Q & A

A Griefstricken Husband, When to Confess and a Deceptive Wife

Our infant son died about two years ago. I suffered a breakdown, and my husband was wonderful and supportive through that time. He never felt the need to go to personal or group therapy with me. But now that I'm doing better, he's not. Grief seems to be making him at different times both depressed and angry. He doesn't want to see a counselor, and he doesn't want my help. What can I do?

All people who suffer a great loss do pass through the well-documented stages of grief, even in a fairly predictable pattern. But we do it with remarkably varied timing. It may have been easier for you if the two of you had gone through the stages of grief together. But that rarely happens. Individuals are too different. Actually, it's fairly characteristic for women to deal with the loss more immediately and for men to submerge the pain for a time.

Perhaps when your son died, your husband was glad for the chance to be strong for you. Maybe it gave him something to do, which most men look for when those we love are grieving. But pushing aside grief is like pushing a beachball under the water in a pool. It'll go down, but it'll resurface someplace else.

Time is not the healer, but healing takes time; so try to give your husband time. Stay as close as you can; be supportive and available. Pray for him. Empathize with him. Try not to take it personally when he lashes out in anger. He's choosing the riskier, lonelier and more painful route to healing by going through it stoically alone, but he will make it through the grief eventually.

For now, hang in there with him. But if he's still troubled a year from now, counseling would be in order.

My wife and I have enjoyed wonderful happiness during the four years we've been married. But two months ago, in a moment of stupidity and lust, I nearly cheated on her. I became so guilty during foreplay with this other woman that I stopped. I realized more than ever how much I love my wife. The question is: Should I tell her what happened? It might make me feel better, but it would hurt my wife and could damage our relationship.

I know you're feeling wretched and you're looking for some relief from the guilt and memories. First of all, get things right with God. Confess your unfaithfulness as a grievous sin. Perhaps you'll even want to confess it to a pastor or a trusted male friend, who might help you stay accountable in the future.

Next, be thankful you were able to "flee" temptation, as the Bible instructs. James 1:12 says, in essence, "Blessed is the man who resists temptation, because he'll receive the crown of life." You've learned an important lesson, although you learned it the hard way. And you escaped without forming a lasting attachment to this other woman, and without a pregnancy. In sinning with this woman, you have wronged her. I'd recommend contacting her—in a way that won't put you in a tempting situation—and ask for her forgiveness. But reiterate to her in no uncertain terms that the relationship is over.

Now, as for telling your wife, my position may be unusual. Generally speaking, I don't feel that husbands and wives must necessarily "tell all." I have a rule of thumb, though it's not ironclad, that personal sins involving only yourself should be confessed personally, private sins should be confessed privately and public sins need to be confessed publicly. You make a valid point about the damage it could do to your wife and your marriage if you confide about your "near miss." It often happens in cases like these that the confessing offender feels a sense of psychological relief, but he or she lays a terrible burden of betrayal and distrust, as well as a sense of insecurity and failure, on the spouse.

I don't know the particulars of your marriage, so I can only advise in general terms. In some cases, an infidelity like yours needs to be brought out into the open. Pray about this—a lot. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. If a continual feeling of unrest persists, you'll have to tell your wife. If it comes to that, be sure your confession includes the fact that you love her more than ever and feel you escaped. And then be prepared to deal with the fallout, because you will have shifted a huge burden to her. Sometimes the cloud of distrust and discomfort that comes with it never leaves a marriage.

One thing you can take away from this experience is a renewed sense of yourself as a sinner who has received God's grace and forgiveness. Someday, when there comes a time in your marriage when your wife is struggling with her own failure, you'll be able to extend understanding and forgiveness to her and encourage her to accept God's grace toward her, because you know his forgiving love firsthand. It's actually a great place for couples to be, together understanding that you are flawed and fallen but forgiven because of God's grace.

In our 13 years of marriage, I've caught my wife numerous times in lies. Most of the time she lies to cover up how she spent her time or to keep me from knowing that she borrowed money from someone. She's a Christian and has repented again and again, but the lies persist. How can I be one with her when I never know if she's telling the truth?

There is a reason for your wife's lies, and it would be good to get to the root of the problem. Maybe when she was a child, penalties or punishments were way out of proportion to her misdeeds and she developed the dangerous habit of hiding her actions. That is, maybe she's afraid of facing the consequences when the truth comes out.

Or perhaps she's afraid that if you knew the real person she is inside, that you wouldn't love her. Or she might fear that you won't want to stay with a person who can't live within a budget or who fritters away her time while you're working. She doesn't like the person she is and is afraid you won't either.

So perhaps your love and acceptance will be most crucial to working toward a change in your wife. Talk with her again. Remind her, "I married you. I accept you completely. I don't want to change you. I'd feel better and we'd be closer if you'd trust my love and tell me the truth. Your behaviors are troubling, but they aren't going to separate us. You're the one I love. Be you. Don't lie. Don't be someone else. I love you."

There's a metaphor here about our relationship with God. Christians only enjoy true peace and happiness—the deeper life, as it were—when they understand the unconditional, healing love of God and their need for it. Nothing compares with the power of being loved unconditionally.

Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ. Jay and his wife, Janie, have been married 40 years.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Grief; Infidelity; Marriage; Parenting
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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