In the Counselor's Office

In the Counselor's Office - Part 7 - How to Handle Triggers

With boundaries and expectations up and running at home, and my feeling a little safer with them in place, it was time to get a handle on triggers. It was around our fourth or fifth visit with our counselor, when it was evident that I needed some help coping.

“I just don’t understand, one minute I am talking to my wife, who is sad but functional, then out of no where it seems like I am talking to a completely different person. She begins to panic and asks me to re-answer all the questions about the affair. We end up fighting, a lot. I feel hopeless because of it.” my husband told our counselor.

We had reached the point in our recovery that I was having a few “good days”, but those good days would quickly turn into terror when I was triggered.

I explained to the counselor that, one day, earlier that week, I remembered feeling hopeful most of the morning, when prepping lunch for my children triggered me so badly that I called my husband and asked him for the details of the affair all over again (I found out about the affair around the same time of the day, while feeding the kids).

Triggers, though extremely painful, began to lessen over time as we worked through them.

The counselor, in patience and kindness, reminded us that triggers are common in light of sexual betrayal, and using this five step process (that can be found in his wife’s brilliant workbook on amazon), may be the helpful tool we needed for working through triggers in a healthy manner.

(The following are cited from the book ‘Rescued’)

  • Step one - Identify potential or past triggers. What situations remind you of your spouse’s hurtful behavior?
  • Step two - Identify how this trigger makes you feel and why. The why is important here. Does it connect to something from your past?
  • Step three - identify what you need in order to feel safe. Anything goes. If you are having a hard time coming up with what you need, you aren’t alone. This is one of the harder steps.
  • Step Four - First, identify what assistance, if any, your spouse can give you in working through the trigger.
  • Step five - Allow God’s truth to speak into the trigger. What would He say?

I walked out of the counselor’s office that day, with these tools in order to gain a sense of control when panic flooded my thoughts. My husband walked out with an understanding of how a trigger works. However…

Tools are helpful, but the power to change a person's heart is a result of God alone.

The days and weeks to come, with this list in our possession, proved that we were powerless in our feat to conquer triggers, unless we ran to the One who made us and reconciled us to Himself. I never thought that something as powerful as a trigger, could actually be the thing that would drive me closer to God, allowing me to rely on him during my deepest feelings of hopelessness. 

As we continued to face the difficulties that triggers bring, God was softening each of our hearts toward one another, producing within in us a patience that only His Spirit can produce in us. It would take months, but eventually the triggers became less frightening. And strangely, somewhere along the way, they went from having the power to cripple me, to being a key component in rebuilding trust with my husband. 


"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18)



In The Counselor's Office - Part 6 - My Husband's Reaction

I began to well up with regret as I put down the list of boundaries and expectations. The consequences for my actions were not something I wanted to do.

“How could she be so strict”, I thought to myself.

I am not the kind of guy who likes rules and boundaries, but despite my irritation and frustration with my wife as she laid them before me, I knew I had no other option. This was not her fault.

Abusing my freedom to betray her, was most definitely my fault.

I wasn’t even sure that I could live up to these newly enforced standards, but worse than the doubt, was the anger I felt.

Everything was being stripped from me! She cut off my personal phone line and it felt like a limb was being torn from my body. All of my social media accounts were deleted, contacts were lost, and I now had zero privacy in my marriage. Surely she was on a mission to punish me and get her revenge! 

It only got worse.

I sat there listening to her read the phone records aloud, each one revealing all the minutes I had spoken to the other woman in totality (24,615 to be exact). Everything that I was hiding was being dragged into the light, and the “casual conversations” I told myself I was having, proved to be much more severe than I realized. 

Here she stood, exposing me for the man I was. 

Those beginning days after receiving the list were intensely hard for me.

She kept my phone and restored many texts and emails that I am ashamed of. It wasn’t pretty.

But there was also this other part of me that felt, hope. As nervous as I was about her having access to everything, I knew that safety laid in the boundaries. I sensed that true freedom would be had by being completely open and honest with her from here on forward. I wanted that opportunity, and she deserved that from me.

Looking back, I can see how enslaved I was to the things that were being taken away from me.

I was addicted to social media and addicted to privacy in my marriage (social media is not bad in and of itself). These boundaries exposed so much hurt within me, and today I am thankful I get to address it. 

Who knows how long these “rules” may be enforced, but as someone who has had a taste of what our marriage could be like someday, I’d be fine having them in place for the rest of our lives. 

”they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)

In the Counselor's Office - Part 5 - Boundaries and Expectations

When making your list of boundaries and expectations after adultery, anything goes.

Anything. Goes.

Those were the heralding words our counselor graciously gave me for our next homework assignment.

I sat down to write a list, and here’s what I came up with;

1. Cancel personal iPhone account. 
2. Access to all email addresses.
3. Delete all social media accounts.
4. No passcode on his work iPhone.
5. No using iPhone in the bathroom. Ever. 
6. Must call me back within 5 minutes. (If he didn’t answer)
7. No cash withdrawals. Debit only. (For tracking purposes)
8. Access to any and all emails/texts between him and the other woman.   (Retrieve any deleted data)
9. No calling/texting females. (My friends, coworkers and the like)
10. I can ask any and all details of the affair as much and as often as   I choose.
11. Must tell me _anytime_ he has to communicate with a female coworker. 
12. Weekly counseling.

This list would serve to protect my heart, help to rebuild trust, reduce the amount of triggers (to a certain degree), and walk in the light.

What scared me the most was knowing that the list had zero power to change his heart. 

I would have to "trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding". (Proverbs 3:5)

And I also couldn’t help but wonder… 

Would he comply? 

After hearing the disclosure letter this is what I needed in order to take the steps toward healing. No matter how scared I felt about seeing his reaction to it, this had to happen. I’ll let him share with you how it felt to lose all privacy and what it would mean for our future…

Walking in the light in marriage is a must for real intimacy to take place (we learned that the hard way). What are some boundaries and expectations you have in place (or plan to have in place when you are married someday) with your spouse? Is there anything you would have added to this list?

In the Counselor's Office - Part 4 - Writing the Full Disclosure

Burris shares what it was like to write his full disclosure letter:

“Randy, this week I would like you to write out your entire sexual history from as far back as you can remember. When you come in with your wife next week, I will ask that you read it aloud to us and we will discuss what comes next. The more truthful you are with yourself and us, the better.”

I felt overwhelmed because I knew I had an extensive sexual history.

I felt skeptical about writing it, wondering if it would even help. But I was convinced I had nothing to lose, so on that fourth day I came home from work and plopped down on the couch to get busy writing. 

When I first began to write, the history poured out onto the computer screen quite easily. But something happened when I came to a particularly bad season in my life where I gained a ton of sexual knowledge. It started around the time I was nineteen years old and I couldn’t help but wonder, had those explorative years not happened, what might have I been spared?

I felt guilty for giving away all of my sexual curiosity when I could have saved it for my wife. Something I hadn’t thought about before.

Because I work full time, and wanted a chance to really sit and ponder every detail of my history, the letter took me three days to write. I felt thankful once I finished because I had this sense of being at rock bottom and hoped for a chance to start over. Of course, that feeling changed the day I was scheduled to read it aloud in the counselor’s office. 

As I sat down in the chair I felt scared as I began to read the letter aloud.

I was nervous, wondering if I was going to get an opportunity to make things right with my wife. In one aspect I reasoned that losing my marriage might be an easy out. But I couldn’t shake that losing her would not be easy because my wife and kids make up so much of who I am; losing them would mean losing half of myself. 

Despite the tears of sadness, shame, guilt and inferiority, I finished reading the letter. I glanced to see the look on my wife’s face, instinctively wanting to distance myself from the pain I caused. Instead, I leaned into the truth of who I really was. 

I hadn’t done that before.

It seems that in this moment (and possibly at the cost of my marriage) I was freed from living an exhausting double life. Everything was out in the open. Although this pain was not going to rewrite my history, it was going to drive me to repentance, and give me the choice to walk in the light of truth from here on forward. Now the scary question; would my wife decide to stay married to me? Could she ever forgive me for betraying her so badly? 

Could anyone possibly love me after knowing everything I had locked away?

The counselor turned to my wife, and declared;

“You have the right to know everything your husband is doing. The ball is in your court and I would like you to come up with a list of boundaries and expectations for your husband that will help you feel safe. Anything goes. Here is a list of ideas and you can add anything you want.” 

As we walked out the office that day with a homework assignment out of my control, I had this sense that walking in the light from here on forward was about to test me in ways I never knew possible.

And this is where I step back and let her share the list she came up with. 

”But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

In the Counselor's Office - Part 3 - Receiving the Full Disclosure

It took all of my strength to get out of the van and into the counselor’s office that day. I knew that my husband had just spent three days sitting at his computer writing out his full disclosure letter. Much like the fear/wonder of getting on a rollercoaster for the first time, I wanted to hear it, but I felt so scared that I could have vomited. A thrill ride was going to pale in comparison to sitting in one of those office chairs, listening to my husband read aloud the details of his affair and then some. 

A full disclosure letter is more than a detailed summary of an affair.

It is a written timeline of a person’s entire sexual history as far back as they can remember. I couldn’t escape the wonder of why it took him three days to write it. Were there details he hadn’t told me about? Was there more than one woman? Were things about to get worse than I imagined? 

There was nothing I could do in that moment to ease my fear so I unbuckled and made my way into the office.

I sat in that chair, opposite corner from my husband, watching tears fall from his face and hearing his voice shake as he began to read the letter aloud. I am certain I held my breath the entire time.

Listening to a sobbing man is probably one of my least favorite things on this planet. This moment confirmed that for me. I will never in my life forget the war that raged in that office when he finished reading it. On one hand, I could see my heart laying on the floor quivering with a dagger stabbed through it. Hearing him explain all the encounters via phone/text/photo/email forced a pain in me that words cannot describe. On the other hand, hearing his entire sexual history from such a young age, I could sense a deep pain in his heart that made me swell with compassion.

He was incredibly brave in that office and I found myself liking the man who came forward. 

The counselor was tender with us and able to give us a big picture idea of what our marriage could look like in the future.  Both of us feeling simultaneously relieved and hopeless, that day God worked through our counselor in ways that (now looking back) seemed angelic.

My husband and I spent years in God’s word together learning scripture, but this catastrophe would provide a rubber-meets-the-road experience in the gospel.

From that day forward things would not be easier for us, but one thing was sure; I knew Jesus was for us our entire marriage up to that point and beyond. And for the first time…

I actually believed it.

”All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

In the Counselor's Office - Part 2 - Meet My Husband

Since my (brave) wife will be spending a few weeks talking about our time “In the Counselor’s Office”, I too, have decided to join the conversation in hopes to encourage folks who are also walking through the devastation of adultery.

So - Um - Hi. I’m Burris. (awkward pause) The husband you read about each week. Nice to meet you, if I don’t already know you.

First, I want to take a moment to thank all the wives who are choosing to do the painful hard work of forgiving their husband.

I am a man who is watching this undeserving pardon unfold in my own life and it is the kind of grace I wish for all my brothers who are coming forward (or being caught) in their secret sexual sin. Thank you for not looking away from your husband while he shows you the ugly side of himself. Believe me, it makes more sense to me for a wife to walk away from her husband than it does to walk toward him. You are brave. You are lovely. You are worthy of praise. You are exuding the gospel in a tangible way!

Second, I want to turn toward my brother who has betrayed his wife in sexual sin. You are not alone.

Whether you are the one who has came forward or was caught, man, I feel so many things on your behalf. I too, have broken my wife’s heart, destroyed any trust that once stood, and am standing nakedly exposed in the counselor’s office right along with you. It is very uncomfortable, but I choose to own it. It takes courage to sit in the office with your wife. It is the breeding ground to be changed into be the man you and I long to be. I have learned so many helpful things and admit that while being vulnerable is hard, it is much harder to live in secret, never being known by my wife or myself. I am looking in the mirror and this is the most free I have been in thirty years. I want that for you. You are brave. You are worthy of healing. And if you are repentant, you are exuding the gospel in a tangible way.

So in the words of our counselor; let’s get to work.

Why did I commit adultery?

Why did I decide to engage in an emotional affair? As a believer in Christ, why did I spend eighteen months in secret, living a double life? These questions are valid and essential in taking the first step toward recovery. Without addressing the truth about what I did and why I did it, I will never be the man I want to be.

I want to be noble. I want to walk in the light. I want to know God’s mercy. I want to be a loving husband. I want to live a life above reproach. I want to raise my son as a man who handles his feelings in a healthy way. While I want to be many things, unless I acknowledge what is really happening in my heart, I will never be the man I want to be.

I want to feel powerful, but instead I feel impotent. I want to feel important, but I feel insignificant. I want to feel I am equipped to do what God has called me to be as a husband, but I feel incompetent. (Our counselor refers to these as “The Three I’s” and I will revisit them again and often.) All of these feelings are normal and how I deal with them matters.

I am committed to not passing the blame onto my wife for the affair.

There is nothing she did to deserve what I have done. She is worth all of the uncomfortable moments in that office and I am poised to listen to the advice our counselor gives us. I have decided that while I haven’t dealt with my feelings in a healthy way before, I want to try. And the first thing I did was write her a full disclosure letter - of my entire sexual history.

But before I share how that impacted our lives, I am going to let my girl share first.