February 25, 2018

What Did I Do Wrong?

Gary Thomas — 


When a family member—a spouse or a child—misbehaves or breaks your heart, the most natural reaction is to ask, “What did I do wrong?”

Wrong question entirely.

A therapist friend of mine, who has worked with thousands of couples in heartbreaking situations, always asks such people, “When God created the perfect world for Adam and Eve and even that wasn’t enough to keep them from sinning, do you think the Trinity asked, ‘Where did we go wrong?’”

When God blessed David, called him out of nowhere to make him a man of significance, put him on a throne, and David responded with adultery and murder, do you think God asked, “What could I have done differently?”

When Jesus lived as the perfect Messiah, giving Judas copious amounts of wondrous teaching, perfect counsel, and absolutely the best example anyone could ever demonstrate, and yet all that proved not to be enough for Judas, did Jesus ask, “What did I do wrong? Why did Judas stray?”

A near universal response for wives who find out their husbands have had affairs or been dabbling in porn—in fact, I’ve heard this from just about every wife I’ve talked to whose marriage has been marred by this—is, “What’s wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough? Am I not creative enough in bed?”

Wives, it’s never about you. Sex can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to either spouse thinking they have to be more beautiful, younger, more creative, and better “mechanically” than anyone else in the world or their spouse might be unfaithful. Think about that line of thinking for just a second—that’s not marriage, that’s not real intimacy. It’s sick to even consider all that as necessary for a spouse to be faithful. It turns sex into an ugly performance instead of a cherishing act.

Thinking that we can be such good parents or such good spouses that our loved ones will never stray is to think we can “outdo” the Trinity. You cannot, as a parent, create a perfect Garden of Eden experience for your kids, but even if you did, they’d mess it up. You cannot, as a partner, be a truer companion than Jesus, but even if you were, you’d face betrayal.

There may be a time, later, when you reflect on what you could have done better, as a parent or a spouse. We can all improve, and the Bible urges us to grow in every area. But that’s different than thinking you can be such a good parent or such a good spouse that your loved ones will never stumble. “We all stumble in many ways.” James 3:2

If anything, the real answer to “What did I do wrong?” is, “You were born in sin and you live in a world where every family member has been born in sin.”

God’s remedy to this isn’t you, it’s Jesus. His grace, his forgiveness, his wisdom, his power, his redemption—that’s the ultimate solution. As much as we’d like to be, we’re not the answer; Jesus is.

So let’s stop wondering, “What did I do wrong?” and start asking, “How can surrendering to Jesus’ grace and presence help us find our way back?”


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43 responses to What Did I Do Wrong?

  1. Okay, post 2. My marriage…
    So I know what I “did wrong”, what now? It’s not what you would guess, no, see for 6 years I was a professional jouster. I had to quit 4 or 5 years ago due to too many injuries. Come to find out, one of which is a brain injury from too many head traumas. This has led to severe fibromyalgia pain and debilitating idiopathic hypersomnia which is similar to narcolepsy so am only awake between between 3 and 9 hours a day separated by naps. So i had to stop working 3 1/2 years ago and have been fighting for disability benefits since January 2015, which was the last time I got a pay check. That also happens to be within one week since the last time my wife has had any intimate contact with me beyond a hug.

    Not only does this mean no physical release, but I am already nearly suicidal (if it were not for my faith I would be dead) not being able to provide for my family, having to watch her suffer trying to keep us afloat, having had to give up every hobby and activity I enjoy and barely being able to stay awake to even help around the house, but it is INCREDIBLY emasculating especially tying my loss of any intimacy, right or wrong, with my last paycheck.

    We are still together and still struggling through. But I have fought a porn addiction since finding my dad’s stash pre-puberty. It had become much better after our marriage, but these last three years? I just want to be intimate with my wife again. But nothing? For 3 years? It makes the porno hard to resist for more than a few weeks to maybe a couple months.

  2. I’m going to make 2 separate posts so please bear with me. First, when I saw the OP, I initially took it differently. You see for me, the place where I ask this, is not in my marriage but with my daughter. Her mom left me when she was 2. We had joint mutual custody so I did have her 50% of the time and never missed out. I went to every event, baked her cakes, got her horse riding lessons and a horse and it seemed we had a good relationship. We went to church every weekend and I tucked her in bed and we prayed every night until into high school. I use to be a big Apologist on a pre-Facebook page and when I picked her up from school she would always ask what debates I was in and even from a young age, she would argue the flaws in the Athiests arguments.

    Then she went to college.

    It was even a Lutheran college though they didn’t push religion. But they still opened activities with prayer, had religious studies courses and had “obedience to God ” in their mission statement. So I though she was moderately safe. But not long after, she moved in with her boyfriend and things between her nose dived. Now, she absolutely cannot stand me. She says i was abusive as a parent because i never took her seriously and made fun of her (this was extremely rare and done jokingly like any people, like when she was learning to drive, put the car in drive instead of reverse and crashed through the garage. Instead of getting mad, I made a joke). She has become very rude and disrespectful and has abandoned pretty much all the values I though I had instilled in her. But worse than all that, she has completely abandoned her faith. She says she believes in a higher power, just not the God of Scripture. She is straight but pro gay and marches in gay pride parades. She is very political and against any religious freedom laws as well as very pro abortion. And she frequently makes comments, knowing that i read them, about how terrible anyone who disagrees with these policies are.

    I get what Gary is saying. But, as far as God’s commands to fathers as to our roles, I could not be much greater a failure. Yes, God had kids stray too. But He knew they would, knew why and knows full well what He could have done differently to change it (even if that would have involved subverting their fee will). I’m at a total loss

  3. This is a fresh wound that I am currently dealing with as my spouse has been extremely cruel and mean in blaming me for his affair. My husband of 25 years has decided to abandon me and walk out without even praying or seeking counseling. He just told me the month before his affair, how wonderful our marriage was and boom, all of a sudden he doesn’t love me anymore. Thank you for your words written, I know God is speaking to me. I have read your books : Cherish, Sacred Search, Sacred Marriage and getting ready to read Love is a Verb.
    My burden is lifting as I realize he is broken and needs Jesus.

    • Beautiful daughter of the King February 27, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      Praying for you Ann—they blame you to soften their guilt—blameshifting!!
      Isn’t this freeing knowing the truth!? And not believing lies that it’s all your fault.

    • What a wonderful and touching response from Gary and as a licensed marriage and family therapist with degrees in theology as well as marriage and family therapy and over 35 years of full-time Ministry and 17 years of counseling experience I believe he is right on in every point in this. Thank you Gary for your loving response to this hurting wife. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book by Dr. David Clarke What to do When your Husband tells you I don’t love you anymore, but I highly recommend that you check it out and consider what Dr. Clarke has to say in response to your husband sin. Also helpful is David Carder’s book Torn Asunder for a softer but excellent approach. May God give you comfort and peace as you go through this AnnB.

  4. Thank you for this post, Gary!

    “Blameshifting” was a common occurrence in my abusive marriage (“I wouldn’t have done ____insert sin____ if you were more ___insert quality___.”), effectively transferring the responsibility of his choices and the future of our marriage to ME. What a relief when I finally laid that responsibility back where it belonged!

    I’m afraid that many Christian spouses (especially women) are naive and tender enough to swallow this lie (as I did for many years), and it keeps them trapped. Grateful that the church is awakening to this flawed thinking and starting to hold spouses accountable for their own behavior.

  5. Thanks Gary. I had already asked myself these questions and now I can see myself through a different perspective.

  6. What did I do wrong?

    Do I not make enough money? Do I not do enough to help around the house? Am I not as romantic as her ex-boyfriends? Do I not measure up to a hunky Hollywood star in the bedroom? Why do I feel so inadequate? I am unworthy of this woman because everyone in the church tells all the men they married above them. Why do I feel like a failure? Why is my wife angry with me all the time? Why does she threaten to divorce me when the money gets tight? Maybe if she had married that attorney boyfriend or the airline pilot she used to date she would be a lot better off. Maybe I am not manly enough. Maybe I need to wear my hair a certain way or lose 25 pounds. Then I will be a real man. I should man up and be the Man of God she deserves. I don’t deserve anything. Respect is earned. Sex is earned. And I haven’t put enough in the marital bank account to expect anything. So I should be content to have sex only when she feels like it. And if that is only once a month or every few months then I have only myself to blame.

    What did I do wrong?

    • Mitch, You might be missing the point of this post. I’m not blaming you, husbands or wives. Both regularly sin against each other.

      The level of contempt in your short paragraph however, would tell anyone your marriage is in dire straits. I pray God will send you a helper to restore your affection for each other and help both of you address some very hurtful and legitimate issues. I think you’re beyond one-hour-a-week marital counseling. I’d recommend a marriage intensive, such as those offered by the Smalley Institute. I don’t think you two will get out of this on your own.

      • I appreciate that you are trying to be even-handed here, but I was hoping that, just as you extend grace and compassion towards the wives of porn addicted husbands, so I thought you might extend similar grace and compassion my way instead of blame. When you say that we both need to address “hurtful and legitimate issues” are you implying that I am guilty of something that needs to be addressed? If so, I am not going to disagree because no matter how much my wife hurts me, I share blame. I may not be guilty of threatening divorce when things get tough, but I have my own sins that she is the victim of.

        But that balance seems missing when you say that “wives it is never about you.” Perhaps the porn issue is not about her. But “never”? Is there no sin a wife is capable of committing that would ever bring her a sliver of the blame for her husband’s porn use? If porn is the unpardonable sin, then does that include her enthusiasm for the sleazy Starz series “Outlander”? Some of those romance novels? Or how about “food porn” on the Food Network or “consumption porn” on QVC?

        I am just trying to find out if you really know how many husbands are out there who feel just as inadequate and question themselves just as much as many wives do. I am tired of trying to measure up to ridiculous expectations. i was just happy to have a wife and then all of a sudden I found out that my car was inadequate, my job was inadequate, my healthcare plan at work was inadequate, my opinions on parenting were not shared, and I lacked romancing skills that were easily exceeded by past boyfriends.

        Hopefully, the Smalley Institute will convince my wife that I am trying my best to be worthy of her.

        • Mitch G,

          I’ll admit on second reading that because I use a man’s porn use that this post could read as if women don’t need to be challenged. That’s a fair and valid critique. The reality is, when I challenge wives, I hear from angry women that I’m putting abused women at risk. And when I challenge husbands, I hear from angry men that I always take the wife’s side. This post does read a little one-sided to me, and I’ll try to be more even-handed.

          Having said that, when you write, ” Is there no sin a wife is capable of committing that would ever bring her a sliver of the blame for her husband’s porn use? If porn is the unpardonable sin, then does that include her enthusiasm for the sleazy Starz series “Outlander”? Some of those romance novels? Or how about “food porn” on the Food Network or “consumption porn” on QVC?”

          My answer is NO. There is no sin a wife is capable of that casts blame on her for her husband’s use of porn or having an affair (and I’ve never called porn the unpardonable sin). That’s NOT to say that perhaps she doesn’t have unhealthy habits as well. I don’t know anything about Outlander, but in the early days of this blog I DID write a post that described the damage done to marriages when wives read too many romance novels and watch too many romantic comedies. Both partners can sin in their own way. But someone else’s sin never excuses my own. Certainly, a wife who makes sex a priority makes it much easier for her husband to stay faithful, but to blame a non-enthusiastic wife for her husband’s fall is to suggest single men CAN’T be sexually pure, and you wouldn’t want to say that, would you?

          • I respect your sensitivity towards the abuse issue and share your concern about women (or men) who are victims of physical assault or emotional manipulation. The blame issue is tricky because of how it can be used by abusers to manipulate their spouses into false guilt. But I am also aware of how the Christian community is responding to the porn issue (panic) and how it is responding to the crisis of sexless marriages (hardly at all).

            And as the larger culture denigrates “toxic” masculinity and wants to “smash the patriarchy”, the Christian community wants to double down on demanding that Christian husbands “man up” and glosses over the sins of women. Our pastor recently preached on Ephesians 5. He spent 90 percent of his time talking about the requirements of husbands to love our wives sacrificially and about 9 percent of the time talking about mutual submission. The only sentence he had to wives was that “if you can serve your children and community, you can also serve your husbands.” That was it.

            So as my wife holds me to unrealistically high standards, the church piles it on even higher. At a certain point, I begin to wonder if I am the one suffering from false guilt.

    • Praying for you. Seek godly counsel. Seek God for strength, resolve, understanding, wisdom. May our Lord surround you with His presence, comfort and encouragement.

    • I hope Gary will respond to your reply because I wondered if you caught this line from Gary where he states: “Sex can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to EITHER spouse thinking they have to be more beautiful, younger, more creative, and better “mechanically” than anyone else in the world or their spouse might be unfaithful. Think about that line of thinking for just a second—that’s not marriage, that’s not real intimacy. It’s sick to even consider all that as necessary for a spouse to be faithful. It turns sex into an ugly performance instead of a cherishing act.” And I’d like to hear Gary’s thoughts on sex being “earned.” …

    • You have to be lucky to have sex every other month.
      My husband rejected me straight after we got married.And like this for fifteen years already.
      There is no such thing as a perfect body or person character.If the other is about to reject,then they will be and there nothing can help us.

      • @Kassandra,

        If you never consummated the marriage, then you should never have allowed this to go as long as 15 years. This is not a real marriage and you deserve a real marriage. Annulments are appropriate for abandonment of the marriage bed, or in this case, never having been in the marriage bed in the first place.