Chapter 8 from The Wife’s Heart:
Triggers, Triggers Everywhere
by Mike Genung
My husband says he is fine now that God has forgiven him, and doesn’t need an accountability partner. He said I should be “over his little porn habit.” I still have outbursts of anger; my emotions are easily triggered. I have forgiven him and pray all the time for God to help us both. I wonder if he is being honest with me since he says he’s fine every day and nothing affects him anymore. As far as seeing beautiful young girls or anything that could trigger him. Does anyone understand how I feel? I have such a hard time with insecurity and fear.
In 1991, several weeks after I’d committed adultery with a prostitute, Michelle and I went to see a movie. Without knowing the content, we chose Dutch, about a man played by Ed O’Neil who is dating a divorced woman. In one scene, while Dutch is parked in his car, a prostitute opens the back door and jumps into the backseat.
That scene hit Michelle hard, and she started crying. I felt horrible and wanted to crawl into a hole. The rest of the day was spent in confused, tormented silence, with me not knowing what to say and my wife treading water.
One year later, Michelle and I were visiting a couple. As the husband, a Christian, was watching a movie, a sexually charged scene came on with female nudity. The moment that scene hit, I turned away until it was over (my friend’s eyes were glued to the screen). When I looked up at Michelle, she mouthed the words “thank you.” What could have triggered her pain and insecurity turned out to be a good thing when she saw that I honored her by handling temptation the right way.
Let’s look at some triggers and what causes them:
- A young woman passes you on the street. She’s dressed with a shirt that’s cut too low and tight pants that offer way too much flesh.
You’ve had multiple pregnancies, and have the scars to show for it. Insecurity spears your heart, and you compare yourself to her. Your mind wanders to your husband’s obsession with porn, and you continue the impossible-to-win comparison game until you’ve dug yourself into a hole of discouragement and despair.
- Repeat that scenario, but this time you’re with your husband. As you approach a young woman, out of the corner of your eye, you see that your husband is a little nervous. His eyes dart back and forth. Is he lusting after her? Comparing this girl to you and what you “lack”? Waves of anger roll over you. You’re seething at the girl for how she’s dressed and your husband for his weakness.
- Your husband is late from work and hasn’t called. In the past, you’ve discovered inappropriate texts to other women on his smartphone. He’s told you he’s cut off all contact with them, but how do you know if you can trust him? Fear spiders down your spine. Is he texting another woman? Or worse, meeting one? As the downward spiral accelerates into obsessive worry, fear sinks its fangs deeper into your heart. By the time your husband comes home, you’re in the throes of an anxiety attack.
When it comes to triggers, the Big Four are fear, anger, insecurity, and pain. Fear run amok can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Some women end up on antidepressants or other medications because their nervous systems are fried.
Unchallenged insecurity can drive you into depression and discouragement, and maybe more meds.
If you invite anger to take residence in your heart instead of allowing it to pass through, it will fester into bitterness and harden your heart.
Then there is your wound. How do you protect it from being salted by outside forces?
Let’s unpack all of this and cut these triggers down to size.
You’ve been hurt by your husband’s sexual sin; the pain can hit without warning, bringing you to tears. This is the natural result of what happens when a heart has been wounded. Your pain is nothing to be ashamed of, and you should allow yourself the time it takes to heal, just as you would if you’d fractured a bone.
Being angry at your husband is okay, even a good thing. Anger, when expressed in a non-abusive way, can provide release for your emotions and positive change in your spouse. He needs to understand how profoundly you’ve been hurt. Ephesians 4:26 tells us to “be angry and do not sin.” We’re not called to be dispassionate mice, but lovers of God and our spouse. Anger can be a positive sign of your passion and love for your husband.
Fear is a direct assault on your heart meant to keep you isolated, withdrawn, ineffective, and spiritually blind. Fear is the opposite of faith, and is a trust-killer. It chokes our relationship with God and blocks the ability to rebuild trust with our spouse. Fear probes until it finds a weakness; once a soft spot is discovered it violently drills a hole and sets an anchor. Fear is never your friend unless it is in the one God-given context given in Scripture: the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
Fear is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons. He uses it to immobilize you, cripple your faith, hammer the wedge of distrust deeper in your relationship with your husband (and God, if he can), and set you on fire with anxiety.
Insecurity is an attack on who you are and your value as a daughter of Christ and a wife. Every time you compare yourself to another woman, you’re cooperating with insecurity’s plan to play you: “You’re too . . . not enough . . . she has more . . . your husband wants what she has . . . You didn’t . . .” Like fear, insecurity looks for a soft spot, drills down, and parks there.
Until you kick it out.
Here’s the deal: you will never overcome a trigger by passively sitting there and allowing it to have its way with you. You have to be aware of what’s going on, step back, and look honestly at the situation, apply wisdom and truth, take up your God-given weapons when needed, use them effectively, and give yourself the space to recover if the situation calls for it (e.g., if you’re hurting).
God isn’t going to take your battles away from you, just as He isn’t going to take your husband’s sexual sin away. You both have your part to play if you want to be an overcomer. Many Christians waste their breath when they ask God to take away their trials. He takes us through them, not out. God uses our trials to burn off fear and pride, forge new faith, rebuild character, and reveal Himself to those who love Him.
Let’s enhance your perspective.
First, you aren’t a perfect ten when it comes to your body. Neither are the other women you’re comparing yourself to. There is no such thing as a perfect woman, just as there is no perfect man. Men look up to the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the ’70s and ’80s as the standard for the body they want, but what does Arnold look like today? Just another old man.
Those women you’re comparing yourself to have the same black sin nature you do. They may look good for the moment, but under the hood—which is what counts and determines whether a relationship will make it over the long haul—they’re no better than you are, especially not in God’s eyes.
The vast majority of those women want nothing to do with your husband. They’d laugh at him if he approached them. Many would be sickened when they found out he was married. Those twenty-year-olds? How many really want an older guy, especially if he’s in his forties, fifties, or sixties?
Your husband has a sin problem with lust. Even if you were a perfect ten, it would never resolve your husband’s porn problem because lust is never satisfied and always wants “more and better.”
Your husband is blinded to your incredible worth as his God-given wife. Another woman will never satisfy him—you are the only woman who can satisfy your husband sexually. I had sex with other women before I married Michelle, and there was always a sense that something was missing afterward. When I’m referring to sexual satisfaction, I mean the entire package: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You alone have the God-given gift to satisfy your husband completely when it comes to sex.
Porn will never satisfy your husband. It’s just pictures; it’s impossible for porn to satisfy a man in any way. I’ve never had a guy tell me they had a great time masturbating to porn, but have heard many stories of the incredible shame, guilt, and emptiness that torment them afterward.
If you’re comparing yourself to porn, you’re comparing yourself to something your husband hates. He loathes himself when he does it and it’s destroying his life. You’re comparing yourself to the image on the paper or screen that Satan uses to hook him. When men come out of the fog, they realize how insane it was that they opted for porn when they could have had great, satisfying sex with their wives.
Satan uses insecurity as a trap to compel you to compare yourself to others so he can distract you from your God-given identity as a beloved daughter of Christ. When insecurity strikes, you have to drive your stake in the ground, remember the truths I’ve mentioned above, and stand on who you are.
A woman who stands in her God-given, blood-bought identity as a daughter of Christ is not a victim. She doesn’t lie down and allow insecurity to own her. She is a Spirit-filled woman with all the power and blessings of the living God available to her. She can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). She is blessed and of extreme value to God and her husband.
When you’re triggered, it’s important that you remember to separate your husband’s sexual sin from who you are. Never allow his sin to define you.
Let’s look at fear. When your husband sinned against you, the trust in your marriage was shattered and now lies in pieces. Maybe you’ve been sifting through the rubble, frantically looking for something that will give you hope. Today, if there isn’t much there, putting all of your hope in these broken pieces will drive you mad because your husband is a work-in-progress and your marriage is in the rebuilding process.
If you want to overcome fear, you have to go back to God and make your relationship with Him the bedrock of your trust and hope:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
If you and your husband are in the early stage of recovery and fear hits, and your first line of defense is to fight with statements like, “He won’t do that again . . . he wouldn’t hurt me again . . . he promised . . .” often, the enemy and your own fears will counter with, “Really? How do you know? He’s fallen many times and made promises before. What makes today different?” Then the downward spiral begins.
Instead, go to God first: “Lord, I’m getting hit with fear. You said to trust you with all of my heart and not rely on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Here I am, God. I’m putting my husband and what he does in your hands. I can’t control what he does. Please show me what I should do next. Please give me the wisdom you promised when I ask for it (James 1:5). You are my rock. Please calm the storm of my emotions and help me to rest in you.”
When a trigger hits, turn your focus away from it, focus on the Lord, openly share what you’re going through, and invite Him into the battle. Then wait for His answer.
I call this turn and connect, and you can apply it to any temptation or trigger. We don’t overcome our battles by using our weak flesh to wrestle with our flesh or emotions. Instead, we turn away from the adversary, connect with God and all of His endless power and grace, and invite Him into the battle to fill in the gaps and help us overcome.
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.
Turning to God is an act of faith that counters fear. It takes all of the pressure off you to figure out the situation or what to do, and moves your heart and mind toward alignment with His.
As you connect with the Lord, He might speak to you, bring a verse to your mind, calm your spirit, encourage you to wait on Him, or give you a sense of what He wants you to do. He cares for you and wants you to invite Him into your fears, pain, and concern (I Peter 5:7).
Focusing on the trigger and obsessing gives it more power. Turning to God and focusing on Him weakens that which we’re struggling with and cuts it down to size.
Some battles last longer than others. There are times when I’m wrestling with temptation and need to keep going to God for hours. Don’t throw your hands up because you turned to God once and are still feeling overwhelmed. It will take time to build up your spiritual and emotional muscles, especially if you’ve been allowing the four triggers to have their way with you.
Later, as your husband recovers and trust is rebuilt, you can bring him into your resistance to fear: “My husband has not acted out for (X period of time), he’s been treating me differently, and I have every reason to trust him again. Until my husband gives me a reason not to trust him, I will not fear, even if he slips. I know God is with us and will help us.”
Let’s move into what to do with your pain. A wounded person can’t run as fast as a healthy one. They need to slow down and take care of themselves by cleaning their wounds, changing the dressings, and being careful to avoid re-injury.
When you’re hurting, what is the best medicine for you? Everyone is wired differently so the answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here is a list of care items for you to choose from:
Silence and solitude.
If you’re with your husband and the pain is overwhelming you, you can ask him to pray for you, or tell him you need time alone, and excuse yourself.
Avoid situations, such as social gatherings, that will be too much of a drain on you.
Lighten your load. Remove things from your schedule that are expendable or unnecessary for the moment.
Slow down your pace of life. Wounded people are prone to hurt themselves if they move too fast.
Call a safe friend and ask them to pray for you.
Meet with a friend for coffee or a meal.
Do something you enjoy. Take a bath or go to a movie.
Spend time in God’s word, especially the Psalms.
Another way to protect your heart from reinjury is to dole out trust to your husband slowly. Don’t put all of your heart out there until he’s made it safe for you to do so. You don’t owe him your heart, especially the vulnerable places; it’s okay to wait until he’s shown you he’s a safe person and can be trusted. Taking an all-or-nothing approach can get you hurt. This is a rebuilding process that takes time. If your husband is refusing to get help, being completely vulnerable will open your wound. Use wisdom and protect your heart.
Today, if Michelle and I were to see Dutch and her pain was triggered, I would ask her what she needed in the moment. I would have focused on listening. If a bath would have helped, I would have encouraged it.
When pain arises, ask God to reveal the best course of action you could take that would be a balm for your heart. As the Master Physician, He knows best what would minister to you in the moment.
Whenever you’re hit with fear, insecurity, anger, or pain, step back. Don’t jump into the pool of your emotions. Look at what you’re going through, get perspective on the bigger picture, and line it up with the truth as shown in God’s word. Then turn and connect.