Sharing my pain and looking for empathy – the challenge is real.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

For those of you interested in a workshop to help work through the pain of betrayal – I would LOVE to see you at Restore in Orange County, CA next month!  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about the workshop – otherwise you can get most all the details here.


I’ve been reading some great books lately – I just finished Visioneering and before that Essentialism and loved them both.  Highly recommend as books that might help give you a fresh perspective on your vision and goals for 2018.

I’ve moved on to another one that’s been sitting in my queue for quite some time – Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud.  Apparently this is the book that was the inspiration for the oh-so-popular Boundaries books by Cloud and Townsend.

This morning, I came across this while I was reading:

Since we often do what we know is wrong, rules rarely keep us in line.  Love does a much better job of keeping us moral.  We think of how we might hurt the one we love, more often than we think of some code we must keep.  p.58 “Changes that Heal”

And it got me thinking…(I know, this could be dangerous).  Reminds me of a couple of things –

First – it immediately reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 7 – “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  (Romans 7:15)  This verse has always confused me but I think I’m starting to get it.  The default setting is broken and in our sin nature – we will always veer toward that which we don’t want to do versus that which we want to do.  It is SO much harder to do the right thing and SO much easier to do the wrong thing.

Second – it reminds me of our husbands.  Very rarely is a husband able to just stop looking at porn or just stop having affairs (or anything in between for that matter).  Even when they know it’s NOT the way they want to live – that’s not enough of an incentive to “stop just because it is wrong”. (And this is pretty depressing for us wives, to say the least.)

For starters, they have to get some tools to replace the poor choices with better choices.  There is also the rewiring of their brains.  And let’s not forget there is the insight and knowledge that must be discovered as to why they do the things they do in order to turn around and do things differently.

With that said – there is another key area that can help deter our husbands from making these choices.  And that’s where what I read above in Changes that Heal comes in.

Jason has always said that him seeing my pain and experiencing it first hand in the days, weeks, months and years (yes, I said years) after betrayal has been a key motivator to not go back to his old ways.

To be clear, I don’t believe that this is his only motivation or even his primary motivation.  Jason came to the end of himself and first, for God and second, for himself, he knew it wasn’t the way he wanted to live.  But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the one woman on the planet that he wanted to guard and protect in this world – that would be me people – he failed to do.  And with that said, I became the face of his poor choices.  I was, at least for a while, the constant reminder that he fell short.

And that, my dear friends, leads me to a couple of questions:

What does it look like to be fully known with your husband and express your pain?  Especially if he isn’t in a place where he can or will receive it?  It takes a LOT of vulnerability and transparency to share our pain and when we are feeling raw and vulnerable from the pain of betrayal – it often feels like too much of a risk to express it to the one that caused it.

Second question :

How do our husbands get to a place where they can receive our pain? (Rather than our pain spiraling him into shame.)   Because for most if not all husbands – they have no stinkin’ idea how to give empathy much less receive empathy!  But there is hope!  There is no age limit on learning to be empathetic and Jason as well as countless other men have learned to do this.  It’s one of those character changes that is integral for men that are working toward living a life of sexual integrity.

So this is what we are going to tackle in the next couple of blog posts – how do we express our pain and how do our husbands work toward receiving our pain.

In the meantime, what is this stirring up in you?  Would love for you to share your thoughts!  Let’s make this an amazing year.

xo – Shelley


27 thoughts on “Sharing my pain and looking for empathy – the challenge is real.

  1. Cathy

    January 11, 2018  |  01:20 pm

    I was asking myself that exact question this morning…how do I express my pain to the very one who has caused it without him spiraling into shame and me knowing he will probably not even understand. One thing I have had to do is remind him I am not the enemy, satan is.
    I am in counseling, btw. So I have a place to vent, but there are times (and this is when I get confused) I need to work through things wth my husband, but he takes it as an attack or just a reminder of what he has done to our marriage and somehow my feelings become the cause of pain for him in that moment.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:29 pm

      Cathy – you bring up exactly what I hear so many wives struggle through – working through the pain with their husband is exactly what they want and need – BUT for him, it feels like an attack (as you said) or a reminder of how terrible he was. And so many women remain silent in order to keep the peace but this doesn’t bring peace – it brings isolation and despair. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts AND for being oh so brave to go first! xo-Shelley

  2. Bonnie Dittes

    January 11, 2018  |  01:34 pm

    This topic jumped out at me. I too don’t want my pain to keep my husband in shame, a place where satan wants to keep him. But then again, I don’t believe in hiding my pain. Another place satan wants me to be. My husband also has been diagnosed as being Intamacy Anorexic. Lack of empathy added to this has left me in a hole many times. I may understand who he is, why he is the way he is but without my strength through God, I’m not sure where I’d be.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:30 pm

      Bonnie – I’m so grateful that you are finding your strength through God and in times of despair – you can lean on Him! You are exactly right – satan wants our husbands to stay in shame and us to stay in hiding the pain. It’s a lose – lose. Thank you for adding your voice to this important topic. -Shelley

  3. Elizabeth

    January 11, 2018  |  07:59 pm

    I am so tired of being good and trying not to shame him. I have allowed things to build up over and over until I get to a point where it boils over and I have to say something. Years ago I would blurt out things that were killing me and I hoped would hurt him. Then I grew into calmly sharing my deepest feelings, what was bothering me, hoping it would compel him to want to change. I am learning that I can’t help him. It is a journey for me to turn towards myself and my relationship with my maker. WHether it’s with my husband or not, I need to heal.

    We had a phone consult with Jason today and I find myself in a sort of reeling…..

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:32 pm

      Elizabeth – you are right – he must want to help himself and change because he knows that God has a better way for him to live. If our husbands primary motivation is us – it’s not going to work. Reeling from the phone call? Oh boy, let me know if you need something. Thanks for sharing here. xo – Shelley

  4. Noname

    January 12, 2018  |  09:04 am

    Last night after reading Shelley’s post, I was thinking about how to reply. This morning, when I read the replies from Cathy, Bonnie and Elizabeth, there it was! How DO we open up our hearts to the one who ripped it apart all the while “worrying” that it will send him into that dark place of shame?
    As Elizabeth said, I too am tired of being good, of hiding my pain so as not to shame my husband. It just seems easy/convenient for him to play the “shame card” 4yrs into this journey instead of doing the hard work to learn the art of empathy.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:41 pm

      I hear you. Thank you for sharing your gut-level honesty with us here. I so appreciate it and know you are NOT alone in how you feel. xo – Shelley

  5. Sherry

    January 16, 2018  |  06:54 am

    My husband has had to come to complete ruins to finally decide he wants to do what ever it takes to change this. Unfortunately it’s happened twice once 20 years ago when he went through a drug rehab and now 20 years later with this

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:33 pm

      Sherry – I think the hard part with him coming to complete ruins is he’s probably taken you down with him – is that the case? This is so hard. I am grateful he is hitting rock bottom – I’m just so sorry it comes at a cost. Thanks for sharing. xo – Shelley

  6. caroline

    January 16, 2018  |  08:27 am

    This is such an important topic because without empathy there will never be safety and trust in the marriage. Even if there is sobriety, there wont be intimacy.

    An active sex addict couldn’t afford to have much empathy because he needed to use people in order to have his next high, his next mood altering event. Having empathy would have ruined his ability to see others as objects available for his use.

    Now that he is trying to live sober inside and out, and really see all people as souls and not mere objects, developing empathy will be the key in making that switch in the mind.

    But it will be painful.

    If my husband is to have true empathy for me, (not a look of empathy or an empathy pose) he’s going to have to feel my pain. Stay with me, hear my words, and feel my feelings. And this will be hard. Addiction is by its very nature an attempt to AVOID all pain and sorrow, so pursuing empathy is going to be the exact opposite of what he’s always done.

    When I need to share pain now I warn him ahead of time. This really seems to help. I warn him with a lot of humor and I assure him that feeling pain does not mean that I don’t love him and it does not even mean I want to quit. It just means I am hurting, and I want him to move into the pain. I don’t share unless he agrees to TRY move into the discomfort rather than flee.

    I also will sometimes stop in the middle and I’ll ask him what he heard so far and he’ll repeat back his version. With practice he is getting pretty good at hearing me, but he might still get it wrong because he heard a hidden accusation right from the start and that’s all he heard. I’ll say, No I really said this, and he’ll try again to hear me. We don’t move on till he actually heard what I said.

    In doing it this way, I realize I have wasted a lot of words on him because all he ever heard was LOSER LOSER LOSER… He was not interested in what I was saying for my sake, only for his own. He still wanted to be worshiped and adored, not through porn, but by me. He couldn’t bear my pain because it meant he wasn’t perfect. That’s still pride, the twin sister of shame.

    That’s not empathy.

    I might also stop to ask what he’s thinking about what I’m sharing. He will sometimes say I’m thinking I wish I was dead. And I’ll say now you’re making it about you again. How would you being dead help me or the children, or anybody? That’s very selfish of you. You just want me to feel sorry for you and have sex with you and I wont. I want you to feel sorry for ME and rub my feet…

    We actually take turns being the speaker and listener, and I have found I’m not that great of a listener myself.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:40 pm

      Caroline – this is your best response yet! I hope that everyone reads your comment here – it is packed with TRUTH. Thank you sister for bringin’ it here today. You’re amazing!!! xo – Shelley

  7. Trisha

    January 16, 2018  |  09:13 am

    I can’t get past how my husband doesn’t fully grasp the depth of the pain he has caused me. So I keep bringing it up over and over and telling him its not me that he wants but the other women…..he chose them over me for 3yrs in a virtual affair ( his was not physical but fantazing, acting put and think of them while we are being intimate). I can’t believe he wants me or is attracted to me at all! Everyday I feel like they have to be more beautiful to him than me.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  02:37 pm

      Trisha – I am so sorry for your pain. I want you to hold this loosely – even thought it might not make sense right now – your husband pursued these other women because of the low risk of rejection. He was looking for intimacy but in an illegitimate way – it wasn’t about their beauty. It was about him not getting hurt. It doesn’t take away the pain – I realize that – but I hope you do see that this had NOTHING to do with your beauty, your body, your quirks, your personality – nothing. Thanks for sharing yourself here. xo – Shelley

  8. muchalone

    January 16, 2018  |  02:58 pm

    There is no sharing of pain…it is NOT okay here.

    My husband is totally into escaping…into whatever fantasy he can conjure up the easiest to avoid anything that might hint at being unpleasant. No one is allowed to express anger or disagreement in his presence…he just can’t comprehend that he could survive that…

    So I don’t…it doesn’t matter…he can’t hear it…and his fantasy land is his answer to anything boring or uncomfortable…so that is where he remains. He has a counselor, but I don’t see much change…

    I was blessed by a few minutes to chat with a Godly friend about the tiring effects of being…um…’oddly alone’ with him…it was good to be able to just say that I was struggling…wish I could have that honesty with my husband…

    • Shelley Martinkus

      January 16, 2018  |  03:31 pm

      Thank you for sharing your heart here. This has to be so tiring and so frustrating for you – the one person on the planet we are to be closest to – and he won’t let you in. I am so sorry. Know that you aren’t alone here. xo – Shelley

  9. Breathing

    January 22, 2018  |  03:18 pm

    Sadly, when your pain is not enough, and they repeat the offense, some days I can hardly breathe. Now after learning of more affairs, porn, strip joints, casual “bar sex”, he wants me to help fix it again?

  10. Juanita

    January 23, 2018  |  06:02 pm

    Such truth in you post. I have always appreciated, and find such value in your posts.

    “This is such an important topic because without empathy there will never be safety and trust in the marriage. Even if there is sobriety, there wont be intimacy.”

    I have been having the same conversation with my husband. Not many days ago, I shared, I need connection, a heart connection. I need intimacy!

    So, the road, or the way to intimacy is empathy………………………..YES

    I have very similar conversations with my husband as you Caroline, except I have not asked beforehand if he’s willing to try to move into the discomfort. Or not share if he’s not ready.
    I walk away feeling so alone still. Married and alone.

    I hold to a promise, from Kalo. If we both do the hard work we can, we will, have a marriage better than I/We could dream possible. Also a promise of God. Ephesians 3:20. My husband thinks it’s a promise too, but just waits for God to wave that magic wand.

    Sometimes, it just feels like we move along at a snails pace. I know, I know, it’s a process.

    I just refuse to settle at this stage in healing/recovery. Sometimes I feel such pain that we have entered into our 40th year of marriage and still don’t have intimacy. Then begin to question how much longer Lord. I can hear him say, lets do a miracle in you! I certainly have areas of inner self work to do as well. As you say Caroline, still struggling forward.

    I was, and think I still will write this out on restoringgodsdaughters site.

    This is my first time to post here. Shelly, thanks so much for your transparency in sharing your journey and insights with us.


  11. Emily Jackson

    January 24, 2018  |  06:58 am

    As I read this blog and read all the replys my heart just sank. Thanks for sharing your hearts. I too am in the same situation with a husband that manipulates and shows no empathy what so ever. Somedays I feel so alone. And what about the defensiveness they portray when all we want is some validation, love and heartfelt concern for pain. I’m coming to terms that I can’t wait for my husband to get it. I have to move forward and try to help myself and my family! And believe that God is going to handle my husband and maybe one day his eyes will be open. They are accountable to God for what they have done and will need to take responsibility for what they have done to our hearts. I’ve come to the realization that I need to go to God with pain and hurt. To rely on him to heal my heart and see what the future holds. I am taking a stand for my life. I no longer let my husband play mind games with me (blaming me, gaslighting and twisting responsibility when it’s frankly his). I am looking forward to these next blogs. Maybe I can learn different ways to approach my husband when things hurt so bad. Thank you ladies and Shelley for sharing your hearts. It feels hopeful that I’m not the only woman that feels this way.

  12. Melanie E.

    February 2, 2018  |  04:48 am

    Thank you for this post, Shelley. I love my fiancé, I truly do love him on a much deeper level than I had ever known possible. I have had to learn and re-learn how to be empathetic towards him because he has been the victim of years of abuse. In some part, my empathy and love for him has allowed him to love himself in a way that he had not allowed. He felt more comfortable wallowing in the shame of his poor choices. But at the same time, we really struggle. I struggle with how to confront him on his continued watching of porn; if I confront him, he admits he is wrong and promises to stop and promises to be more transparent. But me confronting him is not so simple as asking a question; rather, I have to show him proof of his internet history and proof of his data usage to make him admit his wrongdoing. And I hate that it has come to this point. He accuses me of invading his privacy and he takes steps to hide his behavior rather than stopping it. And even worse, he does not want to hear about my feelings, dismissing me as being “angry.” So we are left in a place where I am angry and resentful and can’t even express how hurt and threatened I feel, and he is left in a place where he feels ashamed and that he has failed me. Every time, he promises me that things will change. But then he falters, and we repeat the cycle again. The last time this happened I tried to express more empathy towards him, to show him that I could be understanding, and to show him that I was committed to loving him. I also expressed to him how threatened I felt and how porn impacted our relationship and my self-esteem. And it seemed to work… he began to seek out a connection with me because he said he felt he could trust me (to not shame him). But the problem was, I felt him withdrawing, and then I discovered that he had again faltered. And when I confronted him, he lied. He finally admitted to what I had discovered, and admitted that there was more than what I had found, but was evasive about the full truth. And I am just so tired of it all. I feel as though no matter what I do, it has no bearing on the decisions he makes. I also feel like he never chooses me or our relationship. I don’t know how to move forward because I don’t trust him when he promises that this time will be different. I don’t know how to share a future with him with so much uncertainty and mistrust. I don’t want to be vulnerable and share my feelings with him because I don’t feel as though he takes any care with my heart. He is seriously lacking for empathy. And the worst part is, I feel like closing myself off to him is the only thing I can do at this point because the insecurity in our relationship has been nagging at me for so long, it is destroying me. The pain is hardening my heart. And that is perhaps the worst feeling of all.

  13. Pat Cossey

    February 9, 2018  |  08:04 am

    Carolyn: Wow, great post! This is my first time to find and read this post. It is now bookmarked!

    Thank you for all your great insights on empathy, intimacy, using others, the empathy “pose”, and his “loser” mentality because my husband often makes it “all about him”. He’s “the victim”. I see my husband in so much of what you said.

    I like your “process” how you share your pain and let him know what you need from him. I have done that, it does help, but there are still times he only wants the physical not the emotional.

    No matter how I try to express my feelings about me, he will often take what I say the wrong way – he’s often the “victim”.

    I have never considered “shame” and “pride” being twin sisters; interesting!!

  14. Megan

    February 16, 2018  |  08:57 am

    I just want to say thank you to all the brave women who have commented here. I have felt so alone recently in a world that tries to tell me that porn is okay, that it is something men just do.

    It isn’t okay though and to know that there are other women struggling to receive empathy and communicate with their husbands gives me strength.

    Caroline, I love what you said about pride being the twin sister of shame. When my husband doesn’t hear me, or makes it about himself, spiraling into the depths of dispair, he is being prideful-once again, not thinking of me or my feelings.

    Thank you again for this validation.

  15. Mountain Dancer

    April 25, 2018  |  06:49 pm

    While I read this Part 1 — a little late in the game, as I read 4, 2, then 3, I have to ask: am I missing something here?
    I am having a problem with the idea that shame is a bad thing. I do not believe it is. Somewhere in the last 40 years we have been societally brainwashed into assuming that shame is the mental and emotional equal to physical abuse.
    It is not.
    In fact, I believe that our lack of shame (as a society) one of the reasons we are all in this situation. Shame is intended to serve as a temporary feeling of humiliation within our conscience due to what we know as wrong behavior — more often than not — affecting not just us, but those around us. It serves to lead us to repentance and to seek restoration.

    Our current crop of post modern psychologists have actively sought to remove shame from society in an effort to bring us to the point where all morality is relative. They have reminded the Baby Boom Generation of how we were SHAMED into behavior that was only symbolic of the intolerance of our time.

    Extra marital sex a.k.a. infidelity — was once something one should be ashamed of. Now — its no big deal. I can show you thousands of websites — many from professional psychologists — who advocate for a weekend fling to spice up your marriage. Heck, even the U.S. President brags about his escapades while our evangelical elite offer their support of him. Talk about feeling betrayed (again) by the church!

    I have not and will not worry that the man who betrayed me — emotionally, physically, and spiritually — feels shame. Bravo.! It was his shame that eventually led him to see/feel the need for repentance. Watching me cry to the point that I could not breathe, breaking gifts that we gave each other that once were valuable and precious to both of us, passing out enough to cause emergency brain surgery — all of this and much much more — somehow, girls, I never stopped to worry that he would feel shame by my anguish — especially after all the shame he brought upon our family.

    It is that shame that brought him to his knees. Real shame. The self-imposed realization that what he did was massively sinful and destructive.

    Then again, I read that many enlightened churches substitute the not so merciless synonym “moral failure” for sin — its so much easier to digest.

  16. Ana

    August 5, 2018  |  12:35 am

    Shelley – thank you for such a great post and I’ll certainly be reading the rest. This is the struggle that we all face…we are the face of the pain our husbands caused. And it’s true that infidelity isn’t viewed in the same light as in the past.

    I’ve also found this isolating but am grateful to have a group of women to be able to share this journey with.

    Thank you Shelley and all the wonderful women who’ve posted here.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      August 10, 2018  |  10:26 am

      Thank you Ana for taking the time to share here. It is so helpful when we see that we aren’t alone! Even in the smallest of ways – like by reading responses from other women on this blog. xoxo

  17. oldwifenewwife

    March 17, 2019  |  12:56 pm

    Caroline, this is GOLD. I hope I get to this point someday with my husband. Bless you for sharing such a well-articulated and wise method.

    (Hope it’s okay to use a pseudonym here – my real name is unusual and I’m not ready for our story to be exposed yet)

  18. oldwifenewwife

    March 17, 2019  |  01:14 pm

    Mountain Dancer, I would not want to speak for Shelley, but I think the shame that’s being targeted here is a pre-existing shame, usually formed in childhood, either when they were mistreated or deceived, and leading to their belief that they are not enough, that they are basically ‘bad’, somehow, that at their core they are worthless.

    A healthy individual who has experienced – and been able to receive – love does not form addictions like these. The addictions are a sign of an unhealthy shame that already existed, and each shameful practice reinforces and increases that shame.

    It is a state to be pitied, but never excused.

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