In this article I will use the terms wife or she for the betrayed spouse because that is the focus of my work. However, the information applies regardless of whether the betrayer was the husband or wife.
Several years ago I had a client come see me about her second husband’s sex addiction. Her first husband, she explained, had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 45 while out jogging. The shock and grief at that time had felt unbearable. Years passed and she remarried. Now, she told me, as she was coming to grips with her husband’s addiction, she was experiencing pain beyond that of the first loss.
I often compare sexual betrayal in marriage to death. Many betrayed partners have told me it would have hurt less to learn their spouse had died than to discover his double life full of sexual secrets. I remember having this same sentiment after the discovery of my husband’s sexual addiction. In fact, in the days following discovery, it felt like my husband had died. I did not know this man in my house. The man I loved was long gone. At least that’s how I felt at the time. Unlike most widows, however, I had to come to grips with the fact that my husband hadn’t been robbed of life in a freak car accident or sudden heart attack. Rather, he’d chosen his demise over and over and over again. Over and over he’d chosen another woman above me.
The Better Question: How can I help her heal?
Ask any counselor how long it takes for a person to heal from a death. Without exception, they’ll tell you it is different for everyone. But press a little harder and you may get more information. A death that is a shock is harder to get through than when the loved one had been sick a long time. The first year is the hardest. You will never get over the death of a loved one, but you can get through it.
Many sex addicts want to know when their wife will get over the discovery of their addiction. To them I say, you are asking the wrong question. Many even want a guarantee that their spouse will stay if they get into recovery. No such guarantee exists. Instead, you should be asking, how can I help her heal?
I’ll borrow from William Harvey’s concept of a “Love Bank,” except here let’s call it a healing bank. How can you help your betrayed partner heal more quickly by making deposits in her healing bank?
First, let me promise you two things. 1) This is possible. And 2) this will take far longer than you’d like.
Ways to Help Her Heal
Stop acting out.
If you aren’t ready to stop watching porn, having affairs, sleeping with prostitutes, or whatever your sexual drug of choice is, you’re reading the wrong article. Every time you act out again you withdraw from the healing bank and the healing time-table doesn’t only start over, it gets longer.
When your partner sees you doing the hard work of recovery they will begin to feel cautiously hopeful. The more effort you put in, the more you will show that this is important to you. This isn’t about marking off a check-list. Went to a meeting. Check. Saw my counselor. Check. Met with my sponsor. Check. Your heart will show through in all this.
If your spouse has to ask if you went to your meeting or remind you to schedule a session with your counselor, you’re not making any deposits in the healing bank. Don’t check boxes. Work the program.
Just last week I had an addict tell me during their first couple’s session, “I know I am the one who caused my wife’s pain, but her dad died when she was young and she had a rough childhood and I feel that is part of why she is so emotional.” Sound like a run-on sentence? That’s because it is. It should have stopped at, “I am the one who caused my wife’s pain.” That statement adds to the healing bank. Add the next part and you’ll go in the red real fast.
Your wife will be devastated by your sexual betrayal no matter what her childhood was like. It can seem to alleviate some of your guilt by explaining away her pain through her own “stuff.” That’s one reason this is such a popular tactic. Would you bring up a person’s past trauma or adverse childhood experiences if they wanted to talk to you about their intense sorrow over the death of their spouse? Of course not. It wouldn’t even cross your mind. So don’t bring it up here.
Listen to her.
When your spouse starts to express her feelings about your betrayal–her anger, heartache, fears–it can feel like an attack on you. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s just a need to get out all the muck she’s carrying around inside of her. Either way, it feels overwhelming for you.
You probably want to quickly “fix” her pain and stop the helpless feeling you are experiencing. This can cause you to feel tempted to tell her why she shouldn’t feel what she is feeling. While it may not be your intention, by jumping in to remind her of the good times, tell her she shouldn’t feel threatened by those you betrayed her with, point out all the good things you are doing, or tell her she’s overreacting, you are trying to shut down her feelings. I promise you this won’t work. This will only intensify her feelings, whether she tries to stuff them down (only works temporarily) or rages even more.
The only way she can heal is to be allowed a safe space to vent her agonizing emotions. And the only way the marriage will heal is for you to provide that safe space by listening and simply being present with her. In the long run, choosing this course of action will make your life much easier.
Practice rigorous honesty.
Wives, without exception, say it is the secrets and lies that hurt the most. It can seem so much easier to say what you think your wife wants to hear in the moment. But good addiction recovery involves living a life of authenticity. “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Every lie, no matter how big or small, is a secret. In the long run, the truth comes out and your healing bank is completely depleted. Telling the truth about the tough stuff (“Were you looking at her?” “Was she pretty?” “Did you click on that link”), while hurtful, is especially important and one of the best ways to earn trust.
Another way to practice rigorous honesty is to voluntarily give your wife full access to your phone, devices, location services, accounts, etc. Humble yourself and avoid even the appearance of evil by showing her you have nothing to hide. Agreeing to do a full disclosure with a polygraph will make a huge deposit into your wife’s healing bank.
Take care of you.
I don’t envy sex addicts who are trying to save their marriage. You’re wading through shame, LFT (low frustration tolerance), and your own demons, while simultaneously trying to support your wife though hers. I don’t envy you having to live with the knowledge that you caused her pain. Still, you must learn how to sit with your wife in that pain while not allowing her moods to dictate yours. You can still hold on to hope, even if she can’t feel it yet. In fact it’s crucial that you do so, while not pressuring her to feel hope, or any other emotion, before she is ready.
This is really beyond any one person. Please don’t try and do this alone. That said, your wife can’t be your support right now. Rather, use the guys in your group to vent to. Use your sponsor to talk through what you are experiencing. They aren’t the ones to go to for marriage advice, but they can be there for you as sounding boards and to share what they have learned about how to handle the stress of recovery. Use your counselor as well. And remember, it’s okay to ask for breaks when your wife is venting. Make sure she knows you’ll come back to her shortly… and follow through with that. Taking breaks to pray, practice deep breathing exercises, call someone, or taking a short walk will increase your capacity to be present with your wife.
Keep persevering. Healing is possible.
Today, I am beyond grateful that I am not a widow. As promised, what the enemy intended for evil, God used for good. My husband wasn’t perfect, but once his sexual addiction was revealed to me, he did follow the steps I outlined above. Some of it was from receiving some excellent guidance from others God led him to. And some of it he figured out on his own.
As I did, your wife will question your motivation for every deposit you make in her healing bank. You will feel frustrated and overwhelmed and you’ll have moments when you wonder if it’s even worth it. Instead of trying to convince her that she is wrong to be doubting you, show her through consistency of actions you’re worth trusting. This requires lots of time and patience. But even if your wife is too afraid to believe it, she will in time notice what you are doing. And if you can remain consistent with the above, while showing her what I call the big three (patience, empathy, and humility), you will begin to see evidence of your increasing balance in her healing bank.
For more information on helping your wife heal, I recommend the book Worthy of Her Trust by Jason Martinkus.
It is encouraging to hear this from the wife’s side (the one who was hurt by betrayal). This article describes my situation exactly (I am the betrayer). I need to read this article every day, because I need to be reminded every day of the hope that I still need to cling to, and that this CAN get better.
Bob, I too am a betrayer and doing my part to help my wife heal is really important. This article is great and I’m glad I came across it. Praying that my wife is healed and restored is my everyday prayer and for me to be set free from this bondage I’ve been in for years. I ask that the Lord see us and our Wife’s through what can be very difficult. Amen.
That article is really good…however, there are two things missing. The betrayer has to decide to seek the humbleness of repentance, not only from God but also the spouse. If total repentance is not there then repair is only a band aid.
As well, you can have access to all the devices they own, have access to all the email accounts you are aware of, the reality is that there is potential for other emails, secret apps, hidden numbers, all of which you may never know about and the game and betrayal continues. There are no guarantees, manipulation is an addicts best pawn.
I would include, consider your boundaries at all times: here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries.
I think a man needs to evaluate if the relationship is worth the effort. Sometimes is a sunken cost and you should move on. There is no point in kicking a dead horse and many times the damage is beyond repair and for some people forgiveness is impossible. I think that many times is better to confess, ask for forgiveness, regardless of the answer, go through recovery and healing and move on to freedom. In many circumstances spouses use the betrayal as an excuse to exact passive aggressive actions or undermining acts and comments, which does not help in the recovery process. Many times is just better to cut your losses and go through recovery unshackled by the dead weight of a relationship beyond repair. If not careful a man can use this punishing relationship as a form of penance and self punishment. Don’t fall into that trap, it will hinder your healing process and recovery. If, after you have recovered and are healed you are still interested in your spouse, then explore the possibilities of working it out. If not, let it go and move on.
There are relationships that are not salvageable.
I can understand if some may feel that I am overly callous or unrepentant, that is not the case, we should not confuse the facts of the addiction, the recovery and the relationship. Each one must be evaluated on its merits. A recovered and truly healed man has changed, is a new person, is different, as such, he may realize that the new self is not compatible with the spouse and his new outlook in life and belief system is not compatible with those of the spouse and that the attitude of the spouse may actually be a detriment to his new found freedom. If this is the case move on… that relationship will destroy you.
i agree with you. Several years ago I fought and prayed my way back into a relationship with my wife, with the help of online relationship guidance. Even my psychiatrist said the relationship was toxic.
I should have moved on to a new life. Both of us deeply resent what happened. Giving detail is not important because at this point it makes no difference. I am very ill and my time is limited. I am debilitated and cannot drive.
I hate going to my grave knowing both of us have faked this relationship for years
I appreciate the statement about “the discovery of his addiction”. It didn’t start when ones spouse discovers it, it took for the most, many years to build up to the point that they are willing to risk their marriage for their addiction. It’s been about 5 years since the discovery of my spouse’s betrayal, and I still don’t trust him. At first he was willing to do,whatever he had to do to win my trust. We both took an online course, but I found that the women’s study made me feel like I was the one to blame. I hadn’t met his needs the way I should have, I had not been obedient enough to his desires. Though I tried everything to fulfill,his every fantasy, which I think only led to more of his desire for the unnatural.
I don’t know what online course you took, but it sounds like they framed porn as purely a sexual problem for the wife to solve. Wow, what a nightmare and how absolutely the opposite of helpful. I hope you didn’t waste too much money on that?
You might appreciate the Facebook Live talk that Dan and I did the other day as an alternate view on what needs to happen in recovery. Short story: he needs to learn to deal with himself in healthy ways, and you need help for the trauma of marriage betrayal.
I always want wives to find a therapist of their own, a group for themselves, and to check out the online resources at Bloom.
Rather than taking responsibility for your husband’s choices (something you now know never works!!!) you can consider your own boundaries: here, here, and here are some articles.
Peace and healing to you,
Oh my gosh that is far from the truth. If you are in a group that is making you feel that way, leave it immediately. You are in no way shape or form responsible for his actions. He made a conscience decision to do the things he did!
I am a single guy never been married, saturday it will be 3 years since I looked at porn. If I should happen to get married when and how should I bring up my struggle with porn? I make no bones about it I am still tempted and I do some things and dont do other things to stay away from porn. This is stuff that needs to be discussed before I get married but when? And how much is too much? And how much is too little?
Hi, well, bringing it up as a part of being open about who you are, with a future spouse is a good step. Only you’ll know when that is. If you marry in a church, then chances are the pre-marital counseling (if it’s worthwhile) will lead toward these kinds of conversations. That’s one way. But, the rest is going to have to be up to you, a little at a time, allowing her to know as much as she wants. Some women just need to know that it happened and know that there are proper barriers in place to stop it from happening again. Others might want to know more. I’m sorry that I’m not much help, but there are a lot of variables!
Best to you!
I say full disclosure before marriage. I can’t tell you when the best timing is, but lay it ALL out. Help her understand the reality of addiction. I didn’t truly understand my husband’s addiction before we got married. I didn’t know it would be a life long struggle/temptation.
Thank you for sharing what betrayer needs to hear with firm resolve yet without condemnation.
Funny I saw this article the same day I asked myself; “how does a man’s use of porn affect his wife, how does she experience it all, maybe that would be good to know more about”. Thank you! Truly impactful for the quality of a marriage.
There is also a DVD set called Helping Her Heal, which has helped many marriages heal after betrayal.
I’m four years sober of a lifelong addiction to pornography. My last acting out almost cost me my marriage when I had an online affair, nothing physical ever happened. Four years later, my wife is still hurting but seems to refuse to get any help beyond me “fixing what I did.” I feel like I’ve been patient and supportive. I’ve encouraged her to find a spousal support meeting that goes along with the 12-step program provided through the church for recovering addicts, yet she refuses to go saying she gets nothing out of them. I’ve encouraged her to seek therapy for her Betrayal Trauma (like PTSD), but she says I’m pawning off my responsibilities to fix our marriage. I’m not the same man I was before, and I don’t know what else to do after becoming who I think is a righteous, trustworthy man. Where do my responsibilities end, and her begin, in this healing process?
Try asking her to go to join counseling with you. Bring it up there.
Great article. I’m sharing it with my husband. I have to share with him because he doesn’t do any work on his recovery. I have to prompt, educate, etc for him it seems. He seems appreciative, but there’s never real change. He doesn’t like being uncomfortable, that’s for sure. But he say’s he’s willing to do the hard work to repair trust. When will I actually see it happen?
I think this issue of men not being able to sit with their pain is a real, deep root of porn use. You might appreciate this conversation I had a while back on this very topic. Also, here’s an article on two kinds of trust, behavioral and emotional, that might be helpful to you as well.
Ultimately, you can’t do this work for him. He has to do it himself. His good intentions are nice, but that’s all they are: nice. He has to actually do the work of exploring his own pain and why he turns to porn in such a persistent way, rather than doing the good he claims he wants to do. If he went to therapy, that would be a huge step of responsibility on his part.
You’ll have to think about your boundaries, meanwhile. Here, here, and here are some articles that might help. And you might appreciate the online community at Bloom for Women where there are tons of resources and support.
The article was very helpful. I do have something to say on one aspect of it, however; I’ll address the following statement: “Unlike most widows, however, I had to come to grips with the fact that my husband hadn’t been robbed of life in a freak car accident or sudden heart attack. Rather, he’d chosen his demise over and over and over again. Over and over he’d chosen another woman above me.” Ella, I am a widow. My husband and son died in a freak car accident that was not their fault. My husband was an abuser and unrepentant sex addict. During his life, he chose other women over and over above me. Now he’s dead and his actions will remain unresolved. Forever. Your statement appears to claim that you have it harder than “most” widows. I assure you that you likely have not. Your statement is hurtful, insensitive, and offensive. I doubt you intended it that way; regardless, please rethink your position. Thank you.
Thank you for speaking up, Sigrid.
I had a gambling addiction and i hurt my wife badly with lies to try and cover things up. That was never my intention, and i feel awful for it. I’m doing my best to heal myself once and for all while trying to heal my wifes heart at the same time. Im hoping in time that she can see that im fully dedicated to getting healthy and hopefully one day being her husband again.
Thank you for sharing your struggles! Keep up the good fight. With God, all things are possible, and through his power, you CAN overcome your addiction!
Thirty years on. Love like I’ve never known having had a husband who was unfaithful especially when I was having the children I moved on with a faithful and no secrets relationship. Then I found adult works texts. He had been going for what he called prostrate massages. I confronted him. He said just once or twice. Or three times. I had never distrusted him in 30 years. Then on asking for passwords etc it turned out this had been going on with at least 30 prostitutes over 8 years. I was hit with emotion and still am. Lost. Sad angry forlorn. There us no positive feeling today in me. I am unable to stop thinking about where he was and how it came to be. Jekyll and Hyde.
I am so so sorry for the pain you are going through.
I hope he’s getting treatment with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist? Our culture does not teach men to turn toward their own emotions, but rather teaches them to deny, repress, and ignore their own pain (big boys don’t cry); then it teaches them that they will inevitably act out sexually (boys will be boys, locker room talk). If any man is going to truly recover, he has to learn to feel and process his emotions in healthy ways that don’t involve acting out. Regardless of what purity culture and porn culture teach, men are perfectly capable of doing this work, and true recovery is absolutely possible. It will however involve learning a set of emotional skills and facing a lifetime of pain, and many men do not understand how to accomplish this without serious therapeutic intervention.
I hope that you are finding support for yourself and healing for your trauma with a therapist of your own, someone who takes a trauma-informed approach to therapy. The online resources at Bloom for Women will be helpful to you as well.
Peace to you,
Based on that position, I would further understand that no betrayer is worthy of real trust to begin with either. The kind that says let’s plan a life together and have children. Or you give up your career and trust I will take care of you. But what I hear is give up everything and be dependent on me and trust me. If I mess up and devastate you then l bail because it is too much work to fix. Wow.
So.. I’m the Husband and I’ve been dealing with the knowledge of my Wife’s betrayals for 2 years of the previous 8 years.. I came acrost this article and asked my wife to read it..
Well, because shes has also betrayed me in the last 2 years and 3 months ago was the most recent.. She claims to love me and all, but what I found almost creepy is that this article is so close to what I feel and say to her.
She says shes sorry, then I start believing and then it happens again.. so I copied and pasted this while she read the artilce..
“If your spouse has to ask or remind you…
you’re not making any deposits in the healing bank. Don’t check boxes. KEEP you’re Word
Every time you betray(or break your Word) again you withdraw from the healing bank and the healing time-table doesn’t only start over, it gets longer.”
This was her response.. “Okay. You dont need to repeat the same thing I just read. I feel like you’re trying to take the context and rearrange it in a way that affirms your own beliefs.”
Am I wasting my life Loving this Woman of my 3 kids?
Yes! Absolutely yes.
You know what. I don’t blame my wife or porn. I blame myself for the damages I caused. My intimacy with my wife was suffering due to me not being a man of God, as I should be. I have had porn issues in not realizing my problem. It was not listening to my wife and ignoring her. I am fortunate that she chose to keep me in her and my daughters’ life. I am allowed to still keep my promises to be a better dad and a man who will prove to be a one woman man. I see a little bit of change in my wife. She may not have fully forgiven me, but I am allowed to kiss her, even if it’s only on the cheek. I pray every night for my wife’s heart and mind to heal. I’m hoping that she will love me and began to trust me with her heart and mind. Even more I’m hoping we can enjoy life together as I work harder and give her the life due to her. She has me listening when she speaks. My eyes when she calls me. My home is clean and dishes done before she gets the chance. And oh yeah, I cook too.