I feel deeply.
In other words, I'm emotional. I prefer the former because the latter gets such a bad rap. Compassion and the feeling of love come fairly easy to me. I can often become overwhelmed by it. But it took some deep reflection and study to understand the action of love and loving others.
Is it any surprise that someone with a sexual addiction doesn't really know how to love?
For years, perhaps my whole relationship with my spouse, I have struggled to feel loved by him. Of course he was "loving". He said what I wanted or thought I needed to hear, he showered me with gifts and flowers to make me feel loved. But what he was doing was not actually love. It was still about him and how he was perceived by others. How often I was told by a friend or a co-worker how wonderful my husband was! I actually had one friend ask if I could clone him. He had everyone wrapped around his finger. It looked great on the outside, but what was going on inside was far more important. And at the time, he wasn't sharing that with anyone.
I'm not saying that dealing with my spouse's sexual addiction wasn't and still isn't hard. It is. But when I understood addiction better (thanks to reading "False Intimacy" by Dr. Schaumburg), I realized that love has nothing to do with the addiction. It was never a relationship he was after and as twisted as this may sound, there was some comfort in that for me.
Now many years and many counseling sessions forward of the crisis my husband and I continue to vary on our idea of love. A couple of years ago I felt led to revisit what it means to truly love another person. I read a book called "Love Walked Among Us" by Paul Miller. When you want to understand what love is SUPPOSED to look like, who better to look at then Jesus. He is love and He does it perfectly. We can love better when we study Jesus' example when He was here on Earth. I recently encouraged my husband to read it and it has been very powerful for him.
I know whatever we idolize we love. So if sex is your idol then not only does it become everything to you, in my spouse's case, it became the way he felt love. (I know in a general sense this is true for a lot of men.) But for him, it actually became the exclusive way he gave and interpreted love. Everything he did (that looked like love) was motivated by sex. And if there was nothing to be gained, he was impatient, self-centered, and uncaring when it came to others. Even people he was trying hard to love. He just didn't understand it. Love became disfigured and he was hard pressed to understand what it was supposed to look like, let alone how to do it. It became hard for him to receive love from me in any other way. And certainly impossible to feel the love God had for him.
The Paul Miller book has opened his eyes to what true love really looks like. Love is "forgetting our own needs in order to think about someone else" (70), it is not efficient (30), "love moves towards people...it doesn't leave them alone in their suffering or selfishness" (148). One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "If we mix love and self, we don't get a mixture of love and self -- we just get plain selfishness" (137). That's a convicting and challenging task even with a healthy understanding of love.
Sometimes I took for granted the fact that it is easy for me to feel deeply and have compassion for others. I suppose I can credit God for making me that way and for important people in my life for modeling that for me. Realizing that it does not come as easily to my spouse and yet expecting that of him has been difficult. There have been times when he has done things that have felt completely unlovable. It's hard for me to comprehend being able to make choices that are so selfish. Not that I do not struggle with selfishness. I would say it's our human default. You have to work to love others. If it came easily do you think God would have had to make such a big deal about it? Do you think he would have had to explain how a husband was to love his wife and vice versa (Ephesians 5; 1 Peter 3)? Do you think it would have been one of his most important commandments (Matthew 22:37-39)?
As I re-read this post today it can at times seem like I'm being a little harsh. Obviously to some degree my spouse can love and is today making great strides in this area. I'm sharing this today because learning how to love is just another step in a process of healing. We all have issues that contribute to relationship breakdowns. I am very fortunate to have a spouse who is open minded and willing to take these hard looks at himself. God has given him a heart to want to make changes, critical changes so that we can grow in love with one another. And for this I am truly thankful!
"What is it like to know that no matter how messed up you might be, the good shepherd looks at you with love, surrounds you with compassion, envelops you in his arms, and cares for the details of your life? Love begins, not with loving, but with being loved" (164).
1. This Is My Solemn Vow