I recently wrote When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay? In that post, I mentioned that the three A’s — Addiction, Adultery, and Abuse — are particularly difficult problems for marriages to overcome.
But let me clear: Just because something’s difficult, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
So what if you are dealing with one of these three A’s? How can you kick that issue to the curb and find healing and hope instead?
Addiction. Addiction is a jealous mistress in your marriage. Whether alcohol, drugs, pornography, or something else, addiction actively tries to take your husband’s attention and resists you reclaiming it. Those who’ve dealt with addiction can attest to the strength of that pull. Addiction can even rewire your brain’s perceptions and emotional responses, and withdrawal is anything but pleasant. All that said, many have gone from addict to victor.
So what can you do if your spouse has an addiction?
Stop enabling. When loved ones stage an intervention, when families put a relative in rehab, when friends and family members stop covering up for the addict’s failures, when people around no longer enable the addiction, the addict must face the full consequences of their own actions. In some cases, that added pressure helps an addict clarify what’s happening — to see that his/her actions not only make life difficult, but a healthy marriage and family impossible.
Set boundaries. Set the standards of what you will and won’t put up with, then follow your plan calmly and firmly. How do you choose boundaries and make them stick? My advice is to grab the excellent book Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud or Boundaries in Marriage for wisdom.
Get on the same team. Remember who the true enemy is. Most of the time, an addict hates what’s happening but feels powerless to change. A struggling husband is not the enemy; sin, the addiction, and Satan are the enemies. Commit yourself to standing with your spouse. Let him know you’re a teammate, not an adversary, in this fight.
Get help. Most addicts want the madness to stop, although a few addicts don’t seem to care how much havoc they wreak. If he denies the addiction, and your marriage is suffering horribly, reach out to others. Get the support system you need as a foundation from which you can launch efforts to get your husband’s attention and tackle the problem together. Tell your pastor, see a counselor, contact a local Al-Anon chapter, read up on addiction, etc.
The addiction may take time to deal with, but get on the right road. Even if progress is slow, progress is what you’re looking for. Starting with him owning up to the problem. As always, pray for your attitude and your actions throughout.
Adultery. The imaginary thought of some other woman’s lips on my husband nearly makes me apoplectic. So when I hear of couples who’ve endured true adultery, my heart cracks like an earthquake fault. How can you heal a rift like that?
But marriages do survive and thrive after adultery. Interestingly enough, a lot of the advice listed with addiction — stop enabling, set boundaries, get on the same team, get help — applies here. Ultimately, you have to do two things:
- Get rid of the affair partner. Goodbye, au revoir, adiós, ba-bye. And never come back.
- Rebuild your marriage, so this relationship is where you both want to commit your efforts.
The first one is something the offending spouse has to decide. However, you can apply appropriate pressure. Don’t enable him seeing the affair partner — by allowing excuses about how they work together or those texts don’t mean what you think they do or it isn’t really her fault or whatever to dissuade your hard stance. If he really wants to end it, he needs to end it. Period. Support your husband in getting another phone number, securing a different job, or even moving if you must, but cut off connections.
And now do the hard work with your marriage. Get into counseling and figure out where your own marriage is lacking. No, you are not to blame for his adulterous actions; however, making your marriage stronger can stoke his desire to stay involved with you and not go elsewhere to meet any emotional or physical needs.
While working on your marriage, remember to enjoy it as well — to recall why you married in the first place, to return to date nights and getting to know each other better, to pray together for your future. When it’s time, rebuild the trust in the bedroom. Reinvent your marriage and commit it to the Lord. You might be surprised to look back years later and see how far you’ve come since that horrible moment when adultery attacked your marriage. True healing, holiness, and happiness are possible.
Abuse. Let’s first talk about what constitutes abuse, because I hear this word bandied about in reference to everything from minor name-calling to a thorough beating. Not everything that’s hurtful or even intentionally hurtful is abuse.
Abuse is a pattern of behaviors with the intent to cause injury and/or gain power or control over the other person in the relationship. The abuse can be emotional, physical, or sexual.
So what if your spouse has this pattern of behaviors? If he’s truly abusive?
Some people are abusive because they feel wounded or a loss of control in their lives or saw poor patterns of coping in their families of origin — and can change when you deal with the core issues. Others, sadly, have abuse ingrained in their character, which is far harder to fix. I’m not saying it cannot be fixed, because my God is way bigger than that. What I am saying is those down-deep abusers are difficult to reach and hard to convince that change is necessary. They’ll likely blame their abusive behavior on others (e.g., “If only she would __, I wouldn’t hit her.” — lie).
I’m by no means an expert here, yet I believe emphatically: Without counteracting pressure, abusers don’t stop.
That pressure may need to come in the form of your absence (for your safety as well, if the abuse is physical or sexual); intervention from family, friends, church leaders, or even law enforcement; and defending yourself appropriately (what that looks like depends on your situation). Bill Maier of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to stronger marriages, says, “Men who have abused their wives in the past are likely to abuse again.” Therefore, you must take steps to stop the abuse; if and when the abuse stops, then you can work on healing the marriage.
Seek quality resources. I am not an addiction or abuse counselor, a marriage and family therapist, a psychologist, a medical doctor, or a Ph.D. in Recovering from the Three A’s. I’ve watched others walk through these journeys, spoken to them about the hardships and the healing, and studied resources dealing with these issues.
If your marriage is facing addiction, adultery, or abuse, don’t just follow the advice in this post; seek out the best resources you can find. Take a step in the right direction, get help, and pray for a revival in your marriage.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe.”
(and the whole chapter is worth reading)