Why spying on your husband is a bad idea (and what to do instead)

“I used to dream that I would meet a prince
But God Almighty, have you seen what’s happened since?”

-Madame Thenardier, Les Miserables

spying on your husband on the computerOne of the things I dislike about most Disney princesses is that they sell a myth: that happily-ever-after is part and parcel of the wedding night. Sure, there’s a struggle for happiness—every Belle has her Beast—but in most fairy tales or Disney romances, the prince fights the dragon before he rescues the princess.

But what if he doesn’t? What if the dragon doesn’t show up until well after the wedding night? Or what if the husband brings the dragon into the marriage with him?

This is how it feels to many wives when their husbands use pornography.

Catch ’em red handed

Over the years we’ve gotten a number of phone calls from hurting wives who have discovered or suspect their husbands are using porn. Often these wives (and occasionally husbands) simply want help understanding and responding to their porn-using spouses. While I can’t say we love getting that phone call—after all, these stories are heartbreaking—we do like being able to hand them tools to be used for reconciliation.

Sometimes the “need to know” what their husbands are seeing online is overwhelming. The secrecy of their husbands’ online lives is like the pebble in their shoe that will not go away.

So they call in and ask for help to hide our software on their computer.

If you’re one of these women (or men), we understand. You’re in a hard place. But here’s a tip. If you want to spy on your spouse, don’t use Covenant Eyes.

No, really, don’t. Covenant Eyes is designed for open communication. In fact, it’s designed to be obvious that it’s installed.

In our experience, it rarely turns out well when one person spies on another. You might know what your husband is doing online, but at what price? Spying often only results in distrust and hurt feelings, not restoration.

So then, what should you do instead?

If you want to bring healing and reconciliation back into your marriage, you should ask your husband to become accountable for his Internet use. This means that someone will be keeping an eye on his Internet use, not as a cop who is out to catch him, but as a friend who wants to see him grow and change. This person can then work to affirm him as he makes positive changes and encourage him when he fails.

Note that I said “someone.” While you might feel you will be able to handle seeing every temptation your husband encounters and every click he makes, in hindsight many wives don’t like receiving Internet use reports for their struggling husband. Of course, it should be your choice (not just his choice) of how much information you want to know about your husband’s online activities, but your husband will benefit greatly from having other men hold him accountable.

After all, in reality, your husband—even if he’s repentant—will likely slip up. You might be shocked by how often he struggles with lust online. You need to ask yourself: Will seeing him fail cause us both great pain and discouragement? Will I start feeling like I’m “parenting” him or being the Internet police? However, someone outside your marriage, a friend or group of friends you both trust, will be able to react from a position of concern, addressing his wrongdoing and giving him practical advice for guarding against temptation.

The problem with accountability, of course, is that you have to convince your husband to buy into it. After all, it’s his Internet activity that will be monitored, and he may or may not think he has a problem.

Here are some tips to help you explain to your husband why you want him to use accountability software.

1. Stay calm.

As it says in Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When you speak to your husband about suspected porn use, be concerned but calm. Present a positive belief in him and his ability to stay clean (or kick the habit).

2. Try to understand his point of view.

One of Steven Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Before you try to force a solution onto your husband, you need to understand where he sees the problem so that you can address it directly. In short, this involves empathetic listening. And it will be hard, especially if you’re the one who has been hurt by his porn issue. However, understanding where your husband is coming from will help you both move forward in healing and reconciliation.

Here are some things you may learn:

  • He may see it as a private problem to solve on his own.
  • He may think you want to use Accountability to “catch” him.
  • He may have been struggling with porn use since childhood, and may not see a way out of it.
  • He may try to blame you. If he does, remember this is a lie. It’s not your fault, and make it clear to him why you don’t think this is acceptable excuse.

Remember, the goal of this empathetic listening is not to let him feed you excuses. Rather, it is about refraining from attacking him so that he can open up his heart about his struggles, and so that together you can figure out what to do next.

3. Present Internet Accountability as a tool for healing and reconciliation.

Tell your husband that Accountability software is not about catching him red-handed. However, you do want him to stop using porn. By having someone receive his Internet Accountability Reports, you’re removing the secrecy of his Internet use, and with it you’re helping reduce the temptation for him to view porn.

The relationship with the Accountability Partner is an important component of this. A good Accountability Partner will be firm with him when he falls, of course, but will also be encouraging to him, and help him understand and work through his heart’s motivations when using pornography. This relationship (and the monitoring software that helps facilitate it) is meant to help him overcome his desire for pornography…and help you regain your ability to trust him.

4. Recommend someone you both trust to receive his Reports.

Come prepared to suggest a few people other than yourself to receive his Internet Accountability Reports. This person should be someone you both trust, such as a close family friend, a relative, a mentor, or a pastor. If you’re seeking counseling, you may want your counselor to receive his Reports as well.

Here are some questions to consider in coming up with a list of potential Accountability Partners:

  • Do you both trust him?
  • Does he share your religious/personal values?
  • Is he in a similar life stage? (If you’re married with kids, you probably don’t want him to be a young bachelor.)
  • Will he encourage your husband to change and grow?
  • Will your husband actually listen to him?
  • Will he make sure not to gossip about your husband’s Internet use?
  • Will he ask the tough questions (like how often your husband stared at other women this week, or what led him to look at porn)?
  • Would he be willing to let you know about major issues if he felt it necessary?

5. If necessary, set it as a boundary.

Sometimes men need to be brought to a point of crisis before they will acknowledge their use of porn as harmful. If necessary, require him to use Internet Accountability as a condition of your reconciliation.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/electricnerve