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3 Tools Every Marriage Needs to Fight Porn Addiction

Last Updated: March 7, 2019

Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

The day I stood at the altar, I wish someone would have told Craig and me that there are three tools every marriage needs to survive—grace, truth, and love.

I wish someone would have also told us that these three tools must be used all at the same time—in conjunction—or else they would hurt instead of help. They would demolish instead of build up. They would create new wounds instead of healing old ones.

But nobody told us. Added to our lack of relational knowledge, the tool Satan selected to attempt to destroy us was encapsulated with shame. When destruction hit, we were too embarrassed, too afraid to let anyone else know that the wrecking ball was named pornography.

Over eighteen years ago there weren’t books and blogs and websites dedicated to freedom from this. There weren’t any support groups at our church. Our priest wasn’t speaking about it from the pulpit. There were barely any whispers between girlfriends, no “me too” confessions or empathetic eyes. We now know that community does wonderful things for people facing addictions and for the loved ones that so desperately want them to find freedom.

At that time in our marriage, community was lacking, but Jesus was not. And somehow, despite our broken souls, He began to show us how to rearrange our shattered pieces, not back into the idyllic scene we had that day on the altar, but one that held more beauty than we ever thought possible.

The Three Tools Every Marriage Needs

No one told us about the three tools that day, but Jesus is a master at using them. Perfect, really. With our eyes on Him, we did our best to listen to His voice and try to wield them in the ways He did.

Choosing to use grace, truth, and love all at the same time is not easy. It doesn’t come naturally to our fleshy, human selves.

When we’re hurt, our first instinct is to get away from the person or thing that is causing our pain. We want to nurse our wounds and tell someone about it. This is instinctual.

It’s why little boys and girls run to their mamas when they fall down and scrap their knees or their best friends steal their toy. They desperately want someone to step in to make things right and to help them feel better.

But when we’re adults, we don’t always think about turning to Jesus or to our healthy relationships. When we’re embarrassed to admit our struggles, we try to nurse our own wounds. We try to protect ourselves from future damage. But when we try to take charge of our recovery, we end up building walls of self-protection, fitting rocks of anger, bitterness, and pride next to each other to try to insulate ourselves from the next blows.

Related: Boundaries for Couples Facing Porn Addiction

The wall I built was deep and wide and lonely. It failed to keep me safe. For many years, I chose this defensive mechanism despite God’s continued offer to step out and embrace the tools that would actually help. I could not continue to hold onto my wall and hold onto these tools. Isn’t that the truth with most choices we must make between the world and God?

As with any type of tool, one has to know the purpose of it—what it’s designed to do—and how to use it. We often don’t get it right on the first try, since extending grace, speaking truth, and loving well are all areas in which we continually grow. Unfortunately, this side of Heaven, we never arrive at full mastery. But when we get it right, I think God just rejoices. He knows the relationship is winning, healing, and moving forward. He knows we’re trusting Him more than we’re trusting ourselves.

How I Responded When Gifted the Truth

The first time I used all three tools at once, I felt gangly and inept. It was as though I was handling a sword that weighed as much as me. As with most extraordinary events, it began on an ordinary day. The kids were already in school. Craig was fixing his lunch for work. I was plugging along, working on my computer. I stopped to ask him a question about something, calling to him from the dining room into the kitchen. I can’t remember what I asked, but I do remember it led to this follow-up question: “When was the last time you looked at porn?” There was no anger or accusation in my voice. I was used to asking this question. What I was not used to was the answer that followed.

For the first time in the history of our marriage, Craig actually answered me honestly: “Last month, when I was traveling,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve hurt you again.”

The flood of emotions came. The anger, the hurt, and the disbelief all crashed down as they normally did. But God was quick to show me something beyond Craig’s revelation of porn use. “Jen. Jen!” He said. “He’s telling you the truth. You didn’t catch him in the act. He’s willingly confessing. This is a gift.”

It’s hard to see how your husband confessing to betrayal is actually a gift. I know this. That wasn’t the gift, though. The gift was the truth. At this moment, knowing that Craig had been actively seeking help from community and Jesus, I could come up from the drowning waters of disappointment to see the victory at hand. Craig had overcome enough of the shame surrounding his addiction to bring it into the light. He trusted me with his failure and let me in on his moment of weakness.

Related: How to Tell If Your Husband Is Really in Recovery

It was my decision as to whether or not to take this gift of truth. But God showed me that whatever I decided, it would have lasting ramifications. And deciding to respond with my tools—grace, truth, and love–would require a good dose of reliance on God. It’s never easy to override anger and bitterness.

Here’s the breakdown of how I used each one in conjunction with the other:

Speaking Truth

My pain was evident. I didn’t try to hide it as I let the tears spilled out of my eyes. “That is really hard to hear. I wasn’t expecting that answer,” I said.

It’s okay for people to know they’ve hurt you so they know how to correct and change their behavior. Jesus did this in the Garden of Gethsemane when He found His disciples sleeping instead of keeping watch. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Luke 22:40). Jesus communicated what He wanted and needed from His closest relationships and when they failed Him, He told them the truth about their behavior.

In Love

Jesus communicated His hurt and anger, but He didn’t shame them. He didn’t call them worthless thugs who couldn’t do anything right. He didn’t tell them they needed more willpower or ask if they were ever going to get it right. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, He points out where we’ve gone astray (our sin) and welcomes us home again when we return. Love doesn’t condemn (Romans 8:1) and doesn’t keep a record of wrong.

For me to speak in love to Craig sounded like, “This is really hard to hear, but I also recognize that this is a gift. I hate pornography and your choice to engage in it, but I love you and know that God is continuing to work in you and through you.”

With Grace

I thanked him for telling me, for trusting me to be a part of his healing process. I recognized all the times I had sinned against him with my controlling nature and sharp tongue. It’s helpful for me to remember that sin is sin—separation from God—and we are all guilty. (It’s also important to remember that different sins most definitely have different consequences, and showing grace does not mean we do away with our boundaries.) We are all in need of forgiveness, from God and from others. To deny Craig forgiveness was to deny my own need for grace, too. Jesus extends grace to the disciples, too, back in the garden. When the time had come to face His accusers, He told them to rise and go with Him. Despite their failure and shortcomings, He still wanted to engage in relationship.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). One of the best ways we can sharpen each other in a marriage relationship, so that we both end up looking more like Jesus, is to use the same sculpting tools Jesus did with His disciples: grace, truth, and love in every moment.

  • Comments on: 3 Tools Every Marriage Needs to Fight Porn Addiction
    1. Dash on

      This is all very true. As I’ve discussed with my husband many many times, I will always be hurt to know he’s been unfaithful but it is the lying that keeps me feel in bondage and enslaved to the pain and suffering. If I could just always hear the truth no matter how painful it is, I will be able to keep moving forward. Each time I hear my husband lie about his past actions or he gives my half truths about his present actions, it adds another layer of hurt and trauma that makes the hole we’re in even deeper. If only I just heard the truth every time…

      Unfortunately all the half truths and full on lies have created such a disbelief that I’ll ever get the truth. So much so that recently, after finding a record of pornography searches, I didn’t believe my husband when he said it wasn’t him. He said a lot of the same lines I’ve heard before. He promised to ‘prove’ to me it wasn’t his search history but must have been someone else logged into that account. He swore to fire whoever it was that caused this riff in us. I couldn’t believe him.. I know I can’t trust him in the area of fidelity… it is very sad because after praying so much and begging God to show me the truth (as he has thru this whole season), I do believe that it wasn’t truly my husbands search history. There was another line in the search history that showed someone’s iPad logged on right before the pornography searches started. This is the only bit of evidence we could point to trying to prove it wasn’t my husband…. my point is, sometimes the damage of lies is so great that even when the truth is told it may very well be dismissed and never believed. Thankfully my husband and I were both praying for the truth to be shown to us.

      Reply
    2. Evan on

      This article engages in covert victim blaming through sin leveling. “I recognized all the times I had sinned against him with my controlling nature…” Parenthetical disclaimer aside, the author’s husband deliberately chooses the destructive behavior of engaging in pornography. That is very different than wanting things to be a particular way.
      The fact that all humans are sinners in need of grace does not absolve men when they are unfaithful to their sacred vows. I found this article to be very potentially very damaging to the women who are suffering sexual betrayal trauma because of their husbands’ pornography use.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Thank you, Evan.

      • bptp on

        Thank you for saying this! I don’t think this article did a very good job of creating the balance with which you speak. Yes, we all are selfish and hurt others, but it doesn’t take away the fact that they have broken a vow/bond between you and they quite possibly used gaslighting/manipulation to hide it from you. I have already told my husband that I have a boundary around this exact scenario; I need to be told within 24/48 hours after a slip/relapse. Any longer than that, and I will not believe that he would ever have told me due to the nature of his lying/manipulation/hiding in the past.

      • Kay Bruner on

        Keep those boundaries healthy and strong! You can’t change another person; you can only take responsibility for yourself. Whatever he chooses, you can choose to be healthy.

      • Lisa on

        As a long suffering wife, I completely agree. I immediately felt helpless, hopeless, ashamed, panicky and guilty. I was already spinning the familiar pattern of “is this hurting me because there’s something wrong with me….over emotional because it’s my fault? Am I bad for feeling defensive?” After 18 years of gaslighting, it’s hard to re-learn how to trust yourself…what you see, hear or know. I’m so grateful that I scrolled down and read your comment as it helped me snap out of the self doubt spiral. Thank you.

    3. sdgp on

      It’s great that he was honest when asked; but I think if he were truly trying to save the marriage and be honest, forthright, and repentant, he would have confessed it without being asked. He kept it a secret. That’s a form of deceit. It’s the secret keeping/deceit that destroys marriages.

      Reply
    4. Nick on

      A Response to sdgp
      Some professional counselors have recommended setting up a pattern of the wife asking or setting the level of openness that she wants. A couple of different reasons-

      A. For some wives, hearing he gave into sin again is traumatic. From first confession to complete freedom from porn, if the relationship between sinner and the other spouse (usually the wife, but of course a few wives uses porn) is not handled well, the wife may end up with the psychological profile of a rape victim.

      B. Since it can be traumatic for the nonaddicted spouse, wisdom about sharing when, how, details of the sin is very important and not necessarily obvious. But honesty is essential.

      C. To prevent this, some experts recommend a man have 6 months of sobriety before first confession to their wives. Obviously, that’s no longer an option for sdgp, but hopefully other men will find a wise male(s) to confess regularly. To also receive encouragement to fight off the shame, guilt, underlying cause, etc. can be a tremendous help.

      D. For a man to get free of porn. with professional counseling, support group, etc. can be a be a 2 or 3 year journey. For some cases it can be a multiyear journey or even a decade or more. This depends on maturity in Christ, wisdom of those he’s looking to for support, quality and expertise of the counselor he’s getting help through, his submission to those mentors, among other factors, etc.

      Bottom line- honesty is important, but level of openness should be thought through and determined by the non addicted spouse.

      Much of this comes from the professional counselors and pastors in the Conquer series. ConquerSeries.com
      I am not a counselor or an expert. May every reader here grow in knowing Jesus’s which includes truth, grace and empowering to freedom.

      Reply
    5. Kent Dickerson on

      Jen, my wife and I read my wife read your post and thank you for it. We’re afraid most of the commenters missed the point. A spouse can be a part of the solution or part of the problem. Your three tools are vital to being part of the solution. Anger, resentment, and the desire to punish are a part of the problem — a part of the endless cycle of sin, guilt, pain, and shame. They keep your spouse from feeling he can come to you and confess. We can be a significant part of your spouses fight in temptation and healing, but only if we set those feelings aside (after expressing them) just as you suggest, Jen.
      Real victory and a wonderful marriage are possible. I have had an amazing amount of success in overcoming not only pornography but lust in general. Almost always now, the temptations become opportunities to reflect on God’s holiness and immensely greater beauty.
      What these women don’t realize is how they are responding is doing as much damage to themselves as their husbands. Please read the following passage: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy . . . ” Hebrews 12:15-16 “See to it” in the Greek is in the strongest of command. This is our obligation, as Christians. Both the sexually immoral and the one harboring bitterness are in danger of missing the grace of God. We, as spouses, are in the best position to fulfill this duty. We can be a great help to each other. But to do so, we must follow the way of Jesus, not our own feelings.
      Being angry when we are hurt is normal in this type of situation. But we must not run with these feeling, to do so is to invite disaster. “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold . . . And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:26-27, 30-32
      Ladies, we urge you to read the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness. One of them, the Lord’s prayer, is said regularly by many of us. We pray the line “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” will give you serious pause.
      May the Lord lead us all into his grace and away from sexual sin, anger, and bitterness. And may we cooperate fully with his leading in our marriages.

      Reply

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