When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Spouse’s Struggles

What do you do when you feel you are drowning in the weight of your spouse's burdens?

February 18, 2020
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Ashley Willis

One night, I received a desperate call from a dear friend of mine. When I answered, she was sobbing and gasping for air to form words. My heart sank, and I felt a lump in my throat. I asked her what was going on, and if she was okay. When she finally caught her breath, she told me her husband, who had been clean and sober for years, had a relapse. Understandably, my friend was devastated, angry, confused, and heartbroken. They had been through so much in their five years of marriage, and she had finally felt like he was settled and stable. They had even waited to have children until he had been clean and sober for a significant amount of time. Now, they had a toddler and a baby on the way. After a long pause and a lot of tears, my friend said,

“How could he do this to us? I’m not sure if I can walk through the process of sobriety again or if I can ever trust him again. What am I supposed to do now?”

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads like this one? Maybe addiction isn’t the struggle. Maybe your spouse has a problem with deceit or not telling the whole truth. Maybe they struggle with depression or anxiety. Or, maybe your spouse has a debilitating illness that goes in and out of remission. Whether the struggle is something your spouse actively brought on themselves or it’s something that is no fault of their own, it can feel like you are going to drown under the weight of the burden. It can even feel like you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and everything is going to fall apart any day. You’re shell-shocked by the trauma that you walked through with your spouse, and you don’t know if you have it in you to support them through their struggle again.

If you’ve ever felt this way, I want you to know that you are not alone. It’s only human to feel helpless at times. Sometimes, we don’t know what to say or do to make things better. The truth is, sometimes things get worse before they get better. It’s messy and unpredictable, but we still have hope. We serve a God who makes masterpieces out of the messiest, most dire situations. Please know that I am not stating this as some pie-in-the-sky blanket response. I know this to be true because I have lived it.

Early in my marriage, I found out that my husband had been hiding a pornography addiction from me. When I accidentally found these awful sites on our family computer in our basement, I couldn’t believe what I saw. My mind couldn’t even fathom who had looked at these. At first, I was completely in denial that my husband had been the culprit. However, I felt the Holy Spirit gently opening my eyes and heart to this hard truth. I knew that I had to address this with Dave right away. I called him at work, and when he answered, all I could say was, “Hey, Sweetie. Do you have something that you need to tell me?” There was a long pause, but then, with a tremble in his voice, he confessed to everything and apologized repeatedly. He said it was like the best day, and the worst day all rolled into one. He had been living in shame and bondage to this porn addiction for years. Now, we had to weather the storm of beating this addiction. At that time, I didn’t realize how hard the journey would be and how much it would push me to my breaking point.

In the days that followed, we moved our computer out of our basement and into a public space in our home. We put accountability and website filtering software on our computer and devices, as well. We also had a lot of open, honest, and often awkward conversations to make sure we weren’t keeping any secrets, so the temptation and shame of porn wouldn’t get a foothold on Dave once again.

In the weeks and months that followed, things were going well. I started to trust Dave once again. We regained our intimacy with one another, and I could see our marriage growing stronger from this hardship. However, about six months into Dave’s healing process, he confessed that he had relapsed and looked at porn a few times. I was heartbroken, and I was a little angry at God. I prayed angry prayers saying things like,

“God, we are doing everything You’d have us do, so why is Dave still struggling with this? Is he ever really going to be rid of it? Is it me? Am I not enough for him? Is our relationship damaged beyond repair?”

Dave was remorseful and disgusted by his behavior. I knew we were at a critical tipping point in our marriage. As a young woman who hadn’t been married very long, I honestly didn’t know what to say or do. But, I knew I needed to pray. Through my anger, heartbrokenness, and frustration, I asked God to help me to forgive Dave. I knew I had to forgive him once again for him, even to have the chance to regain my trust. I asked God to help me find the courage for me to convey my true feelings about this relapse to Dave, but I also asked Him to give me compassion to unveil my feelings in the most loving way possible. I asked God to take this addiction from my husband—to get rid of these images that both tempted him and haunted his mind. I asked God to restore the trust and intimacy that the enemy was so clearly trying to take from our marriage. Little by little, day by day, week by week, month by month, I saw God transform my husband and our marriage, and He also refined my heart.

I realized I could be angry and disappointed with the sin in my husband’s life and still offer him my forgiveness. I was confronted with my own sinful nature and frailties that God had so graciously forgiven. Therefore, I, too, can and must forgive my repentant husband. I understood that two are better than one, and as a married couple, it is never a “his struggle” or “her struggle”; it is always “our struggle.” We weather these storms so much better when we choose to endure them together. I learned that God truly can make a masterpiece out of our mess when we bring our chaos to Him and trust Him with it. God brought so much good out of that hard season, and though I wouldn’t want to walk through it again. I am thankful for how God clearly showed us His power and mercy in our lives and brought us closer to Him and one another.

So, when my heartbroken friend’s husband relapsed, and she asked me, “What am I supposed to do now?” I told her what I had learned through my seasons of marital hardship. I told her she doesn’t have to say the “right words,” because it’s more about the tone she uses and just being physically and emotionally present to help her husband find the help that he needs to get clean once again. I told her that her feelings are going to be all over the place, but she can’t allow them to be her compass. Only God and those who love Him, love us, and love our spouse, can lead us on the right path to healing. I also said not to get discouraged, because if God has brought her husband to sobriety before, He can do it again. He is never finished with us, and He will use everything—even relapses, broken promises, and disappointments—for our good and His glory. My friend did all those things and stayed by her husband’s side, and today, her husband has been clean and sober for two years and even helps others to get clean as well. What’s more, their marriage is stronger than ever.

If you feel overwhelmed by your spouse’s struggle, take heart, and know that God is with you and your spouse through this. He sees your pain and frustration. He wants to comfort you and give you the courage and strength to get through this hard season together. So, be honest with your spouse. Hold tight to one another. Get the help that you and your spouse need, whether it be from a Christian counselor, support group like Celebrate Recovery, or from a doctor for medical needs. Bottom line: don’t give up and reach out for help. You both will get through this because God will give you a renewed strength to face each day together.

Ashley Willis

Ashley Willis is a leading marriage expert, author of The Naked Marriage, and host of the Naked Marriage Podcast

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