How did I attach myself to my husband to the point of losing track of what was going on inside of me? I had known something was not right for some time. The longer time went on, the more I tried rescuing my husband through trying to control his behavior. I gave him many books to read over the 12 years of his addiction. The last book I gave him was “A Christ Centered Marriage.” I fully expected him to read this with me because I was sure I could fix him and our marriage if he did as I suggested. Well, my husband did read it but with plenty of resentment, and it didn’t fix anything! In fact, the more I tried to control him, the more he resisted my attempts to fix him. This was a crazy cycle of my trying to play God’s role in my husband’s life. I was actually disrespecting my husband through trying to control or manipulate his life, and ignoring his right to make his own choices.
I lived in denial and fear, not willing to face the painful truth about my life and my husband’s adulterous, hurtful choices. This fear and denial showed up in a pattern of inconsistencies between what I would say and actually do. People would ask me how things were going, and I would say fine when my heart was breaking. I was so busy trying to focus and control my husband’s life that I was blind to my own reality. I ignored my feelings, silenced my voice, had no boundaries around how I allowed him to treat me and no heart depth in my relationship with God. I couldn’t see that I was spiritually and emotionally adrift. I was trapped in my codependency. In other words, I had made my life dependent on my husband’s life. I was addicted to his approval and looked only to him for my love, acceptance, and security even while he was breaking my heart. God created women’s hearts for love and relationship. We also need security. These are things that a husband and wife should offer and receive within a healthy marriage. The problem was I desperately clung to my husband in expectation that he would fill the emotional needs of my heart instead of God. I had let my husband take God’s place in my life. I believed I was walking with God because I prayed and read my Bible on a regular basis, but I did not trust my heart in God’s hands yet. I had an intellectual walk with God going on in my mind. God is faithful and He was actively working on my heart.
A Turning Point
When our marriage finally crashed into the painful reality of a separation and divorce, I sat there in shock and grief. I had placed all the blame on my husband for our messed-up marriage, and tried to control his choices instead of placing him in God’s hands. Now we were in a place where God could begin to work with us individually. Being alone with God at this time was exactly what I needed to begin to see the insanity of living a codependent life with someone in their own addiction. I was at the Feast and feeling overwhelming sorrow. I prayed for a miracle from God, so that I could do as He commanded and rejoice in His soon-coming Kingdom. God sent friends, a married couple, to spend the evening with me. The husband was an experienced counselor and broke through my resistance as his wife held my hand. I told this man that I did not need his help. I had erected emotional walls tightly around my heart. No one would touch the pain there, and I certainly was not going to take a real look at it. By the grace of God, he did break through my emotional walls, and I had one of the most healing cries I have ever had that night. I was exhausted, but the door to healing had been unlocked. The next day, after a deep sleep, I remember feeling relief and actually did rejoice during that Feast!
I started emotional and spiritual counseling when I got home from the Feast. My husband was out of our home for the next six months. I asked for this separation, so I could see if he was sincere in turning back to God and walking with Him. During this time, God really worked on me and my own healing journey. This time-out with just God and me was a real blessing because a spiritual and emotional foundation was laid for rebuilding my life. My counselor helped me see how I had grown up striving to win my dad’s approval. I was punished if I showed feelings of sadness or anger because my dad felt these were weaknesses in me. I learned to shut down my voice as a way to survive, and the painful seed of rejection had been planted in my heart. As a child, I depended on my dad’s acceptance of me. When I didn’t receive his love and acceptance, I tried to earn it through quickly doing whatever he wanted. This did not work, and I finally came to believe that my needs and thoughts did not matter. I did not feel safe when I shared my feelings with him. I started to doubt my own value and believe that other people’s needs mattered more than mine. When I left home, it was with a very unhealthy sense of identity.
As my counselor walked through my past with me, she guided me into understanding how I had transferred the same coping skills from childhood into marriage and that I was not that same little girl anymore. I learned to have empathy for who I was as a child, teen, young adult and married adult. This was a turning point for me because I finally laid down the shame in who I had become and learned to forgive myself through understanding my past journey. With this empathy came responsibility for taking care of myself and letting others take care of their own lives. My counselor had me read and reflect on Ephesians 1 and 2 to anchor into God’s love for me.
Counseling Together and Alone
After I completed my own counseling work, my husband moved back home. He had also gone through his own individual counseling while we were apart. Now we were both ready to begin weekly counseling for our marriage. This counseling continued for the next two years. During this time, we were in an in-home separation. I’m glad he didn’t give in to sexual temptations during that time! He lived downstairs and I lived upstairs. This gave us each the space and time we needed to continue our healing and the ability to work together on our marriage.
Our marriage counselor saw how I had entered marriage with unhealthy beliefs from my childhood that transferred into doing anything to win the unmet needs for love and acceptance from my husband. She also saw a similar journey in my husband’s story and brought us to understand each other’s past trauma with empathy. The truth is very freeing! I had let my dad’s behaviors determine who I was as a young adult, and then my husband’s behaviors determined who I was as a wife. God was freeing me from this. Patrick Carnes defines codependency as “an obsessive attachment to one or more addicted people.” I was addicted or obsessed with my husband meeting my unmet emotional and spiritual needs, and he was in a sexual addiction. I recognized the same painful obsession in marriage that I had endured as a child trying to win dad’s love. I had a great need to feel safe from further pain, especially the pain of rejection and abandonment. I used the coping strategies of shutting down my feelings of anger and sadness. This resulted in my silencing my voice or right to speak out for who I was and how I felt. I came to see that this was the root cause of my attempts to control my husband. It was a way to try and stop the pain of trauma. I did not know how to separate myself from my dad or my husband. I knew this way wasn’t working, but I really couldn’t see any other way yet.
Our marriage counselor helped us own our own lives. I learned how to separate myself from the effects of my husband’s addiction, so I could become my own healthy person with something to give to the marriage. I learned to attach myself to God at a heart level that was deeper than anything I had ever experienced before. I grew up going to church, but I had walked an intellectual walk with God instead of a heart to heart journey of trust, transparency and vulnerability with God. Now I was learning how to trust God with my life and my heart as I faced my fears with Him. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). God was tearing down strongholds made of lies and replacing them by showing me how to live in His truth. The more I got in alignment with His truths, the more emotional safety I experienced in my life. God is my healthy identity.
Discovering My Value and Learning to Express It Properly
Instead of feeling like a helpless victim of my husband’s sexual addiction, I learned to set healthy boundaries. I will talk about setting boundaries in my next article. I stopped trying to rescue or control my husband. I needed to let him experience the natural results of his actions. I had lived in fear that if I didn’t control my husband and our marriage, the marriage would fall apart. Now I saw that it had already fallen apart, and I had just prolonged the pain and the healing. Instead of playing God in my husband’s life, I was focusing on connecting with God personally in my own life. It felt good to let my husband take care of his own life with God. I began to respectfully let him do what he could for himself. I learned to speak up for myself when I was angry or sad and to say what I needed to say with kindness and respect. This felt far more empowering than my usual lashing out in resentment that only made matters worse and left me emotionally exhausted. When I needed to take a time out because I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I would go do something I enjoyed for 30 minutes, so I could calm down first. Then I would pray and focus on resolving the conflict. I now know that conflicts are not necessarily bad; it’s how I handle them that matters. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). One of my biggest challenges has been to recognize when I am overreacting to something that connects to my past trauma. For example, if I experience someone trying to shut me down in a disagreement, I find myself jumping to thoughts of being rejected with a desire to control the situation and avoid pain. I have had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I am safe and secure in God’s care.
Staying connected in safe relationships is important to me. I feel more vulnerable when I isolate myself. I have been going to Partners in Process for the last few years. They are a group of ladies that have experienced similar journeys as me, and I learn from their experiences and am encouraged by them. When I fall back into old patterns of behavior, I share this in my group or with a safe friend. Doing this helps me not isolate myself in shame. I find strength in being transparent and vulnerable because I receive support, encouragement and am reminded that I am accountable for my choices. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
I also have the opportunity to give back to them, which solidifies my own healing. They meet weekly either in person or through Zoom. Connecting with others in safe, intimate discussions has also helped me overcome denial about my feelings, fears and struggles. In the past I would keep myself busy so I wouldn’t feel pain. I have to be intentional in focusing on what is most beneficial for my spiritual and emotional growth, so I can live by my priorities. Slowing down and leaving room for prayer, reflection and meditation on God has helped me. “The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
The right thing is often the hard thing to do. Accepting that God has every part of my life with gratitude is a day-to-day process. That includes learning to identify my fears and feelings, being open and honest, watching that my emotions don’t pick up too much emotional energy, especially anxiety. I have thought of myself as a volcano ready to spew out anger as a result of building up worry and concerns over my fears and unresolved trauma. Anxiety and negative thinking have led to my quickly judging my husband’s motives. I felt emotionally exhausted and highly vulnerable at these times. I have stood in the emotional fork in the road many times. I can see that I need to accept that God has all of my life, and I need to trust Him. Otherwise I allow myself to be emotionally hijacked by my anxiety. Doing the hard thing and going against my carnal nature has proven to be the right thing in bringing me spiritual peace. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Working through my recovery has brought me to a place of knowing who I am and finding my identity in God and Christ instead of my husband. I don’t belong in my husband’s walk with God; that is between him and God. I do need to take responsibility for my life and my own personal journey with God. This is both freeing and empowering. I am free from trying to play God in my husband’s life, and I am empowered to own my own choices and walk with God. I am growing emotionally and spiritually. As I surrender my life to God, I find that I really can trust Him for everything I need! “But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You” (Psalm 5:11). God is love and He is fully engaged in His children’s lives. This has brought me so much spiritual peace that surpasses all understanding. God longs to comfort you, free you and bring you to a place of rest and peace where you are free in Him.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage: Introduction to a Series on the Healing Journey
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage, Part 1: Managing the Crisis
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage, Part 2: The Nature of the Addiction
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage, Part 3: Commitment to Personal Healing
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage, Part 4: Trauma’s Undercurrent
Healing Broken Trust in Marriage, Part 5: Codependency