Sharing My Pain and Looking for Empathy – The Challenge is Real – Part 4

Ladies!  Spring is officially in the air and it makes my heart SO happy!  Never mind that it’s supposed to snow early tomorrow morning here in Denver.

Moving right along… ahem.

This series has taken on a life of it’s own so it will do you some good to read the first three posts here, here and here.  Once you’ve done that – you are all set and ready to go.

I talked to Jason briefly this morning and asked him – what did he do that Sunday evening, now many fortnights ago, that helped him get through to me – heart and soul?  How did he communicate what he was feeling without me spiraling into shame? (More on this in a bit.)  Furthermore, how did he use his anger for good?

I could sum up what he said in one word – vulnerability.  I know – not the best of news is it.

And this is where things can get super complicated – because when we are working toward expressing our hurt and pain towards our husbands – are you kidding me?!  The LAST thing on this earth that I wanted to do in the thick of my healing journey was to be vulnerable with Jason.  Who wants to get hurt and then set themselves up to potentially get hurt again?!  This is so not even natural or part of our human nature – now is it.

I love to refer to Brene Brown’s work when talking about vulnerability – what she says is pretty powerful –

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.  Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” p4  Rising Strong

And courage is exactly what we need – now isn’t it?  Because when we choose to be vulnerable – we are choosing to risk, choosing to potentially get hurt, and choosing to let go of the outcome.

To add some context to this – I want to share two things that Jason said this morning that he thinks might have helped him get to me in his anger:

He was super emotional.  Probably because he was utterly exhausted from his EMB weekend, yes.  But also because he hadn’t been honest with me about some of the parenting struggles he was experiencing.  So after several attempts of trying to communicate to me – I think he realized he wasn’t getting through to me and he couldn’t take it anymore.  The flood gates opened and out it all came – tears, anger, sadness, despair.

Keep in mind – the anger he expressed wasn’t protective, pushing me out.  The anger he expressed was vulnerable (there were tears, there were words like – “I am desperate”) and allowed me into his heart.

He was also very clear about what a big deal this was.  In fact, I think he used words like – “I’m dying inside”.  {That will wake a girl up, let me tell you.}

Do you see how Jason didn’t hold back with being vulnerable?  He showed up, he was all in.

For some of you reading this – you might know deep down this is your next step – to let down some of the walls and allow your husband in even more.  To show him what a big deal this (whatever “this” might be) is.  This vulnerability can come via tears or it might come via an intimate anger – or both.

For others, please hear me say – being vulnerable isn’t necessarily your next step.  Think this through and talk to your go-to girls and ask them what they think.

And last – a word about shame.  I mentioned at the top of this post that Jason communicated what he was feeling without me spiraling into shame.  Although there are things that Jason could have said that might have caused the feelings of inadequacy to surface, know that me holding myself above the shame pit is on me, not on him.

And the same applies to our husbands – it isn’t our responsibility to make sure that we don’t hit their shame button.  Sure, we can choose our words wisely.  AND – it’s incredibly important to work toward being fully known in a vulnerable way and surrendering how he is going to take it.  Again, it’s not your responsibility to keep him from going to a place of shame.

{This might be a topic to revisit in the next post – how the early struggles in our journey – with Jason automatically going to a place of shame with any argument, any discussion – little did we know – was laying the foundation for him to have the tools to overcome the shame in the years to come.  And remember – it’s that shame that was one of the triggers for him to choose to act out.  So working through the shame is incredibly important.  Don’t take that away from your husband!}

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

xo – Shelley



Sharing My Pain and Looking for Empathy – The Challenge is Real – Part 3

If you haven’t read part one or part two of this blog post series – I highly encourage you to do so – you won’t be quite so lost.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, I was eagerly looking forward to writing more on this topic of sharing pain with vulnerability (versus in a self-protective way) and finding empathy (from our husbands) when Sunday evening happened and this played out at my house – except in reverse order.

Jason was sharing his pain in an ever-so-vulnerable way and I was the one responsible for humbly offering empathy.  Not an easy task for me, I must say.

What I’d like to do in this blog post is share with you five things that helped me in being empathetic toward Jason.

Keep in mind – this is most often where your husband struggles (no offense husband!) so feel free to just forward this blog post on over to him and see if it sparks any meaningful conversations.  (In addition, please note – If you are early on in your healing journey – I am much less concerned about you feeling empathy toward your husband (although this will come, in due time).  Your biggest job is to get in touch with your pain and share it in a vulnerable way (which we will be talking about more in Part 4).

Now then.  We can move on.

Below are the five things I identified that helped me engage empathy toward Jason –

I had a fresh perspective of how hard things really were so I was able to quite easily relate to his struggles and anguish.  In other words, I was fairly in touch over the weekend with my own depravity and my need for a Savior.  I had become angry with my boys more than once and then dealt with the horror of what I said and the shame of wondering – if someone saw how I was treating them – what would they think of me?!

Chances are, this is going to look different for you husbands out there.  You won’t know first hand the hurt and pain your wife is feeling.  Don’t let this stop you from missing my point – the key is to get in touch with your own depravity.  It starts with getting in touch with your feelings.  Not denying them or numbing out when you feel anything but happiness but actually engaging those tough emotions like fear.  I love this quote –

“Fear gets us in touch with our very real vulnerability, and it gets us in touch with our need for others and God.” p201 Changes that Heal by Henry Cloud

Once we are in touch with our own darkest emotions and our desperate need for a Savior – it is so much easier to relate to our spouse’s darkest emotions, even when we caused them.

By God’s grace alone – I allowed the Holy Spirit to guide me.  I’m cringing because that last sentence sounds so hyper-spiritual and I might have just lost half of you but hopefully you can just cringe with me and keep reading.  There were a total of three times that Jason and I abruptly ended our conversation and I was responsible for all three of them.  And each time, I knew deep in my soul (in hind sight, I know this was the Holy Spirit at work within me) I needed to go back – keep fighting – and try to figure this out.  It was less about what Jason wasn’t doing and more about what I wasn’t doing – I wasn’t allowing myself to HEAR him (more on that in a bit).

I was still.  As I journaled out what all I learned from “the incident” what I saw time and time again is that once I found Jason in the little study – I was still.  I didn’t react OR respond.  I simply listened.  For instance, when I found him crying in the study – I stood across from him initially while he was sitting in the chair.  He was angry and stomping and walking in and out of the room.  When he finally settled back in the chair – I pulled up a stool next to him, not across from him.  Subconsciously, I was communicating – we are on the same team here.  In addition, I consciously worked at keeping my mouth shut and not interrupting or reacting to what Jason was saying.  I sat with him in his anguish.  There wasn’t anything FOR me to say.

The first words out of my mouth, when he was done venting were – “I get it.  And I’m so sorry.” And I meant it.  I finally heard him in his anguish.  I saw how torn up he was and how I had played a part in him feeling insignificant and like what he was experiencing wasn’t important enough to me.  I told him we’d do whatever it takes to get help.  Even if it meant I’d miss my favorite exercise class or even if we had to sell something we need or love in order to afford it.

I’ve continued to apologize and confess my shortcomings – up to nine days after “the incident”.  Just last night, I confessed to Jason that I KNEW I was choosing not to hear him.  To hear him meant I had to be selfless because to hear him meant we would need to get help and it would come at a cost (from both a time and financial perspective).  It meant I had to lay down my life (okay, I know that might seem a bit dramatic; cringe with me again!).  And it’s true – when we lay down our life for someone – we are humble, we hear them, and we do the right thing, even when it hurts.  My apology, even nine days later, wasn’t in a shaming way or in a self-deprecating way but rather in a – I messed up and I need a Savior refreshing and freeing sort of way.

In the next blog post – we’re going to tackle what Jason did to share his pain with me in a vulnerable way that reached me – heart and soul.

Would love, as always, to hear your thoughts.

xo – Shelley






Sharing My Pain and Looking For Empathy – The Challenge is Real – Part 2

hey y’all!

I don’t know how it goes down at your house but at mine – the time change in the spring always wreaks havoc on ALL of us.  Dragging myself and the littles out of bed, rushing off to school; then bursting with energy at 10pm – all of us – while sleep escapes.  And the cycle continues all week…

I had been feeling quite frustrated these last couple of months because I’d slowly gotten into the routine of going to bed late and then waking up only about 10 minutes before my littles started to stir.  So I had this brilliant idea – why not kill two birds with one stone and while my body was adjusting to the time change – go ahead and “reset” my routine and start waking up about 45 minutes earlier than what I’m used to.

Brilliant. (Insert eye-roll emoji.)

One of the things that is motivating me to wake up earlier is so that I have a little more time to write.  And one of the things I’ve desperately wanted to loop back to over the last couple of months is this blog post that created quite the stir.

I’ve been thinking through all sorts of angles I wanted to use to attack the subject of us wives being vulnerable in sharing our pain and likewise, what it looks like for our husbands to have empathy. {‘Cause like I said – the challenge here is real.}

What I never expected, though, was how this would play out at my house – except in reverse order (Jason being vulnerable and transparent in his pain with me and then me moving toward feeling empathy for him).

It was one week ago from last night and since then, I’ve been trying to figure out – what clicked in me that helped me see his pain, feel his pain, and validate him?  And how in the world can I put this into words in order to help those men out there that just can’t seem to get there?

Likewise, what did he do that allowed him to fully trust me in his time of desperation and pain and allow me into his heart and soul?

I don’t know if I have the right words but here goes –

Jason had been gone for 4 days and as expected, it wasn’t Care Bears and rainbows while he was away.  I had run into some parenting troubles and, well, Jason had been running into some parenting troubles for a couple of months.

After several heated exchanges between the two of us – abruptly stopped by me walking out of the room and then him – I found Jason in tears in our little study.  He was clearly upset and angry and I knew I hadn’t been fair to him.  I hadn’t heard him nor validated where he was coming from.  This in turn caused him to feel insignificant and like what he needed didn’t matter.

So he started crying and talking and yelling and stomping (he got pretty close to my big toe, just so you know, but for those of you that are worried – it was spared) and I knew my job was to take it ALL in.  To listen, to let him vent, to feel his pain with him.  So I eventually pulled up a stool and just sat next to him while he sat in my office chair getting it all out.

Minutes went by before it was ALL out.  And I realized – I had made a BIG mistake.  I had COMPLETELY missed it.  So that’s what I said – “I totally missed this.  And I’m so so sorry.”

Let me just pause there and tell you – it is usually really hard for me to admit when I’m wrong or when I’ve mistreated Jason.  Call it pride or my flesh or whatever you want to – but that’s just not something that’s ever been easy.  Just ask him and he will verify!

But – this particular night was different.  Something about him vulnerably showing me his pain, sharing what he shared – about how afraid he is and how much he hates how he is parenting – it DID something to me deep down.

In addition, I’d just come off of four days of parenting and UNDERSTOOD first hand what he was talking about.  I wouldn’t have had the same “me too” attitude if the convo had taken place a month prior – but because of my hard days – I GOT it.

So I told Jason – I missed it.  I get it.  And I’m willing to do what it takes to get the help we need, even if it comes at a cost like missing my favorite exercise class (ouch) or selling my car and stuffing the boys in the bike trailer and biking wherever we go (kidding, kinda).

It’s when I said that, that Jason realized – I got it.  And I was all in.

You might be wondering – how in the world does this relate to me?  What can I learn from your situation?  And in the next blog post (which I’ve already written) – we are going to discuss just that.  So stay tuned.

xo – Shelley



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

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


How the Shattering Pain of Betrayal Made Me Kinder

I really didn’t know what it was like to suffer from heart break until I was in my mid to late-twenties. Sure, life hadn’t been perfect before then — I had felt pain before.

But this was different. This was a kind of pain I never expected to feel. The kind of pain I thought for sure I was protected from. I’d been through a hardship already — an eating disorder. So I assumed I’d earned my badge of honor: how a painful experience builds character and changed the way I saw the world. I really thought I was good to go.


Enter the fall of 2003 when my husband told me his ugly truth. That he was addicted to porn and as his addiction escalated, his behaviors became riskier. To the point of having affairs with other women. And I had no idea. I thought he was faithful to me alone. That’s really when life took a turn for the worst. That’s when the suffering began.

{Head over here, to the MOPs blog, where this post was initially published, to continue reading.}

And don’t forget to come back here if you’d like to leave a comment.




A tool to help with self-empathy and to move us forward in our process

Empathy.  I’ve talked about it before here on this blog.  It’s a non-negotiable when it comes to what we must see in our husbands as they pursue recovery.  Is it something that happens overnight?  Never.  But it must happen.

I’ve heard wives on my support group calls ask – is empathy ever something my husband will understand?  Is it possible that my husband will never show me any empathy?

A few of the anger letters I've written over the years.

A few of the anger letters I’ve written over the years.

I’ve walked away wondering – how do we learn empathy?  I shot a video with Jason back in March talking about this.  You can view it here.  Jason shares some practical insights into what it looked like for him to go from prideful and self-protective to humble and empathetic.

But what about us wives?  How can we give ourselves empathy and grace?  Because oftentimes we second-guess and kick ourselves.  The struggle is real.

(As a side-note, remember that empathy is allowing ourselves to feel the emotions of another.  So self-empathy is allowing ourselves the space to feel our own pain and emotions.  Not just to feel them but to own them.)

Let’s fast-forward to this week.  Three of my six groups are focusing on anger.  I’ve given them an assignment to write an anger letter to their husbands.  These sweet women have been working on their letters – and it’s not easy, let me tell you.  To willingly go sit in the pain, the anger, the uncomfortable-ness of it all – it’s almost unbearable and it takes so much courage to go there.

As the ladies were processing yesterday, I had a light-bulb moment while listening to them.  Writing an anger letter opens the door wide to feeling self-empathy.  When us wives write anger letters, we experience empathy for ourselves – it’s almost like we take a 40,000 foot perspective on our lives and see what we’ve experienced with greater compassion.

(Psssst, as a side note, the same happens with our husbands when they choose to write a full-disclosure.)  Jason, in fact, mentions this in the video as a tool that helped him tap into his empathy both for himself and for me.

If that’s not enough of a motivator to write disclosures and anger letters, check this out:  I came across some old research (new to me) recently regarding the positive effects of writing about our emotions and feelings and the impact they’ve had on our lives.  James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has been doing research since 1986 on expressive writing and it’s impact on our health.  One study showed a 50% decrease in doctor’s visits for the students that wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic experience.

So not only can writing about our anger, our feelings, our emotions help us gain empathy for ourselves, it also can help boost our immune systems.  Love.

If you are reading this and you are feeling stuck in the process or feel like you are giving yourself very little grace, consider writing an anger letter.  Write it as if you are the only one that will ever see it.  Get it all out and be confident that you will be leaving some of your anger behind as you walk away from writing the letter.

And remember – it will never be easy to sit down and write an anger letter.  I do this exercise with my groups and I always wait until the 11th hour before I write mine.  This coming from the gal that has tasted the real benefits of writing them.

So if you are reading this and you feel like it’s time to write a letter, consider asking someone else to hold you accountable to the task.  Also, here is a link to a two-part blog post I wrote a while back on anger letters.

Would love your thoughts on writing anger letters.  Did it help?  Hurt?  Do you agree with the perspective that writing the letter allowed you to gain some empathy for yourself?


Humility and Empathy… (Part 3)

I’ve really enjoyed working on the last couple of posts.  You can find them here and here.

In this post, I’d like to share some tips for the husbands out there on this journey.  {Note to wives, you might have to put on your brave pants again and send this link to your guy.}  I say again because isn’t brave such a huge part of this journey?!  I guess that’s another blog post, though.

I thought nobody better to discuss how our husbands can go from prideful and self-protective to humble and empathetic than my own husband, Jason.  Not because he is perfect in this area but because this has been a part of his process.

So I asked him if he’d shoot a quick clip and I didn’t tell him what we would be discussing.  I told him it was for my girls (that’s you!).

You can also access the video here.

And yet, even with viewing this video, I want to make sure and close out this blog post with some helpful hints for wives, too.  Because our reality is – we can’t change our husbands.  That’s between them and God.  We can’t make them become humble or empathetic.  I wish it were that easy, don’t you?  Even still, here are a couple of things that you can do to try to give your husband the best chance at cultivating these oh-so-important character traits:

  • show your husband your pain – how can our husbands learn to be empathetic if they don’t see first hand how broken and torn up we feel?  This is difficult because after being hurt beyond belief, my reaction was to draw the bridge and put alligators in the mote.  I wasn’t about to be vulnerable with Jason.  But he needed to see my hurt, my deep pain, in order to learn to be empathetic toward me.  (As a side note,  remember that some of us use anger to self-protect so it’s important that we dig deep and engage the feelings underneath the anger.)
  • allow your husbands to feel the consequences of his choices – It is so easy, no matter how much our husbands have hurt us, to try to protect them from the negative effects of their behaviors.  Whether you pick up side work to pay for the therapy, wake up early to drive your husband to work because his license was suspended, or protect him from sharing his reality with his close friends or family (the list goes on and on), remember that God uses painful circumstances to humble us.  Humility comes through situations where we feel lowly and come to terms with our smallness.
  • be clear about what you expect from your husband and communicate it to him – This as well is so difficult because when we feel pain, our default is to isolate and self-protect  – not ratchet up the vulnerability.  I can’t promise you that your husband will hear you or follow-through with your requests.  However, I can tell you that in order for you to be true to yourself and your needs and to invite your husband into something different, it’s important that you share with him what you need and how you expect him to live.  And…as I sit here, I realize, this is still really hard for me to do some 12 years later.  What I grapple with is – will he even hear me?  what if he doesn’t follow through?  how will I deal with that pain?

And it’s because of the vulnerability that I encourage each of you to find your girls.  Find women that will love you and support you no matter what phase of the process you are in.  When you doubt yourself, they will hold you up.  When you want to hide, they will seek you out.  When you feel the pain, they will feel the pain with you.


Humility and Empathy… (Part 2)

In the last blog post, I discussed what I believe to be two of the most important heart changes that we must see in our husbands in order for our marriage to survive – humility and empathy.  Just to be clear, I’ve yet to hear of the husband that shows these characteristics early on in the process.  But it IS something we, as wives, need to see at some point down the road.


So let’s talk about empathy and humility a bit more and make sure we understand what these characteristics look like.  I’ll try to weave in a bit of my journey and what it’s looked like to {try} to cultivate these character traits.

Empathy – Brene Brown has a great three minute video that depicts the difference between empathy and sympathy.  When I think of empathy, I think of someone that is willing to be vulnerable enough to open their heart up to what someone else is experiencing.  They start to feel similar emotions to the person expressing pain or grief, for instance.  This can be really hard to do.  It takes intentionality and emotional energy to go there.  We surrender control when we allow our feelings to show as the person next to us expresses theirs.

With that being said – the opposite of empathy is self-protection or selfishness.  Someone that chooses not to show empathy is someone that wants to control their emotions.  They don’t know how to deal with vulnerability so they protect themselves and strong arm those closest to them – keeping them at arm’s length so they don’t have to feel what the other person is feeling.

I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with intimacy aversion.  I’ve spent a lot of my life not letting others in.  So self-protection?  I know how to do it well.  Even 12 years into this journey, when Jason is feeling pain (and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with me), it takes a lot of energy and deep breaths to give him empathy.  To get in his circle and feel his pain with him.  It’s vulnerable and intimate.

It will always be easier to self-protect rather than to open up and give empathy.  Remember, our default setting is broken.  So I believe there is a natural pull toward this self-protection.  Nobody is immune.  It’s work to take down the walls and let others in.

Next up, humility.

The literal meaning of humble from a Biblical perspective means “lowly” or “to bend the knee” (see Ephesians 4:2 or Proverbs 11:2).  When I think of moments of recent that I’ve felt lowly, I have to be honest – I’ve resisted.  It hurts.

And yet, even as I type this out – I identify that the one experience, more than any other, that started to refine this character trait, was coming to terms with the fact that Jason was unfaithful to me.  It’s always been hard for me to put into words one of the {many} things I experienced as Jason’s darkness came into light.

Let me try to put it into words now and I really want to hear if any of you wives track with me.

It’s like I came to terms with my smallness.  The fact that I wasn’t all that special after all.  I don’t mean this in a shameful, I’m unworthy sort of way.  (And believe me, I DID/DO feel that way plenty and have had to work through it.)  There were these moments early on in our recovery when I realized that I was small, that I was dependent on God for everything.  And that I was nothing, a nobody without God in my life.

I had never experienced something like this before and I’ll never forget it.  Girls, it was a gift. (And if you are newer on this journey – like in the first three years – I realize that you might want to punch me about now.)

My 6 figure income?  Didn’t matter in that moment.  My big house?  Who cares.  My reputation in the neighborhood or at church? Worth nothing.  The fact that I judged the neighbors across the way for their marriage trouble?  Um, how about I take a closer look in the mirror instead!

There was this sweet relief in coming to terms with my smallness.  It felt so good and so right to lie low.  To be small.  To have nothing left and to know that God was my only hope.

Once again, I sit here and acknowledge that God doesn’t waste anything on us.


And yet, just like empathy – humility isn’t something that comes naturally.  God gave me a taste of it and it felt so right.  My brokenness, my humanness always turns to pride as the default.  Remember, our default setting is broken.

So now, as I tie up this blog post, I think of those moments recently when I felt lowly a little differently.  God uses those situations when I feel lowly to humble me. To allow me to shed my pride.  Because the truth for me is, I can’t do it on my own.

What about you – how have you seen God cultivate these character traits in you?  Although I believe our husbands must work {hard} at these heart changes, I also believe we benefit from pursuing them as well.

Up next, the focus is on our husbands.  How can they work toward empathy and humility and why is it so darn hard for them to turn away from self-protection and pride?


Humility and Empathy – two of the “must-have” heart changes we need to see in our husbands (Part 1)

I learn so much from the women God has given me to support on this journey.  I hear their stories and can’t help but to step back and make connections based on what they each share.  I’m no researcher, that’s for sure – but I try to be aware of the themes I hear.


Lately, the words humility and empathy keep bubbling up to the surface.  I’ve heard women ask, “Is empathy even possible for my husband to learn?”  or “What if some men aren’t capable of ever learning empathy?”  And humility.  “My husband will never admit it when he does something wrong.”  “My husband is so defensive anytime I try to bring up a hurt from the past.”

Oh boy.

Here is the deal – of course we as wives want our husbands to be men of integrity.  Of course we want them to only have eyes for us.  That’s a given, right?  I told Jason – I will not share you with another woman.  Ever.  Again.  But what I didn’t realize early on is – it doesn’t stop there.  There is so much heart change that MUST come with this integrity change.  And unfortunately, a lot of men get sober.  And then they stop.  The heart change never comes.

In my opinion, two of the most important heart changes that we need to see in our husbands are humility and empathy.

Like I said, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this 12 years ago when I started my journey.  I didn’t conceptualize that there was more than an integrity change that needed to occur.  And as Jason and I slowly started to bump our way through this process – I realized, this wasn’t just about Jason pulling his secret sins into the light and turning from them.  It was also about sanctification.  About a complete and total heart change.  A death of the old Jason and the birth of a new Jason.

I believe that although our husbands can never completely repay us for what they’ve done to us – they do get the chance to redeem themselves here on this earth.  They can learn how to be empathetic and humble.  And in doing this, they not only create a safe place for us to grieve, they also lead the way for us to learn these precious and so important fruits of the spirit.

Girls, it is okay for us to expect humility and empathy on this journey from our husbands.  Not right away.  It takes intentionality, insight and healing for our husbands to get there.  In fact, it could take years.  But this is a must for them.  For us.  In order for our marriage to thrive.  In fact, it’s life work.  We will always have to choose into empathy and humility instead of pride and self-protection.

Why?  Because our default setting is broken.

It will always be easier to be prideful and self-protective than humble and empathetic.

Is this putting into words something your heart desires?   If so, would you share a little about it here?

If you see your husband working toward empathy and humility, what does this look like?  And does reading this give you assurance that he might be headed in the right direction?

In the next blog post, I’m going to explore the nuts and bolts of empathy and humility.  After that, I’ll share what it’s looked like for Jason to cultivate these characteristics and we’ll also give some practical tips that you can share with your husband that might help point him in the right direction.



On defensiveness and the elusiveness of empathy

Yesterday, I was still getting back into the swing of mothering after a long weekend at Women In The Battle.  Ah, the lazy days of summer.  My two younger boys and I were playing on a playground while my older son was in the middle of his baseball practice.  We were about 50 feet from a city pool.  As I was walking over to get my bag from the west end of the playground, I could hear a mother yelling at her child.  It startled me and for a moment, couldn’t tell where the angry mother was.  So I walked up the grassy slope toward the pool.





















Once I got a little closer, I could see a mom with her two littles.  She was quite upset with her older daughter, who looked to be two or three.  She seemed so angry.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  And then I started to wonder what she might say to her daughter when NOT in public.

I watched for a while as the yelling continued.  The little girl finally laid down on her towel, sobbing.

With my heart racing, I walked over to the iron fence of the pool.  I was only a couple of feet from the mom.  I called out to her and she couldn’t find me but finally realized I was on the other side of the fence.

I asked her if she was okay.  I told her I could hear her all the way from the playground.  I offered her a break (although I didn’t quite know how I would pull that off, I must admit).  She snapped at me.  Told me she was fine.  It was none of my business.  I snorted back that children have feelings, too as I walked away.  Eesh.

I ran into a friend at the bottom of the hill, back at the playground.  I told her what was going on.  She recounted a similar story to mine – when her husband asked for a dad to gain control of himself in front of his child and in front of my friend’s children.  My friend remembers the tense exchange and then remembers that a couple of minutes later, this dad followed them into a store.  Just as my friend thought it couldn’t get any better – this dad apologized.  He explained that he had recently gone through a divorce and wasn’t handling life well.

My jaw dropped hearing the story.  I told my friend, “wow, I can only imagine handling it the way that dad did!  So humble!”

As I walked back to my littles, I realized that I could have done a better job with the mom at the pool.  She reacted to me in defense and I reacted to her with just as much defensiveness.  What if I had been able to give her some empathy?  How would the conversation have gone if I had told her – “me too.”  Me too – I’ve gotten so angry at my boys.  I’ve said things that have hurt.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Mothering is so hard.  Is there anything you need?

Would the conversation have taken a turn for the better?  This, I don’t know.  But what I do know is this – this defensiveness – it’s so easy to grasp.  And it makes empathy so elusive. 

Ask any wife to recount her husband’s reaction when she tries to ask for clarification, reassurance, or a need in regards to his sexual integrity.  Most of the time, especially early on in the process – she will relate to me that her husband is defensive.  It’s a go-to, natural, human reaction.  And it’s so not okay.

I’m currently reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman.  In the book, the author discusses the difference between empathy and sympathy.  Empathy stems “from a sort of physical imitation of the distress of another, which then evokes the same feelings in oneself.”  Sympathy on the other hand is a feeling “for the general plight of another with no sharing whatever of what that other person is feeling.”

So how do we bridge the gap between defensiveness and empathy?  Sometimes it might feel like for us or our husbands, it’s a bridge we will never find.  To that end, here are a few thing to remember as we work toward being empathetic with others:

1)  Remember the “me too” attitude.  We are all one or two steps away from doing something that someone else has done or will do.  We are all capable of terrible things.

2)  Remember that there is a link between defensiveness, self-protection and pride.  Ask yourself the next time you are defensive or the next time your husband is defensive – “What and why are you trying so hard to protect?”

3)  Remember that when we are fully known – there is always a risk of rejection.  It’s a vulnerable and exposed place to live.  Yet there is also a lot of freedom waiting for us when we choose into true intimacy with others.  (In addition, remember that this is one of the primary drivers of a sexual addiction.  It’s all about getting a shot of intimacy without the risk of rejection.  Think about it – will a pornographic image ever reject someone?  No.)

It’s time to land this plane.  Know that I’m still trying to figure out this empathy, living fully known and how to not self-protect.  As always, I’d love to hear from you.


ps.  Thank you, Connie, for the graphic.  I love.