By Mike Genung
Healing for wives who’ve been hurt by a husband’s adultery and porn addiction
A few years back, I asked my wife to write me a letter describing how my struggle with sex and porn addiction affected her. The following is her letter:
You asked me to write a letter about how your addiction affected me. At the time, things were a bit hazy and I was young and didn’t know what to think of everything.
It really flared my insecurities up. I measured myself up to other women “in your eyes”. I was always trying to see what you’d find more attractive in others – where my flaws were. In the beginning of our marriage it was the worst. My insecurities plus your addiction equaled disaster.
I watched porn movies a few times out of curiosity to see where I was lacking in bed. In a way it was self-torture. “I wasn’t good enough”, “I didn’t measure up”. What was it that you were looking at or drawn to that I couldn’t fill? I was constantly looking at women (probably more than you) to see if you’d notice her smaller waist, her bigger chest, her whatever.
I’ve gotten better about not letting it be “my fault”. If you ever decide to go down that road again and self destruct, it isn’t going to be my fault. It’ll affect me yes, but not like 12 years ago.
Your sex addiction ruined the little bit of self-esteem I had back then, and there wasn’t much of it to begin with. It put me on guard for everything – I was afraid that if I wasn’t “perfect” (whatever that is) you’d leave or stray. I made you my everything, which was wrong, and when you cheated on me with a prostitute in 1991 it devastated me.
Today I still struggle with insecurity; I’m paranoid about any pictures that might be in something we might get in the mail, or even a magazine I might want to read. It’s not that I think you’re going to go back to where you were, but that you’ll see in that picture what you don’t have in me.
The process of healing from adultery is hard and sometimes painful, and it takes time to heal from the wounds of betrayal. However, the Living God does heal and completely restore women and their marriages from the wreckage of infidelity (and yes, porn is adultery), so there is abundant hope.
I’ll use some of the points my wife brought up in her letter as a guide for some of the issues we need to examine.
1. It’s not your fault.
You could be a 20 year old with the perfect body who gave her husband all the sex he wanted, and it still wouldn’t resolve his struggle with sex addiction. Why? Because sex addiction is his way of dealing with the emptiness, pain and loneliness in his heart. Sex doesn’t resolve a wounded heart, which means anything you may do or not do sexually isn’t the cause for his problem no matter what he says. Some guys try to take advantage of their wife’s false guilt by using “if you were only giving me more sex I wouldn’t be this way” as a smoke screen. If your husband tries to use this line on you, call him on it; never allow him to pin his choice to serve the god of lust on you.
There may be friction in your marriage, but there is conflict in every marriage, and resorting to porn or an affair won’t “fix it.” If your husband is in deep, chances are he’ll be immersed in self absorption and lust, which means he may try to do anything to avoid owning up to his responsibility. 100% of the blame for his decision to worship lust lies on his shoulders, so never allow your husband to put a guilt trip on you. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it.
2. Don’t allow your husband to devalue you.
Women do this when they allow their husbands to continue in sex addiction unchallenged. Before you were married if your groom-to-be had said “I’m going to masturbate to porn once a week… or have sex with prostitutes while we’re married” you wouldn’t have walked down the aisle with him – you’d have forced him to choose between you and sexual sin. Why? Because he would be treating you like trash if he said such a thing! You’re a precious daughter of God, not a trophy for his bookshelf, so don’t allow your husband to treat you like one. This means he needs to choose between you and porn, or affairs, or whatever his chosen way of acting out sexually might be.
You have to draw a line in the sand with him: “it’s me or porn… or we need to talk about separation.” He has to make a commitment to do whatever it takes, now, to break free from lust. His commitment must be shown by persistent, determined action; in this arena, words alone mean nothing. This means all porn must be removed from the house and he will no longer corrupt you or your family. If needed, a porn blocker is installed (and he gives you the password), the computer is removed, and/or all TV service is turned off. It means he goes to a group and/or meets with an accountability partner at least once every week.
Sex addiction is a hard problem to break free from, so if he isn’t going all out then he won’t get better… and if he’s isn’t going all out, chances are that he’s still playing games with lust. Lies, deception and cover up play a big part of sexual addiction, which means you can’t trust that he’s getting better from words alone. His actions are the clearest indicator of how serious he is about getting help, so look for proof in his deeds, not his words.
Confronting your husband may not be easy. He will be floundering in shame, and will have built a wall of isolation around his heart. Talking about his sexual sin will be a terrifying prospect to him – especially in front of you. Some men will resort to outbursts of anger or accusations to deflect attention from the real issue. If he does this, don’t take the bait, and stick with the core issue. It’s best that you take a few days and pray before confronting him; even better if you have friends who can pray with you.
My experience has been that women sense when their husbands are messing with sex addiction long before they understand it mentally. You have a 6th sense that we men lack, and you know by instinct when something’s wrong. If your heart’s telling you that something’s wrong with your husband (and it’s coming from the right place, meaning it’s not insecurity talking) then chances are you’re right. Follow your instinct up with prayer and ask the Lord what to do next.
You have every right to demand that your husband chooses between you and lust, and you should. Where women make a mistake and enable their husbands’ addiction is when they do nothing and allow their husband to continue corrupting them and their children unabated.
3. Get in his corner.
Once your husband starts down the road to recovery, don’t expect him to become completely free for all time from all sexual sin overnight, especially if he’s spent years saturating his mind with lust. (I refer to lust in general here, not affairs or sex outside of marriage, which must stop immediately.) Most men (95%+) get hooked on porn or sex addiction in their teen years, which means they’re fighting something that’s been a lifelong struggle. This is no easy task. Finding freedom is often a process, not a one time event.
If your husband is showing you by consistent action that he wants to break free from sex addiction, join him in the fight. Pray with and for him every day. Ask him once a week how he’s doing (it will add more accountability into his life.) Remember that his sex addiction is about medicating a hurting heart, and he’s probably just as confused and scared as you are (in addition to being quite ashamed).
I’m convinced that a man’s wife is his greatest asset in the battle against lust; your involvement and support can make a huge difference, because you can minister to him like no other human being on earth. If he goes on a business trip, you can pray for him over the phone when he’s in the hotel room (and ask him the next morning what he watched.) You can (gently) help him see his blind spots.
Chances are that he’s never experienced grace before, and your grace can play a powerful part in his healing. As long as he’s working hard at it, stick with him; be grace in the flesh to him.
4. Get other women in your corner
Don’t try to make it through this on your own. You’ve been deeply hurt and need other women to express your pain to; women who can provide support and comfort, and pray with you. (It’s important that your supporters aren’t trying to pour more gasoline on the fire of your anger – this will only make it worse!) Women who keep everything bottled up inside are a volcano waiting to blow, and putting off asking for the support of others adds more pressure to coming explosion. As most men who struggle with sex addiction think “I’m the only one who struggles with this and can’t tell others,” so their wives think “I can’t tell anyone about this; no other women talk about it so I must be alone.” Think about this fact: in every survey taken, at least 50% of the men in the church have a problem with porn or sex addiction. This means that 50% of the wives in the church will at some point (when their husband’s struggle comes to light) have to deal with the pain of their spouse’s adultery. You’re not alone, and there are many other women going through the same situation.
Some women avoid talking about their husband’s problem because they’re afraid that others will think “she didn’t do enough (fill in the blank with your insecurity of choice here) for him.” Their husband’s sex addiction, they think, is condemning evidence that there was some area in their marriage where they were lacking, and if others, particularly other women, find out, that they’ll be judged. Always remember the truth mentioned above, that, in spite of the lies of shame Satan tries to pound on you – your husband’s sex addiction is not your fault. Satan’s goal is to destroy your marriage, and he’ll pour on the attack with thoughts of doubt, insecurity and the fear of judgment from others to keep you isolated and cut off from help and encouragement. (He uses this same method of attack on your husband to keep him from reaching out for help.) Remember that there’s a very real spiritual battle going on, and our enemy will do everything he can to keep both you and your husband isolated. Don’t let shame, fear or insecurity keep you from reaching out for help.
You want to avoid placing the full force of all your pain and anger only on your husband. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t express your feeling to him; you should, but you also need others who aren’t emotionally involved to talk to. Having other women to talk to will take some of the pressure off of your marriage, which may already be at the boiling point.
We offer individual counseling and 3 different support group options, including talking to the group leader for a first call at no charge. Please see the Wife’s Support Group page for more information.
5. Avoid looking for comfort in the wrong places.
You may be tempted to find comfort in another man’s arms, or get involved with other guys in chat rooms while your husband is floundering. Don’t go there. It will only add more pain and stress on a marriage that’s already pushed to the breaking point. Don’t start looking at porn movies (as my wife did) to “find out where you were lacking”… this will corrupt you and your family further. Keep your side of the street clean.
Some women might have a tendency to turn to food for comfort during this time. Overeating won’t solve the problem, and like lust, it can put an emotional wall of shame between you and God. Seek comfort through the support of other women, and in the presence of Jesus, Who is waiting to comfort you. If you don’t already, get a journal and write your feelings out. God can bless, comfort and speak to you through the outpouring of your heart in writing to Him.
6. Face your father wounds
It’s not an accident that you married a man who’s fallen into sex addiction. Most wives were neglected or abused by their fathers growing up, and they married a man who mirrored their father emotionally. Some women marry their husbands with a hidden motive of resolving their childhood hurts – meaning that “fixing” their husband and/or creating “the perfect marriage and home” might resolve their father wounds. You can’t fix him, and even if you could it wouldn’t resolve the hurt in your heart.
When a husband’s betrayal is revealed, it can exacerbate any unresolved father wounds in your heart, and you may find yourself slipping into deep depression – or having problems with uncontrollable anger over situations unrelated to the adultery.
Some of this, of course, would be a natural reaction to what your husband has done, but it may be that his betrayal has also tapped into old wounds that need to be resolved. If you don’t face your father wound issues it can keep you stuck in a cycle of bitterness and depression – and the marriage along with it. How to deal with father wounds is discussed in Healing Father Wounds. Although this article is written from a man’s point of view, the principles shown for how to deal with it apply to women too.
7. Make God the true source of your life
In her letter, my wife wrote “I made you my everything,” which is another way of saying she made me an idol. Men are not knights in shining armor, nor are we romantic dream machines; we’re broken clay pots, just like women. As men tend to make work or ministry their god, or source of life, women can use the relationships in their life as the primary source of their self esteem. When a woman makes her husband or family her god (i.e. “I am complete if I have the perfect husband with the perfect children”), she places unreasonable burdens and expectations on the backs of her loved ones. Then, when something goes wrong, such as when her husband reveals his struggle with sex addiction, her world collapses when the defective foundation her sense of self worth was built on falls apart.
To rebuild your self esteem, your sense of self worth must come from God, and He must be your first source of life, love and value. Only God’s love can keep you going through the storms and trials of life. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, you are God’s daughter; holy precious and beloved in His sight (read Ephesians 1 & 2, and 1st John 4.) He will never betray you or let your down, as other broken people will. When you’ve accepted God’s love and He is first in your life, you can tell your husband to choose between you and porn, because your value comes from the Lord, not your husband. If God is first, when your husband struggles your self esteem won’t take a big hit because you’ll see your husband as a broken clay pot in need of grace, not the “everything” that your life depends on. If God is first, you’ll have an easier time coming along side your husband in the battle.
And, if God is your source of life and love, you can do what’s next, which is to:
8. Forgive your husband
If you want to be completely healed from all the bitterness and pain of your husband’s betrayal, and if want your marriage to survive, you will have to forgive him.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you try to short circuit the natural process of grieving, or deny that you’ve been hurt. It doesn’t mean that you stuff the problem. To come to the place of forgiveness you must first admit you’ve been hurt – deeply.
Forgiveness will cost you everything, and cost your husband nothing. It means you will never hold what he did against him again; his debt, which he can never repay, will be completely erased.
Forgiving your husband for his sin against you may be the most Christ-like thing you ever do, and it will identify you with Christ like nothing else can. Jesus was killed by the people He loved, so the people He loved could be close to Him. You’ve been betrayed by the man you love, and the only way you can ever remove every barrier between you and your husband is to forgive him as Christ forgives.
If you withhold forgiveness, you’ll keep yourself trapped in bitterness and pain, and it’ll eat you alive. Your bitterness will continue to be a wall between you and your husband that will keep your marriage stuck in resentment, misfired communication, and hurt feelings.
Forgiveness doesn’t give him the permission to abuse your grace and indulge in sexual sin. It doesn’t mean you stop holding him accountable for his actions, or that he no longer needs to go all out in the battle against lust.
Forgiveness is a choice, a powerful act of the will; it’s not something you will feel like doing. It’s giving up of all of your anger and releasing your husband from all expectation to grovel, or make it right. (Which, he can’t.)
When you forgive him, you allow God’s grace to flow freely through your heart, flush out all of your pain and anger, and fill you with His peace. You tear down a wall that was between you and God, and you and your husband. Your forgiveness allows God’s grace to flow to your husband and lift his shame and guilt. It is only after you forgive when you will find peace again. If you’re struggling with providing forgiveness, Jesus can give you the power to let it go, if you’re willing.
More information on the topic of recovering from adultery is available at Healing a Broken Marriage