The Myth of Self-Control

Each time I caught Craig engaging with pornography, I either said or thought things like this:

“Why can’t you exercise self-control?”

“Why can’t you recognize this is harmful and hurtful and just not do it anymore?”

“If you were a stronger person, you would be able to make a different choice.”

When I viewed Craig’s betrayal only through the lens of my hurt, it was easy for me to assume the choice to look at porn or not look at porn was simple. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. He knows porn hurts every part of our marriage. Therefore, if he is true to his word, he won’t look at porn. Sounds like a geometry proof, doesn’t it?

Self control is a myth

But porn addiction isn’t as simple as not wanting to hurt your spouse. There are more angles at play than just my own. The equation is not as simple as not having enough self-control.

If I continued my thought pattern that self-control was the cure to porn addiction, I would only be perpetuating some of the very reasons Craig got into porn in the first place. Craig found escape in the world of porn. From the time he was in junior high, he had significant doubts, believing that what he had to offer the people in his life simply wasn’t good enough. In the fantasy world of porn, he could pretend to be whomever and whatever he wanted. My telling him that he continually failed with self-control reinforced the belief that he would always fail and that his actions would never be enough, thus making the lure of escape all the more tempting.

Second, Craig also felt enormous amounts of shame for continuing to seek out porn. Part of his hesitancy to form a real, authentic relationship with Jesus was because he was afraid he would be rejected because of his sin. Growing up in the church, he knew the right answers to say. He knew how to appear to know Jesus. But in actuality, he was hesitant to let Jesus know him because he believed himself to be unworthy to be loved. If I continued to tell him to “just get his act together” and use some “self-control,” I would be perpetuating the idea that he needs to have it all together before he could approach God or me to have real relationship.

Could Craig have used self-control the very first time he looked at porn, and prevented a habit? Sure. If he had, would he have avoided a lot of heartache and pain later on in life? Yes. Did he realize as a kid that what his eyes and heart feasted on would have potential long-lasting devastation? No. Most kids don’t think about the consequences their actions could have in five minutes, let alone in five years.

In 1 Peter 1: 13-15, Peter writes:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then.

Craig needed to figure out what it was truly like to be God’s child before he could understand how to live in full-hearted obedience. He had to find new ways of living that would bring true satisfaction and joy in order to avoid slipping back into porn. He had to learn to trust God’s control over his life before he could access God’s power consistently in order to break out of the chains that enslaved him. He had to realize he needed to be saved from himself.

Understanding all of this created a new angle for me to view Craig and his addiction: Craig’s foray into porn could have been initially halted by self-control, but the insidious seed that took root over time could no longer be killed by self-restraint. It had to be killed with God’s love. I couldn’t force Craig to realize he was loved. God had to show him.

And so, I had to learn to be patient, wait, and consider the variables when I was short on grace. Because the truth was and still is, I want my husband to trust more in God’s power, not his own power. I want him not to be a savior, but to trust the Savior. No longer am I interested in him just giving lip service to the Gospel, but rather I want him to be touched by the very words of God.

And none of that is contingent just on self-control, but rather on the surrender to the One who controls all.