If you are the one who has wounded your spouse with your sexual acting out and you’ve read beyond the title of this article, I’ll assume you have at least some level of interest in helping her heal. There is a fast-growing number of women struggling with pornography and sexually compulsive behaviors so the wounded spouse could be the husband. In this piece I’ll refer to the wounded spouse as she, though many of these tips could be beneficial for helping the husband who has been sexually betrayed.
Before I give you a list of ways to help your spouse heal, I must first say that if you have not fully embraced recovery for yourself and you aren’t doing the work that requires, don’t bother with these items. What your wife needs most from you is to see you consistently working a recovery program.
For those of you still on board, there are things you can do to help your wife heal and there are things best avoided to achieve that same goal. Here are ten such things.
1. Do a therapeutic disclosure.
It is not a good idea to dump the truth of all your acting out behaviors on her while she is unprepared and does not have adequate support to help her process the information. It can be even more damaging to trickle out the truth. To her each new revelation will feel like being stabbed again.
Work with a CSAT to do a clinical disclosure. This will give you both the best foundation for solid recovery.
2. Don’t minimize what you’ve done.
Avoid saying things like, “It was only pornography,” or “At least I didn’t (Fill in the blank).” Your wife is experiencing trauma. When you try to downplay what you’ve done, what she hears is that you don’t think her feelings are valid. She hears you say that what you’ve done is not a big deal. She needs you to recognize the severity of her pain.
3. Don’t try to justify what you have done.
Neither a traumatic childhood, a stressful job, the sickness of a child, an inattentive wife, nor anything else can justify sexual betrayal. While there may be factors that contributed to your susceptibility, you still made the choice. Own it.
4. Don’t bring up her issues.
Now is not the time to address any of her faults or struggles. To bring up her lack of organization, her issue with gossip, her struggle with her weight, her propensity to nag, or anything else, to her sounds like you justifying your actions. Refer back to number three.
5. Take responsibility for your own recovery.
Find a CSAT and make an appointment. Research 12-step groups in your area and attend one. Order recovery materials and read them. Sign up with Covenant Eyes and get an ally for your recovery journey. Don’t wait for her to ask, beg, nag, or demand and don’t expect her to do these things for you. Doing these things demonstrates your commitment to recovery and to the marriage.
6. Volunteer transparency.
Give her free access to your phone, computer, iPad, briefcase, wallet, car, and such. Give her any passcodes you have. Don’t wait for her to ask. Be accountable to her with your time and money.
You forfeited your right to freedom in these areas when you chose to take the sacred sexual relationship outside of your marriage. And let’s be honest, if you don’t have anything to hide, and it will help your wife heal, why wouldn’t you want to do these things?
7. Give her space.
If she temporarily needs you to find another place to stay, sleep in another room, or refrain from talking to her, do it. Offer to take care of the children so she can go to counseling, attend a support group, get a massage, or anything else she needs for her healing.
Don’t pressure her. For anything. Period.
When she’s angry, triggered, sad, or just having a bad day and she goes off on you, just listen. Hear her heart. Don’t pick apart her words. Don’t be defensive. Don’t try to correct inaccuracies. Don’t try to fix it. Acknowledge her pain and her right to it. Try a response such as, “I can see you are upset and I know what I’ve done has put you in this position. What do you need from me right now?” If her request is feasible, do it.
9. Don’t expect kind words, gifts, or flowers to fix this.
You didn’t just forget your wedding anniversary or her birthday. In effect, you’ve ripped her heart out and stomped on it and she stands before you with a gaping hole in her chest.
A comment like, “You sure look nice today,” a thoughtful card, or beautiful flowers, no matter how well intentioned, may actually elicit an angry response. From her standpoint, she is hemorrhaging profusely and you just handed her a Band-Aid and expect her to be appreciative. The greatest gift you can give her is your own recovery.
10. Don’t expect her to celebrate your sobriety.
Recovery work will likely be one of the most difficult things you will ever do, especially if you’ve had a long-term porn or sex addiction. When you get a chip for 90 days of sobriety, you may feel like it is the greatest accomplishment you’ve ever achieved. By all means mention it to your wife in your weekly check-in. But don’t be disappointed when she doesn’t share your enthusiasm. She may not say it, but she will likely be thinking something along the lines of, “Great! You’re finally honoring the vows you made fifteen years ago. I have about 5,500 days of sobriety. Where’s my reward?” Call your sponsor or ally in recovery. They will certainly celebrate with you.
This list is by no means exhaustive and each person may have unique things she needs to help her heal. Discuss this list with your wife. Ask her what she needs from you to promote healing in her heart and in the marriage. Follow through on these things and your commitment to recovery. Remember, this is not a quick fix. You are embarking on a lifelong journey of authentic intimacy in a healthy marriage.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Stay at it. Recovery may seem impossible and your marriage may appear irreparable but with God there’s still hope.