Rebuild Your Marriage
Rebuild Your Marriage 5 minute read

When Love Has to Get Tough: 5 Steps for Wives of Porn Addicts

Last Updated: April 10, 2015

Sin is deadly, and unrepentant sin will kill a marriage. Regardless of the sin, whether “big” or “small” (from a human point of view), a spouse’s refusal to repent marks the beginning of the end of the marriage. However, there is hope. Like a cancer, if detected, identified, and treated, the marriage can become stronger than anyone ever imagined. Unfortunately, the remedy may be horrifically unpleasant for everyone involved. Nevertheless, unrepentant sin must be confronted. In the words of Christian author and psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, “love must be tough.”

The Lord is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, we must be willing to stand firmly against sin. However, as women especially have discovered, expressing anger or sorrow is not enough. No amount of arguing or tears will turn a sinner from his sin. It is a sad fact that when the Holy Spirit cracks the shell of a hardening heart, His tool of choice is usually the consequence of wrongdoing. Therefore, our response can be no different. For a tough-love confrontation to be truly effective, it must include no less than five essential steps. Moreover, each step must be thought out well in advance and then expressed with calm resolve at a single confrontation.

As we examine the inner workings of a tough-love conversation, bear in mind that our goal is two-fold. First, we want to encourage someone we love to escape the deadly trap of sin. Vengeance is not ours to give, so punishment is not our purpose. Second, we want to reconcile the broken relationship and eventually restore trust. While we cannot compel another person to join us in repairing the breech, we can invite him or her. And that begins by making repentance more attractive than continued sin.

Step 1: Name the sin.

First, tough love names the sin and holds the wayward partner solely responsible for his or her choices. No one should be surprised when this is met with resistance. Sinners always deny wrongdoing. And when that fails, they minimize the gravity of their behavior. And when that fails, they attempt to shift blame. It goes all the way back to the Garden, where Adam pointed the finger at his wife and she, in turn, charged the serpent.

The sinner will likely try to blame his or her partner’s shortcomings as the reason for the sin. Let’s acknowledge that no mere mortal can ever claim to be completely above reproach; nevertheless, the failures of one person—regardless of how serious or how chronic—can ever justify the sin of another. No one is compelled to pursue evil. The responsibility for wrongdoing belongs exclusively to the person choosing destructive behavior. While we must be willing to address our own shortcomings, this must never become a precondition to the sinning partner’s repentance. There will be time enough for addressing past wrongs after he or she has escaped the mind-warping influence of sin.

Denial, minimizing, and blame-shifting do not deserve a response. Instead, keep the focus on the real issue at hand: there is never an excuse for sin.

Step 2: Clarify the consequences of unrepentant sin.

Describe the negative, destructive impact caused by the sin, especially if the effects continue to the present. Describe how the sin has impacted the relationship. Then—and this is where courage frequently falters—set boundaries based on these responses. For example, in the case of pornography:

“David, I love you, but I have no desire to give my body to a man who willfully defiles his mind. In fact, I’m not comfortable sleeping in the same bed with you. Therefore, you should sleep in the guest room as long as you keep viewing porn. And if you refuse, then I will move in there.”

Or, in the case of alcoholism,

“Michael, your drinking is out of control. You frequently drink too much in public, embarrass me with your obnoxious behavior, and then expect me to take care of you as you vomit through the night. From now on, I refuse to help you in any way when you’re drunk, nor will I remain in your presence. Furthermore, I want to support your career, but your public intoxication embarrasses me. Therefore, you will have to attend company functions without me. I won’t be going until you get help for your drinking problem.”

While this might feel unkind or even manipulative, it is neither—as long as the boundaries reflect the upright spouse’s authentic feelings. And this is crucial. Our loving response to sin must come from a place of authenticity and strength, which begins with a clear understanding of who we are and what behavior we find acceptable.

Setting boundaries is nothing more than refusing to engage in any behavior that betrays one’s conscience or forces him or her to behave one way on the outside while thinking or feeling the opposite within. This is not about getting even; it’s a matter of integrity. Furthermore, the goal of tough love is to allow the wayward spouse to suffer the consequences of sin instead of bearing them on their behalf.

Step 3: Call for repentance.

Encourage the wayward spouse to repent—for his or her own good as much as anyone’s. However, beware of the temptation to beg if he or she fails to repent immediately. Dignity is far more compelling. Begging says, “Please turn from your sin; I can’t live without you!” Dignity, on the other hand, declares, “When you have rejected your sin, I will be there to love and support you.” This is crucial when communicating with a partner whose perception of right and wrong, good and bad, has been turned upside down by sin.

Step 4: Offer a plan for reconciliation and, ultimately, complete restoration.

Work with a counselor or a wise Christian friend to form a specific plan for reconciliation and the rebuilding of trust. (My friend and colleague, Dr. Bryce Klabunde, has written an outstanding article explaining how to recognize genuine repentance, titled “I’ll Change, I Promise” Six Signs of Genuine Repentance.” Good intentions are not enough—for either person. The wayward partner likely feels powerless to stop his or her behavior while the wounded spouse has every reason to expect a repeat offense. Neither the sinner’s self-control nor the victim’s trust will be restored overnight. It’s a gradual process and it must be intentional.

In the case of alcoholism, a restoration process must include three essential elements: individual treatment (rehab, individual counseling, or whatever is deemed appropriate by a qualified professional), ongoing accountability (such as AA or Celebrate Recovery), and eventually couple’s counseling. Meanwhile, the spouse of the alcoholic must seek his or her own counseling. For every dysfunctional person in a marriage, there is a person who picked him or her as a partner. He or she needs to understand why. (There’s a whole article by itself.)

Step #4 is perhaps the most crucial element of a loving confrontation of sin. It is what turns vengeful condemnation into hopeful redemption. Offering a specific plan for reconciling the breach and for restoring a broken relationship is quintessentially God-like. That is what He does for us.

Step #5: Follow through with dependable action.

Tough love says what it means and means what it says. Tough love consistently follows through with dependable action, which is absolutely essential to success. Tough talk without tough action only compounds the problem. Furthermore, any discrepancy between words and deeds undermines dignity, which a sinning partner must see in order to offer respect. The wayward spouse must become convinced that the negative consequences for continued sin are real. He or she must also know that repentance will be met with complete support. In the case of alcoholism, this includes taking an active role in the addict’s recovery as directed by his or her sponsor or case manager. Eventually, this will also require the upright partner’s availability for intimacy as the sinner works to regain trust.

Put simply, the upright partner must follow through on promises.

The key word is response, not reaction or retaliation. We aren’t declaring war; we’re establishing boundaries. We aren’t trying to dominate; we’re trying to redeem. Ultimately, the purpose for tough-love confrontation is not to coerce or control the sinning partner; it is merely to clarify three important facts. First, the wayward spouse needs to know that he or she has the power to decide the future of the marriage. Second, the upright spouse needs to communicate that he or she wants the marriage to be restored. Third, a refusal to turn away from the sinful behavior will lead to greater unhappiness for both, while repentance will lead to complete restoration.

For a more extensive treatment of this tough-love approach to unrepentant sin—especially when the level of dysfunction places others in danger—see my book, Redemptive Divorce.

  1. Megan

    I have been married to my husband a little over a year now and found out shortly after we got married that my husband has a porn addiction. I did not know before we were married that he struggled with this addiction and this has and continues to effects our sex life, as well as myself. I am 24 years old; I’m a Christian and have been raised in church and have heard all my life from my parents and leaders constantly telling me that divorce is not an option. I have heard it all.. that I need to pray for my marriage and seek guidance and help. I have talked to my husband on how this affects me and it’s like in one ear and out the other. I know that I should try to get more help with counseling or at least talk to my husband MORE about how I really feel, but I almost don’t want too, I resent him so much now. My family has realized that my husband is not the spiritual leader in our marriage and they can sense we are having problems, but I have not told them the real issues that I’m dealing with. It’s almost like am I really supposed to feel like this in my first year of marriage? Sex or intimacy with my husband is not supposed to be an issue this early on? I can’t satisfy my husband, because he is constantly being satisfied by porn. We will go several weeks without having sex because he is pleasuring himself, and when we do have sex he is never satisfied. Along with the porn addiction, he struggles with anger issues. So when I try to talk to him about how I feel, he gets really angry. Where do I start? Because my heart is hard against my husband and right now before I plan more of my future with him and TRY to start a family, something has to change, or I want out.

    • Hi Megan,

      You have a really good grasp of both this situation and your own heart, and I urge you to follow your own advice. It good that you aren’t rushing to the divorce route (this is very common today). It would be a very good idea to seek guidance about this, such as a counselor or pastor. Here are some places to get you started:

      7 Questions Wives of Porn Addicts Often Ask – This series will walk you through some common questions wives have.
      Setting Boundaries with Your Porn Addict Husband – This is part of my interview with Vicki Tiede, author of When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography. She has some great advice for wives.
      Find a Counselor – This is a good database of Biblical counselors. See if there’s one near you.

  2. Diane, your response to your husband’s addiction is a very clear case of what Patrick Carnes calls “the betrayal bond.” You knew this about him before you married, yet you chose him to be your mate. And the repeated “second chances” further indicate your desire to be with someone who betrays and hurts you.

    I don’t say this to condemn you, or to suggest in any way that his behavior is your fault, but to point you in a direction that will provide answers. I, too, struggled with the betrayal bond, which kept me in a cycle of destructive relationships until I broke the pattern. Based on personal experience, I highly recommend Carnes’ book, The Betrayal Bond, and that you discuss it in one-on-one therapy with a qualified Christian counselor.

    There is a reason you make these choices and there is hope for a better future.

    In the meantime, my other article “My Husband Is Having an Affair with Pornography, What Should I Do?” may be helpful.

    Stand firm!

  3. diane

    How do I cope with and how much do I have to put up with before I just have to say no more? I moved out away from my husband three years ago, but could never fully stop talking to him. I wanted to believe that he could change and wanted him to be happy with himself if we were not able to reconcile our conflicts. Every time he said he was done with porn; Magazines, dvd’s, internet I would believe him but a small voice would say “no he is not” and sure enough EVERY time it was true. Why?? If he really loved me would he ask me back into a hurtfull situation OVER and OVER again? Knowing full well what the lies and the porn has done to my well-being??? He has even tried to pursuade me to go his way and said”If you weren’t so insecure it wouldn’t be a problem and that this women he has meet recently in the past year is ok with it. I have told him many times then perhaps that is a person you need because you do not want to change. You see nothing wrong with it. I want someone in my life that makes me feel emotionaly safe and adored. I have my own place and live with my 16 year old son, we both need stability.

  4. I’m terribly sorry to hear about the sorrow you have suffered. What you have described, however, bears NO resemblance to redemptive divorce. People have been using lawyers and divorce papers to threaten and coerce their spouses for decades. Redemptive divorce does nothing of the kind.

    While I do anticipate some will abuse this grace-oriented process and have described my fear in the final chapter, nothing you have described comes close. On the contrary, redemptive divorce establishes clear boundaries and allows the offending partner to decide the future of the marriage.

    Any plan that attempts to coerce or control the other is not redemptive.

    Again, I’m very sorry to hear about the ordeal you have endured. It is truly tragic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related in Rebuild Your Marriage

Editor's Picks

Happy couple at the beach.

Rebuild Your Marriage

Rebuilding Trust in Marriage Through Boundaries

In situations where a marriage has been affected by pornography use, it’s…

5 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Happy family of six.

Rebuild Your Marriage

From Secret Addiction to Full Transparency

After being married for eight years, I came home unexpectedly one afternoon…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Phil Robertson discussing The Blind with Covenant Eyes.

Rebuild Your Marriage

4 Reasons You Should Watch “The Blind”

The Covenant Eyes Podcast team recently made the trip DEEP into the…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A mother with her teenage daughters.

Rebuild Your Marriage

How Porn Shattered My Life: A Betrayed Partner’s Perspective

I was 36, married for 15 years, serving in our Church, attending…

5 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A picture of Dave and Ashley Willis.

Rebuild Your Marriage

Porn Counterfeits Naked Marriage: With Dave and Ashley Willis

What is “naked marriage” all about? We sat down with popular podcasters…

3 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Rebuild Your Marriage

4 Words of Wisdom From Al and Lisa Robertson

What does the famous Duck Dynasty Clan have to say to Covenant…

3 minute read

Read Post

Related in Rebuild Your Marriage

Happy couple at the beach.

Rebuild Your Marriage

Rebuilding Trust in Marriage Through Boundaries

In situations where a marriage has been affected by pornography use, it’s…

In situations where a marriage has been affected by pornography use, it’s common for one person to feel responsible for the healing process, while the other doesn’t take enough responsibility. This dynamic can lead to…

5 minute read

0 comments

Happy family of six.

Rebuild Your Marriage

From Secret Addiction to Full Transparency

After being married for eight years, I came home unexpectedly one afternoon…

After being married for eight years, I came home unexpectedly one afternoon to find out that my husband had a pornography addiction. I was defeated, brokenhearted, and overwhelmed. I was a young, stay-at-home mom with…

4 minute read

0 comments

Phil Robertson discussing The Blind with Covenant Eyes.

Rebuild Your Marriage

4 Reasons You Should Watch “The Blind”

The Covenant Eyes Podcast team recently made the trip DEEP into the…

The Covenant Eyes Podcast team recently made the trip DEEP into the heart of Louisiana to meet with Phil and Kay Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, and to talk about their new movie, The Blind.…

4 minute read

0 comments

A mother with her teenage daughters.

Rebuild Your Marriage

How Porn Shattered My Life: A Betrayed Partner’s Perspective

I was 36, married for 15 years, serving in our Church, attending…

I was 36, married for 15 years, serving in our Church, attending life group and sending our girls to a Christian school to help raise them in the ways of the Lord. I thought pornography…

5 minute read

4 comments

A picture of Dave and Ashley Willis.

Rebuild Your Marriage

Porn Counterfeits Naked Marriage: With Dave and Ashley Willis

What is “naked marriage” all about? We sat down with popular podcasters…

What is “naked marriage” all about? We sat down with popular podcasters Dave and Ashley Willis to find out, and we learned an important message about God’s design for sex and how porn counterfeits it.…

3 minute read

0 comments

Rebuild Your Marriage

4 Words of Wisdom From Al and Lisa Robertson

What does the famous Duck Dynasty Clan have to say to Covenant…

What does the famous Duck Dynasty Clan have to say to Covenant Eyes? We wanted to know, so our podcast team sat down with Al and Lisa Robertson to talk about their shows and other…

3 minute read

0 comments