Wife HER! founder and certified life coach, Zemi Stewart, recently presented on “Giving Him Room to Grow: Respecting Him While In the Valley”. As many of these valley moments have their roots in trauma, Zemi discussed seven ways wives can create a safe place for their husbands to heal and grow.
Below are her talking points, written in her own voice.
What Is Trauma?
Many of the characteristics of the valley moments our husbands experience such as low self-esteem, addictive behaviors, alcoholism, pornography, masturbation, habitual lying, low libido, hypersexual behavior, excessively rough sex, flashbacks, panic attacks, avoidance, and the list goes on, have their roots in trauma. I call these characteristics the “leaves and branches”.
Trauma is defined as an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person. Examples include: childhood abuse or neglect, relationship or betrayal trauma, gang violence, a car accident, the sudden death of a loved one, an assault or attempted assault, and the list goes on.
Trauma & Marriage
It is important as wives that we realize that our husbands are human. Many men enter into marriage feeling fine and in control with no idea of what lay dormant under the surface, but the good – though sometimes painful – thing about marriage is that it is a mirror, a revealer, a truth exposer. It shines a light on many of the things we’ve carefully hidden from the world.
Some may be wondering, Shouldn’t I have known about his trauma before marriage so that I:
- could have prepared myself or
- avoided this man altogether?
Ideally, you should know beforehand, but many wives find out after marriage for a variety of reasons:
- He blacked out the memories
- He was afraid to lose you
- He thought he could handle it / didn’t see it as a problem
- He feels ashamed
It could also be that you failed to ask the right questions pre-marriage; however, in my experience, the right questions are often asked but the truth does not manifest until later.
Typically, the first response after learning of his trauma (or it’s “leaves and branches”), is to feel betrayed and angry, but it’s important to note that God may have allowed you to walk in “blindly” to teach you, heal you both and reveal His glory. You can take time to throw a pity party or you can move forward in purpose.
You can move beyond the valley and hopefully this conversation will be the nudge you need to get moving. Not everyone who enters a valley leaves with their marriage intact, but it is possible, and if you are reading this, that is my prayer for you.
7 Tips for Wives
Disclaimer: These tips are helpful for men who have undergone trauma. If you feel your husband may be suffering from a mental illness, please seek professional help for both you and him. If you are being physically or verbally abused, please seek the help of a professional.
1. Recognize the root
Look beyond what your eyes see and try to get to the heart of the matter. This comes through prayer, heart to heart conversations, divine revelation, reading and research.
Men who have suffered trauma quite often display self-limiting beliefs: they tell themselves they are flawed, broken, unworthy of love, not good enough, etc.
You don’t have to search phones and devices in secret to get to the root, the truth is revealed over time.
2. Respect his version of events
Let’s say you found out that your husband was neglected as a child and the way this manifested as an adult is him finding his identity in possessions and the opinions of others, so he would purchase things for this woman, that woman, etc. and it got out of control. A lot, yes a lot…buttt he wants to heal, he wants to stop his behavior and he wants to save his marriage.
It is important that you listen and believe his version of the events without trying to fill in gaps and breaks in the timeline. This is especially true of men who are victims of sexual abuse (and that number is incredibly high!) – it’s 1 in every 6 men in the US and likely 1 in every 3 in The Bahamas (if not more!).
Victims of trauma fear not being believed and being blamed for what they went through. Not only that but trauma can interfere with the memory causing certain situations to be blacked out. He may not remember the age he was when his abuse started or ended. He may not remember when he was first exposed to pornography, etc. It’s hard but you have to accept this and continue to allow the truth to be revealed over time.
Vocalize your belief in him, and not just his interpretation of the events but also in the effects. If he feels X led him to become Y, then accept that as his truth.
Remember we’re creating a safe place for his healing and, as he heals and becomes more and more naked with you, true intimacy develops.
3. Respect his healing process
Healing is not a linear process and it looks different for everyone. His healing process won’t always mimic the blogs you read or YouTube videos you watch, and that is okay.
- Therapy is recommended but it should not be forced
- Keep communication lines open both with him and with God
- Understand / be aware of his triggers and also what triggers you in the process as you heal as well
- Don’t take things personally
4. Respect his privacy while providing accountability
Resist the urge to search his phone and devices. This breeds mistrust and may cause him to withdraw or create new wounds.
If he requests accountability, and it is important that he agree to this even if it is your suggestion first, then have his password and look through his phone only with his permission. You can also allow technology to work for you and use sites like Covenant Eyes, if pornography is an issue.
The key things to ask for are honesty, openness, no secured or private folders, and a commitment to faithfulness. You can ask for accountability, but you also need to agree to the measures put in place. You should not force change or force healing as that will backfire.
5. Respect his boundaries
If he’s not ready for therapy, accept it. If he does not want to share all of the details of his trauma, accept it and don’t push him to reveal what he’s not ready to relive. Some men distance themselves for a time to collect their thoughts; give him the freedom to do this. Note: This period of separation should be short term. If extended, e.g. longer than a day or weekend, prioritize him coming home safely.
6. Resist the urge to become Mrs. Fix It
Jada Smith ended up in a whole entanglement because of her desire to be Mrs. Fix It. Sis, your husband is not your project!
Your husband is not your project. He first and foremost belongs to GOD. It’s natural to want to fix him, help him and make everything alright, but you cannot love away trauma.
You cannot love away someone’s trauma. Instead, listen to him, validate his feelings, be present, be an active listener, confirm your support and take the conditions off of your love.
6. Remember to take care of you
Uncovering his traumas and the chain of events that led to the uncovering, can lead to your own betrayal or relationship trauma. You may feel a range of emotions: sadness, anger, hopelessness, love, etc. It’s important that you find support whether that is therapy, a support group and/or a trusted friend.
Be sure to funnel your thoughts and refocus your mind. You can’t erase what you replay so try not to replay the events: the cheating, the pornographic images, his remarks, his lies, etc. Instead, focus on your well-being and creating a safe place for mutual healing.
Missed the session? Be sure to catch the replay below.
The Focus of The Month for August is Relationships: Respecting Your Husband. You can check out this month’s focus Bible text and video here.
Make sure you’re tuned in this week for another insightful discussion on Respect. Join the Wife HER Facebook group so that you can stay updated.