As a Family and Marital Therapist, I have learnt not to assume when couples come for marital counselling that they naturally want to save their marriage. Even so, when I posed to a husband the question of what he wanted from counselling, I found his answer somewhat confusing – he said that “the best outcome [was] to divorce”. His wife sought to clarify his answer with a more direct question: “So you want a divorce?” He replied with the same answer.
In the conversation that followed, it became clear that divorce was not what he wanted but what he felt he deserved. He had wronged his wife by being in an adulterous relationship and had also, for years, failed to be financially responsible. On top of this litany of wrongs, he concluded that he could never meet his wife’s expectations of a husband. This man felt ashamed and broken. He also felt helpless to repair the wrongs he had done.
To repair broken relationships or make restitution requires a number of conditions. It needs the person to acknowledge his or her fault, to be contrite and to make amends. In a situation where the parties are related by birth or by marriage and where the desire is to rebuild and continue these relationships, there is another ingredient: The defaulter must believe that they can be or will be a worthy partner in this relationship.
The husband whom I described expressed a sense of profound unworthiness. This is something I have seen in a number of cases: Husbands who had betrayed their wives, fathers who had disappointed their children and wives who had gone astray. In this article, I want to pay special attention to the men.
This is because men have a responsibility to love, provide for, protect and lead their families. Society also tends to expect more from them. Therefore when men fall, they hurt themselves, those around them and those who depend on them. So it is important that these men rebuild themselves and the faith others can have in them. These are the times when I want to call out to these men to “Man up!”, to evoke in them the spirit to fight the good fight – to strive for the cause that matters.
What gets in the way of this challenge? Often, it is the sting and the fear of failure. Failure is by nature a humbling experience. Men who encounter it may experience a vulnerability that they are unused to. Many would flinch from a close scrutiny of their failure, to reflect on and learn from where they had gone wrong. Others may find it hard to meet the eyes of those whom they have disappointed.
As a result, some of these men throw themselves into work, into drink, or withdraw altogether. I have met a number of fathers who cut themselves off from their children after they divorced their mothers. They did not know how to face the sadness and anger of their children. Yet in the act of withdrawing, the hurt is multiplied and prolonged.
A man reinstating himself in the marriage and home also needs the forgiveness and acceptance of those whom he has wronged, which can never be expected or demanded. It can however be encouraged, especially when the hurt parties see these men walking tall with integrity, responsibility, and humility.
I believe that when we fall, we can and should learn from our mistakes. I also believe that, if those whom we wronged will allow us, we can restore ourselves to a sound standing. This journey is long and hard. At times, we may need the guidance of others. However, the goal is priceless: the rebuilding of treasured relationships and the restoration of a man’s sense of pride in himself. I firmly believe that our Lord takes no pleasure when we fall and He is ever ready to help us find our footing and place in life and relationships.
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Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.