The mission of Marriage Reconstruction Ministries (MRM) is to help men and women rebuild marriages affected by a wife’s childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The vision is to see men and women grow in self-awareness, emotional health, and empathy, and then reengage in a healthier marital bond. This reconstruction of a marriage is the experience for some. One wife and survivor of CSA wrote,
Marriage Reconstruction has truly changed our lives and shaped our marriage. . . We love each other more honestly and wholly because of the things we’ve learned about ourselves and each other through Marriage Reconstruction. [MRM’s] ministry has brought deeper healing, understanding, and communication to my husband and me.
But a reconstructed and healthy marriage is not the experience for all couples whose marriage is affected by CSA. Sometimes reconstruction is no longer viewed as a possibility.
What about the marriages that seem beyond reconstruction? What about the husbands and wives who are separated with no hint of reconciling? What about the marriages that have terminated in divorce? What then? In my work with MRM, I speak almost daily with husbands who are separated from their wives, and I continue to speak with men who’ve gone through a divorce. Where should the focus be placed if marriage reconstruction does not happen?
Where should the focus be placed if marriage reconstruction does not happen?
Before answering the question, let’s revisit a formula I learned from my counselor.
- I am responsible for how I treat others.
- I am responsible for how I treat myself.
- I am not responsible for how others treat me.
- I am not responsible for how others treat others.
- I am not responsible for how others treat themselves. (Dr. Daniel Green)
I’ve added my own modified formula as I speak to husbands.
- I can control how I treat others.
- I can control how I treat myself.
- I cannot control how others treat me.
- I cannot control how others treat others.
- I cannot control how others treat themselves.
When I live in the wisdom of these two formulas, I can then answer the question, “Where should the focus be placed if marriage reconstruction seems futile?” My answer to the question, in short, is, “Nothing changes.” I am not ignoring the pain that comes with separation or divorce. But whether my marriage is thriving in health or diving into destruction, I can only control what is occurring within me and in my treatment of others.
Whether my marriage is thriving in health or diving into destruction, I can only control what is occurring within me and in my treatment of others.
We are responsible for ourselves and can only control ourselves, our own reconstruction. We are not responsible for, nor can we control our spouse’s reconstruction. Therefore, my long answer to the question is, “My focus must remain on how I am treating myself and how I am treating others, namely my spouse or ex-spouse.”
How I am treating myself refers to my own character and development. Here are three dimensions for treating ourselves well.
We treat ourselves well by increasing our self-awareness. Our self-awareness also improves our treatment of others.
The central question for greater self-awareness is, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” A worthwhile exercise is to pose the question to a close friend. Let them serve as your mirror. Determine ahead of time that you will, (a) listen to their feedback, (b) not argue or attempt to defend yourself, (c) assume their perspective is accurate, and (d) take 7 days to test it out by closely observing your demeanor, behavior, and how others respond to you. Go through the same process with a second close friend. Doing this requires vulnerability and courage.
What is it like to be on the other side of me?
The second dimension for treating ourselves well must follow the first dimension.
The central question of fruitful self-assessment is, “Who am I becoming?” This question is not to be confused with the concept of self-fulfillment and the “be all you can be” jargon.
Western culture pushes us towards self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment assumes that life revolves around us. If self-fulfillment is our goal, then self-assessment is reduced to a focus on my needs and how to get them fulfilled. Counselor and author Craig D. Lounsbrough states, “Being ‘all about myself’ is the surest way that I can end up being ‘all by myself.’”
Self-assessment is an internal assessment of character and development. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, was sent by the Nazis to the concentration camps. Frankl lost his wife, mother, and brother to the cruelties of the camps, and he himself was subjected to its tortuous work and beatings. David Brooks, in his book, The Road to Character, observes that it became clear to Frankl “that what sort of person he would wind up being depended upon what sort of inner decision he would make in response to his circumstances.”
Brooks, along with Frankl, challenge us to assess the inner decisions we are making in response to our circumstances and what sort of person we will be[come] because of those decisions. In other words, if I continue my journey with my current attitudes, actions, and ambitions, who will I be in five to ten years? As one husband stated, “The realization that I am in control of my own decisions is going to determine the direction/path I take.”
Who am I becoming?
This brings us to the third dimension for treating ourselves well.
The central question for self-care is, “How am I being replenished?”
“How am I being replenished?”
There are four areas to be replenishment for the wellness of our whole being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. Here are some questions and ideas to get started.
What biblical truths serve to anchor you as you get tossed around by the pressures of daily life? What steps can you take so that these truths consistently govern your thoughts and actions?
Our network of friends and acquaintances includes people who drain us and people who replenish us. Are you investing sufficient time with the replenishers? How can you consistently engage with three people in your life who are replenishers?
First, stay away from social media for your intellectual replenishment. What are you reading that is helping you explore new concepts and ideas? Do you listen to others with the intent to reply, argue, or with the intent to understand? Do you ask questions?
Never in my life did I think walking would become a favorite form of exercise and replenishment. But it now is for me. There is ample medical and social evidence regarding the benefit of exercise to our whole being. We just need to do it!
At all points in our journey, these three questions remain central to our reconstruction of self.
- What is it like to be on the other side of me?
- Who am I becoming?
- How am I being replenished?
In other words, if I continue my journey with my current attitudes, actions, and ambitions, who will I be in five to ten years? This idea reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity”… “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature. (p. 92).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis