Why Should I Get Help When It's His Problem?
An excerpt from Shattered Vows by Debbie Laaser, MA, LMFT
When Mark left the sexual addiction treatment center, his case manager, Jeff, arranged for his “after care”: the ongoing counseling that he would receive in our local area after treatment. Oddly enough, Jeff had an after-care plan for me, too. I was wondering if he misunderstood the basic issue here: Mark was the one with the problem, not me! Mark was the one who had broken our wedding vows and who had committed sexual sin; I was the one who was faithful, responsible, truthful, and righteous in all I did. Why in the world would I need to go to therapy?
My designated evening for women’s group was Tuesday, and I agreed to go if it would help Mark heal. I didn’t want to look defiant or angry. I didn’t like the “codependent” labels the treatment center people were trying to give me, so I wanted to look cooperative and independent, making the decision to go because I thought it was a good idea. When I arrived for my group, it was probably for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, Maureen, my therapist, was gracious in welcoming me to the group and invited me to share my story with the other women. Despite the fact that my world had crashed just four weeks earlier and I was overwhelmed with anger, sadness, and uncertainty, I summarized my situation without one tear or emotional glitch. It felt like a victory. I had gotten through my introduction without falling apart. Maybe I wasn’t such a mess after all! Maureen didn’t comment on my emotional state one way or the other; she just welcomed me to the safe community of women and began encouraging me to experience my feelings—all of them.
Looking back, I am grateful that my first steps were decided for me, because I don’t know if I would have ever taken them for myself. Twenty years ago there was not much help available for women struggling in relationships with men who had been sexually impure. There was barely help for the men. I know today that God’s guidance and timing were perfect in those early months. While I didn’t always recognize this in the midst of our crisis, I can see that the right steps were revealed many times along the way. I began to trust that God was providing what I needed in this adversity. My job was to step out of isolation and enter a safe community where I would be comforted and pointed in the direction of healing.
What I did know after that first night of group was that I had found a ‘home’—a place where safe women and a very gifted therapist began leading me through my pain and hearing me like I had never been heard before. The experience was freeing. The authenticity modeled to me was contagious. For the first time in my life my ‘insides’ matched my ‘outsides’. What I said and how I looked reflected what I was feeling. When I was sad, I learned to allow myself to be with that feeling. I looked sad, and often I cried. When I was angry or frustrated or anxious, I learned how to talk about those feelings instead of hide them away—or busy myself with something else to do. Being congruent took a lot of practice, and my new safe community became my practice arena. I quickly claimed this place to be mine—for me—for my healing and growth, no matter what happened to Mark or to our relationship.