Ask Dr. Merry: Husband’s Suicide Wife’s Fault?

» Posted in Ask Dr. Lin, Grief, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 2 comments

grieving woman

I was married to my late husband for about 25 years when he decided to end his life (suicide).  My husband and I met in a church, and within months we were married.  It wasn’t until we were married that I discovered his many struggles with pornography addiction, mental illness, borderline, and bipolar disorder.  Years of having to carry the weight of two in a marriage where my husband was absent emotionally or through several hospital admissions left me tired, drained, resentful and vulnerable.  As a Christian, I never considered divorce or adultery as a possible outcome. However, when I met another man at our church who seemed healthy, stable, and showed me attention… I just fell for him and started a two year affair with him, with all the justifying and rationalizing that goes with it.  When my conscience finally got the better of me and I could no longer rationalize it, I saw a therapist at our church. In the first session he said that if I wanted to save my marriage and end the affair, I had to expose the affair to everybody I knew, including my husband, and then had to cut off all contact with the other man. I immediately told the other man that I could no longer see him, he graciously understood, and I have not seen or talked to him ever since then. I then told my husband. I’m not sure how he felt, since he refused to talk to me after that. Several days later, he shot himself.  Three years later, I  still feel guilty, I feel shame, and I feel so alone with the thought that I may have caused my husband’s death. Can Jesus forgive me for what I have done to my husband and my kids? I hate myself and wonder if I have any right to even expect relief from the consequences of my own actions?  Help… Please.

Oh, my friend, my heart goes out to you because I can hear your pain and feelings of deep shame and self-hatred.  I can hear that you want very much to do the right thing but I’m sure you’re feeling so alone right now, condemned and desperate.  And then for you to bear the weight of the responsibility for your husband’s suicide and the tragic aftermath….  I am so sorry for your pain and what you’re facing with your husband’s choice to end his life.

Before I go any further, I just want to comment briefly about the advice you were given by the counsellor at your church.  I know that he was trying to help guide you to redemption and accountability to stop your affair, but I have to be honest with you:  I hate that the counsellor focused first on the SIN and not on the person – clearly you are a hurting person who has chosen to do the right thing in coming forward and confessing.  But in giving you the advice in the FIRST session to go public – before even getting to know you, your entire story or understanding your husband’s mental illness and instability – is, in my opinion, professionally negligent.   It’s focused more on legalism than it is on grace.  Yes, you needed to stop the affair but there was still much to process and understand and healing that needed to happen before moving forward to exposure.

This is in such contrast to how I think Jesus would respond.  Interestingly, in the story in the Bible where an adulterous woman was brought forward to Jesus to be stoned (John 8), he only said to her go and sin no more – he never brought up the details of her affair or shamed or exposed her in front of others – if anything, he offered her grace.  I think with Jesus, it’s always about the state of the heart and not so much about the outward behaviour or sin.  Remember he said, neither do I condemn you.  In another encounter with someone else who completely messed up (Peter), he responded in the same way; even when Jesus met up with him after Peter denied his Lord three times, Jesus NEVER brought up his mess-ups or asked him why he did it (John 21) – can you imagine, what are you, nuts, to deny me not once, not twice, but THREE times (said in a Yiddish accent).  Instead, he greeted him with love, fed him some fish, asked Peter if he loved him and then asked him to take care of his sheep (his people)!

When I work with people who’ve had affairs who are clearly repentant and want to do the right thing, I know that they need LOTS of grace because their feelings of self-condemnation are already beating them up enough – it’s different if you’re working with someone who is flagrantly having an affair and refuses to stop or excuses or justifies their actions.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences or steps that need to be taken to restore the damage done, but it does mean that they are treated with dignity and grace, as fellow brothers or sisters.  Grace isn’t ignoring the reality of mess-ups and pretending like they never happened, but it’s going into a situation with my eyes wide open, knowing the weaknesses and mistakes and sins of the one with whom I’m in relationship and saying, I still choose to be in relationship with you.

You don’t need penance (that’s what the cross did for our sins), you need grace to heal– when you mess up this badly and go to Jesus and receive only love in response – that is when you truly understand what grace is all about.  Jesus already knew about your sin before the beginning of time and he already chose to love you and accept you as his child even knowing the worst about you – this affair doesn’t change at all how he views you.  The Bible tells us that as God’s children, we are holy and blameless in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4-5) because when God looks at us, he sees Jesus in us and HIS righteousness.  My friend, please hold onto the truth that you are a beloved daughter of the Most High King.  Don’t turn away from the love and grace he is offering you because the enemy is whispering lies to you about your “unforgiveable” sin.  I promise you, God will never turn away from you if you go to him with an open heart; instead, he will offer you the compassion, forgiveness and love that you desperately need.  Don’t wait any longer – go now.  And find yourself a godly Christian therapist who can walk with you to a place of healing.

By the way, please listen to me:  your husband’s suicide was not your fault and there was nothing that you could have done to prevent it if he had made up his mind to kill himself – it was a choice that he made.   You can’t be held hostage by a person’s threat to commit suicide and somehow make yourself responsible to always prevent that from happening; that isn’t at all a healthy way for you or your husband to have lived.  While your revealed affair may have been the trigger, it was still his years of unhappiness and inability to cope with his own tumultuous emotions that ultimately led to his decision to end his life.  I don’t know why he chose to take his own life, but many times, there is a lot of anger and a desire to “punish” loved ones; or if he was indeed borderline, it meant that he was subject to very black and white, all-or-nothing thinking which can lead to very wrong conclusions about relationships and whether they can be redeemed (they can, by the way).  You need to lay down the responsibility for your husband’s choice to kill himself – instead, choose to grieve his decision and the impact of that decision on your family’s life, work through your own emotional responses to your difficult years of marriage, take ownership for your own emotional well-being (that led to your decision to have an affair), learn from your mistakes and then move on to the future that is before you.  This experience will change you but it doesn’t have to define you or prevent you from moving forward and experiencing hope and joy once again.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for dealing with the advice she was given to make her transgression public. There was apparently no consideration given to the hurt and embarassment that would cause her already fragile husband.
    Christian communities are often the most punishing in a situation like this, so to make it public made the situation worse not better.
    While we are told to make amends with a person we have wronged, I think that this has to be done in a way that leads to healing not wounding.
    I saw a similar situation happen with someone i know whose husband had an affair – the church group made it public. Very messy, and the visibility of the issue made it much more difficult for her to forgive, to heal and to trust again. For years afterward, those who were not close to the reconciliation process, judged him. We all need an accountability partner or persons, but public is not the answer.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Dianne. Christian communities are so quick to focus on the sin and the belief that public exposure is healing has a much more punitive flavour than redemptive. I, too, have witnessed shattered lives when sins have been made public and judgement has been a result of that. It sounds too much like stoning to me.

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