Bill was a hard-working, family man, a guy who took his daughters on dates, led family devotions and remembered his wedding anniversary. So when his wife, Carol, found a rash of 900 numbers listed on their phone bill, she had no idea what she was looking at. She called the first number, and that’s when she learned the family budget was supporting Bill’s phone sex habit. It came out of the blue, and it nearly destroyed her.
Unfortunately, pornography and sex addiction are growing phenomena in the digital age, and mature, Christian men are not exempt from their pull. While resources are becoming more available to support and provide accountability for these men, their wives are often left in the lurch, furious and confused about who they can tell or how to go forward. If you happen to be one of them, let’s talk. There are a few things I’d like you to know.
It’s Not Your Fault
Even if it’s not a conscious thought, most women in your situation eventually wonder why they weren’t enough, and whether their husbands would have turned to porn if they were doing everything right. Please notice this insidious lie when it rears its ugly head. It’s not your fault. Even if you have been withholding sex entirely (which I am not condoning unless it is part of an open and progressive plan toward healing), even then, it is not your fault. Your husband has a responsibility before God to remain faithful in his mind, his heart and his actions, whether he is married or single, satisfied or not. If you need to work on sexuality in your marriage, do that work because you want to please the Lord, not because you want to manipulate your husband – even to ‘keep him faithful.’ That responsibility doesn’t belong to you.
It’s Not Personal
Every wife I have ever worked with in this situation, believes that her husband has aimed his sin as a weapon directly at her. Every porn-addicted man I have ever worked with has told me it has nothing to do with his wife, personally. It’s not about whether he loves you or finds you attractive. The sexual instinct of a male gets triggered many times every day, often in innocuous circumstances; this has nothing to do with the person he loves at home. He is not consciously trying to betray you when he looks too long at the bartender’s cleavage or watches that video late at night. Does he realize you would not like what he is doing? Probably. But it’s not about you as a person any more than sneaking out of the office early is about the man or woman who owns the corporation.
Perhaps you think I am excusing what your husband has done or minimizing it in some way. I do not intend to. What your husband has done is a deep sin which goes to the heart of his masculinity, his relationship with Christ and his relationship with his family. He has deceived you. Christ calls the sin of lust every bit as bad as adultery itself. Your husband’s love for God must result in a real, humble, heartfelt and determined repentance. And it is part of your healing process to grieve and repudiate his sin which has broken your innocence, your trust and your dreams. Just as God, Himself, feels angry with evil and grieves all our sins (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 4:30), both anger and mourning are a valid part of your journey. It can be helpful to use a workbook or see a counselor to help you work through those feelings.
I wish I could tell you there are lots of good options for women in your situation. If you live in certain parts of the country, you may be able to find a support group you can connect with, but in many cases that will not be available. If you cannot find one, you could create your own. I don’t mean you should start asking strangers if their husbands look at porn, but you may already know someone you could share with. If he is in recovery, your husband may also be able to help you find one or two other, healthy wives a little farther down the road. If you are in an intimate, safe small group, that might be an option, too. Please involve your husband in this decision if you are working toward healing together.
Prayer support is essential. That can be as simple as turning in a prayer request at church: “Please pray for my family while we wrestle with some hard things.” But if you have praying friends you can share some or all with, that is even better. You may be able to ask your pastor to pray for and with you, but, again, involve your husband, if possible. I hope you and your husband can pray together about this issue, too. I’d encourage you to keep it on the table for a long time.
Where Do You Go from Here?
In part, where you go from here depends on your husband’s willingness to get help and be honest with at least a few others. But there are things you can do, in any case.
- Find a good, Christian counselor or an experienced, empathetic pastor and talk through your feelings and your options with them.
- Consider reading a Christian book about pornography addiction to gain a better understanding of what your spouse is doing and going through.
- Connect with at least one other person who cares about you and your marriage to encourage you and pray for you.
- Dig deep into your relationship with God. Find your worth, your strength and your wisdom in Him in new ways as you pass through this valley. Cling to His promises to work all things for good for those He calls (Rom. 8:28), and meditate on the inability of sin or circumstances to separate you from His love (Rom. 8:35).
It took Bill a while to admit he couldn’t overcome his addiction alone, but he now meets weekly with a group of men who hold him accountable and support him in the struggle. He and Carol started seeing a counselor who helped them talk about the damage to their marriage and where to begin healing. Carol has put a few boundaries in place to help her rebuild the trust she’s lost, and with Bill’s blessing, she has a few good friends who support her in prayer. They are also talking about starting a small group in their church which would minister to the men and women impacted by pornography. They realize it will start small, but one thing they have learned is that keeping this demon in the dark only gives it more power. Working together to overcome pornography has, ironically, been good for their marriage. In fact, Carol thinks there might be a few more areas which could use the same level of attention. Bill has learned that covering over sin doesn’t make it go away, but facing it together just might.