of denial in your heart and are actively walking towards truth, you may be hurting, but you are also healing. If you are just beginning to be aware of the denial in your life and are scared to death to walk into the light, know that you are not alone. All of us have experienced that fear to some degree, and we know how difficult it is to be real. We promise to keep encouraging you on the journey.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Five

We all experience denial as part of the grieving process. Recognizing where we are is the only way we can begin to embrace truth, reality, and God’s healing process in our lives. (Next week) we will talk about walking out of denial and into truth.

Let’s close today with a look at what God has to say about the reality of life.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—a time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NASB)

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Four

There is one other major way women experience denial on the journey—they get busy and stay that way. You’ve probably heard of people who lose a spouse and never cry; they just pour themselves into their jobs or a cause or something, staying perpetually busy and active. Why do they do that?

Because if they slow down and get quiet long enough, the pain will overwhelm them. And they don’t want to do the pain. Understandable. Right? And we do the same thing. We find out our husband has been sleeping with people every time he goes out of town on business or downloading pornography every time he gets on the computer, and we shut down emotionally. Our life becomes a series of tasks and to-do lists. Somehow we keep going, a shell of a woman, consumed with activity to avoid the pain of our reality. When I talk with women experiencing this kind of denial, I often hear horror stories of what their husbands have done, and yet, the stories are related with very little emotion. No anger, no tears, no sorrow. When I ask why they don’t seem sad about it all, inevitably the reply will be, “I don’t have time to be sad.” Busy-ness. It’s a great way to avoid grieving, and unfortunately healing as well.”

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Three

The third kind of denial women like us on the journey can experience is a bit different. It is not a denial of your husband’s sexual addiction but a refusal to acknowledge the pain and loss his behaviors have brought in your life. In my experience, this kind of denial shows up outwardly in two ways in a woman’s life: consuming anger and frantic busy-ness.

Let me try to clarify something about anger. Anger is a normal part of the grieving process. In a healthy grieving cycle, anger comes in intervals lasting a few minutes to several hours. Sometimes these are periods of intense, murderous rage that demand some physical action. These are the times you feel like hitting him or hurting him in some way. Other times the anger is less explosive but more pervasive. You might feel like you’ll vomit if he touches you, that you can’t stay in the same room with him. As long as you are talking through your anger with safe people, journaling, exercising, or using some other physical outlet to deal with your anger, and feeling other emotions besides anger, you are probably experiencing the normal anger that comes with grieving. There is a different kind of anger, however, and it lends itself toward denial. Let me explain.

When we are angry, our bodies respond physiologically, preparing to act in some way. We feel more powerful, more in control, and less vulnerable. Getting angry at your husband’s sexual sin and betrayal is normal and healthy. Staying angry is not. Why? First, anger keeps you from feeling sympathetic emotions and prevents you from connecting with others. When you are angry, you are on the defensive. All self-protective walls are up and you have two goals: to protect yourself from getting hurt and to attack the one who is trying to (or already has) hurt you. This consuming anger keeps your husband as the bad guy, and you are unable to see yourself clearly. It also shields you from feeling the pain of your losses. That’s where the denial part comes in. Your heart says, “If I don’t let myself feel the painful stuff, if I stay angry, I won’t have to suffer and I won’t have to acknowledge that my life as I know it is over.” Of course, that’s all a subconscious process. We’ll talk more about anger later this week, but I do want you to be aware that if you are struggling with constant anger toward your spouse, you are also denying yourself the opportunity to feel the real losses you are experiencing and to heal. (You are probably also damaging your body greatly. Chronic anger and good physical health cannot co-exist.)

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-Two

I don’t want to belabor this point, but let me give an illustration from my own life.

When I rejoined Troy a month after his abrupt dismissal and departure, I was in a very vulnerable position emotionally. I had just been through a very difficult delivery of our second child—he almost didn’t make it—without Troy there. I had packed all of our stuff alone, said good-byes, left the home in Africa we had come to love and fellow missionaries who had become our family, and Troy had disclosed some of his sexual sin to me. I was very lonely. I felt like no one could possibly understand all of my losses and the one person who I had given my heart to had let me down in a big way. All I really wanted was for Troy to love me again and for everything to be okay between us. If our marriage could be saved, I felt like life could go on. I didn’t know if I could make it without Troy.

So, my first response to the man who had by his actions ended my missionary career, exposed me to sexually transmitted diseases, cared more for himself than me or our children, damaged the good name of God and the reputation of our mission—my first response was to wrap my arms around him and to say, “I love you. I forgive you. Everything will be okay.”

Three weeks later when I began to feel some of the anger for all of the losses, I exploded at Troy. His response to me was, “You said you had forgiven me. It’s not fair for you to keep bringing up the past!” The problem was that I had not even dealt with the past. It was a very hurtful and confusing time for both of us. I realized then that I had “forgiven” too soon. The forgiveness I had offered Troy really wasn’t true forgiveness. It was an attempt on my part to manipulate his feelings and emotions so that he would meet my need for love. I had not truly released him from the debt he owed me. I didn’t even truly understand what the debt was.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty-One

Some women are truly blown away by the discovery of their husband’s struggle. They may have felt a little disconnected from him or had some conflict in the past, but the idea has never crossed their minds that he is struggling sexually. Usually in these situations, the truth is discovered accidentally (i.e. the wife finds pornography on the computer or discovers receipts or charges from an adult bookstore or strip club) or through some crisis brought on by the addict’s behaviors outside the home (i.e. being arrested for soliciting a prostitute or getting fired for looking at porn on the job). This wife may experience denial in other ways.

She may choose to forgive him immediately (or after a day or so) and let the past be the past—as long as he promises never to do it again. There are several problems with this reaction. The first big problem is that a guy who has been struggling with sexual addiction for months or years and has been deceptive about that struggle is not trustworthy. He won’t keep his promises. He hasn’t been keeping them all along. A wife who chooses to believe a man she knows has been lying to her for an extended period of time is in denial. She wants his promises to be true so much that she is willing to ignore what the facts are telling her and believe her husband’s words instead.

The second problem with this response to a husband’s sexual betrayal is that true forgiveness is not possible without mourning the losses. Why do I say that? Because in order to offer forgiveness with integrity and true commitment, we have to know what we are forgiving and also be able to accept the debt we will bear as a result of our forgiveness. To forgive prematurely is to sabotage not only a true work of repentance in our husbands’ hearts but also God’s healing work of grief in our own.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twenty

Trust me on this one. (We’ll look at God’s perspective at the end of the day.) It is very necessary for you to take a good long look at the painful stuff in order to remain in truth and walk with integrity on this journey. The opposite of acknowledging your losses and the pain they are causing you is denial. This is the aspect of the grieving process I want to focus on today.

What exactly is denial? A look at the dictionary will tell you that denial is a disbelief in the existence or reality of a thing or a refusal to recognize or acknowledge. All of us as wives of guys struggling with sexual addiction will experience this aspect of the grieving process in some form.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, Mel. I’ve never buried my head in the sand about his addiction. Since I found out, I’ve been more concerned about his recovery than he has!” Okay. What about the months or years before you found out? All of those times your gut told you something was really wrong and you dismissed it? What about the “choice” you made just to forgive him and let the past be the past? What about the fact that you rarely cry and struggle with a little bit of anger or a lot of anger all of the time?

There are a myriad of ways we protect ourselves from facing the reality of the situation. Many of us suspected for years (or were even certain) that our husbands were relating in inappropriate ways to us and others sexually. Only after sexual sins became public knowledge or some behavior was so offensive or hurtful that we couldn’t ignore it anymore did we really face the fact that the worst was really true. All of that time we spent telling ourselves things like, “No, I’m just crazy. That can’t be true;” or “He would never hurt me like that. I’m just being overly sensitive.” All of those times, we were experiencing denial. Our instincts and God-given discernment were screaming at us to take notice, to act on truth, but we dismissed them for whatever reason—a husband telling us that we were just over-reacting, feeling unable to face the pain of the truth, having our own agendas that were more important than the truth, being scared that no one would take care of us or love us if we acted on the truth.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Nineteen

It’s important for you to know that you cannot speed up the grieving process. The losses you have experienced are very real, and your wounds will need time to fully heal.

Think of it in terms of an injury. Your brother has disobeyed and in the process cut you deeply. Hearing your screams, Daddy runs to you. Taking in the situation, He looks straight into the eyes of His son, His eyes filled with fire and tears at the same time.

“Son,” He says in His deep, authoritative voice. “Wait for me here until I come back. I need to take care of your sister. You have hurt her very badly.”

Turning His attention to you, Daddy cries, “Oh, my girl! You are bleeding!”

He picks you up in His strong arms and carries you to a safe place. Very gently He explains, “Honey, I have to clean this wound out, and it is really going to hurt. I’m sorry, but if I don’t clean it out your wound won’t heal, and you will get very sick. Do you trust me?”

Your child’s heart wants to trust, wants to believe that Daddy has your best interest at heart, but when the first little bit of antiseptic hits the wound, the pain cannot be denied. “Daddy!” you scream, “It hurts!”

“I know, Sweetie. I wish I could make the pain go away.” And as tears drip down His face, He carefully but firmly cleans out the wound and bandages it.

“Daddy, hold me,” you cry as the tears subside and your sobs turn to shuddered sighs.

“I’m sorry, my love. I’m so sorry.” And as He rocks you, He begins to sing over you and you fall asleep in His arms.”

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Eighteen

Everyone’s grieving process is different because we are all different. Some women feel a great deal of pain and loss initially while others are consumed with anger and have trouble feeling sorrow. No matter how you are wired, though, you will need to experience all of the aspects of the grieving process in order to move towards healing.

These include:

• Denial

• Bargaining

• Anger

• Despair

• Acceptance

I do want to make one more comment about the grieving process. It is not linear. That means that you don’t necessarily start out with denial and then do the bargaining thing and then feel anger which changes to despair and eventually get to acceptance. Unfortunately, grieving is much more complex. So, you are more likely to find yourself numb one day, furious the next, kind of okay a couple of days later, then back to trying to change yourself or change your husband to get rid of the problem, and the next week so depressed you can’t get out of bed. The grieving process is circular. You will cycle through all of these feelings many times (sometimes multiple times in a day). And you know what? You are not going crazy and you are not “unspiritual” if you keep experiencing all of the elements of grief over an extended period of time.

You may be wondering at this point how long it is going to take. I know I did! You are not going to like the answer, so brace yourself.

There is no set time to grieve.

Each heart heals differently. From my own experience and the experiences of others I know, you can expect to be working through the grieving process for a minimum of six months. That’s a best-case scenario in which your husband is working on his stuff, you are both involved in individual, joint, and group counseling, and you have a strong identity in Christ. A more average time for grieving would be one year, and some women do not move out of the grieving process until close to the second year.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Seventeen

Grieving stinks. Any way you look at it, mourning the loss of dreams and trust and the faithfulness of your husband and whatever else you have lost, is not fun… we talked about the need to grieve in order to heal. If you have committed yourself to the grieving process and are not medicating your pain in order to escape dealing with it, then there are some givens you can expect to feel and experience along the way. Today, I want to look at the grieving process itself. Let me start by describing my own experience. 

In my own journey, the grieving process I experienced was like a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs. Initially I was numb. Troy’s sexual sin had resulted in his termination and my resignation from a ministry position overseas. I was pregnant and was unable to travel back to the States with Troy until I had the baby. Emotionally I went into survival mode. I felt great pain and cried a lot, mostly at night when I was alone. There were many losses and tremendous sorrow, but it was only after I was in a safe place a couple of months later that I really began to feel angry. Make that furious. I would have days that I couldn’t even look at my husband without feeling a deep fury to the core of my being. Journaling kept me sane—although I never want anyone to read some of the stuff I wrote in those dark days! Alternating with the anger were days of deep despair. My limbs seemed heavy, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I cried all the time. Anything could trigger a memory, and I would find myself overwhelmed with pain in the middle of a conversation with someone or at the check-out counter at the grocery store. It was exhausting. I remember crying out to God and asking Him to comfort me. And I remember the first morning I woke up and “it” wasn’t the first thing I thought about. That was the beginning of the end of those very dark days.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Sixteen

The more you grow in your relationship with Christ, the more you will be able to respond to your husband with truth and grace. You will still feel all of the pain his sinful choices bring into your life, but you will find an incredible reservoir of peace and love and strength within your heart that carries you through the darkest of days.

I hope that gives you hope for the days to come. Let’s talk a little bit about the here and now for a moment. As you begin this journey your situation may be incredibly challenging… As you relate to your husband, it is very important to do so from a position of spiritual and emotional safety… The one thing that will keep you sane on the bad days is turning your attention toward the Father and meditating on His goodness and His love for you.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Fifteen

Anytime we interact with someone who has wounded us, the safest place is always in the arms (or at least holding the hand) of our Father. When we are actively trusting Him to meet our needs for love and acceptance, we will be free to speak truthfully with the one who has hurt us deeply.

If we go it alone…, we not only make ourselves vulnerable to be wounded again, we run the risk of being dishonest, manipulative, and hurtful to others. We will be drawn into an attitude of self-preservation and anger, which creates a very hard heart. Hard hearts may protect you from people who have hurt you, but they also close off your ability to love and be loved by the Father. You need a tender, soft heart in order to relate to God and to heal.

If we hide behind something or someone…, we lose a true sense of reality. We think we are safe, but that feeling is only an illusion. In fact, when we begin to cover up our true selves with behaviors or activities or other people, we have become just like our spouses. Scary, isn’t it?

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Fourteen

CONTINUING JOURNEY – WEEK THIRTEEN’S BLOG ON SAFE/UNSAFE PEOPLE

… (They) are not necessarily bad people. And, in some instances, they may even be your friend. They are unsafe because they might encourage you to minimize the problem, run away from the problem, ignore the problem, or fix the problem. You might come away from the conversation feeling you are somehow to blame for your husband’s sin or that you could somehow keep him from sinning again. All of these things short-circuit your healing process, and take valuable energy and time away from progressing on the journey.

…Sometimes “hiding” ourselves means intentionally avoiding an unsafe person. Sometimes we hide by walking away from a hurtful conversation or by limiting conversations to safe topics. In situations which require you to be around unsafe people, being able to set appropriate boundaries with others is the key to guarding your heart.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Thirteen

Support groups like Journey will usually be made up of safe people. All of us have experienced the pain you are going through and understand the dynamics of being married to a man who struggles with habitual sexual sin. Christian counselors and psychologists will generally be safe people with whom to process your struggles and pain. Pastors and other spiritual leaders should be safe people, but beware of those who would rather try to conform you to their legalistic ideas of marriage than to see your pain and confusion and minister to you. The last thing the wife of a sex addict needs is for some pastor to tell her to go home and have sex with her husband because her body is not her own and she needs to submit to her husband’s desires! Following that advice could be a death sentence for a woman whose husband is regularly sleeping with other people.

Most family members will probably fall into the “unsafe” category simply because they are feeling the effects of your husband’s sin as much as you are. His family might blame you for his problem or imply that something is wrong with you for their “darling” boy to be acting in such a terrible way. Your family might step in too quickly to try to relieve your pain. You need to grieve in order to heal. Well-meaning family members can actually hinder your healing process by protecting you or distracting you from painful emotions.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Twelve

Because you are very vulnerable right now, it is very important that you guard yourself from unsafe people.

Unsafe people:

• Condemn me or blame me for my husband’s problem.

• Deny or minimize the sin of my spouse.

• Try to “fix” me or “fix” him by suggesting things I should or should not do.

• Give unwanted advice.

• Cannot keep confidences.

• Only stay in relationship with me when I am happy and hopeful. They are too uncomfortable with or embarrassed by grief and anger to allow me to feel negative emotions and to mourn.

• Are arrogant and self-righteous.

• Are unable to see the Holy Spirit at work in me. This would apply both to non-believers and immature believers who walk more in the flesh than in the Spirit.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One

Journey – Week Eleven

In order to heal you must first have an awareness of how you are feeling and thinking internally. But recognizing and accepting your pain and anger and all of the other feelings going on inside of you is not enough. Healing comes through relationship—relationship with God and relationship with others. 

The problem is that not all “others” are safe people. To share your heart with some folks would be like inviting a psychopathic killer with a knife over for supper. With these kinds of people, the odds are that you are going to get hurt.

…As I think about my own journey, my experience has taught me that safe people:

  • Accept and love me unconditionally.
  • Are comfortable with grief. They don’t try to lighten the mood or distract me or do something to stop the tears. They offer a shoulder and they cry with me.
  • Don’t gossip about me or my husband.
  • Don’t try to fix my problem or offer solutions. They simply listen, encourage me, and pray.
  • Don’t need my love or approval to be okay. They can handle my angry outbursts and stormy emotions because they know who they are in Christ.
  • Are aware of their own brokenness. Humility and integrity are the hallmarks of their character.
  • Are more concerned about relating to me and loving me than about giving me advice.
  • Are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Only believers can be truly safe people.

–Melissa Haas, The Journey: Book One