Note: In this post, I will be discussing emotional safety, healing, and forgiveness. If you are being emotionally abused, or if you fear for your physical safety because of physical abuse or the threat of it, please seek help and support as soon as possible. What I am writing about here does not apply to you.
This is the second of a series of posts about emotional safety in marriage. In my previous post, I wrote about how hurt can lead us to build walls in our marriage as a way of providing emotional safety. My intention was to write this post about strategies for tearing down those walls—but I am going to save that for next time.
I want to talk a bit about how the walls we build to keep ourselves emotionally safe can imprison us—and what we must do before we can work on tearing down the walls.
Not all heart hurts are the same in marriage, and not all walls of emotional safety are built the same way.
Some hurts accumulate over time—one brick one day, two bricks the next day, a month with no bricks, and then a week with multiple new small hurts each day. This was the way it was with my marriage. I hurt in a thousand small ways—and hurt by hurt, one brick after another was added to my wall.
Other hurts run quite deep. A wife who discovers that her husband is using pornography or who learns of a husband’s emotional or physical affair experiences a big hurt that may send her into a frenzy of wall-building over a period of hours or days.
The prospect of tearing down a wall that was built slowly, with small bricks, is overwhelming enough.
When your wall was built practically overnight in response to a deep and huge hurt, the idea may be absolutely terrifying. The wall can seem insurmountable.
Besides, we kind of like the wall, don’t we?
An emotional wall that is strong and solid gives us a safe place to retreat and begin to recover when we’ve been hurt. We may need to lick our wounds for a while. We may need to grieve the loss of what we thought our marriage was. When a husband has been in deep sin against us, a wall of emotional protection is likely necessary for a while.
We need to catch our breath and figure out how to move forward.
The problem comes when we get so comfortable inside those walls that we decide to move in rather than move forward.
We may feel safe behind the walls—but safety does not truly heal us. It just removes us from the danger.
When I was keeping a barrier against my husband and withholding my full heart, I felt protected against new hurts. I liked it that way. However, the old hurts were still there. With an impermeable barrier around me, that hurt could not be released; there was no place it could go. It had nothing to do but fester and grow.
My heart began to develop seeds of bitterness.
Bitterness fed my me-centeredness, my thoughts about my rights in marriage with nary a thought about my responsibilities, and my resentment of my husband and of the promises I had made to him.
The wall kept me safe for a time, but if I had let the bitterness grow in my heart, it would have been far worse for me in the long run.
And as Christians, it’s the long run that’s the thing, isn’t it?
Our choices need to focus on the horizon of heaven.
The bitterness in my heart interfered with my relationship with God.
Whether our wall was built to protect against a husband’s honest mistakes or against on-going and unrepentant sin, as Christians we need to forgive—not for our husbands’ sake but for our own.
Forgiveness is the balm for bitterness.
The Bible tells us to forgive.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Ephesians 4:31
God’s forgiveness of my sins restores my ability to have a relationship with Him despite my sinfulness. Likewise, my forgiveness of my husband restores my ability to have a relationship with him.
Forgiving our husbands for their sins against us is necessary for our own healing.
Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend the sin never took place. It does not mean that he gets a blank check to hurt us again and again. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to work to rebuild our trust in him. It most certainly does not mean that we put ourselves at risk by tolerating abuse.
If your husband is in on-going unrepentant sin against you—as demonstrated through actions and through words—then I am not going to recommend that you tear down your walls. Talk with your pastor about how to heal, proceed according to Matthew 18, and read what Elisabeth Klein has to share (start with her list of resources for a difficult marriage).
I used to wonder how I could begin to forgive when I was still hurting so much, but then I realized:
Forgiveness is not the end result of healing.
Forgiveness is the first step of healing.
To forgive my husband means that I . . .
- release the bitterness from my heart,
- work to restore my relationship with him, and
- stop letting old hurts add new pain.
I forgive because my heart needs me to do so.
Forgiving your husband does not erase the wounds from which you need to heal.
Even in the face of a husband’s genuine repentance and obvious commitment to change, it can still be a struggle to dismantle the wall of protection we’ve built.
The process of tearing down the emotional walls is part of the process of healing.
It is okay . . .
- To take time to heal. Forgiveness can happen in an instant change of heart, but healing can still take time.
- To struggle with the process. If it were easy to heal, you already would’ve done it, right?
- To need to reprocess some things from the past to help you develop a new perspective and work through related issues.
- To ask your husband to take steps in rebuilding your trust in him. Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing.
In order to work on restoring your relationship with your husband, it is not okay . . .
- To continue to add to the wall with every new mistake your husband makes. Genuine repentance does not, unfortunately, mean that he won’t sometimes make new mistakes.
- To refuse to tear down the wall because you want your husband to feel as bad as you have felt.
- To resist healing.
Marriage is a reflection of the intimacy we will once experience with God on that horizon of eternity. It is good to restore your marriage to heal the one flesh and experience intimacy.
Healing is often messy and hard and overwhelming and a little painful at times—but as you tear down those walls, you open the possibility for new intimacy with your husband. Where there once was a wall that divided, you can rebuild unity.
To take the first step, forgive.
I will share some strategies for tearing down the wall in the next post. Meanwhile, please read what the bible says about forgiveness. If you are struggling to forgive, talk with your pastor or ask your prayer warriors to pray about this for you.
Posts in this series: