“Ally” comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning “to bind to.”
We may be familiar with the term in the context of nations who are allies. They make a commitment to act together and protect each other. The Bible paints a similar picture in marriage when it speaks of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).
Wouldn’t it then stand to reason that if we are married, naturally we would be our spouse’s ally?
When issues of sexual impurity enter the marriage, allies can begin to feel more like enemies in a fight against each other for survival. Those who have committed sexual transgressions need accountability going forward, meaning they should be required or expected to justify their actions or decisions in areas of purity and integrity. What does that look like and to whom should they answer?
For a marriage to thrive and experience true intimacy, there must be honesty and transparency. Dave Willis said, “Secrecy is the enemy of intimacy. Every healthy relationship is built on a foundation of honesty and trust.”
In that regard, spouses absolutely need to be honest and accountable to one another.
When the issue involves pornography or other forms of sexual acting out via the internet, should the spouse be the one to receive any report generated by accountability software? First, let me reiterate what was previously stated. Regardless of who receives the report, honesty is critical for the survival of the marriage. So, even if the spouse is not one of those who receives this report, he or she has the right to know if there has been sexual acting out.
That said, there are several things to consider before taking on the designated role of ally and receiving these reports.
1. What is the motivation?
If your spouse has asked you to fill this role, what is the reason? There are times when those trapped in the snare of pornography do not want anyone else to know their secret so they would rather have only the spouse to receive the report. While understandable, this is not healthy. There should be at least one person of the same gender who acts as your partner’s ally, whether you do or not.
If it is your idea to be your spouse’s ally, honestly consider why you want to fill this role. If you think it may give you some control over your spouse’s recovery, you are mistaken. We can’t control our spouses or their recovery. If you think it will keep your spouse from acting out, it may just give you a false sense of security. Addicts determined to act out can be very resourceful, whether it’s by means of an old phone, another computer, or any number of other ways.
2. Where are you in your own healing journey?
The discovery or disclosure of a partner’s sexual acting out can be devastating. The first phase of recovery for the wounded spouse is stabilization. Before this, thinking can be confused and distorted, emotions can feel overwhelming, and simple tasks can seem unmanageable.
Have you been seeing a therapist, attending a support group, or reading recovery materials? Do you have a safety plan in place? Do you have a strategy to identify, avoid, and manage triggers? If you’ve not made progress in your own healing, you may not be ready to take on the added burden of being your spouse’s ally.
3. Do you have a good support system?
Receiving a report each day on a loved one’s internet activity can be very triggering for someone experiencing betrayal trauma, even if there are no incidents cited. The mere anticipation of it can cause anxiety.
Do you have a safe friend who knows your story and to whom you can reach out when you are struggling? Do you have a coach or therapist available to help you process your emotions surrounding this? The ability to regulate your emotions when acting as an ally is important.
4. Can you patiently listen?
There may be a time when something is flagged on a report that has an innocent explanation. We run the addiction recovery ministry, There’s Still Hope, and there have been times individuals received red flags on their reports simply because they read one of our articles that contained the word pornography.
It is important to be able to sit and listen with an open heart and mind without jumping to conclusions. One of the characteristics of a good ally is being a good listener.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
5. Can you be nonjudgmental?
If your spouse is ensnared in pornography, that does not make him or her a bad person. Do you have the ability to separate the person from the action—the sinner from the sin? The Bible is clear that we’ve all sinned. But, the problem often arises in our evaluation of different transgressions.
As Stephen Covey describes it, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.”
The Bible cautions, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
The ability to refrain from judging is vital for an effective ally.
6. Can you celebrate the victories?
Those attempting to break free from a life of sexual addiction are in for the fight of their lives. It is not as simple as praying more or just saying, “no.” Addicts who have recovered from both cocaine and sex addiction have said breaking free from sexually acting out was considerably more difficult.
For someone who achieves thirty days of sobriety from pornography and masturbation, it may seem like their life’s greatest achievement thus far. Yet, many wounded spouses have difficulty sharing their enthusiasm for doing something that they themselves have been doing the entire marriage—honoring a vow to give themselves sexually only to their mates. The one in recovery needs an ally who can celebrate the victories and be an encouragement.
Should you be your spouse’s ally and receive a daily report of his or her internet activity? Many counselors, therapists, and partners who have tried it would say, “no.” One thing we know for certain is there are no two people or situations exactly alike. There are some for whom it may work beautifully and foster a new level of honesty and intimacy. Before you make that decision, consider the previously stated points, consult your therapist, coach, or spiritual advisor, discuss it with your spouse, and pray about it.
Even if you do not take on the designated role of ally, remember two things. First, you still have the right to know if your spouse has acted out sexually. Have a clear understanding with your partner about what information you want to know and the time frame in which you want to be informed.
Secondly, you are uniquely positioned to be your spouse’s greatest ally. The battle for sexual integrity and the restoration of your marriage may be the toughest challenge you will ever face. But remember, you are on the same team. The enemy is great. God is greater. He’s on your side so there’s still hope!