“In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves…” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NKJV). Pornography is readily available everywhere from billboards to sex flicks to websites and chat-rooms, and as easy as “sexting” pictures of oneself and others. The format matters little. The results are the same: devastation. Because it’s easily accessible in secret, it can be a very private sin, but the result is a very large explosion!
The secrecy surely magnifies the betrayal, anger, and horror a wife feels when she discovers her husband looks at other women online. She may have known it was a past problem and believed he lived in victory, or she may have been clueless to his addiction and feels duped by him. Still, she knows it is not “normal” and feels violated, exposed in shame that the man she trusted has taken what was sacred between them and viewed other women and other acts in violation to their sacred covenant of marriage. It is among the worst betrayals!
The wife’s biggest pain is that porn is a fantasy hidden away in his mind. It can’t be stopped or monitored by another unless the porn addict chooses. A wife can’t compete with a fantasy. She loses faith that their intimacy is real—it may just be a part of his fantasy about someone else he’s viewed. If she withdraws, he may use that as an excuse for his sin. If she gives, she may feel used, not loved. It feels like a no-win.
So what is a Christian wife to do when she discovers her husband is into pornography?
1. Listen objectively.
Before passing judgment or reacting in anger or disappointment, listen as objectively as you can. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen with discernment to be sure you have the facts. Is his story consistent with what you know? Listen carefully (Proverbs 18:13).
2. Start the conversation between the two of you.
The discussion begins privately between the two of you (Matthew 18:15). Try to understand his depth of involvement, but it is rare to get the whole story the first time. God didn’t get it straight from Adam and Eve, and your husband isn’t likely to respond much better without help.
But a good discussion is two-way, so ask him to listen to how you are feeling and how his sin affects your marriage and also his relationship with the Lord. Appeal to him to get help.
If he refuses, Matthew 18:16-17 says to involve help. Be discerning about whom you choose to involve, and keep the circle small. Don’t run to others who are not a part of the problem or a part of the solution. That includes other family members. Gossip is destructive, even if it is true.
3. Evaluate his attitude toward his sin.
Is his heart attitude toward his sin one of repentance or excuses and justification? Anger indicates lack of repentance. Worldly sorrow feels bad that he got caught. Godly sorrow produces the fruit of repentance, which is to change. Pray that he will come to a place of true godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10).
But what if he doesn’t want help? Neither did the Prodigal Son initially. Keep praying and trusting God, and get help for yourself!
It is easy to focus on his sin, but you must choose to focus on your faithful Lord instead, and on your own growth through this difficult trial (James 1:2-4). Your husband’s desire for pornography is not about you—though every wife I’ve counseled initially believed she should have been enough for him and that it is somehow her fault. It is not! He chose to sin.
4. Encourage him to find another trusted man to talk with.
He will need people who can listen with compassion and humility, and who know we all are candidates to sin (Galatians 6:1-5). God has given you permission to involve those who can help! The truth will come easier when a pastor, counselor, or friend listens and then guides him into accountability in love, not in shame or anger, because love unifies and encourages (James 1:19-20). The goal is restoration.
5. Determine what kind of help you both need.
The depth of involvement that comes out of these discussions will determine the kind of help you need. Will a men’s accountability group and installing Covenant Eyes be enough? Perhaps for some men, yes. Godly sorrow produces change! For others, a more intense individual counseling with a godly man who can unpack perhaps years of wrong thinking and help him develop a lifestyle of self-control in moral purity.
Wives often do not make good counselors or accountability partners for their husbands, but function best in the God-given roles to support, encourage, and pray for their husband’s growth in sanctification. (Learn more about the pros and cons of spouses as accountability partners.)
In fact, you as the wife will need your own counselor and encouragement as you go through this trial! Choose a counselor that will keep you pointed vertically and that will use Scripture to teach, comfort, and guide you through this difficult time in your marriage. As each of you focus on your own growth and sanctification, in time you will unify into that three-fold cord that is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
6. Model grace and mercy.
God the Father so graciously bestows grace and mercy on each of us when we sin and repent, and we should model this too. Forgiveness comes with true repentance and change; it is choosing to model after the way God forgives us. Rebuilding trust is the process that takes more time, observing his accountability, faithfulness, and consistency. But trust first begins vertically: trusting God even when you fear a future fraught with anxiety, with or without him. Going vertical strengthens you to face your anxieties and disappointments, and to choose forgiveness when there are no guarantees.
Related: 10 Things Forgiveness Is Not
7. Work on your communication and relationship as a couple.
After he is growing in his vertical relationship with the Lord, it is time to evaluate the horizontal in every sphere. When a crisis in a marriage becomes a stepping stone to greater growth and intimacy, it strengthens the relationship and builds a platform for ministry to other couples in crisis.