Let me be candid with you, many men who say they’re on this journey of transformation and change are, well, frankly, full of ofσκύβαλα aka skubala (this is the Greek word for shit, dung, fecal matter, decayed waste made famous by the Apostle Paul which he used in his letter to the Philippians), you get the point. Men say they are healing, but no actual change can be seen by those who are in relationship with them. Equating men’s commitment to a faux transformation to fecal matter may sound harsh and calloused, and yet, as I check in with myself, I am merely angry. I am angered by how many wives are gaslit daily, hoping their husbands will enter the holy work of humility, healing, and the resurrected life. These men say, “I am doing the work,” “I am going to my meetings,” “I have a sponsor,” “I meet with our pastor to pray weekly,” and “I am seeing my therapist regularly,” “what else do you expect of me!?” Yet their behavior remains essentially unchanged, and their wives stay in the dark, wrestling between hope and despair. Something must replace this madness to see renewal and genuine recovery because the status quo is not working for men or for their betrayed partners. 

Many of these men come and seek help from me, and when the invitation is given of how to become a good and safe man, they cower from the idea of redemptive suffering. I say something to the effect of “It is through the path of redemptive suffering (i.e. pain that leads to new life), through fully grieving your past traumas, thoroughly feeling all that you fear to feel, surrendering your false sense of entitlement, fully “dying” to parts yourself and giving up your life for your wife as Christ did for the church,” then their desire for holistic healing changes a bit. Once healing costs something sacred to them (i.e. their comfort, their porn use, their contempt, their shame, their rage, their entitlement), then something shifts, and they are not as thrilled about entering into their crucifixion anymore. It sounds so noble to become a man of integrity, but few have the grit actually to attain it. Many times, I have gone from a client’s hero, “Andrew, your books were so helpful to my journey.” To someone’s villain, “You want me to face that level of depravity within myself and do what!? No way!” This extreme experience can happen in about a 5-minute phone call. Abusive men hate being held accountable and will go to great lengths to avoid responsibility and pain (refer to the cartoon below for a good laugh.)

Many of these men want resurrection without crucifixion, the joy without the pain; they say they want to save their marriage, but really, what they want is to save themselves. Their words do not match up with their actions. If they’re going to save their marriage, wouldn’t they do anything possible to save it? I remember a client named Jim; He and his wife came to one of our marriage intensives. He said, in front of his hurting wife, “I will do anything to save my marriage.” I could see how proud of himself he was for his noble proclamation. I quickly responded with, “That is excellent news; then you will move out for six months to a year to provide safety and stability for your wife while she heals from the trauma of your infidelity. Like she has asked for?” His face quickly changed, “Well, I don’t want to rush things; my office is at the house, I am also very concerned about renting another property and the cost associated with that” he mumbled as his voice tailed off a bit. Then came with gusto as it seemed he figured out an irrefutable retort, “I also want to make sure I am there for my kids, you know to be a good and present father, maybe she can move out or we can take turns,” he finished. “So, you are saying you will not move out for the health of your wife and your marriage?” I replied. “No,” Jim stated, “I just need more time to think about it. I don’t want to be pressured or manipulated.” They want to “buy” time to avoid accountability and know that once they are home, they can most likely get away with their adolescent behaviors once again. I have similar conversations like this one with couples from all over the country. The cognitive dissonance is strong with abusive men, and it is exasperating at times. The prospect of suffering makes cowards of so many of us. 

At times, when they say they are doing the healing work or have done what was required of them to become a good and safe man, it means they have been alleviated and coddled by therapists, pastors, and their communities to the point where they “feel” like they’ve done the work. How do you determine if your husband has changed? Well, you can read about that in this article. But this essay is to call out the cognitive dissonance that I see so often and am so tired of. 

That reminds me of a pastor who came to train with us at the CCC. He communicated that he had been doing this type of soul work for 15 years and knew what we wanted in regard to being a vulnerable leader. I had my doubts just by talking with him briefly after he applied. When he told his story, it sounded like he had rehearsed it a thousand times. He presented himself as an eloquent Tin Man with no heart. I asked him how many times he had told this story. He proudly proclaimed over 1000, “It’s my testimony.” I told him what my experience was, and I felt like though he was “honest” with his story, he didn’t feel vulnerable. It felt rehearsed that I couldn’t find the real him; it felt like a performance where he was looking for affirmation rather than wanting to be known. He was still hiding from us, so I asked him if he would like not to be so alone. He quickly replied, “Yes,” so I asked him to lay his well-written story down and share it again, but this time feeling it, just like he did when his horrific story happened in his childhood, but before it became his “testimony.” He took a deep breath as I guided him into a visualization of the scene using his five senses. He finally felt like he was there 40 years earlier in the living room when his mother slapped him and called him a “mistake.” These were specific details he left out in his prior telling, but this time, the tears came, along with his anger towards his mother and the abuse that he suffered. More memories came, as well as a flood of other emotions. His testimony was a scene that he talked “about” but never felt about. He was more concerned with tying a pretty Jesus bow on his testimony, and he left his own human experience out altogether. He finally honored his wounded little boy and created space to grieve all that was lost in that moment, his innocence and the safe attachment he had with his mother. This pastor dropped his ministry facade and finally became authentic, a human we could all feel and connect deeply to. We were no longer repelled by him but felt his sacred introduction into his personal holy of holies. 

In closing, men, we don’t have time for faux-transformation, but like Jim, we must face our darkest of shadows and enter into the places we most fear. Everything within us is stripped down to our naked core.  We must face our young, undeveloped parts of ourselves that continue to harm those we say we love. You cannot get well also while escaping death; Crucifixion is going to feel like crucifixion, Death with a capital D. Give up your power and control, release this false sense of security and worth, and step into who God has called you to be, a humble man of deep integrity and courage.