Entries in trust (7)
Andy sits at one end of the counseling couch, downcast, head in his hands, elbows on his knees. His gaze finally lifts from the space between his feet to settle on his wife, Cara, curled up in a tight ball at the other end of the couch. "How am I suppose to believe you?" he asks.
She hesitates, obviously frustrated with her inability to convince her husband. "Whether you believe me or not, I'm telling you the truth."
"You told me that before and I found out you were still lying. This whole affair was about making me believe one thing while you were doing something else. So how do I know you're being honest now?"
Cara remains silent. Andy shakes his head, then turns to me as I sit in witness of their struggle. "Do you think I should trust her?" he asks, somehow hoping my counselor's insight will provide him with assurance once way or the other. He desperately wants to believe Cara. He wants to believe the affair is over, that she desires him and not the other man, that she is committed to truthfulness, that it is safe for him to risk trusting her again. But her betrayal makes it impossible for him to be convinced, and so he asks me to make a judgment.
I've watched hundreds of couples go through the steps of affair recovery and have listened to many affair confessions. Because of this experience, couples rely on me to guide them through the process of recovery. Like Andy, many betrayed spouses want me to tell them what they ought to believe or not believe. Honestly, I wish I could make it that easy for them, but I can still be fooled by lies, too.
The words of confession are necessary, but they cannot be the only measure of truthfulness since everyone (liars and truth-tellers alike) swears they are speaking honestly. The more accurate measure of sincerity is behavior, not words. When confessing an affair, I've found the following behaviors to be reliable signs of a spouse's honesty or dishonesty.
Signs of a True Confession
1. Selfless remorse. Your spouse shows genuine sorrow over hurting you, not just regret over getting caught. It is expressed in an attitude of humility rather than defensiveness.
2. Concern for your relief and comfort, not just their own. Your spouse listens to you and attempts to alleviate your pain. They are willing to reach out to you rather than being self-absorbed in their own pain (which is also very real and must be acknowledged).
3. Ongoing commitment to truthfulness. If no secrets remain, your spouse will no longer need to fear discovery. In fact, the relief they experience from finally coming clean will likely move them to ongoing transparency, wanting to assure you of their honesty. (But be aware of this: ongoing interrogations about shameful details of an affair will almost always cause a defensive reaction and will probably not be helpful to you in the long-run.)
4. Willingness to play a major role in the healing process; to fix what they broke. Not every marriage can be repaired, but a repentant spouse is almost always willing to do their part in trying. They accept responsibility for helping you feel safe again and regaining your trust.
Signs of a False Confession
1. Confessions are limited to what has been uncovered. One of my clients referred to this as "trickle truth" since it only came out a little at a time as she found new evidences of his lies. Spouses who grudingly confess to each new bit of discovered evidence are only admitting to what they have to admit. True confessions will almost always include more than what you already know.
2. Confusion, not clarity, tends to be the outcome of any discussion about "the truth." When it is hard to make sense of your spouse's story, then it is likely that they are being deceptive. Full honesty tends to make things very clear, even though it often reveals an ugly picture. But deception is full of awkward twists, and turns, and unexpected dead-ends. When you are listening to lies, you will likely leave the conversation being just as confused (or even more confused) than before.
3. Quick shifts to defensiveness and blaming when questions are asked about the affair. Once a person has decided to tell the truth, it is an easy thing to do. In fact, it's easier than managing the lies. But if your spouse is still lying, they will want to shift the focus away from themselves (since it is dangerous if too much attention is given to their story) by either becoming defensive (shutting down) or turning the tables by blaming you.
4. Expectation that you do the major work in recovery rather than accepting the responsibility themselves. If your spouse claims to have made a full confession and then leaves you to do the major work in fixing your marriage, something isn't right. Here are a couple examples: (1) Instead of taking the intiative to create a trustworthy environment, your spouse expects you to provide a checklist for change ("Just tell me what you expect me to do.") that is reluctantly followed. (2) Your spouse leaves it up to you to fight for the boundaries that help you feel safe rather than voluntarily establishing new rules for outside relationships. Genuine confession should be followed by genuine change.
As you assess your spouse's sincerity, be aware that your hurt may cloud your judgement. Your fear of being betrayed again will cause you to be hyper-sensitive to any inconsistency in your spouse's words or behavior. Although you certainly need the assurance of your spouse's consitent commitment to truthfulness, do not expect perfection. Be willing to give some grace and rely on the input of good friends and counselors in helping you assess the trustworthiness of your spouse's confession.
The day that I intellectually knew would arrive in my life came a bit unexpectedly on April 25th. My appointment with my cardiologist was planned for five months and it was a follow-up to check on a bad aortic valve that I had had as long as I could remember. My health was good but my tests were bad… bad enough that my doctor strongly suggested surgery for a valve replacement. I was a bit stunned but not shocked. I knew that the surgery would one day be necessary, but I was feeling so well! After hours of thought and days of prayer, Renee and I both felt that it was time to take the step. I am writing these words nineteen days after my surgery and am doing well so far. Here are some post-op lessons:
1. You cannot rush recovery. I am an impatient man and prone to make things happen faster if I deem the pace is too slow. Recovery, however, has a pace all its own, and taking the requisite time to heal is the fastest way to true recovery.
2. Pain is a tutor. Instead of masking pain, learning from it is necessary in understanding the healing process. I don’t care for pain, but I need to heed it at every turn and allow it to teach me the best direction to head for my healing.
3. Taking care of your heart is a good thing. It is true… you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Having attention drawn to one vital part of your physiology is a true attention getter. Blood pressure, beats per minute, arrhythmia… all these factors are crucial in living a healthy life. I need to pay attention!
4. Life is best lived moment to moment, not event to event. Seizing the moment is the best way to live life. Too much is missed otherwise. I am continually struck with the fact that every day is chock full of wonderful stuff, stuff that is too easily missed if I don’t pay attention.
5. God is the One who heals. Certainly this is a no-brainer for believers, but it is all the more poignant when one’s life hangs in the operating room balance. The only time I was brought to tears before my surgery was in the waiting room of my surgeon’s office. In that room hangs a painting of an operating room scene with a surgeon and his team working on a patient. Standing next to the surgeon, guiding his hands, stands Jesus, the Great Physician. It still brings tears to my eyes…
6. Doctors and nurses are key instruments in God’s healing. What wonderful people! Words cannot express my gratitude…
7. Each day of healing is a unique journey. Ups and downs are inevitable in the healing journey, and even though I knew this, I am reminded of this process every day. Patience…
8. Family and friends are a healing balm. My wife’s care, my family’s comfort, my friends’ concern all join together to make the burden lighter and the days less stressful. I thank God for them all.
I’m still in the healing process, but I trust the learning process will never cease. Thanks to all of you for your love, care and concern. I love you right back!
As we enter another Easter season, I’m reminded of amazing themes that this time of year brings to us over two millennia. Life over death, good over evil, humility over pride, and sacrifice over selfishness… these are just a few that come to mind. A few days ago I was tossing a small football with my three year old grandson, Keller, and noticed that when I tossed the ball to him he instinctively turned his head every time. The ball would not have harmed him if it hit him, and my tosses were appropriately soft for a child his age. Still, every time his head would turn, no matter how much I encouraged him to “watch the ball”. He was fearful. Here was another Easter theme played out in the front yard of my daughter’s home: confidence over fear. My grandson, try as he might, didn’t have confidence that I could throw the ball to him and not cause him harm. His instinct of fear took over.
This is my Easter theme this year: I can overcome my fears with the confidence that God has my best interests in mind and that I can trust in His pure and unconditional love for me. His Son laid down his life as a sacrifice for us so we can “…draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Use this Easter season to bring God into your fears and allow Him to teach you about his grace and mercy. And as we see Him at work in our lives, then, with confidence, we’ll be able to keep our eye on the ball without fear.
Yesterday, a new client came into my office and started talking about the discontent in her life. I invited her to tell me her story and before long she was disclosing information that was deeply personal. "I've never told anyone about that before," she confessed. It was another reminder of how vulnerable people are willing to be simply because they trust the counseling process.
It's interesting to consider the conditions under which we allow instant intimate access to some people, especially those in the helping professions. This morning, I made another trip to my dentist to have a loose crown cemented. (It fell out last night during a session. Embarrassing, but that's another story...) The new dental assistant introduced herself to me during the chair's slow recline. Thirty seconds after learning her name, I opened wide while Christy poked and pulled on my teeth. I let this person, who was a stranger just moments ago, wiggle her fingers around in my mouth. Why? Because I trust the process. I had a problem and I believed she could help me, so I granted her access that others don't have.
Counseling is like that, and more. People open up more than their mouths; they often bare their souls to us and invite us into their private pain, shame, fear, and frustrations. It is an awesome privilege that demands responsibility. We accept that. And we, the counselors at Charis, are sincerely grateful to those who trust us enough to let us join them in those private places.
you let me in and lead me through
the rooms that others see
so well prepared, each item there
placed right where it should be
then down a hall and to the left
you press against that thing
that moans against its slow retreat
into the darkening
you shudder as it pulls you down
this old familiar gloom
but rest right there, i'll start a fire
and we'll be warmer soon
It doesn’t take long once you hear the newscasts and read the papers to figure out that we live in chaotic times. Japan’s tragedy, Libya’s upheaval, gas prices skyrocketing, and the economy still in the doldrums… all these are a reminder that all is not as it should be. Life, in the words of M. Scott Peck is “difficult”. I am reminded during times like this that I continually long for life to line up and be perfect. I want my ducks in a row.
Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will not happen. Right about the time when things start going well, something breaks down: a car, a relationship, a body, or a dream. After some time it will leave you in despair asking the question, “Who’s in charge here?” The answer is found in Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 6:28 ff: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire , will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” The answer is not cliché, it is reality. God’s in charge here…
So as you go about this week, take a minute, 60 seconds, to center and reflect on the fact that whatever happens, whoever is hurting, there is a greater purpose and a Greater Power at work in all that transpires. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” God’s in charge here…