The following is a chapter from my book The Road to Grace for Couples; A Workbook from Healing from Porn and Adultery. Each chapter provides a topic for a couple to work through. The following chapter, on taking ownership, is critical for a marriage to heal.
Taking Ownership, Chapter 2 from The Road to Grace for Couples
For the purposes of this course, I’ll refer to the husband as the one who has committed sexual sin. I’m aware there are marriages where the wife committed adultery. If this is the case merely reverse the roles as described in this book.
Some men blame their wives for their sexual sin; not enough sex, nagging, and fighting are a few of the excuses they fire off. Every attempt by a husband to blame his wife for his sin is a smoke screen to keep him from taking a hard look in the mirror.
My hope is that you’re not one of those men. Either way, it’s important that we begin with the husband taking complete responsibility for his choices to engage in sexual sin. This is important for two reasons:
1. For the marriage to heal and the man to break free from lust, all justification, blaming, and denial, which have corrupted his character, must stop. These are attempts to hold on to sexual sin; your wife can’t trust you while you’re playing games with lust. Since God’s word says all sex outside of marriage is sin, the husband has no ground to stand on to claim that his wife is responsible for his choices.
Some men might say, “But my wife has been closing me off sexually for a while now. How else am I supposed to find sexual release?” Many wives sensed when their husbands were engaging in sexual sin long before it hit the fan. Even if they didn’t know the truth, a wife can read her husband like a book. If I’m messed up or had a hard day, Michelle can take one look at me and know something’s wrong. Men who are in bondage to lust are sex and self-absorbed, critical, bitter, and miserable, so after years of being treated poorly it wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to shut down sexually. Porn, adultery, and treating your wife harshly are sex-killers for a marriage; get the relationship right and the sex will come later.
2. Your wife needs to hear you take responsibility. Many women report that their husband’s sexual sin gutted their self–esteem. Michelle told me I destroyed hers. Some women internalize the lie that they weren’t good enough for her husband as a wife, lover, or mother to their children. If they just did (fill in the blank) better, maybe their husband wouldn’t have turned to porn or an affair. Unfortunately, there are counselors in and out of the church who stir more confusion and chaos into the pot by saying foolish things like “If you just gave him more sex he wouldn’t have this problem.” No, it wouldn’t. Lust always leaves a man wanting more; it never satisfies. In the early years of our marriage, Michelle and I had a great sex life, even when I was using porn. The truth is that a wife can’t fix her husband’s lust problem no matter what she does.
The wife of the husband who’s using porn may see herself fighting an unwinnable war against “the perfect woman.” If this is her perception, she’ll be trapped in an unending cycle of trying to be “the perfect wife,” which only leads to more despair, frustration, and anger. Until her husband takes complete ownership for his sin, the healing process will stay grounded.
On the positive side, a man who takes full responsibility shows his wife he’s serious about rebuilding their relationship. By choosing the path of humility, he plants seeds of hope in their marriage garden. Moreover, God promises to honor humility with grace (James 4:6); for Christians this is an awesome promise that can yield unexpected blessings.
When a husband takes ownership of his sin, he creates a safe environment his wife can heal in. Instead of shutting her heart down and putting her on the defensive by blaming her, now he gives her a reason to hope. She can stop competing with the “perfect woman” or seeing herself as a failure. She is God’s gift to her husband, not the cause of his sin. She has hope because he’s not going to play games with lust or hide in denial or justification as many men do. He’s saying, “I’m broken; I need help. I want to break free from sexual sin and heal our marriage. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
For today’s action step, the husband is to take complete ownership for all of his sexual sin. He is to release his wife from all responsibility for all of his choices, no matter what was going on in their marriage.
Husbands, you can write this out in a letter, or verbalize it. Wives, allow him the freedom to express his feelings in the way that is least intimidating to him. He may need a little time to put his thoughts together and work through his emotions.
When the husband has completed his part, the wife is to reflect, or mirror, what her husband said. If he truly took ownership he’ll want to know that you heard him.
Then the husband is to invite his wife to share her feelings about his confession. Wives, remember that shame is a debilitating part of sexual sin. Some men are terrified of letting their guard down; your husband may feel like he took a risk today when he exposed his feelings. You want to encourage him to keep taking the steps of humility. If your emotions are raw at the moment and you’re feeling overwhelmed, (i.e., if you’re afraid that anger might overtake you) you might want to consider saying something like “I appreciate what you’ve said; I’m in a bad place right now. Please give me a little time to absorb this so I can provide a response that might be better for both of us.”
After she shares, the husband is to mirror his wife’s comments. Husbands, remember that this is painful for your wife; even something as positive as taking responsibility can rub salt in her wound. No matter what she says, do not defend yourself. Focus on listening to her and making sure she feels heard. Allowing her to express her feelings without interruption will help her feel safe with you. You want her to feel free to open up with you with everything she’s going through.
In spite of how emotionally charged this action step may be for both of you, remember that your goal is to work with each other. Striving to understand your spouse will help open the doors of communication, which is an important part of this process.
Close with prayer.
See https://www.blazinggrace.org/store/books/couples-workbook/ for more information on the Couples Workbook.