3 Tools Every Marriage Needs to Fight Porn Addiction

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.