Here’s a question that I got in my email inbox recently. I thought it was a good question so I thought I would delete the personal content and repost the question and some of my answer here:
I’ve read bits and piece of your story and am wondering how you handle hearing details of your husband’s addiction. Every time he tells me things I feel like I’m reliving the experience over again. It feels like ripping of a band-aid. I want to be available and I want to support him but I want to protect myself too. Is that fair? Can I do both?
Yes, it is fair to want to protect yourself while still being a support to our husband. And yes, I believe that you can do both.
I remember when I found out about my husband’s addiction. We went through a period when I felt this I was reliving the experience over and over again too. I found out about my husband’s porn use and confronted him with it. When he was confronted he confessed to some of the porn use. But his confession was more like a purging. He felt guilty and needed to get the guilt out. So he gave me details. Lots and lots of details. And to this day I regret asking for them. But I did ask. Over and over again.
He would tell me details. Then a day or two would pass and I would say, “Is there anything else I should know?” And I would get another dose of guilt filled confessions. He told me about things he had done, places he had been, and things he had seen. He told me about things that happened during our marriage and about all kinds of things happened before we were married. And each time he told me more I relived the pain again.
He told me everything. And knowing everything was tremendously painful. I created a visual image in my head for each and every confession. And I hated carrying those images around in my mind. I wanted to undo all that had been done and I wanted to unhear everything that I had heard.
As our family moved into recovery we learned a few things. We learned that I wasn’t the best person for him to be confessing to. We learned that confession and guilt are messy things. And we learned that his purging was more about him getting rid of the guilty feelings then about showing me a true spirit of repentance. And I learned that it was OK for me to protect myself from it.
Early on I struggled with how I could protect myself without becoming insulated. I wondered if it was possible to do both. A good counselor and some strong support people helped me decide how much I should know and how much was too much. My husband and I agreed that we would always have open dialogue about his addiction and recovery. We also agreed that if we needed to discuss specific details, or if there was ever a relapse, that he would respect that boundary. We also agreed that he would protect me from the guilty purging by sharing and discussing any confessions with a support person before he shared them with me. I needed a buffer between me and his guilt.
While all of this is specific to my situation and may not perfectly fit yours I share it all to say that it’s always fair to protect yourself and that you can be there for him while you’re doing it. I pray that the Lord will guide you as you and your husband seek His direction and His grace.