In part one of the “From Down Under” series I discussed the trauma wives of sex addicts face. I followed this up in part two, sharing how their body image is damaged by discovery of their husband’s addiction. Today, I’d like to complete this series with a message I aim particularly at those in ministry. The message, one which should concern every Christian, is that the majority of wives of sex addicts undergo a spiritual crisis as part of discovering their husband’s betrayal of them.
As with the other topics, most of my conclusions about spiritual crisis come from the surveys I conducted in 2014-2015. Of the three surveys (which garnered nearly 900 responses), the final one was dedicated strictly to spiritual crisis. The results were both sobering and hopeful. Here are a few themes:
Spiritual Crisis Is Common
Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said they entered some kind of spiritual crisis because of their husband’s porn or sex addiction. Those of us who work in this field feel that number is, if anything, on the low side. The reason for under-reporting may be the struggle many wives face with shock and denial.
In any case, 64% is still a significant portion of our wives. On examining the answers of that group, it was obvious that their spiritual crisis revolved around anger at God, anger at the church and other Christians, or both.
Anger at God
Survey results showed that anger toward God often centered on feelings of being treated unjustly by Him. Answers included:
- “I thought that I had found the man that God had intended for me only to be totally fooled by the cover story I was presented. How could God allow this?”
- “I felt angry that this was how God ‘rewarded’ me for being obedient and faithful to Him.”
- “I wondered why God would save me from a life of sexual sin only to allow me to marry a sex addict. It just seemed so cruel.”
Those of us ministering to women struggling with these feelings often spend time:
- Validating their very real pain
- Assuring them that this is a common response to our pain
- Encouraging them to express that pain and anger directly to God (because He can take it)
- Sharing what we (in our crisis and pain) discovered about the nature of God
- Encouraging them to let God minister to their broken hearts (directly, through His word and through His other children) despite these feelings
As Jesus’ co-workers, we can demonstrate God’s love, gentleness and kindness–and this can help women rebuild trust in Him. Moreover, we can encourage women to delve into Him. When they do, they almost always find God is particularly present at this time of heartbreak, looking for opportunities to comfort and heal.
Anger at the Church
Angry feelings toward church and other Christians often resulted when women attempted to seek support from the Church and failed to find it. In the most tragic situations, the addict manipulated the couple’s church into supporting him (usually through lies) and turning on his wife. Said respondents:
- “After 13 years of fake recovery, I left him and had two churches turn against me because they believed him. I’m considering joining a bar instead of a new church.”
- “I had a church tell me not to separate and to lower my expectations with his issues.”
- “I felt betrayed by friends I confided in. We were also in the ministry when this happened, and I was asked to step down due to my spouse’s addictions and infidelity.”
As one ex-pastor’s wife said to me, “Sex addiction isn’t just about an addiction to the porn, prostitutes, etc. It’s also an addiction to lies and deception.”
Those in ministry can benefit from taking training on sex addiction from organizations like IACSAS and APSATS. Both groups teach trainees how to help wives of sex addicts and how to be on the lookout for addicts’ all-too-common lies. Fortunately a few of our respondents found tremendous support for their pain and trauma via their church.
Spiritual Growth Is More Common
The good news is that all of these facets of a spiritual crisis – distrust of God, anger at other Christians – can be overcome. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents stated that they experienced spiritual growth in the wake of discovering their husband’s addiction.
How did that happen? Sometimes if was about finding support from safe, compassionate Christians. Sometimes, it came through the process of moving beyond our (very natural) anger, and grieving the losses with the One who is always faithful. As one survey respondent explained:
“I heard a quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon one time…‘I have learned to love the wave that crushes me to the rock.’ I think of my husband’s sexual addiction that way. If it hadn’t been for that, I would never be this close to God. And I wouldn’t trade this place for the world. Not even a husband who never sinned against God and against me.”
Moving from spiritual crisis to the place where we see God’s redemptive hand at work in our situation is quite the journey. Fortunately, all that’s required of us is to lean into His goodness, faithfulness and love as never before. Our brilliant and caring Father leads the way from there.