A reader asks:
You wrote in chapter 4 of the book Style Sex and Substance: “I hung my life on my husband’s fidelity, but I knew he would go to work and see prettier, more outgoing women than I.” This is exactly my case! I stay at home with my two young children while my husband travels for work.
On top of that, my husband told me he is attracted to a woman he works with. I was very glad that he felt he could share that with me. But at the same time, it made my fear take hold of me, and I have been very, very anxious about it. I pray a rosary every day, but when issues come up, I just have these moments of sickening fear.
How did you overcome this?
A few things come to mind as having been particularly helpful:
Develop family rituals, like praying with the kids before bed, that might bring you all together as a family in prayer. Prayer works in mysterious ways, and one of them is just the act of bringing the family community together at various intervals throughout the day–before meals, before bed. It’s a very subtle way of reinforcing the sense of belonging that all members of the family hope to feel, and also of recognizing that the family community is accountable to one another.
If your husband has been away for long periods of time, he may be feeling some disconnect from the community. And I know it’s especially difficult when the kids are really little to even create that sense of community. If your husband doesn’t share the faith, look for other family rituals or activities that you can all do together. It sort of falls on the primary caregiver of the kids to make the family itself feel like a locus, and a desirable one. So part of the work is holding yourself accountable to maintaining the family rituals even when your husband isn’t there.
Improve your own quality of life.
If you feel how I felt after having two babies while my husband was traveling, I don’t know, I didn’t like myself very much. I’d gained weight. I was tired. I felt tied to the house and bored. I didn’t have good reasons to get dressed. Life really is hard with two young kids, especially if no one’s school age yet, you may struggle with a feeling of ennui–like you’re just waiting for real life to begin. And meanwhile, your husband is living a real life, getting dressed, going places, seeing people, yada yada.
I had to search for reasons to get out and do fun things, find a circle of other moms to hang out with (and share child-care), and I had to exercise, not to lose weight per se, but to blow off steam. All of these activities had the double benefit of 1) improving my mental and physical health, and 2) breaking the intense concentration I put on my insecurities.
Best money I ever spent was on a YMCA membership where I could exercise, socialize and shower while my kids were in the child-watch.
Examine the reasons for your insecurity. Have there been breaches of fidelity in your relationship already? White lies, pornography, pre-marital sexual relationships–events that, while not qualifying as infidelity in the strictest sense, really are acts against the covenant of marriage. If any of these breaches have been on your part, seek confession and forgiveness from God and your husband. If your husband has committed any of these breaches, and is unrepentant, there’s not a whole lot you can do, except let him know you will not tolerate them, while also forgiving him completely. If these are things that have happened in the past, and he is repentant, you really do have to let them go. Pray for the strength to forgive and forget.
On that note, nothing heals like time, and growth together in maturity. Sometimes you just have to live with the insecurity, accept it as your particular cross, and bear it as patiently and peacefully as you can for as long as it persists.
Put your faith and confidence in God alone. Do you believe that God would comfort you should the worst happen? Do you believe that you could get by on your own? The essence of Christ-like love, is being able to keep giving of yourself even if you know that the one you love may betray you, or even, God forbid, die. It requires a certain amount of detachment from your beloved. Can you be happy if your love is not returned?
This point was probably the most healing for me– just recognizing that if the worst possible thing happened in my life (the failure of my marriage) I really could carry on, confident in God’s love alone.
Fear is not from God. Don’t trust it. Don’t encourage it.
One of the least productive things I did was insist that my husband change in order to accommodate my insecurities. You can’t cradle your fear and make it the baby of the family, forcing everyone else to pay homage to it.
Agree as a couple on standards of behavior that respect the marriage bond. I don’t think friends of the opposite sex should be entertained outside the workplace or without the spouse present. There’s no room in Christian marriage for pornography. I think guys’ weekends, and girls’ weekends away are iffy, unless they are with friends who share your values and state of life. My husband and I share passwords on our email and online accounts.
Strive in all things to assume the best of your husband. He will feel your doubts as a lack of trust and faith in his character. People tend to act with as much faith as you put in them so shore up his character with your own good faith.
Be friends with your husband. Be each other’s confidants. It’s good that your husband shared his feelings with you about the other woman. Try not to scold, but assume that you both share the common goal of maintaining your marriage. Dr. Popcak outlines a few good ways to do that on his post Marriage Do’s and Don’ts.
But, is there fire where there’s smoke?
I don’t know. But generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to assume someone is guilty until proven otherwise. Most likely, that fire you smell is a developing distance and lack of respect between spouses. And it’s definitely time to take action. Give the affirmation you want to receive, and if necessary, seek professional help.
I am not a marriage counselor. I’m just some lady who struggled in the early years of marriage with unfounded feelings of insecurity. Deep marital problems and cases of actual infidelity are beyond the scope of this post.