Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship Wounded by Porn

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words represent the heart of every betrayed spouse: “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

As painful as the discovery is, the fact is that this breach of trust is more often the harvest than the seed. The deception is never isolated, and what has been discovered is the fruit that has been produced by years of secrecy, isolation, and addiction.

For most wounded spouses, the doubts began years before the full discovery was made. Your husband was late coming home from work. He kept his phone out of sight most of the time. There were text messages he didn’t want you to see. The $20 in his wallet went missing without explanation.

Eventually, the truth comes out—it always does. What ensues for the wounded partner is a downward spiral of uneven emotions, an overwhelming sense of abandonment, and frantic bouts of depression. She is left with two binary choices: (a) leave him, or (b) ignore what she has discovered.

Actually, there is a third choice, a road less traveled. It’s called rebuilding trust. Mira Kirshenbaum says it like this: “What’s burned is burned, but what’s broken can heal. And broken trust in a relationship is not like a house on fire.” In other words, there is hope.

Rebuilding trust is a team sport. Even the best efforts cannot rebirth trust in the heart of the unwilling spouse. She must engage in the process, as well. Is that fair? Of course not, but it is necessary.

Doe Zantamata writes on this subject. “Rebuilding trust when it’s been broken is not dependent only on the person who has broken it, or how many times they can prove they are honest. It depends on the person who has decided not to trust anymore. Though they may be totally justified in their decision to not trust, as long as they choose not to, the relationship has no hope of survival. If or when they decide to trust again, there is hope reborn.”

Let’s talk about it: how to rebuild trust.

What the Addict Must Do

Rebuilding trust begins with the sex addict. I suggest that in order to give his wife—and his recovery—a chance, he should start with three simple steps.

1. Work a recovery program.

Until the addict goes all in with a personal recovery program, he will have a better chance of rebuilding old Yankee Stadium than rebuilding trust in his marriage. This program must be extensive, including therapy, group work, and a specific recovery plan, such as the 90-Day Recovery Plan offered by our ministry. I frequently tell clients, “If you are 90 percent in, you are 100 percent out.” To rebuild trust, the offending partner must first focus on his own recovery.

2. Become accountable.

In order to rebuild trust, the addict must get on Covenant Eyes—by the time he finishes this article. Accountability is foundational for recovery. By installing Covenant Eyes on all his devices, with daily reports going to a trusted friend, the sex addict will give his wife a reason for hope.

3. Do a disclosure.

Wives want honesty. What cripples their trust is not what they discover, but what they still don’t know. A clinical disclosure with a C.S.A.T. (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist) with a polygraph is the best way for the wounded spouse to establish a baseline for rebuilding trust. Nothing will do more to communicate a commitment to the marriage than the addict agreeing to a disclosure.

What the Spouse Must Do

Understandably, many wives want their husbands to do the work to rebuild the broken trust of their relationship. But they must engage the process, as well. That isn’t fair, but it is necessary. Here are some steps she can take.

1. Work her own recovery program.

The wife needs to engage her own personal recovery program. This often includes meetings, therapy, and work with a trauma recovery coach. My wife, Beth, is a Certified Partner Recovery Coach, trained in working with betrayed spouses in trauma. Until the wife processes her own needs and does the hard work of individual recovery, rebuilding trust will remain an illusion.

2. Trust his behaviors, not his words.

The offending spouse will promise to never view porn again. He will say that he is on the road to recovery, and he will usually mean it. Sadly, that counts for virtually nothing. His wife has heard that too many times. She is wise to trust him again, but starting with his behaviors, not his words.

3. Trust, but verify.

Ronald Reagan famously coined the phrase, “Trust, but verify.” This applies to any marriage rocked by infidelity. The wounded spouse should do whatever is necessary to give her peace of mind. If this means monitoring her husband’s cash, travels, and devices, she should do that. Early in the process, it may be necessary for her to verify his daily routines and activities. Slowly, trust can be rebuilt.

What the Couple Must Do

Frank Crane said, “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” If the wife is to escape the dungeon of torment, she must find a way to rebuild trust in her husband. The frustration for many couples is that the husband does all he can on his own, and the wife does all she can on her own, and still, it is not enough. That is because the missing ingredient is couples’ work. The couple must rebuild trust – together. Here are a few ideas.

1. Read a book together.

There are several great books on marriage and recovery that the couple can read together. These will facilitate healthy dialogue and introspection. Another option would be for the couple to read one blog from the Covenant Eyes website before going to sleep each night, as a couple. Embrace the opportunity to learn and grow in recovery together.

2. Do weekly recovery nights.

Our ministry offers resources for weekly recovery exercises for couples wounded by porn and sex addiction. These exercises include check-ins, emotional connection work, and simple ways to express feelings with one another. This keeps the couple connected on an emotional and spiritual level. Many couples continue to do recovery nights for years after the initial disclosure.

3. Go on date nights.

Set aside one night each week to get out. Do creative things together. This night should include activities that are fun, recreational, and light. Date nights are a great way to remind yourselves why you fell in love in the first place. These date nights do not need to be expensive, but they do need to be consistent.

4. Spend time with other couples.

Find one or two other couples who are also in recovery, and spend time with them. Share ideas, strength, and hope. Learn from each other and encourage each other. Share your hurts and pains and pray for each other. Grow in your recovery as you grow in connection with others who share your road to recovery.

As you consider these pieces of advice for rebuilding trust in your relationship, please remember that every relationship is different. You may need to set boundaries that others would not find necessary. Prayerfully consider what steps you are to take, and above all, make decisions together, as a couple.