The following are two chapters from my book The Road to Grace for Couples, a Workbook for Healing from Porn and Adultery. The workbook provides content and assignments for a couple to work through who are recovering from porn addiction and adultery. We begin with Rebuilding Trust.
Chapter 9: Rebuilding Trust, from The Couples Workbook
“How can I learn to trust my husband again?”
I hear this question often from wives. The answer: You will slowly rebuild trust as your husband earns it over an extended period of time by treating you with kindness, staying free from sexual sin, and taking consistent action steps.
Forgiveness and trust are two different issues. While every Christian is commanded by God to forgive all who have hurt them (Matthew 6:14-15), the injured wife is not obligated to trust her husband with her heart again; he needs to give her a reason to trust by his actions. To trust is to expose the heart; when a wife doesn’t trust her husband what she’s really saying is “I have to protect my heart until you can prove to me I won’t get hurt again.”
Here are ways to rebuild trust:
Have accountability software email the wife a list of every website the husband visits, from every device he uses.
Give your wife the passwords to all media devices; TV, computers, etc.
Tell your wife you will have your accountability partner call her if you slip, and email them both so everyone is on board.
Keep taking the action steps of going to support groups and counseling. Make meeting with at least one other man for the purpose of accountability a permanent part of your life.
Care for her and treat her with kindness. If you have been critical, judging, manipulative, and/or blamed her for things you shouldn’t have, take ownership, and stop.
Make her the biggest priority in your life, second only to God, then show her by the way you treat her that she is.
Never lie again.
If you say or do something you shouldn’t (which happens in every marriage), apologize immediately.
Resolve the core wounds and/or distorted beliefs in your heart that are driving you to use lust as a Band-Aid.
Become the servant-leader of your home.
Have fun with her.
Cease all sexual acting out.
All of the above are proof of a changed life that will encourage your wife to trust you again.
It takes months, even years, to fully rebuild trust in a marriage. Husbands, don’t expect that you’ll be able to do one or two nice things for your wife and then everything will be “back to normal.” The “old normal” is long gone and you need to make the effort and put in the time it will take to show your wife she can trust you with her heart. Every woman is different, as are the circumstances, which means there isn’t a rule for how long it will take her to heal.
Today, ask each other the following questions:
1. “On a scale of one to ten, ten being best, rate your level of trust in me.”
2. “Please tell me what I need to do so I can increase your trust in me to as close to a ten as possible.”
If you have a list of action items to work on from your spouse’s response to the second question, makes notes below. Then follow through.
Chapter 10: No Control Freaks Allowed, from The Couples Workbook
The recovery process can feel like standing on a beach ball and juggling several bowling pins. The husband must fight the battle to break free from a life-long addiction to lust, rebuild his character, learn new coping skills, release shame, face his heart and emotions, and work at his marriage. Meanwhile his wife must find a way to heal from the trauma, trust again, rebuild her shattered self-esteem, reorient her relationship with the God who gave her a sex addict for a husband, forgive, and work on the marriage. Oh, and there’s the kids too.
With so much turmoil in the mix, it’s easy for boundaries to get crossed and one side to attempt to fix or control the other. If this happens the marriage gets messy; when either side digs in to prevent the other from controlling them, the rebuilding process is halted.
A husband or wife who has been abused or had boundaries violated in the past, either by their spouse or another, will bristle at their partner’s efforts to control them; incursions into their space are an act of war. Wives may get so wrapped around fear and insecurity that they attempt to control and micromanage their husband’s recovery process. The man may respond by withdrawing into his “safe zone” of isolation, which leads to hiding, lies, and the risk of another fall into sexual sin.
The husband cannot force his wife to heal, just as his wife cannot force her husband to go to a support group or counseling. Each side must give the other the freedom to discover and utilize the tools and methods that will work best for them.
This can spark fear in both sides. The wife who’s twisted in fear spends her days wringing her hands, worrying whether her husband is binging on porn. She’s powerless over what he does, which means anything could happen. He might act out, lie, hurt her, they could lose their marriage, or…
Then there’s the husband. What if his wife never forgives him and stays stuck in pain and bitterness? What if she doesn’t open up with another woman and keeps her emotional volcano bottled up, building up pressure for an eruption? What if, just as he’s gaining traction in the battle to break free from lust, she says she’s had enough and wants a divorce?
It’s okay for a wife to demand and expect that her husband gets help, but she must give him the space to work out the recovery process on his own. The husband should encourage his wife to open up with others, but he can’t force her to reach out.
The idea of not being in control will send some people (i.e., control freaks) over the edge. Not being able to control others upends the apple cart of their way of life. Some who struggle the most with surrender were hurt in the past; their way of protecting themselves was to make an internal vow that they would never be in a position where they were out of control again. Some have big-time pride issues; the idea of their mate not bowing down and doing what they say enrages them.
For some, the trauma that’s inflicted on a marriage from sexual sin has exposed and exacerbated the pain from an old wound; the fear/anger response has come raging out of nowhere and transformed them into a Control Freak.
Maintaining proper boundaries in marriage is a serious issue; you need wisdom and guidance from God to avoid the land mines of “fix and control” so you’re not crossing boundaries and messing each other up. Here are some guide posts to provide light for the journey:
Accountability and control are two different things. Your spouse should be accountable to you for their progress, but where you cross the line into Control Freak Territory is when you start telling them what, when, and how. Express your expectation for them to make changes, then give them the freedom to act.
If your spouse attempts to micromanage you, gently remind them you need the space and time to work things out on your own.
Husbands, this isn’t an excuse to delay going to a support group, counseling, or doing what you know you need to do. If you’re procrastinating or playing games, your wife has every right to demand that you get off your butt.
The best way to diffuse your spouse’s impulses to control you and relieve their fear is with your own consistent action in the recovery process. Both sides must do the work; one can’t sit on the sidelines.
Ask God to give you the awareness to discern when you’re being tempted or are heading into pride/fear/anger/control mode. The Holy Spirit can give your heart a gentle tug that can keep you from going too far.
If you cross into Control Freak Territory, choose humility, confess it to your spouse, and use the experience as a learning tool for the future.
Above all, release the control of your spouse to God. Let the Lord be God in your spouse’s life; He is the one who fixes and heals, not you. He does a much better job of changing others than we do. He convicts gently, at the perfect time, and knows the best circumstances to use. When you surrender your spouse to the Lord, you honor Him by inviting Him into your marriage, while putting yourself in a place of humility, trust, and rest. That’s a wonderful, refreshing place to be.
Ask your spouse the following questions:
1. Do I have a problem with control?
2. (If the answer is yes) What does that look like? (Anger, fear, manipulation, guilt trips) Can you please give me some specific examples of when I tried to control you?
3. Why do you think I struggle in this area?
If control is an issue for you, share any past wounds or faulty habits you might have developed over the years that contributed to where you are today. Often, our family of origin taught us to be controlling, and now we have to unlearn their mistakes.
Finish your time in prayer with both of you surrendering each other to God. Confess any sins that might have come up today, including fear, which is the opposite of faith.
For more on The Couples Workbook, visit https://www.blazinggrace.org/store/books/couples-workbook/