Temptations Triggered by Loneliness
About the Guest
Sickness and other crises brought financial distress to Susie Larson and her husband. Susie recounts how her husband tried to fill the void with work, and how she indulged herself to fill her emotional vacuum—and the eventual realization that love is a choice, not just a feeling.
Sickness and other crises brought financial distress to Susie Larson and her husband.
Temptations Triggered by Loneliness
Susie: I am very communicative, and so I would be in his face, I would put my hands on his cheeks and say, "You are missing me, you are missing the kids, I am talking to the side of your face." In his mind, he was doing this church project, it was a good thing, and he would deal with us once he got done with the project. But it was stretching out so long it was hard for him even to realize what he was missing. He just really did have the world on his shoulders in a different way.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 17th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What do you do in marriage when the gap between you starts to widen, and you feel like there's no way to reconnect? We'll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. We've had an opportunity, Dennis, to talk to a lot of singles over the years who are lonely and longing for a relationship, intimacy, marriage, someone to connect with, and they think "If I could just get married, I'd never be lonely again."
But the reality is, we've had a chance to talk to many more married folks who thought that just getting married would fix all of that, and they find themselves more lonely in marriage than they were when they were still single.
Dennis: And that's because when two people come together, it's God's plan not just for that couple but for each individual person. I want to read to you a passage, and I don't want to get into a great debate here about whether God causes suffering or not, but just listen to what this passage says. It's Psalm 71, verse 20 – "You" – speaking of God – "You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again. From the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again."
Now, I know, because I've studied the Bible a number of years, no one is exempt from suffering. Suffering is a part of the Christian faith, it is a part of following Christ. Some people have described it as the "fine print" of the Christian life, but it is going to be true for every person and certainly every married couple.
And what we talked about earlier on FamilyLife Today was what happens in a marriage when two people miss each other in the midst of suffering. Perhaps it's financial suffering, emotional suffering, a crisis of health. It is easy to be married and be lonely in the midst of this suffering.
And we have an author who has been sharing about how she was alone in her marriage, and she's written about this in a book called "Alone in Marriage." Susie Larson joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Susie, welcome back.
Susie: Thank you so much for having me.
Dennis: Susie is a freelance writer. She is also a speaker at women's groups, has three sons, and she and her husband have been married since 1985, and it's really a story, Susie, about your own marriage, how you started out. Your husband was basically alone in marriage. Then, later on, you began a season of being alone in marriage so much so that God finally broke you and pointed out that maybe at that point you were the problem.
Dennis: Really, what your book is about is bringing hope and encouragement to spouses who find themselves in marriages where they are not experiencing what God designed.
Bob: Mm-hm, and I think we have to point out that your husband's season of being alone was related to your illness, your Lyme's disease. You weren't distracted or intentionally neglecting him in any way. But what you started feeling several years later, as his career heated up, and as he got involved with the church building committee, you felt like you and the family had been put on the back burner, and he was simply not interested in you as much as he was interested – well, we've described it this way – we talk about men or women having a career affair. It had to feel like the construction job was a mistress, didn't it?
Susie: Well, it was more the church building job is what felt like that to me, and it really did affect my whole perspective. Again, I felt – we'd even show up to church together on Sundays, and there would be 40 people around him asking questions, wanting to see things and know things about the addition. So even on church days, I was just kind of – edged out of the crowd, and it was just a real picture of everybody needing things from him, and him responding to those needs and me feeling by the wayside.
Bob: When you finally came to him and said, "I have not been loving you as I should, I've let my love grow cold, and I'm recommitting myself to loving you no matter what," I know that was a breakthrough point, but I think our listeners need to know that doesn't mean that the next day everything was hunky-dory in your relationship, right?
Susie: Great point, no, not at all. He had a commitment to fulfill, and there were days where love was really a choice, because the honest truth, right or wrong, my cup had run dry, and so my emotions felt that way as well. But I was serious about that commitment, so I continued to make those choices. But we ran across that finish line together, and that was really important.
Bob: What did loving your husband as an act of the will look like on those days when you weren't feeling any love for him, but you were choosing to do it?
Susie: I'll tell you what it didn't look like – I gave him the bumpy pillow when I made the bed, and the rubbery piece of chicken at dinnertime.
Dennis: Really? Really?
Dennis: You were punishing him like that?
Susie: Okay, can we scratch that?
Bob: No, we can't.
Susie: You're right.
Dennis: I want to know what other ways you were punishing him.
Susie: I dangled a red soccer sock over his white underwear in the washer, because I wanted to turn everything pink.
Dennis: On purpose?
Susie: But I didn't do it.
Dennis: You really are feisty.
Susie: I know. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. When I made the bed, I gave him the bumpy pillow.
Dennis: Did you ever throw anything at him?
Susie: No, I didn't. I had to think about it, because I think I thought of throwing the bumpy pillow at him, but I didn't.
Bob: But you were, in your mind …
Susie: I was mad at him, I was.
Bob: You wanted to hurt him or at least get his attention in some way.
Susie: Well, that's the Christian retaliation – the bumpy pillow and the rubbery chickekn. You know, I didn't poison or anything like that.
Dennis: We're kind of laughing about this here and, for a number of listeners …
Bob: This is right where they're living.
Dennis: I mean, they're living and you know what? They've thought about a whole lot worse.
Susie: I know, and I've heard from those women.
Dennis: And done a whole lot worse than the bumpy pillow. I mean, let's talk about what you do, day in and day out, with loneliness in a marriage where the husband is refusing to address your needs.
Susie: Right. Well, I interviewed a lot of women for this book, and what I found is very interesting – whether the woman is alone because her husband is in the military, starting a business, or dabbling in pornography, the same things came up for these same women – the same temptations, the same struggles.
And so I came up with seven temptations that were across the board – things that these women were honest about that they struggled with, and the first one would be to serve yourself. And what I mean by that is considering his absence my license – "Well, if you're going to do that, I'm going to do this." I'm going to buy, or I'm going to eat, or I'm going to go do this thing, and when you serve yourself, you get into a place of entitlement, you really run the risk of going off the path that God has for you.
So though the temptation is to serve yourself, the call is to serve God.
Dennis: Is there a number-one area where women tend to serve themselves?
Susie: You know, shopping is a big one.
Dennis: That would be my guess.
Susie: Spend a lot of money, mm-hm, mm-hm.
Dennis: That would be my guess.
Susie: But my point is, though, you have to treat yourself. If your husband is neglecting you, truly, if he's absent, it helps to buy yourself some flowers; to get a pedicure, but it's treating yourself but remember that you serve God. But when it shifts over to serving yourself and a sense of entitlement, then you're doing it out of a spirit that's just not good for you. So that would be one of the first temptations.
Bob: There are, undoubtedly, women who wind up either in emotional adultery or in actual adultery thinking that I'm justified or I'm owed this or I'm due this because my husband has neglected me, and I have needs.
Susie: Well, that's one of the other temptations is a wild thought life, and what's very interesting to me was not only that women have emotional affairs and not tell anybody about, and, truly, strong Christian women who felt, "If nobody knows about it, does it really hurt me?" But other women have told me they fantasized about their husband's dying. Not that they fantasized about killing them, but Christian women who said, "I would dream about him getting sick and dying or getting killed in a car accident so I wouldn't have to deal with this anymore."
And so that temptation, of a wild thought life, were getting on chatrooms and doing all kinds of fantasy things that way – that would be the temptation, and the call would be to guard your heart and mind with all diligence.
Bob: Let me go back to the one you identified first, thought, that temptation to serve yourself. When that temptation arises, what do you do?
Susie: If women are looking for how-to advice as far as how to get through this, maritally speaking, I would suggest they listen to your program. The book really is from a very spiritual perspective, because I'm always bringing it back to the reader saying, "Check your heart. Pay attention. Where is this stuff coming out of?" And all of these things I believe are solved in an intimate connection with God and obeying Him and minding the small checks before they become big problems.
Bob: So the desire to serve yourself, you really have to go back and ask yourself "What does God want me to do?"
Susie: What's my motivation? And I would say, if you feel you're coming from a place of entitlement, say no to yourself and make yourself deal with it. I'm not buying that today because I'm feeling this angst, and I'm mad, and that's not the time to do that. You go – and I don't mean to sound spiritually cliché, but it worked for me, and it's worked for other women – get alone with God. Get a girlfriend with you and say, "God, help me with this attitude that's rising up on me." But on a good day, treat yourself and know that God gives good gifts to His children.
Dennis: I want to talk about some of the other temptations in a moment, but you just mentioned one I want to pause on for a second – the temptation to get angry, get mad, become embittered. What's a woman to do with that? And I think you mentioned a part of the solution being get with another woman, a godly woman who can advise you and listen to you and call you to do what's right.
Susie: Yes, this is another distinction that I felt and found was incredibly important. You know, if you rehash old offenses, they re-injure you, and they make you mad. There is a very big difference of sitting around with a bunch of women bashing your husband – that's sin – versus getting with someone who walks in the fear of the Lord, who you have given permission to call you up, call you on the carpet, and then you say, "I am so bad."
I had mentors in my life that really helped me, would point me upward, and would never let me get away with a bad attitude. And so that is just so important – is to talk about – keep small checks on those angry moments, and I think sometimes it is like playing "Hot Potato," where you have to give it up and give it up and take authority and that kind of thing.
Bob: Do you remember a time when you were standing, looking at something you wanted to buy and thought, "I'm walking away, because to buy it would be to serve myself, and I'm not going to do that?"
Susie: I really don't struggle with buying things too much. I'm pretty frugal, so it stresses me out to spend money that I shouldn't spend, you know?
Bob: Were there ways you did try to serve yourself?
Susie: Yeah, you know, I probably – maybe I indulge in books. I like books a lot, so – but I do remember, you know, times, just in general, where I would feel the angst, and I would have to just say, "I am not going there," and truly it works – when you say no to your flesh, and you say yes to God, in those moments, God meets you there. It's a very big deal. I believe that. That matters to God when we do that.
Dennis: You know, you mentioned another temptation where women are – well, they're really tempted to build a wall. Is that wall between them and their spouse?
Susie: Yes, they don't want to feel disappointment anymore because it's – you know, when you have so many disappointments that sort of fall dead at your feet, you kind of get tired of feeling that way, and so what we do is we build these walls around our heart so nothing gets in. But then nothing gets out. And so if and when the season changes, whether your husband, you know, stops the workaholism or snaps out of the depression or whatever that is, when that reconciliation time comes where you're back together again, that can't happen with that wall around your heart.
And so thought it may feel like an efficient way to not get hurt, you really leave yourself isolated so that the temptation is to build a wall. To me, the call, then, is to be tough and tender, and what I mean by that is tough against the temptations and the lies of the enemy, but tender with things of God so that you are tender with His dealings in your heart. So when that season comes back around, you're ready. It's like the light is on inside, and you're ready.
Dennis: What you're talking about there, though, Susie, is really giving grace to your husband when he doesn't understand fully how he's hurt you.
Dennis: And as you described that confrontation you had where you really placed yourself at his feet and confessed your own lack of love for him and how your love had grown cold – one of the things you describe is you said "the scales fell from his eyes, and he realized how badly he'd hurt you."
Well, you'd been telling him for years how badly he had hurt you. How do you continue to give grace in the midst of continually being disappointed and hurt repeatedly over and over and over again?
Susie: I would say God gives us more grace. How did Corrie Ten Boom make it surrounded by evil men and women in the concentration camp? Or Harriet Tubman born into slavery? You know what? Some point, when you're surrounded by incredible difficulty, you have to take His promises as they stand, and so even in the midst, when your husband is letting you down, God's Word is still true, and supernaturally He can infuse you with more grace because you get more grace, His mercies are at your doorstep every morning.
Bob: Were you a wall-builder?
Susie: Yes, I was. I think that's where the disappointment didn't affect me. I was on autopilot and I was getting my work done and taking care of things around the house, and I really, you know, didn't know that I was shutting off until I really got confronted. Then I looked back, like I said, and was appalled that I gave him the rubbery chicken.
Bob: Did it get pretty thick – the wall?
Susie: No, not really, because I really have an active walk with God, and I was still kind to him and, you know, at times, but if I went a couple of days where I would call and never get a call back or things that he'd say he would do, and he didn't do, and something would happen, that's when I would just, you know, push back and just not talk and get short and that kind of thing.
Bob: There had to be times in the midst of all of this where your husband would find an opening and would come and would say, "You know, I've missed you," or "let's spend some time together," or would initiate intimacy. Did you keep the wall up or did you let it down in those times?
Susie: Wow, that's a really – that's a very personal question …
Bob: Yes, it is.
Susie: … and I will answer that for you. I don't honestly recall in those two years him finally opening – I really remember, and he would probably say the same thing – that his eye was on "I've got to get this thing done." You know, initiating intimacy, that was difficult for us, and there were some fights around that. It wasn't easy and, again, coming from a sexual abuse background, I'm not a victim, I'm a victor, but you think about it differently, and it's so difficult when the relational piece isn't there, especially for someone who looked at it as a dirty thing, anyway. That was a real hurdle. But that's something else, actually, I address in the book – that I realize this is something I'm going to fight for in my marriage. I'm going to get my own lamb back. I'm not going to let that thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, steal this from me, too.
And so there was some tenacity required once that wall came down of getting back all the things, and I felt like the enemy of my soul trying to steal from me. So it was hard. It was a difficult – it was a dry and weary land, I'll tell you that.
Dennis: But let's not lay that too soon here, because the opposite of being a wall-builder is a bridge-builder. Practically, how did you build the bridges to your husband in this area?
Susie: Physically speaking?
Susie: Okay, I'll …
Dennis: Because there are women right now who are listening who are saying, "I don't respect him." I don't know how you can have intimacy with a man you don't have a relationship with. Because, as you described it, Susie, you were talking to the side of his face, not face-to-face, soul-to-soul …
Dennis: How do you build a bridge, practically speaking – I've got the spiritual down, I need to trust God, but I'm ready to put some practical bricks on that bridge. How do you do it?
Susie: Well, what I did, is I did for him what I wanted done for me, and often I'll tell you that doesn't work with husbands and wives because they want different things, but it worked in this situation. So – when he'd be sitting at the table going over a blueprint, I would go up behind him and rub his shoulders, and I would just honor the fact that he is just really, really good at what he does, and I would tell him that – "You are so good at this. I'm amazed at your attention to detail." And I would compliment how he looked when he was going out the door. And, for me, those were bricks for me. I was just making the choice, and those things were true about him. And when I would back up, on a bigger context, this was a godly man, and he loved his kids and loved his wife. He wasn't, you know …
Dennis: Now, wait a second – a godly man who loved his kids and loved his wife.
Susie: But his priorities were misplaced.
Dennis: Do you really believe he loved you?
Susie: Yes, I think he would have died for me, and I knew that.
Dennis: Even though he wouldn't live with you, day to day?
Susie: Right. Selfishly speaking, that made me just mad, and it really hurt me that I felt, as you mentioned, Bob, before, that he was choosing the church over me. Deep in my core, I really did know. And, again, this is different for other listeners who have absolute jerks for husbands. My husband is not a jerk, was never a jerk, but he was misplaced in the priorities during those two years.
Bob: You could look at him and say, "Here is a guy who has gotten pulled aside, gotten snared by other priorities. This is not somebody who is consciously and malevolently trying to hurt and harm me. This is just a guy who has gotten off course, and I can love him?"
Susie: Yes, and, very much, that was the case for me. And, again, I speak to Christian women who have evil husbands, who do and say evil, deplorable things. This is not my husband. He isn't. I want to honor him, he is a God-fearing man who was very misplaced and felt like he needed to finish the job, and then he would take care of me.
Bob: I remember a helpful distinction we learned years ago, Dennis, when we had Dan Allender on FamilyLife Today, and he said that in a relationship you can have somebody who is a foolish person, you can have somebody who is an evil person, or you can have somebody who is just kind of a garden-variety sinner. And he said our response to all three of them needs to be a loving, a boldly loving response, but it helps to stop and ask the question – is this person being intentionally evil? Or is this just a person who is …
Susie: … clueless?
Bob: Either foolish or tripped up in sin, who has gotten distracted, and it's possible for any of us to wind up there.
Dennis: And I want to go back to the passage I read earlier, Psalm 71, verse 20 – "You have made me see many troubles and calamities. You will revive me again. From the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again."
The thing I liked, Susie, about where you are pointing people, it's not to a how-to list of practical things that leave God out. But it's a hope in God that He is the one who is going to do battle. He is the one who changes hearts beginning with your own.
Dennis: And I'll tell you, this is tough stuff we're talking about here, because there are wives who have attempted to hope in God, to trust in Him, and to do what's right by their husbands, and yet their love seems to be falling on blinded eyes and deaf ears. And I think those are the ones who need hope to know how to keep going, and we're going to continue this conversation about how we can do that.
Bob: You know, I'm thinking about the couples who attend our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences. On Saturday afternoon, we talk about how we resolve conflict in marriage – what do we do when we are in isolation, and marriages go there from time to time. Every marriage experiences conflict. How do we find our way back? How do we resolve the conflict that put us in separate corners?
And in that message, we talk about what do you do if your husband or your wife doesn’t seem to understand that there is an issue here, and you do feel alone, and you feel disrespected and not listened to and isolated from your spouse. Is there anything that the Bible talks about? And we've been unpacking that here today. We unpack it at the Weekend to Remember conference.
I, again, just want to encourage our listeners to make it a priority this spring to get a weekend away together where the two of you can have some fun, can relax, have a personal marriage retreat and enjoy a weekend at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.
We're going to be hosting these in cities all across the country throughout the spring. I'm looking forward next month to speaking to the conference in Newport, Rhode Island, and, again, there are conferences in dozens of cities all across the country. There is information on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com on where the conference is being held. You can register online, if you'd like, or if you have questions about the event, you can get those answered for you online as well.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call us, toll-free, for information at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team can answer any questions you might have about the Weekend to Remember. When you get in touch with us, you can also request a copy of Susie Larson's book, which is called "Alone in Marriage," and she shares a lot of what we've talked about on our program this week. Again, the book is called "Alone in Marriage." It's available online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
You know, on a couple of occasions, Dennis, I have been in an audience where you have been addressing men on our responsibility to step up to manhood, to maturity, and to biblical masculinity. It's a powerful message that I've heard you share with a lot of men over the last couple of years, and my wife has had the opportunity to hear your wife talk to ladies about what a wife can do to help her husband step up to manhood. Both of those messages are now available on audio CD, and this week we are making the two-CD set available to our listeners as a thank you gift when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.
FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. It's folks just like you who make a donation to the ministry from time to time who make sure that we stay on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country. And so if you can make a donation this week, and you'd like to receive the two-CD series on stepping up to manhood, just type the word "manhood" in the keycode box on the online donation form as you fill that out at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone and ask for the Manhood CDs. We are happy to be able to send them out to you, and we trust that you'll not only benefit from them yourself but that you'll pass it along to somebody else who might benefit from hearing these messages as well, and we appreciate your financial support.
Now, tomorrow Susie Larson is going to be back with us, and we're going to continue to talk about what a wife does or what a husband does when you find yourself alone in marriage. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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