Six years ago I thought everything was fine with my relationships. Sure, there were the usual tensions between me, my wife and my adolescent children. Things were far from perfect, but compared to the home I grew up in the situation was pretty good.
Then my wife and I had an argument. In a period of 24 hours everything fell apart. I sat in my living room as one by one, my family members asked me to get help for a problem I didn’t know I had.
A year later I told my story in a book: What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You. In that book I shared the secrets and frustrations that were poisoning all my relationships. The book is written to women, but many men have written to say how much my story has helped them understand themselves. Here’s an excerpt:
Picture your husband standing in the middle of a swiftly flowing a river. Every day, a steady current of joys, frustrations, compulsions, temptations and pressures comes flooding downstream and washes over his heart.
It’s exhausting work, standing against this current. Some disciplined men are able to do it pretty well. Others try to dam the river – but frustration eventually spills over the top. Some men eventually drown, taken under by pressures and sorrows they cannot fathom.
Most men have no idea where these feelings come from. Many try not to feel anything at all. Some are so skilled at denying their emotions they aren’t even aware they exist. Very few men know how to deal with their feelings in a healthy way.
So instead of living fully and freely, the majority of men resort to survival strategies in order to stand against the current. Instead of being honest about their feelings and asking people to meet their needs, they learn destructive, manipulative ways of getting what they want. Game playing. Displays of Anger. Pointless bickering. Destructive behaviors. Habits they can’t kick and don’t even enjoy. It takes so much energy fighting back the current (or trying to control it) they can’t be fully present in the moment. They veg out in front of the TV or computer not because they don’t care, but because there’s nothing left to give.
Every man fights these currents. Even the good husbands. Even Christians.
I am such a man.
I’m what you’d call a nice Christian guy. I had it pretty good as a kid – middle class upbringing, plenty to eat, a roof over my head. I made good grades in school and had lots of friends. But my mom and dad were caught in a spiral of codependence – he was a raging lion and she was a pacifying lamb. Dad was a ticking time bomb – and you could never predict when he would go off. Mom taught us various survival strategies – don’t upset dad, be quiet, stay in your room, get outside, eat quickly, get good grades, and most important, always be right.
I gave my life to Christ at age 15 in large measure because I didn’t want to become like my Dad. I’ve been serving Jesus ever since. I went to a Christian University and married a Christian wife. We’ve been faithful churchgoers and we raised our three kids in Sunday school. God gave me the grace to forgive my father years ago, and when he died we were at peace.
But something still wasn’t right.
For decades I did not know my own secrets. I could not explain the crazy dialogue that ran constantly through my head. At times I felt so overwhelmed I could barely hold everything together. Although I was mostly satisfied with my life, I occasionally fantasized about leaving everything behind – or ending it altogether. A secret death wish lurked just beneath my consciousness.Then, in 2010 I was taken under.
I landed in a residential drug and alcohol treatment program three thousand miles from home. I was cut off from my family. My phone and computer were confiscated. I was placed in an apartment block with seven other men, most of whom were addicts who had lost nearly everything.
What made this situation so unfair was the fact that I had never been drunk or high in my life. How could a guy who’d never smoked a cigarette or touched an illegal substance end up in rehab?
Nevertheless, there I was, drowning. I had lost control of my life.
In times past, I’d have become angry about my false imprisonment. I’d resort to one of my survival strategies to get through the indignity of my situation. I’d tell myself that I was right – and everyone else was wrong. Or I’d try to work the system and gain the upper hand over my captors (in this case, counselors).
But instead, I gave in.
At the age of 49, I finally began the process of meeting the real me. I began asking the foundational questions: What’s bothering me? Why do I feel so ignored? Why is there always tension in my house? Why am I so afraid to speak up for my own needs? Why do I feel like I’m disappearing – and another man is taking my place? And why is this happening to a born-again Christian man, who is not supposed to have these kinds of problems?
In terms of the river analogy, I had stepped out of the current and climbed onto the bank. And I began a trek to the headwaters of my soul. I went back to the source – to the place where the frustrations and temptations came from.
Once I saw the source, the currents began to make sense. I realized I was still living my survival strategies from childhood – be quiet, stay in your room, get outside, eat quickly, be right. I was like a World War II Japanese soldier stranded on a remote island, fighting a war that’s been over for decades.
Today the currents still buffet me, but they no longer overwhelm me. I know why I feel the way I do. I know who the real enemy is, and how to fight him.
After seeing the change in my heart, my dear wife set off for the headwaters of her soul. Turns out we were both in denial about how we were really feeling. We’re getting healthy together. Instead of playing games or manipulating one another to get our needs met, we speak honestly and openly about what we truly think and feel. I’m finally willing to speak up – and she is finally willing to hear what I’m really saying. Just as Jesus said, the truth is making us free.
If this excerpt rang true to you, please order a copy of What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You. If you want an open, honest marriage read this book together with your beloved. You can order a copy direct from me in Alaska, and I’ll autograph it and personalize it for you and your wife. Shipping is free through April 1.
Mothers Day is coming. Give her the gift of your true heart.