Rebuild Your Marriage
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Blaming the Mrs.

Last Updated: April 10, 2015

Adding Injustice to Injury

Sex scandals and car accidents have much in common—injured parties, public spectacle, and charges hurled every which way amidst an abrupt, life changing tragedy. They both attract and repel us as we drive by, shaking our disapproving heads even as we crane our necks to see more. It’s been, in fact, a bit of a national pastime, this business of surveying the wreckage, whether it’s the aftermath of the 1987 PTL scandal or our former President’s ill advised encounters with an intern.

Small wonder, then, that former Governor Spitzer’s use of prostitutes, Tiger Woods‘ philandering, John Edwards‘ affair, and Ted Haggard’s liaisons with a male prostitute continue to fascinate the American public, often relegating much weightier world events to Page 2.

But in recent years a wrinkle was added to the fuss when a prominent talk show host and advice-giver appearing on the Today Show had this to say about wives whose husband’s have committed adultery:

“When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs. The cheating was his decision to repair what’s damaged, and to feed himself where he’s starving.”

Whew! The Mrs. didn’t try hard enough, so the malnourished man simply had to locate another partner who’d provide a bit of supplemental hero worship. The predictable outrage from talking heads and the general public following these comments indicate that many of us simply aren’t buying the notion that, if the husband strays, the wife’s the villain.

But truth be told, the myth of an adulterer’s wife being somehow responsible for her husband’s sin is painfully common. I’ve seen it repeatedly as couples, shattered by indiscretion, have come to my office asking who’s to bless or blame. Often, to the Church’s shame, wives have been told by Christian family members, friends, and, yes, pastors, that their shortcomings as women contributed to, if not caused, their husband’s downfall.

The question thus shifts in a woman’s  mind from “Why did he do wrong?” to “What did I do wrong?” A couple of sadly misguided conclusions the wife comes to look something like this:

“I must not be attractive enough for him.”

“If I were less like this or more like that, would he still have cheated on me?” This is a question often coming from the wife who caught her husband looking at porn—a wife who’s seen first hand the type of women he privately ogles. Or perhaps she compares herself to the call girl, stripper or masseuse her husband dallies with—the surgically enhanced body in the exotic outfits—and cries “uncle,” assuming she can’t hope to compete.

Yet one remembers the ghastly murder of actress Sharon Tate, the stunningly beautiful wife of director Roman Polanski, at the hands of the Charles Manson cult. After her death Polanski publicly admitted to frequent adulteries with numerous partners, all the while asserting his love for Sharon and praising both her beauty and tenderness as a wife. Clearly, one couldn’t impugn the looks of Miss Tate (one of the most exquisite figures Hollywood ever featured) because of Polanski’s behavior. Nor should anyone, especially a betrayed spouse, assume a wife’s appearance can either prevent or contribute to an adulterous act. Adultery, in short, is more a statement of what a man is rather than what his wife isn’t.

“I wasn’t attentive enough to him, so he cheated.”

Let’s not too hastily dismiss the first half of the statement. In fact, let me get this off my chest before going any further: Some wives are indeed getting away with murder.

Not all. Most, I believe, are loving, strong partners in grace with their men. But I’ve seen more than a few Christian ladies grow comfortable screaming at their husbands, undermining them to their children, humiliating them in public, complaining regularly about their real or perceived shortcomings, and, in general, treating them like dirt. Their husbands, in turn, are expected to obey Paul’s admonishment to “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” But just try quoting the other half of that command—“Wives, submit to your husbands” —and watch the outrage at such an archaic, sexist notion.

That said, let’s not unduly muddy the waters. The wife who is inattentive, indifferent or downright abusive is responsible for her sins, not his. No woman, no matter how odious, makes her man commit adultery, so if a wife sins, let her account. But let her account for her sins alone.

That’s a fairly big if, though, considering the many women who’ve shown more than reasonable affection and concern for their spouses who cheated nonetheless. King David, for example, had countless wives and concubines at his disposal when he committed his notorious adultery with Bathsheba. Does anyone really believe a harem of palace wives and concubines didn’t know how to show the King all due attention? And what constitutes “enough attention” anyway? None of us, in moments of brutal honesty, will deny we at times wish for more love, notice, or affection from our spouses. But will any of us then have the chutzpah to conclude we’re entitled to sin because we feel sinned against?

The wreckage of the Wood’s, Haggard’s, and Edward’s crises is still being cleared, and time will tell how effectively they repair the damage. But should the guilty husband involved decide to apply himself to restoring trust with his bruised wife, then his work is surely cut out for him.

  • He’ll need to acknowledge the nature of his betrayal, making no excuses, no rationalizations.
  • He’ll need to express due remorse, showing The Mrs. he not only recognizes his failure, but privately feels ongoing pain over it as well.
  • He’ll need to then give her room to express her own pain, allowing him an education in the emotional holocaust a woman experiences when her man violates her in such an intimate yet cruelly public way.
  • And he’ll surely need to establish some structure of accountability and treatment by which he can assure her this behavior will never be repeated.

Meanwhile, let’s suspend public speculations about what role (if any) this injured woman had in the agony she’s enduring. Let the sinner repent and the system exercise fairness in its judgment. Let the Church be a healing agent, and let the prayers of believers everywhere continue for all involved, thus refraining from adding insult, much less injustice, to such a devastating and needless injury.

  1. Kay

    My husband of 36 years has been looking at porn even before our marriage and still continues. He blames me for this everytime. Says it’s my sin withholding from him. I have a lot of physical ailments. Severe pelvic pain incurable. Plus he was abusive for our first 15 yrs of marriage and blamed me for that too. He quotes the Bible at me and says my withholding is a sin and somehow that blaming is justified. This makes me resent him even more and it’s hard to have sex when I feel this oppression from him. So vicious circle. He probably won’t go to counseling cause of money and he doesn’t like or trust our pastor. I’m so tempted to leave but have no where to go

    • Moriah Dufrin

      Hi Kay!

      Thank you for sharing your struggles. I imagine that you are quite discouraged and feeling hopeless, and I would encourage you to cling to God during this time and hold fast. We serve a mighty God who has the full power to restore and heal. If you are looking for words of hope and encouragement, feel free to download and read out ebook “Hope After Porn.” May God meet you in your time of despair. Blessings!

      Moriah

  2. BWD57

    I lost my husband to suicide in 2012. He was a wonderful, creative, godly man who struggled with self-esteem and chemical depression.He had troubles with porn at different times during our almost 27-year marriage. In the early 1990s he discovered our middle-school aged son was viewing some of his favorite sites; we installed Net Nanny and moved our computer into our bedroom so I could have more oversight. There weren’t as many resources or as much knowledge about porn addiction back then. My husband had an affair in 1998 that I believe was the result of his addiction; that was when he was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. He went on medication, we got into counseling, and we recovered and actually had a wonderful 10 years together before the recession and his business folded in 2009, and then it started all over again. I tried the same approach – he agreed to go back to his doctor and a psychiatrist, we went into marital counseling and he was seeing a depression counselor. But his porn addiction was raging and he exposed me to it and I WENT ALONG WITH IT for a short time. He made me believe it was my fault, that he was normal and I was a prude, that it is “normal” for men. Gaslighting, definitely. And then the day after we tried to be intimate and it failed (because of new medication for his depression, I believe), he took his own life. A year later my daughter-in-law revealed to me that my son was addicted, and she blamed me for the suicide and for not confronting the sin in our home. I had NO idea — there was never any new evidence found in my son’s room, in the laundry, or on our computer. I never caught him, so how was I to know? Our relationship has been difficult ever since. As a suicide loss survivor and SP advocate now, I know guilt feelings are a huge part of this loss and suicide is not the choice of a healthy person — he had a brain disease. As a Christian, I struggle with my own role in what happened — specifically my co-dependence issues that may have thwarted a firm confrontation. I also know there were things I did try and some I had not YET tried but certainly would have if he had just stayed alive. I never got the chance. He was in so much anguish and pain he couldn’t see any other way out. Nearly seven years later I am more informed, have learned that addiction and depression make each other worse, things I wish I had known then. I asked my son and DIL for forgiveness for not being a more diligent parent once I knew my son had been looking at porn in those early years. I should have remained alert, I told them, my mistake. My DIL says she has “forgiven” me for “the suicide” and I assume my son’s addiction (I should challenge the first statement but I haven’t) but it doesn’t feel that way — she and I don’t communicate. My son is in recovery; I have no idea how it’s going. They say they are fine. But our relationship has been damaged severely. I have asked God for forgiveness yet I struggle with forgiving myself. These days I cling to Maya Angelou’s quote, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it,” still trying to actually do this. If I could do it over again, I would have given my husband an ultimatum: get help for the porn addiction or I would leave. I would have called in help from our church and our family (he was a lay leader at our church and begged me not to tell anyone), and I would have tried to educate myself more. Not sure if this helps anyone on this site but the old me can certainly can serve as an an example of how NOT to handle this. All I can do is move forward, and share my story and pray it helps others. That’s the only way to redeem a loss like this. Thank you for this post and for addressing this issue. Prayer and blessings to all of you struggling with this.

    • Kay Bruner

      Thank you for so bravely sharing your heartbreak with us here. May your words be a blessing and the beginning of healing for others.

  3. Ken

    In response to the article, Matthew 18, Luke 17, and Romans 14 all say that it is possible to cause someone to sin or rather according to Strong’s put a stumbling block in their path.

    In my case, my wife refuses me sexually for months at a time and I have no legitimate way to satisfy my sexual appetite. It’s not like people who are dating in the world that can just break up and find someone else to have sex with. I’m locked into a marriage covenant with the only person who can meet my sexual desire and who sees nothing wrong with that behavior even after being told for eight years.

    That is a stumbling block or a willful offense that can cause me to sin. I won’t go into the disrespect and other unreasonable behaviors that don’t make sense. But to the world around us, she’s a saint so if things completely fall apart, they’ll say “he really messed up” “look what he did to her” “she deserves better” and no one would believe the truth if I told them. It’s like in proverbs that you have the wise woman who builds up her house and you have the foolish woman who tears hers down with her own hands. You may not be able to make your spouse sin but you can sure trip them up and back them in such a corner that when they are weak enough, they will sin.

    • Kay Bruner

      The Bible does not excuse you from personal responsibility. Your choices belong to you, regardless of what your wife does or does not do. “The woman that thou gavest me” is the oldest excuse in the book. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Find a good marriage therapist and do the work that it takes to repair the relationship.

  4. AJ

    Porn has been ongoing in our relationship and now marriage for years! Everytime he says he will change. He never seeks help, so he doesn’t change. I got him setup for a counseling session with a volunteer counselor(since he can’t afford a paying one). He went today. I’m proud of that. I told him I realized why I can’t bring myself to be with him as much as he’d like. It’s because of my lack of trust with him. He says he wouldn’t have to turn to porn if we had it more. Then why did he turn to it one day when we we made, what I thought was love, that same morning?! There so much, it’s so complicated. I’m so hurt. He actually says he views me as asexual. He says even if he didn’t view porn I would still not have sex with him alot, or as much as he’d like to because I have a low sex drive. He hurt me further by saying he views oral sex in porn because I am not comfortable doing that with him. I go to speak with the same male Christian counselor tomorrow. I literally dread it. I fear his mindset will be the same as my husband’s. “Well, if you had more sex with him he would stop viewing other women sexually.”…”have sex with him, even if you don’t trust him because you know by intuition he’s still viewing porn”. I’m so lost, confused, and devastated. he just told me this morning that none of this was my fault, but tonight he changes his tune. He said I must have a f****ed up mind.

    • Kay Bruner

      Hi AJ,
      I am so, so sorry for what you are going through. I think a lot of what your husband says to you is gaslighting, a form of mental abuse where facts are twisted to favor the abuser and make the victim doubt their own experiences and reality. Here’s a short animation that explains more about gaslighting.

      You are never, ever required to take part in any sex acts if you don’t want to. Sex should always be consensual: YOU should want to have sex, in other words!

      And I think physical intimacy is a representation of the emotional intimacy in a relationship. If there’s no emotional intimacy, if there is instead abuse and addiction, then you can’t expect a healthy sex life.

      When you go to the counselor, you should feel safe. You should feel respected. You should feel heard. You should not feel talked down to, ignored, lectured, or in any way diminished as a person. If you don’t like the counselor, DON’T GO BACK!

      I always advise wives to find a counselor just for themselves, someone they feel safe with, someone who can help them process their own pain and build healthy boundaries. I do not see porn addiction as a couples’ problem. I think men need to get themselves into treatment and do their work separately from the traumatized spouse. Later on, if he does enter into recovery and do his work, couples’ therapy might become appropriate.

      Peace to you,
      Kay

  5. CW Miller

    “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” But just try quoting the other half of that command—“Wives, submit to your husbands” —and watch the outrage at such an archaic, sexist notion.”
    I have no trouble submitting AS UNTO THE LORD, not AS IF HE IS THE LORD, if he sincerely loves me in the manner of God’s design for marriage, as we women must also follow God’s design for marriage.
    I for one WILL NOT settle for any man who feels forced to love me in spite of myself because God says so.
    I am not an odious woman in the sense as described in this article.
    Face the truth; MOST men are purely carnal, and act like they’re doing you a favor by staying married to you!
    I say; do me a favor, don’t do me no favors!!

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