My wife Robin and I have been on a 15-year journey of recovery from the damage caused by my addiction to pornography, strip clubs, and masturbation. The shame of my 20-year relationship with pornography during our marriage led me to keep many secrets.
As I dodged my wife’s questions and let embarrassing falls go undisclosed, I formed a kind of split identity. Although the good Christian man in me loved God and my wife, the sexual addict inside me resisted expectations, boundaries, and anything that felt like confinement.
Desperate to be free, after a 40-day separation, I agreed to expectations and boundaries as guardrails. But over time, my addictive self began to argue that such “silly rules” were juvenile, even embarrassing, like an adult riding a bicycle with training wheels to keep from falling.
With time and knowledge, I saw that these silly rules were actually friends that I wanted to hang onto for life. In fact, the very boundaries that once threatened me ultimately helped save our marriage from sexual addiction, leading me to the “green pastures” that my soul craved.
In the first part of this series, Robin talked about the guardrail of truth and how stringent honesty has helped us to rebuild trust. With time, we developed a pattern of how to confess without sending one or both of us sliding over the edge of despair.
We think of boundaries as being like guardrails along the highway, designed to keep us from plunging over a cliff to our death. Guardrails offer grace to make mistakes without plunging.
These agreed upon guidelines have helped us recover in the areas that were hardest hit in our marriage including honesty, trust, and forgiveness. To be carriers of this type of grace, we needed a new kind of positive boundaries…agreed upon expectations.
The Guardrail of Grace: Agreed Upon Expectations
What do you think of when you hear the word grace? You might think of something like unconditional favor. After deeper study, I found that grace has an additional meaning…God’s affirming presence.
Sexual infidelity rips the fabric of a relationship. Grace is God’s plan for mending that tear. Grace, God’s affirming presence, is needed not only for the guilty, condemned soul (me), but also for the soul that is feeling wounded and betrayed (Robin).
God models this for us. Just think of all the Scriptures where God says something like, “You can do this because I am with you as a loving father!” So what does this look like practically speaking?
The Expectation of Transparency
The wise man Solomon said, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Prov. 11:3).
It is one thing to “technically” tell the truth and another to be transparent (see-through). I began volunteering more of my internal struggle: “Here’s what thrust me into that Google search for that thing I promised not to search for. Here’s what I found and how it affected me.”
For Robin, it meant telling me the truth about why she was hurt. She learned to preface tricky conversations with, “I am afraid to talk to you about this,” so that I could understand this was a sacred moment. On my side, I asked for time to process and share my emotions.
For both of us, this transparency required risk after risk. It included an open permission to look at each other’s email or texts or ask difficult questions.
At the same time, we stopped questioning each other’s motives: “If you say that is how it is, I believe you.” We looked for opportunities to use the language of trust: “I trust your heart. I know you didn’t intend to hurt me.”
All these small decisions added up to increased integrity, which began lightening our hearts and repairing broken trust.
The Expectation of Oneness
In the fantasy world of porn, sex is about taking and using, not about unselfish connection and oneness. But when couples experience real spiritual, emotional, and physical oneness, they enjoy God’s presence in their relationship.
We have agreed that sex must be an act of oneness (Matt. 19:4-6). For us, this means if there is unresolved conflict or unconfessed sin (including boundary breaks), this must be resolved before we initiate sex or accept initiation.
Although I used to pout or even refuse sex if Robin wanted to talk out something before she responded to my initatiation, I’ve come to see how honoring the creator’s intended purpose for sexuality has brought healing and confidence. True oneness is worth whatever it costs!
This also prevents Robin from having to police my purity. If I initiate sex, she knows my conscious is clear and nothing is hidden.
The Expectation of Patience and Forgiveness
Rebuilding our marriage after my sexual sin has required years of investment. With each new skill has come numerous mistakes. Tender places in our hearts have been reinjured. Feelings of shame have flooded back with a vengeance. Great patience and forgiveness were needed.
One tool that Robin and I have found to be very powerful is what we call a “do-over.” When we realize that we have made a hurtful comment or failed to give each other needed affirmation, we stop potentially destructive situations by asking for a “do-over.”
Once granted, one of us leaves the room, re-enters and then says what they wish they said the first time. Although this was awkward at first, to this day, it helps us reset our hearts. Afterwards, our brains retain the correct version and discard the ugly one.
Protecting the New Guardrails
There are a couple of potential dangers that need to be avoided when adopting this lifestyle.
Mutuality: If expectations are one-way (Robin setting expectations for me, or me for her), they can easily feel like punishment or parental rules. Talking through these together, writing them down, and rereading these expectations regularly can prove helpful.
Diligence: With victories comes the temptation to ease up on our boundaries. The four most deadly words of a sex addict are, “I can handle it.” Talk any change over with your spouse before you implement it and agree to be honest if the change is having an adverse impact on your purity.
Has it been worth all the diligence? Absolutely! Transparency has gifted us with a deepening trust. Oneness has allowed true intimacy to grow in place of false intimacy. And, forgiveness has meant that when either of us hurts the other, we can wipe the slate clean and try again.
In part three, we will discuss the final layer of guardrails that helped heal our marriage after sexual addiction: the guardrail of vulnerability.
Expectations tool kit:
- Transparency: Takes initmacy deeper as motives/hurts are heard and reassurance given.
- Oneness: Renews sexual intimacy with true unity as the supreme value.
- Patience: Re-sets hurtful, heavy conversations by doing them over and then accepting the new version.
Dave Weidner – Dave and Robin Weidner head up Purity Restored, a non-profit offering spiritual recovery and tools for sexual purity. They have authored healing resources including the book Grace Calls: Spiritual Recovery after Abandonment, Addiction or Abuse, the 2017 Gold Medal winner for Self-Help/Recovery in the Illumination Book Awards. Dave and Robin lead healing retreats and marriage seminars around the world. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.