I love the sound of couples spread all around the room talking and engaging with his or her spouse. There is a distinct buzz. It's the buzz of healing and redemption and grace. It's one of my favorite aspects of a Marriages Restored weekend.
Tonight (this was posted a while ago. BW) souls will be bared. Fears will be faced. Stories will be told.
On this first night of Marriages Restored the couples will hear tales of infidelity, lying, pornography, anger, codependcy, alcoholism and control. These are the painful symptoms of what exists at the core. Though our stories are different, at the heart of the matter, as wounded sinful men and women, they are each very much the same. Flailing men and women trying to make sense of a world by trying to solve our existential dilemmas by taking matters into our own hands.
We covet your prayers for us and the other couples telling their stories. Also, please pray for the couples attending. Pray that they'll be able and choose to attend. It takes so much courage to drive to the church, get out of the door and walk into a place that is going to invite and guide couples to the depth of the pain and sin in their lives.
And I would never do that if I didn't believe God's grace will be poured and underneath all the crud is the dignity he has placed in each one of us waiting to be revealed. Hope emerges in this.
So pray for all of that. God is out in front of us and he loves it when his kids care about his other kids.
Today I went to a pastors conference in Springfield, MO. I had a great time with coworkers and enjoyed the discussions at the conference. But the highlight was seeing Steve Smallwood (@stevedsmallwood on twitter). Without Steve there would be no Marriages Restored, and no marriage to Ann.
When I first found out about Ann's affair I felt like a walking Picasso. Four days after revelation day I traveled the two hundred miles to Springfield for my monthly Army Reserves Drill. I sought Steve out and asked him if I could talk with him. We walked a couple of first downs down the hall and outside the glass doors. He looked at my face and asked, "What happened? Did your wife have an affair?"
I was undone. I have no idea what I said in my stunned state. I indicated yes. I felt comfort in his presence.
He took me out to lunch later that day. I'm sure mostly I stared at my food while he talked. My mental capacity was about that of a tea pot at the time. At one point Steve looked at me and me at him.
He said, "Ben, your marriage isn't over yet. And God isn't through using you."
I initially thought he was full of it, that he was just trying to cheer me up. But there was something else in me that yearned for his words to be true. So I folded them up like an invisible napkin, put 'em in my back pocket and carried them with me everywhere I went for the next fourteen months.
I didn't always remember they were tucked safely back there, but when I needed some hope to get me through another day or even just a nanosecond there they were offering a flicker or beam of light.
Steve walked with me through the crap of it all. It was messy. He spent time with me, took me to buy books, took me to see Braveheart, listened when I rambled on about my pain, and cautioned me when I was out on the road by myself to remember how very vulnerable I was.
Steve was God's special agent of grace in my life. Without his presence, any help you may have received from this blog over the last nine years wouldn't have happened. When I think of that I get a sense that our God is a big God. One man helps one man who helps other men. The impact of Steve's grace has reached thousands of couples based on the almost 1,000,000 lifetime page views for this blog.
Without Steve's surrender and obedience to God there are no Marriages Restored Conferences or Intensives. If your marriage is struggling through infidelity or for any reason whatsoever find some hope here on the blog or let us know if we can help in other ways.
Because your marriage isn't over. And God isn't through using you.
I'm pulling this from earlier when we shared our story. It fits here as we move into individual styles of expressing anger.
I didn’t realize at the time that we were doing a lot of prayer. It’s just not what we normally think of as prayer. There was incredible chaos inside both of us, in our lives.
“Crying to God from the depths is how most Christians through the centuries have matured in prayer.” Eugene Peterson
We were maturing in prayer. In the presence of God we are free to express any feeling even if we feel betrayed or abandoned by God. I definitely felt that.
I was in incredible pain. I just hurt. It felt like I had to think about breathing to breathe. I woke up every morning wondering when will this go away. When will I ever feel normal again? Whatever normal is.
But I did one thing right in that I made a commitment to face all the pain that I could every day. I knew there was going to be so much pain that I had to face. I didn’t want to be somebody twenty or twenty-five years later that had this resentment circling around, snaking around in our relationship. I didn’t want this hurting us way down the road and me getting older and angrier and bitterer. So it was a good feeling to experience as much pain as I could even though at the same time I was in some shock and experiencing some numbness.
There was incredible anger for me. I never knew I could feel so angry over what had happened. But the most important covenant we could ever make, as humans was broken. I read in Torn Asunder that the amount of anger I would feel was roughly equivalent to the amount of pleasure that Ann felt during the affair. She needed to experience some of my anger to realize how great an impact she had on me.
Some of that anger was very wild. We could be having a great day and then watch TV and I would see something that would set me off. There are a lot of sexual innuendo and affairs on television. I never realized how much until we had to deal with our affair
For a while Ann wouldn’t know who was going to walk through the door. Was it a nice Ben who was glad to be home or would I come home dark and brooding. Much of the time there was a thick tension that permeated our house. I was in pain and didn’t hide it.
Some of the time I would express my anger well. I could share my hurt and simply tell her that I was very angry over what she had done. “I am very angry over the lies that you told me. I am very angry that you had sex with another man.” Other times I didn’t express it so well.
One way I didn’t express it so well involved a mirror that I had given Ann. It was an expensive antique mirror that went on the bottom of a Murphy Bed that folds up into the wall. I went through a lot of covert planning to give this mirror to her without her having any knowledge of it. It was a symbol of my love for her. It was one of the first extravagant gifts that I had given her.
One day, she and the kids were out shopping. I looked at the mirror. I began to zone in on this mirror and what it represented. I saw my love there and how she had trashed it. I felt that inside. Being the golfer that I am I went and got a golf club. It was a three iron. I couldn’t swing at it right handed because of the doorway so I swung at it left handed as hard as I could. I expected the glass to shatter. But you know what, there is thick glass in those old mirrors. My three iron hit the glass and I heard ka-thunk. So I hit it again and again and again until it came down. The glass was all over the carpet. Then I looked up at the wood.
I thought to myself that she could just replace the glass and then she’d still have it. I took the wood down off the wall, went out into the garage, got my circular saw down and did surgery on that mirror. This was an expression of my anger over what went on. But that wasn’t a good way to go about it. I wish I had that mirror today. It would be a wonderful symbol of God’s redemption in our lives.
So there were ways I expressed my anger well and ways I expressed it poorly. With anger there is a lot of energy. It would have been better for me just to take a whiffle ball bat and beat the bed for a while or to go for a run or to play racquetball etc.
One manner that did help me deal with all that energy involved a job I began. I took a job for Federal Express at the airport in Kansas City. I worked on the line. I would grab boxes off of the conveyor belt and put them in the big cans or I would take boxes out of the cans and put them on the conveyor belt. I was using up a lot of physical energy. That was very good for me to be able to do that.
I felt ambivalence. I felt a lot of strong feelings one way and a lot of strong feelings the other way. “I love you Ann. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” At the same time I would feel, “I hate you. I don’t want you any where around me. I am very angry. I am extremely irritated over what you’ve done. I can’t believe you did that.” I would swing right back to let’s sit down and hold hands and be together.
God did also humble me in my anger. It involved me beginning to write a story. I was feeling rather justified in my anger. Arrogantly, I felt like I was doing rather well following God and then wooooosh, I was nailed to the wall with a thousand nails. You can hear me identifying with Christ in that. I was about halfway through the story and God tapped me on the shoulder, “Ben, we need to talk about a relationship you have at work.”
He said, “This woman that you’ve been close to at work isn’t honoring to your marriage. Your relationship with her is a problem.”
I hadn’t perceived my relationship to her as a problem. We had moved closer and closer, but the relationship never became physical. So as that desire passed for me to have sex with her I felt relieved as in that was close but no harm done. God began to show me that wasn’t really true. There was much harm.
I was giving my heart to this other woman at work. I had left Ann lonely, abandoned and emotionally vulnerable. I had to begin to own my share of that and how I had hurt Ann.
In every affair, people hide in different places. It isn’t always with other people. A classic example of that is the man who works too much and puts all of who he is into work. Work becomes his mistress. The woman begins to feel that and she decides to put all of her energy into the kids. It can look really good. He is earning kudos at the office. She is always with her kids somewhere. But, she isn’t being honest with her heart and he isn’t either.
We can put our hearts in a lot of different places.
Every couple dealing with an affair has issues with the manner in which anger is expressed. If we do conflict well we most likely won't be in the crisis of infidelity. Let's take a look at the two primary styles of expressing anger: conflict avoiders and intimacy avoiders (I first read these categories by Emily Brown).
Conflict avoiders are nice people. This is Mr Rogers on Red Bull or that doesn't fit, maybe more like Mr Rogers on teflon. Do they still make teflon? The niceness is a way to not really deal with all that isn't sweet, fun and positive.
Conflict avoiders are usually stuffers. It's not that each one doesn't feel the troubling emotions, the anger or disappointment it's just that it isn't polite to talk about. Bringing anger up is dangerous and probably considered unspiritual. Conflict avoiders stuff until their souls puff up like down coats, but that anger eventually comes out some way some how.
Underneath this stuffing is often a fear of abandonment or a fear of losing control. Expressing anger isn't safe for someone who lives in fear of being dumped. People pleasing is usually more the order of the day. It's important to take a look at where this fear originated to find healing and courage to enter conflict. Fear of losing control is also an issue for conflict avoiders. Dealing with anger hasn't happened so it is scary. Things we haven't practiced much usually are. There is a sense that if anger is entered and expressed it may go anywhere like a balloon that came untied. And nothing brings fear to a 'nice' person like being seen as out of control and unnice.
So conflict avoiders don't do conflict much and when they do it doesn't go very well. Since there is a lack of skill with regards to conflict, differences aren't resolved and the marriage gradually erodes. If conflict can't be done, heart level conversations can't take place.
This was Ann and me. Ann talked about it in a previous post. She said, "And I had caused Ben much pain. Given our history of not addressing conflict, I never imagined he would be so hurt and show it in such volatile ways. I thought it would be one more thing that would create some silence for a few days and then we'd sweep it under the rug along with so many years of trash. As we began to shake out the rug and see what was really under there, as we began to remove the masks and see what was really under there, we began to grieve. And with the grief came the ability to forgive."
Expressing anger well sets in motion a powerful pathway to grace. It seems counterintuitive but that is our experience. Which leads us to expressing anger, just not well for intimacy avoiders.
Intimacy avoiders fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. And then for fun they fight again. Their emotional connection with each other is through frequent and intense conflict. Escalation is an artistic expression in this home.
The loudness and meanness of this home keeps the barriers between the two a ginourmous rock mountain. They are always engaged but never really engaged. They fear getting close to one another, emotionally intimate with one another, like Joel Osteen fears coffee stains on his teeth.
Even though their dance looks different they fear getting too close to one another sometimes for the same reasons as the conflict avoiders. There is a fear of being abandoned (you're going to abandon me so I won't let you get too close) and a fear of losing control if someone gets too close.
These couples don’t do conflict well either, even though they do it a lot. Offense is always being practiced instead of any constructive expression of anger. 'I'll get you better than you just got me' could be a motto here.
Since they also don’t know how to do conflict, they are rarely able to resolve differences and the marriage is a constant stream of explosions.
Where do you see your relationship in these categories? Where do you see your part in your marital dance with anger?
We've looked at the myths of anger and God's purpose in anger so let's look more about what it means to us.
First off, anger is not meant to be punitive or punishing. What we generally think of as anger is more accurately called revenge. Sadly, many of us have lived out anger that way ourselves. I'll raise my hand that I've used it that way and always battle the temptation to use it that way again. It feels natural or reflexive to use anger to get even when we've been wronged.
Yet, it is important to express anger. The key is learning to express it well. My mentor, Tom Varney talked about being direct, firm and kind.When we don't express it directly the tempation is to gossip and slander to a 3rd party or a 4th, 5th or 6th. Depression is sometimes explained as anger turned inwards. Not expressing anger has consequences.
However, hold this truth about expressing anger in one hand with grace in the other. There is no easy answer about when to express it or cover it with grace. As I mentioned before for me part of the discernment is about whether the action of the other is repetetive to me. Being in a constant mood of prayer and living a reflective life are good guides for the way as we stumble forward.
It is important to express our anger for a couple of reasons. One, anger communicates a need for personal respect. When the term boundaries is used this is often part of what is being talked about. Anger helps in telling others where we begin and they end. In smaller ways this is telling someone, 'please don't do that again'. In larger ways it may be reporting and/or suing someone for sexual harrassment.
This can be especially difficult for those who were abused or grew up in an addictive homes. Our boundaries were eroded. We were taught experientially that we weren't worth respecting and sometimes don't feel the right to say, "No, you can't do that to me." If others are boundary busters (don't hear our 'no') the stronger the action needed.
Secondly, anger allows us to stand firmly in Godly convictions. Standing for what we believe in is important. In the midst of affairs we've lost the ability to say no to another and to ourself about what is right or wrong. The vast majority of people would tell you that affairs are wrong. The feels good feeling strikes something deeper and clouds our judgment about our Godly convictions.
So recognizing early on when our convictions are in danger is important. How many of us have experienced guilt and shame because we caved to peer pressure at some point in life? I have talked to a number of women whose husbands have talked them into sex outside the marriage (such as a threesome or swapping) that regretted not saying no. It would have been a great example of this type of anger. "No, that wouldn't be good for my soul and honoring to my Lord!" At some point, the husbands end up regretting it too.
If we solely focus on right and wrong there are risks. We have hearts. The heart asks 'what does it mean to love well here'. The heart asks the question, "how will this impact my wife and kids?" If we're only focusing on right and wrong our hearts can get locked away and not be there to ask those questions. I once read that porn use skyrockets when a baptist (I am one) convention comes to town. The lack of an engaged heart is part of the reason. With it one can see further down the road, be in touch with what the temptation actually threatens, resulting in anger and then stand for his or her Godly convictions.
Anger is also an important guide to us. An important fact to remember about anger is that it is a secondary emotion. It is evidence of other emotions being present. Gary Oliver said that anger is mostly about hurt in the past, frustration in the present and fear for the future. So if there is anger present it is good to follow it into your soul and see what is underneath it. There's always somethere more there. If you have trouble expressing anger well (it feels falsely powerful) it's essential to do some digging and experience some healing for what is underneath it.
The goal is to express the hurt, disappointment, fears and anger but without the condemnation. Anger can then be a great benefit to a relationship. Heed the words of Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger do not sin."
"Your ministry is crucial. So much infidelity, so little restoration. I bless you both for what you are doing. On behalf of the church, thanks. You've paid the price to be able to share what you do."
Larry Crabb, author of over 20 books including Inside Out, Soul Talk and Marriage Builder