The Two Most Important Questions to Ask If You Have a Setback

This post has been updated as of September 2020.

Recently, a married man from a support group I lead had two setbacks (or relapses) with porn on the same day. But rather than quitting, he sheepishly retorted, “It was just what the doctor ordered!”

One of the hardest things to understand or accept is that setbacks may be a part of the process of breaking the porn or sex addiction cycle. In fact, a setback is an opportunity to grow deeper. It’s only Satan who wants you to give up or doubt that God is on your side.

Setbacks remind you that you can’t win on your own. You need both God and helpful encouragement and accountability from a friend. Setbacks also cause you to examine other areas of your life that contribute to the problem. Without setbacks, you may continue to ignore selfishness or pride in your life that spurs you to lust or be lazy in guarding your eyes and hearts.

2 Questions That Changed My Perspective of Setbacks

After overcoming my own 20 year addiction in 1996, I formed Proven Men Ministries, a non-profit dedicated to helping others break free from porn or sex addiction. However, I was soon discouraged because at every meeting  at least one man confessed to having a setback in his recovery.

I wondered if I had the wrong approach to helping others and even considered disbanding my ministry.

Then two remarkable things happened. First, the Lord reminded me that I cannot rescue anyone and that my materials only work when they point others to Christ and healthy accountability. Second, I felt prompted to start asking men who had a setback two questions.

Question 1: What led up to the setback?

As people replied to this question, they actually examined their lives and invariably came up with their own solutions or game plans to be on guard going forward. Wow, how simple and yet so reflective!

For instance, if a man retold how stress from work led him to crave the old familiar escape of porn or fantasy, in answering the first question, he usually decided it was time to create a game plan for the next time he is stressed, such as taking a walk, reading scripture, or calling a friend. Reflection and planning really does help.

Question 2: What did you learn from your setback?

Asking this second question kept me from throwing in the towel on my ministry. I now look forward to journeying with those struggling through the ups and downs of recovering from porn or sex addiction. I am no longer discouraged when men I work with have setbacks, but I joyfully look forward to their responses to this second question. This simple question is both profound and encouraging.

One of the most important parts of a married person gaining and retaining sexual integrity is to confess any setbacks with porn or masturbation to their spouse. Secrets kill marriages, not porn.

Let me use the man from my group who had the double setback as an example. He was married and also attending seminary. He knew he needed to put an end to porn or porn would put an end to his hopes of being a pastor. In our first group meeting, every man shared his story. This man explained that his wife generally knew that he once had a porn problem, but after they got married, he told her he had it under control.

I told him he needed to tell her the full scope of his current struggles. At first he was mad. He made all kinds of justifications, but finally conceded that it was the right thing to do. That week he told his wife the whole truth and even confessed that he looked at porn that week. When he returned to group the next week, he was very excited. He was glad that he did. It was freeing and opened new and deeper communications. We all rejoiced with him.

Related: Trigger Alert! What’s Yours?

All seemed so good, except that after he left the safety of this support group setting and faced the real world on his own, he had another setback the next day. This is where things get really interesting. In fact, I didn’t need to tell him how to respond. Listen to what he reported at the meeting:

“I was on a high. Things were looking great. But somehow I slipped up. I looked at porn. I thought to myself, ‘Joel is going to make me tell her, so I better just tell her before our Monday meeting.’ So I confessed it to her. She was hurt and upset, but she was also glad that I was open and honest. I thought: Whew, dodged that bullet!

Then an hour later I pulled out my smart phone and the next thing you know I am looking at porn again. Oh no, I thought, ‘Joel is going to make me tell her, so I better just get it over with and tell her.’  As I told her I had two setbacks in one day, I could see her heart being ripped apart, but I am glad I did. No more secrets!”

At group, this man told us that his double setback was just what the doctor ordered. He explained that it took two setbacks in one day to finally realize that he was acting in his own strength. He really wasn’t sorry he sinned, but only that he got caught. He admitted that wanted to control his life and not turn every square inch over to the Lord.

This second setback gave him a new eternal perspective. It also made him want to love the Lord with all of his heart in fresher and deeper ways. As he humbly told of how the Lord spoke to him in ways he never had before, I had tears in my own eyes. That is why I do what I do. That is why I keep linking up with other men in my own life.

Setbacks Do Not Equal Failure

It’s time to take back ground lost to Satan. The lies of the devil are that you need to be perfect or that setbacks are failures. No, that’s not true!

Our motto is: “The mark of a proven man is not the absence of sin, but how you respond to a setback.” Setbacks provide a great opportunity for reflection and growth.

Related: In Case of Relapse

Want to get on track? Then start asking yourself these same two questions:

  • “What led up to my setback?”
  • “What did I learn from it?”

Then wait upon the Lord for answers, and you’ll start experiencing victory more and more as you grow deeper and deeper.

God really has much to say if you slow down and listen. He is in the business of redeeming and restoring, not condemning.

There is power in linking with others and openly sharing your lives, including struggles and setbacks. That is where true strength of character resides and why it’s an important part of recovery.

What about you? What questions or tips have you found to be helpful if you have a setback in your recovery journey?