My husband doesn’t know what to do with my tears. I often don’t know what to do with them either. Three years into our recovery from his sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, the presence of my tears still distresses both of us, often leaving them unheeded.
I say both of us, because living with the emotional abuse and sexual betrayal of my husband’s addiction for twenty five years left me in a state of emotional numbness. I did not laugh. I did not cry. I wasn’t happy, but neither was I miserable. Life was okay that way.
Until it wasn’t. Until the pain became so strong, and overwhelming, and exhausting, that I no longer had the energy to smother it with nothingness. As I wrote previously in I Gave God an Ultimatum:
I wept. Well, more like blubbered. And I am not a crier, so the depth of my grief manifesting in ugly sobs was a betrayal that bewildered me. It was not a pretty sight. Or sound. But it was just me and God and He was okay with that.
It was just me and God sitting alone together in a hotel room far away from my husband. Or from anyone that might witness my brokenness. I don’t remember crying again for a few more months. And when I did, it was in the solitude of my car. On my own. With no one to see my anguish. With no one to look at me with disdain or pity. With no one to comfort me.
Barely two months into our healing journey, we had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our dog. As an empty nester in a home where love was routinely withheld from me, it was particularly true that my beloved dog was my best friend and companion. My source of affection. But also the one who readily accepted the love I offered.
I was very close to crying that day. The tears puddled in my eyes, and a few, though not many, trickled down my cheeks. My husband thanked me for showing my emotions. He was sad. I was sad. At the same time. In the same place. For the same reason. And yet my heart still felt disconnected. I was mystified at the absurdity of his praise, the approval of my tears, and the new experience of sharing a loss together.
Learning to experience and identify feelings is a new thing for me. For both of us. Our communication has improved significantly because of these new skills. But…..
We don’t know how to cry together. We falter in our ability to receive and allow each other’s sadness and pain.
As any recovering addict must, my husband has courageously worked through his need to numb emotional pain through his drug of choice, pornography and masturbation. He has also fully embraced a recovery program providing him freedom and healing from the immense damage porn inflicted on him. And he has recognized the devastation and pain his choices thrust upon me, our marriage, and our children. Porn is not harmless. Ever.
My husband is filled with remorse over the effects his addiction had on all of us. He has a truly repentant heart. Yet he struggles to forgive himself. Tears flow freely and easily for him. That makes him doubt his manliness. But I don’t. He is a man of both great strength and gentleness. His vulnerability allowed me to trust his heart and invite him back into mine.
But frequently, his tears stop mine. When his flow, mine don’t. Often when I approach him feeling hurt or troubled about something, his heart fractures from the reality and magnitude of the pain his sexual sin has caused all of us. He begins crying. My natural response is to comfort him. Which means I withdraw from my own hurt and tuck it back away so I can make him feel better with hugs and encouraging words. And then I feel bitter. Because this was about me. And my pain. But it somehow becomes about his.
It is not a manipulative maneuver on his part. He doesn’t ask me to console him. I’m not even sure he expects that. I just do it because the alternative would be awkwardly watching him grapple with his own pain. Which adds discomfort to my growing resentment.
Recently, as this all too familiar scenario played out, I physically felt my heart constricting and getting harder and smaller. I understood it was time for me to change my behaviour and response to our tears. It was okay to let my husband sit in his sorrow and grief. And it was necessary for both of us to accept my brokenness and expressions of sadness. Maybe we could just cry together. Maybe we could find comfort and hope for our full healing in mingled tears.
The last two months we have made a commitment to delve deeper into building the sexual intimacy that was missing in our marriage. This process has reintroduced emotions that haven’t been regularly experienced since the early stages of our recovery three years ago. Thus, the re-emergence of tears, and need to respond to them in a more healthy way.
My first attempt at allowing my tears to remain, while refraining from extending instant consolation to my husband once his began, left me feeling discouraged. He seemed oblivious to my tears, and although I didn’t speak, my hands reached out to soothe him with my touch. My eyes dried up, and resentment seeped into my heart.
The second time this happened, I sat on my hands and forced my mouth shut to resist comforting my husband. It was awkward and uncomfortable witnessing his despair and doing nothing but let him feel it. The focused effort on my part detached me from my emotions. And yet it was still a small victory.
The next opportunity we had to practice crying together, we cried together. It was a breakthrough for me. And yet I can’t tell you much more than that. Even though it was just last week, I can’t recall my thoughts or emotions. And honestly, that kind of puzzles me. The emotional intimacy connection I was seeking occurred, and yet the memories of it elude me. Positive or negative. I have no explanation as to why.
I don’t know what will happen next time. But I have come to learn on my healing journey that my progress doesn’t always leap directly from discouragement to joy. It often sits somewhere in the middle while I adjust to new behaviours and thought patterns. My progress isn’t perfect, but it is progress, and so I celebrate.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Luke 6:21