How Can I Help My Husband? (Part 1)
Once a man comes to the Lord in genuine repentance over sexual sin, he will begin a long and difficult journey. This “walk of repentance” means continuing to face the hard realities of who he has been and seeing how deeply he has hurt others. If he is married, one of the greatest sources of support the Lord can give him is a compassionate and caring wife. In this interview, Kathy Gallagher shares how a wife can support her husband as he learns to walk in true victory over sexual sin.
Nate: So, Kathy, this interview is part of our “Refined as Silver” series, and in our last talk with you, you really laid out what some of the vital issues are for wives. You were calling them to see a much higher purpose in the struggles of marriage, specifically the aftermath of sexual sin. And really, the issue isn't even just about the marriage, but about becoming Christlike, and a lot of that becoming process happens in the fire of trials. We’re going to continue talking about some of those themes, and today we’ll be discussing what it means to die to our own desires and become like Jesus in the midst of difficult situations.
Speaking from a man's perspective, the Christian walk is a tough process, and even when a man has repented of some really big besetting sin, there's still so much in him that has to change. He’ll keep on struggling with selfishness, self-centeredness, irresponsibility, indecisiveness, and insensitivity. The list just goes on and on because we are a fallen people. In other words, we as men need a ton of grace and you've got a lot of firsthand experience with offering grace to a very needy man, because even after your husband, Steve, repented, things were still really challenging for him in his own Christian life. How can a wife support her husband, especially when she can see his old, flesh-nature rearing its ugly head in some way?
Kathy: It's difficult. The short answer is that you just have to learn how to control yourself. Often as woman, we operate out of fear and frustration because we've been through so much already. We often associate our husbands’ weaknesses or character flaws with his sin. If he's angry, short tempered or just disinterested, we can easily associate those things with his sexual sin. It takes time to learn when something is simply a flesh issue. Everyone has a flesh nature and every pitfall that a man has isn’t necessarily an indicator that he is in sexual sin. I know for me, irrational fear was a big issue because anytime Steve did anything that was rude, dismissive of me or just selfish, my immediate reaction was to think that he had been up to something. All his personality quirks in my mind were connected to his sexual sin, but that's not true and I just had to learn to be patient.
I look back on my life and I see so much grace. The Lord helped me to be patient and not so self-focused and fearful of my husband being in sin again. When I did fall back into my irrational fears, it just led to a bunch of other issues sprouting up that we both had to deal with. The truth is that it is going to take time for a man to transform. Even though he has repented, it's going to take time for him to walk through a bunch of stuff. It's not just sexual sin that he has to overcome. In a certain way, that’s just the tip of the iceberg and we need to learn how to be patient and do our best to love our husband through the process.
Nate: As you're talking, what strikes me is that this process of living with a man who's got real issues and character flaws is itself a refining fire.
Kathy: Yeah. We have it in our minds that the guy that he was when we were dating is so different than the guy that we're married to now. Coming to grips with the disparity and the discrepancies that we see in him is very hard for us. But that's who he is. It’s good for us to let God use the disappointments that do come with marriage on both sides. Rather than letting those disappointments and discouragements turn us against our husbands, we need to ask the Lord to search our hearts. We need to ask the Lord to reveal what is in our hearts. We need to ask the Lord to cleanse us from the root of what is causing us to harbor bitterness and resentment towards our husband. The Lord used the trial of my husband’s sexual sin to tear down my walls of bitterness and pride. The trials and hard times don't fit in well with the American fairytale narrative of marriage very well, but it’s the reality. You put two sinners together and all the junk starts coming out.
Nate: It's interesting, because when we think about marriage in Ephesians 5 language, it's a picture of Christ and the church. But that's only one picture of what marriage is. It’s also this union of two imperfect people and God using iron to sharpen iron to create something that's much more like His image.
Kathy: That is what this process is. You are being melted down and the dross will be scraped away. In our flesh, none of us really want to go through the melting down process. We ask the Lord in prayer, “Lord, please refine me. Give me a pure heart.” Well, the reality of that answered prayer is a lot of death to self. In the early days, I used to pray that prayer all the time. I would pray, “Lord, just have all of me. Do in me everything you want to do in me. Make me the woman of God you want me to be and please make Steve the man of God you want him to be.” I didn't have a clue what I was actually asking for, but the Lord was faithful to start answering those prayers. As women we need that to happen in us every bit as much as our husbands do. We may not have been living in the same sin as our husbands, but we still have to go through the process of being refined, purified, and being made Holy.
<pull-quote>We may not have been living in the same sin as our husbands, but we still have to go through the process of being refined, purified, and being made Holy.<pull-quote><tweet-link>TweetThis<tweet-link>
Nate: I want to focus on how to support a man who is struggling in the battle for holiness, because one of the things that you see in the Old Testament is that a very strong picture of what it means to be Godlike is to bear other people's sins. That's what Jesus did for us. He took our sins on His shoulders and He bore them up to God so that we could be free. When we do that for other people, that is very godlike. But that represents a huge refining process for us, because we're not naturally like that. I was thinking maybe you could give some practical things that a wife could do to positively affect her husband. Then, maybe later, we can talk about things that she can avoid doing which could negatively affect him. You've mentioned in the past when we've had conversations about this that you did your best to keep your feelings of fear, suspicion and worry to yourself. Why is that so key when you're trying to support your husband?
Kathy: I feel like it can come off as if I'm always defending the husband and I’m only focusing on the shortcomings of the wife when I share, but that's not my heart. I just know from a lot of experience that a husband is not strong enough to bear the weight of a wife’s anxieties, because if he's truly repentant, he's going through a lot of stuff. True repentance means you're really facing off with yourself and you are getting really raw and real with yourself and with God. You have to look inside at who you are, and what you've done and face it. It takes a lot for a person to do that.
It takes a ton of energy. It takes quite a bit of courage to do that, because what you end up seeing in yourself is nasty stuff. You start to see what you have done to other people and it's a lot to bear. Somehow in my youth, I understood that Steve was in the battle of his life. I knew that, but I don't know how I knew that, because I was too young to understand these things and certainly not spiritual at all. But somehow God got it into me. And I did not want to be one more source of weight to the already weighty battle that my husband was in. I wasn't going to remind him of what he did to me and how deeply he hurt me.
One of the things I want to add as well is that one of the biggest issues for a lot of women is trust. It's enormous. It's one of our biggest issues probably because naturally as women our radars for someone to break our trust is always up. We don't want to get hurt and we don't want to go through being lied to or betrayed again. Some of the women going through these trials have children they have to worry about and they're trying to protect their kids. In a sense, during the trial of a husband’s sexual sin, a wife’s whole life is hanging in the balance. So, there's a lot of insecurity, but there comes a time when we have to rein in our fears and put our trust in the Lord because our husband doesn't have everything that we need.
It takes time for a husband who is truly repentant to change. It does not happen overnight. It is not like, “Okay, he came to a place of brokenness before the Lord and now everything's good.” No, that's not how it goes. There's still a lot of internal junk to eradicate, deal with and face. I remember when Steve repented. It was tremendous. But my expectations were off the chart. I thought that everything was just wonderful, and everything was behind us. It wasn't behind us, but we were on a path towards the Lord that gave me so much hope.
Nate: This is so helpful because we as human beings have such a limited perspective on things. We oftentimes only see in the moment, and it really clouds our ability to discern the real issues. You're bringing to the forefront that it's incredibly helpful to a husband when a wife pushes back on her fears and doesn't load the fear of failure back onto her husband. I'm sure that sometimes a lot of husbands are also afraid for themselves that they're not going to make it.
Kathy: They absolutely are. They're terrified with the idea that they are not going to make it. When another load of a wife’s fear and doubt is piled on top of him, it's very disheartening and it's very discouraging. Steve has told me before that one of the things that helped him so much was that I wasn't a drain on him. This is something else I would love to impart to these young women. Just support your husband and believe in him. If he has repented, you have no reason to keep looking to the past. You have every reason to go forward, but you must have the faith, not in your husband, but faith in the Lord. You have to trust in the Lord with all your heart. You can't lean on your own understanding. If you do, you will make mistake after mistake. You will go with your inclinations, your flesh, and your fear and that is not what either one of you need.
<pull-quote>Just support your husband and believe in him. If he has repented, you have no reason to keep looking to the past.<pull-quote><tweet-link>TweetThis<tweet-link>
Nate: Man, everything you are saying is biblical, but it is really counterintuitive. Another thing I've heard you say, which is totally counterintuitive, is that it's incredibly helpful to a husband when a wife is vulnerable with her own struggles. Why is that?
Kathy: If you look at Luke 18 and you start looking at the dynamic that was going on in the situation of the pharisee and the tax collector, you have this pharisee who had it all together, but then you have this slob over on the other side of the temple who could hardly even lift up his head to heaven to plead with God for mercy. That's the heart that I wanted, because I knew that's what I was. And I think that is the crux of vulnerability that a husband would deeply appreciate from his wife, because a lot of us wives can be self-righteous, and we can wave our holiness in front of our husbands. We frame words without trying to that end up comparing our righteousness to our husband’s unrighteousness and that is not what he needs. He already feels like a slob. He has so totally blown it and he already sees you as more spiritual than he is. To have that rubbed in his face more is not helpful.
If you can get back to the place where you began with Jesus that place of saying, “God be merciful to me, the sinner;” if you live in the reality that your sin is just as heinous in God's eyes as your husband's is; if you really wrap yourself around the Cross of Jesus Christ where that blood was shed for your sin and you live in the reality of the power of that forgiveness, that gets communicated. If you're living in that yourself, you don't even have to say words, it's just what's coming out of your life as a person. You and your husband are on a level playing field at the Cross because you both are sinners. That is the thing that wives need to constantly remind themselves of, that they need Jesus just as much as their husband does. They need to realize that maybe they would have committed the same sins under different circumstances. It’s that kind of a heart, the heart of a tax collector. I know that that level of humility and reality is pleasing to God, and God honors that in a wife. That is one of the ways that a woman can really be supportive and helpful to her husband.