Wives often experience a tidal wave of emotions when confronted with their husbands’ pornography secret, including rejection, confusion, shame and failure. Some are so shocked that for a time they are completely numb to any feelings. For me, it was 100% pure anger.
Our life turned upside down the day my husband Jeff, a pastor of a small congregation in the Northeast, came home and told me he had lost his job. Earlier that day, his spiritual mentors had discovered he had been viewing pornography online at work. They asked him to immediately resign and for us to leave the area—quickly.
Looking back, I now understand why I felt very little personal betrayal and so much anger. After 10 years of marriage, our understanding of intimacy was still so immature and unhealthy that there was very little connection there for Jeff to destroy. However, the image of a happily married and stable ministry couple that was so important to me was instantly destroyed. I vowed to never forgive Jeff for losing our ministry and ruining my life.
I agreed to couple’s therapy only because our life was spinning out of control and I knew we needed wise counsel. We were asked to move, but we didn’t know where to go. We needed to find new jobs, but what would we do? I had no real hope that our marriage could ever be healed, but I did know that we desperately needed the Lord’s guidance as we made important decisions that would impact not just us, but our two young sons as well.
As we began marriage counseling, it was important to our counselor that I understand that pornography was more than just a bad habit for Jeff. Rather, it was something that he didn’t think he could live without. Something unexpected happened as I learned about the shame Jeff had been struggling with since his teenage years when he first began viewing pornography and regularly masturbating. I found that my anger toward him slowly began to change to something else: sadness. Not only was I sad for what was happening to me, but I was sad for Jeff too. As some of that anger lifted, I saw that my husband was genuinely repentant, committed to recovery, and most of all, broken.
I felt a growing sense of compassion for Jeff, who was dealing with failure, shock, shame, and depression. In addition, he had been abandoned by many of his spiritual mentors in his darkest hour. Even though I was angry for the position he had put our family in, my heart was broken because I could see he was experiencing a tremendous amount of pain himself. I began to wonder: could the Lord really redeem this disaster?
I was encouraged by our counselor to read testimonials of couples who were enjoying healthy intimacy in the wake of pornography addiction. Inspired by their stories and sensing God was doing a tremendous work in both of us, I committed to walking the road of marriage recovery with Jeff. For me, this meant that Jeff and I weren’t just going to share a home and parenting responsibilities, but we were going to work through the hurt and pain and discover how God could make all things new in our marriage.
The Road to Recovery
After selling our home and moving to my home state, Jeff and I began meeting with Christian counselors who specialized in pornography and intimacy issues. We started the necessary but painful process of unpacking our marriage to find out where we had missed God’s design for healthy intimacy. It was an excruciating process, like sorting through disgusting garbage trying to find what was causing the most offensive stench. But slowly, we began to identify areas that were clearly problems, but had just been swept under the rug of our busy life.
Jeff’s pornography problem had not come as a complete surprise to me. Early in our marriage, he had shared that he had struggled with porn in the past, but felt like being married would “cure him.” When he confessed years later that he had slipped a few times while on the computer, I was really surprised. It just seemed so out of character for him. My response was direct: “You can’t be a pastor and view pornography, so stop or step down.”
At that time we added filters on our computers and Jeff even met with a counselor for a short period. I would occasionally ask him how he was doing and he always assured me he was stronger than ever. I had assumed my stern warning had done the trick. In reality, Jeff was determined to keep his fantasy world a secret, even if it included blatant lying to his wife. Over time, Jeff convinced himself that pornography was harmless and I was overreacting. But in reality, he was secretly undermining an important cornerstone of our marriage—intimacy. His distorted perception of intimacy, painted by people who know nothing of God’s plan for “oneness,” was influencing our marriage bed. As a result, I was overwhelmed, confused, and uninterested. When Jeff came looking for intimacy, I would retreat, explaining that I was too tired or too busy. This left him feeling rejected and lonely, which then inevitably led to more porn. The vicious cycle continued for years and did untold damage to us both.
Even after Jeff was completely broken and fully committed to healthy intimacy, we still had to deal with the far-reaching effects of broken trust in our marriage. Because Jeff had lied continuously and convincingly about the pornography, I had no reason to believe he would be honest with me if it happened again. It wasn’t that I doubted the sincerity of his repentance at the time, but I questioned how long that would last. I would often say, “What makes this time any different from all the times before when you have tried to quit?”
We have found first-hand that the only way to rebuild trust in marriage is to work at it one day at a time. First, Jeff had to accept my suspicions as a valid consequence of his actions and be willing to give me as much time as I needed to work through our trust issues. Rebuilding trust is not a process that takes weeks or months, it is taking years. Day by day, month by month, Jeff is demonstrating his trustworthiness by being authentic and truthful in all areas of his life.
Jeff and I have come to understand that because we are both sinners saved by grace, our marriage will be in a continual state of recovery until death do us part. We are committed to extending both accountability and grace to each other as needed throughout the journey.
Trusting Jeff doesn’t mean I’m certain he will never view porn again. I know he still struggles because he shares those struggles with me. However, I do trust that if and when he slips, he will talk to his accountability partners and me within 24 hours so that a slip doesn’t turn into a landslide. Like many wives, I believe the lying and secrecy associated with pornography is more dangerous to a marriage than the actual pornography. Once a husband decides to lie, he starts down a dark path of hiding and deception.
I’m so grateful that the Lord intervened in our marriage when he did. While it was a devastating experience, our marriage is better for it. My only regret is that we missed out on so much God had in store during the first 10 years of our marriage. As we started to replace unhealthy patterns with healthy ones, I couldn’t help but think, “What if?” What if we had gotten help sooner? How would things have turned out if we had tackled this problem early on?
I also regret that in the first few months of our world falling apart, we had no idea how many others had lived our same nightmare and were now walking in truth and grace. That was the loneliness and most hopeless point of my life, and it was based on lies. In reality, many Christians struggle with pornography in their marriage. Even more important, many are finding victory, thanks to a number of ministries designed to speak specifically for husbands and wives seeking sexual purity. Eventually Jeff and I discovered the tremendous resources available to help couples struggling with unhealthy intimacy, broken trust and sexual sin. It was like we had stumbled upon an underground club of survivors who could relate to all of our feelings and concerns. It was such a relief to find these resources, but why did it take so long?
I think this “club” remains a secret because many couples are too ashamed and embarrassed to ask for the help they need. Not helping matters, many churches aren’t willing to openly discuss the impact pornography is really having on families in their pews. As a result, everyone struggles alone in the darkness.
A New Ministry
Early on, Jeff and I found that when we were able to talk about pornography recovery with people who were “safe,” our hope for recovery increased. It was almost as if the power pornography had over our family was lessened when we brought it out into the light. We also felt like the church needed to know about the wonderful ministries and books that were available for couples struggling with pornography in their marriage.
One afternoon, we started to make a list of all the resources we had found regarding recovery addiction from a Christian perspective. That list became the impetus for PornToPurity.com, a website we launched just two years into our own recovery journey. It features the resources list, as well as blogs and podcasts to encourage men and women to pursue sexual purity and recovery.
The response has been phenomenal. Christians from all over the world have e-mailed us with their own stories of struggles and successes. Not only has the Lord restored our marriage, but he has restored us to ministry—a ministry I had never envisioned. Now we are encouraging other Christian couples to join us in fighting for our marriages by pursuing the healthy intimacy that God intends. Jeff no longer preaches behind a pulpit, but he continues to teach God’s Word and share God’s mercy with each blog and podcast. I no longer lead Bible studies, but I do write words of hope to wives who have just discovered their marriage wasn’t what they thought it was.
I tell people all the time the day Jeff got caught with pornography was both the worst day and best day of my life. It was the worst day because the consequences were so drastic and immediate. Back then, financial stability, position within the church and our daily routine served as the foundation that I had built my life upon. Suddenly, all of that was gone.
Yet it was the best day, because it was the turning point in my marriage. It was the day that we began to examine in great detail our intimacy issues, sensing that God had something much better in store for us. And spiritually speaking, I learned that financial stability, routines and positions had become idols in my life that needed to be removed. For the first time, I was truly dependent on Jesus for my every need and he has provided every step of the way.