A man I consider a friend, Seth Adam Smith, posted an essay called Marriage is Not for You that has gone seriously viral. Seth shares some advice from his dad that has helped him in his new marriage — advice to not be selfish. It’s excellent advice at the face of it. I also think it’s great how it reminds people that marriage is not supposed to be a selfish pursuit. I like the positive energy around the topic of marriage that has resulted. So yay for that.
[And I’m going to edit this to add a link to follow-up interview to his blog post [at the Daily Mail UK], which brings his wife’s perspective into what he was trying to communicate. I really like how she helped diffuse a potential downward spiral by letting Seth share why he was struggling. So in terms of how unselfishness and compassion can help prevent more serious problems in a marriage, Seth’s post is great.]
But *this* post is for those women whose marriages are more deeply affected by years of serious problems from a husband’s addiction (or abuse). I write it because I have seen how the post has left some women who are struggling mightily in their marriages (because of pornography addiction of their husbands or other struggles) feeling frustrated and confused. Of course, it’s just a blog post, but since it has gone so viral, I think it merits a some thoughts on behalf of these women. (Seth did respond to some of the responses, but I still feel like there is something women in this situation need to hear more directly.)
I’m not a marriage expert, but I have seen hundreds of stories of what happens when addiction strikes a marriage. I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of expert articles on the topic. And I have seen time and time again how “typical” (and good!) marriage advice about serving more and doing more and tuning into needs and putting the other first can actually feed the problem. It’s not the loving thing to do to feed addiction. But without some specific help, support, and guidance, wives can often have difficulty having confidence in doing something not typical. They may even start to lose faith in marriage, because they haven’t seen or experienced what healthy marriage feels like. And they need advice that is tailored to the situation they are in.
Wives of those in addiction have often given and given and given to the point of exhaustion and losing themselves (in unhealthy ways) and sometimes even violating their own truth thinking they were being Christlike. People can expect them to “just support him” or “just forgive him” — without realizing that wives need their own personal, specific support and healing, too.
Addiction is often buried under lies, manipulation, blaming and other dynamics that put the problem on the wife and absolve the husband of responsibility. If and when divorce happens, wives are often blamed, rather than the severity of the impact of addiction being acknowledged. I realize there are situations where women react emotionally and make decisions rashly, but there is a serious lack of understanding about the trauma wives experience. And some of that can result because wives are often too willing to take on that blame because they don’t know anything different than “trying not to be selfish.” As such, too many good-hearted women are believing the lies that they aren’t doing enough when in reality their husbands simply need to take responsibility for their addiction. And the women need to heal. A healthy marriage cannot exist when addiction is present.
In the end, in situations where addiction is present, the most loving thing a wife can do is NOT try to keep the spouse “happy,” but rather to set healthy boundaries that protect her spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental well-being. This takes time and healing to understand and do in a loving way. And it can be hard because setting boundaries and standing up to unhealthy patterns can initially feel “mean.” They will make mistakes as they try to figure boundaries out. But they need space and support as much as the one who suffers with addiction does.
I have seen it play out time and time again — once a wife is able to find her own bearings and get some solid healing with support and a renewal of her relationship with God, she will then have more clarity to be able to know how best to love and support her husband and/or make important decisions about her marriage.
Now I realize that there is no way that Seth could possibly cover all the nuances of this topic. I also know he has had deep and personal experiences with the love and unselfish support of loved ones that literally helped bring him from the brink of death. I do not mean to discredit that at all. But because I have felt personally called to help be an advocate for women in this situation, I wanted to give them something to help them process ‘typical’ marriage advice like this so they can have confidence that it is not selfish to focus on their own healing. It is truly the most loving thing they can do, because it allows God to do what He will do as each partner in the marriage seeks His help to heal.
p.s. I liked this Christian woman’s response to Seth’s post (minus the secret temple jab…you can see her warm comments in the comments section about that). She speaks from personal experience on the topic. http://www.darlingunleashed.com/dear-adam-seth-smith-youre-right-sort/ I have always loved the analogy of marriage as a triangle, with God at the top.
Her post is also reminiscent of something Ezra Taft Benson said:
“We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.
“We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives.”
Putting God first will help any individual know what needs to come second in every moment of every day — whether spouse or self or children or job or healing or helping someone else. By losing ourselves to God, then we can have His love to help us know how to be truly more Christlike.
Just as Enos felt God’s love first before being able to pray for and help others (although trauma is not a sin), wives who find God in their pain will also find that they are enabled through grace to love and forgive even the deepest of pain inflicted on them.
[Post edit: Here’s one marriage therapist’s response to Seth’s article.]
[Other edits have been made to the original post as I become aware of some different links.]