Rebuilding Trust in a Marriage After Pornography
by Fred Stoeker
If you’re to rebuild marital trust in the wake of a husband’s betrayal, there can be no dancing around the issue. The root of the problem is his behavior. When a husband demolishes his wife’s trust, there cannot be complete restoration until that trust returns, because trust is the basis of all relationships.
Trouble is, when it comes to trust, there’s a catch. No matter how desperately you want it, you can’t manufacture trust on your own. Trust requires two ingredients: Your husband must become trustworthy, and you must trust again. Each of you is responsible for bringing one of the ingredients to the table.
Neither will be easy to provide. Becoming trustworthy will require an immense character change on his part, and that’s no small task. On your end, trusting your husband again will require obedience and submission to God, in spite of your scars. That won’t be easy, either.
- Brenda Stoeker, Every Heart Restored
To rebuild trust, the husband must act decisively to become trustworthy again. A wife can’t do her part (trust him again) until he has done his part (become trustworthy). Men don’t always like that first responsibility, but it is true.
Our wives can do some things in the relationship without our help, of course. For instance, Brenda can love me simply by choosing to do so, no matter how badly I treat her or betray her. She can forgive me over and over again, even if I never ask her to do so. She can also commit her heart faithfully to me no matter how adulterous my heart may grow in return.
But trust can’t exist in a vacuum like this. Trust can only exist in relationship. Brenda can only genuinely trust me when she has full confidence in my faithfulness when she’s not around. Only one thing can bring that confidence—my consistent, faithful actions. Without right actions, I can’t have her trust. If I want her trust, it’s all on me.
You need to face this responsibility like a Christian man. You made the mess. You need to clean it up. There will be no trust until you become trustworthy, which means she’ll need at least three things from you:
1) Your Complete Openness and Honesty
These go a long way towards rebuilding trust by eliminating fear. Rhonda’s words speak volumes to all husbands:
“My biggest fear is what I don’t know or how deep his sexual sin is. About two years ago, we were building a house and living with my parents since the house we were living in sold and we didn’t want to rent if we didn’t have to. I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and caught him looking at porn on the Internet. He said he was trying to get some romantic ideas since he knows I want more romance. Whatever!
Several months later, after moving into our house, I was looking for an anti-virus disc for our home computer, and he said he had it in his Navy bag. When I looked in his bag I found a stripper video that was signed by the woman on the front cover, and it was addressed to him.
Recently, when we talked about his e-mailing and talking to another woman, he said it started last December. Yet when I searched our records I found that he had actually started calling her in July. I also found some more telephone numbers showing up on our wireless bill that seemed to be very popular at odd times of the day.
While I am encouraged that my husband says he is committed to making the changes that are necessary, I am finding forgiveness is much easier than trusting again.”
Of course it is, because her husband is not being completely open and honest. How about you? How much detail are you willing to give your wife in your answers to her questions? You need to be willing to give her as much as she needs. She deserves that. The party’s over, my friend. It is time to quit hiding, and to be who you say you are.
2) Your Patience as She Heals
Your wife deserves all the patience she needs, too. Betrayal’s damage demands gentle care, and you owe her that much simply out of restitution, if nothing else. You wounded her. You need to help her heal.
Make no mistake, the damage is real, and healing takes time. Megan describes her experience:
“My husband and I are four months into recovery, and my husband’s renewed walk with God is so exciting to me. However, I’m still struggling to believe that I am safe, and that I won’t be hurt by his betrayal again. Sure, our relationship is better than I ever imagined it could be, but now I’m just so scared to lose what God has miraculously restored. Some days the fear and pain come rushing back in and I feel devastated all over again. I feel like such a hypocrite. My husband is very patient with me and very encouraging, but now I am afraid that if I don’t stop this doubt and this constant need for encouragement that he is going to get discouraged and quit. Am I normal? Do I just need more time? Does it get easier?”
These agonizing questions reveal why a wounded wife needs your patience so desperately. She’s been crushed and turned inside out, and she needs the time to get back on her feet again spiritually. Don’t get discouraged. Stand up like a man and continue to live this new life God has given you patiently. She’ll catch up.
Besides, your patience is really a sign of your level of repentance, and that will be a crucial sign of trustworthiness to her. If you don’t have patience, it is a troubling red flag to everyone involved, and it should be to you as well. It means you simply aren’t where you need to be before God. Some husbands get irritated and complain, “What kind of Christian woman are you that you can’t relax and trust me again?” That kind of attack is outright spiritual abuse, and it comes out of the same weak character root that sent you into sexual sin in the first place. A deeper repentance is definitely in order.
3) Your Trustworthy Acts
You must give your wife every right to play a role in defining what “trustworthiness” means to her in your marriage, and she must be able to count on you to come through for her on these issues. For instance, if you don’t like to read, but she needs you to read Every Man’s Marriage as a follow-up to Every Man’s Battle as a sign of commitment from you, you need to read it or listen to the audio version of the book. If she defines trustworthiness as you attending marital counseling with her, you need to go. You need to show your trustworthiness in the way she needs to see it.
She also needs to see you being proactive in building purity into your life. You must be the one buying the porn filters, and you must be the one placing your computer in an open area, like the family room or breakfast nook. You must be the one limiting your time on the web and setting tighter standards on the films you enjoy as a family, and you must be the one making sure you are part of an accountability group. As long as she is the one nagging you to get these things done, she will never feel a sense of trust because she will always feel that you are doing these things because you have to, and not because you want to in your heart.
Photo credit: llorias
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Fred Stoeker is the co-author of several books, including Every Man’s Battle and Every Young Man’s Battle. Fred and his wife Brenda also wrote Every Heart Restored, a book designed to help wives restore their hearts for their husbands in the wake of sexual sin. Fred is no stranger to pornography temptations and what they can do to a marriage. After stumbling upon his father’s Playboy magazine under his Dad’s bed in first grade, Fred struggled with pornographic materials for the next twenty years or so. Through his books Fred brings the years of practical wisdom he learned about overcoming lust and restoring broken trust.