My wife runs a ministry at our church called Hearts Restored. It ministers to women who have suffered sexual betrayal. In almost every case the husband struggles with or is addicted to porn.
The reaction of their wives is multifaceted. They are angry. They feel betrayed. They feel the need to take control. There is confusion and the destruction of trust, and it has been extremely traumatic. Some suffer silently and hope their marriage does not end. The reactions of many wives are the same as those suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder – see book recommendation below).
There are all kinds of ways wives can respond. Some are helpful and some can do more harm than good. My wife and I have worked on this together because her advice in this area comes from one who has walked it out. I think you will value what she has to say.
Here are some basic principles we have learned.
First – some things you should NOT do:
1. It is not your job to stop him from looking at porn.
If he is going to recover he must own his own recovery. Resist the reaction of creating for him a list of what he needs to do or stop doing. This creates a false idea of what recovery is. He is the one who has to make the list and the two of you should discuss it.
2. Do not become his porn police.
His recovery demands accountability. However, he needs accountability to people other than you.
Early on Mona and I had a clear understanding of my boundaries. If I crossed certain boundaries I needed to be truthful and tell her. However, if I told her every time I struggled or was feeling tempted it would have been damaging to her. I had a counselor, a group of men I met with weekly, and two other men who were available to me on a daily basis. If Mona had been in this role then every time I struggled or failed she would have been re-traumatized.
3. It’s not your job to provide sex as a deterrent to porn and masturbation.
I have had men tell their wives that if they would have sex with them more often then they would not be tempted as much to look at porn and masturbate. This sounds reasonable, but it does not work and is actually a trap.
More sex is not the solution for a sex addict. Those who demand this are simply substituting their wives for their porn, which will never help them heal. Also, your sexual relationship has already had problems. Having more of the same, with both of you even more wounded, will compound the issues. You are feeling wounded and angry and the last thing you want to do is have sex with him.
Second – some things you SHOULD do:
1. Help him set good boundaries.
Part of that will be limiting access to the computer. He needs software that blocks pornography and sends a report of all the websites he visits to his accountability partners. He should not be the administrator or know the password. Cell phone, iPods and tablets need to be limited and protected as well. Covenant Eyes provides these features.
2. Encourage him to seek counseling and join a recovery ministry.
I am not talking with meeting with his pastor once a week for coffee. He needs to meet with a professional Christian counselor who has a background in working with sexual addiction.
Also, find recovery ministries and sexual addiction recovery groups in your area. Twelve Step programs like Sex Addicts, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous should be listed online. Make it a priority to have him attend meetings weekly. A timeframe of a year would be a good start. (No, I am not kidding.)
3. Begin working on the two of you experiencing true intimacy.
Having sex on a regular basis is not what I am talking about. Developing emotional and spiritual intimacy is what needs to happen. Just having more sex is not the answer and can actually make his problem worse. He craves to be loved and accepted. There are wounds that he has been medicating with sex and it only deepens the wound and increases guilt and shame – which reinforces the cycle.
Sexual intimacy is a powerful bond and intended by God to be a healthy part of your marriage. If it has become something to get done so porn is not as tempting it has lost its true value. Sexual intimacy needs to flow from there being emotional and spiritual intimacy together. It should be something that is a celebration of the oneness you are experiencing as a couple because you are spending quality time together being open and honest with each other.
Mona and I are coming up on the seventh year of our recovery. It has been hard work every step of the way. We realize that the things we have shared are difficult. However, there are no easy answers. Both of you are broken and both of you will need to work on your own issues before you will be able to experience the marriage God has for you.
Mona and I would recommend these books for both of you:
- Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means (Aug 25, 2009)
- Sacred Sex: A Spiritual Celebration of Oneness in Marriage by Tim Alan Gardner and Scott M. Stanley (May 21, 2002)