Today’s question, the first reader question of 2016, is from a wife whose husband has a sexual addiction. When she wrote to me, things were not going well.
Not sure where to start … we’ve been married for 16 years and have experienced sexual addiction for all of it. I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.” I’m sure you’ve heard this long list and other ladies could add much to it as well.
Well, this time was it! I’d had it. He did start counseling about 4 months ago (which he has since quit) and is active in his SAA group with a sponsor (whom I’ve never met – is that weird or is it just me?). His counselor met with both of us back then and advised us not to have sexual contact for 3 months. Not that I’m ready yet – I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries? What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage. He won’t talk to me for more than about 4-5 minutes a WEEK unless it’s work related. Yes, we work together too. His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” I feel like I’m asking a 14 year old how his day at school went! So frustrating. And extremely lonely.
I’m in counseling trying to get myself healthy but this is obviously an area that needs to get healed as well and I just don’t know how to get this started. He is not living with me & the kids right now.
Covering up sin. Let’s start with this line: I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.”
Yes, I believe in respecting privacy, showing discretion, and not bashing your husband all the time. But keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family.Keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet
People from highly dysfunctional families, especially with addictions, often receive overt or subtle messages to never share what happens in the family. By establishing this “no sharing” rule, the worst actors in the family get away with what they’re doing and problems perpetuate.
The Bible does not say to cover up sin.
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:20-21).
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Ephesians 5:11-13).
It is not a mercy to allow your husband or wife to continue in addiction, which destroys individuals and families. Of course, you have a responsibility to not air their sin on public street corners but with discretion and godliness. The most often cited passage regarding this is Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Confront ongoing sin in your family privately. But if it continues to occur and damage your spouse and your family, it’s time to seek help and intervention.
Choose carefully whom to involve, considering the need for trust, firmness, wisdom, and respect. That could be your pastor, one of your spouse’s friends, a mentor couple, a counselor, or someone else you know. But if you go to a church leader, and you’re only told to “be better” or pray more or submit to your husband (and his sin), seek help from someone else.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Speaking up for what you need in your marriage. I wince a little when I write about “needs,” because honestly, I think we define way too many things as needs. It’s become a too-easy method of demanding your way to state your spouse must meet some need you have, even if it’s really just a desire.
But healthy relationships do need certain things, and among them are openness and trust. You don’t merely request those, however, and get them gift-wrapped and delivered into your hands. You must foster the atmosphere, habits, and commitment of being vulnerable and intimate in your marriage.
That means you get to ask some questions, and your spouse should answer them honestly. So when this happens — His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” — ask what you want to know! Might it feel awkward and foolish and frustrating? Yeah, sure. At the beginning, it might. But you’re re-establishing connections and building habits of communication.
If your spouse has been unfaithful, remember that you don’t want all the details. Your husband cannot untell you what he tells you. I absolutely did not describe to my husband particulars about my premarital promiscuous past, but he knows the person I was, the person I am, and what I do to keep myself in his arms and his alone. Because that‘s what matters.
Here are the types of questions that won’t help:
- What sexual acts did you do with her? – just plants bad images in your head
- How many times did you do this activity? – it’s not the number, it’s the sin itself
- What did she look like? – it’s not about competing against another woman’s looks
And types of questions that make sense:
- Where have you been? / Where are you going? – reasonable questions in any marriage, but even more so if a spouse has been secretive and broken trust with adultery
- What do you think made you seek out other partners? – in an attempt to get at core causes and face them together
- What are you doing to make sure you don’t fall into addiction again? And how can I help? – need accountability and support to change
You are two become one, and that means you get to have more knowledge about your spouse than others do. And if your spouse isn’t willing to open up, be vulnerable, and communicate about your marriage’s challenges, that’s a red flag waving. Of course you shouldn’t constantly attack him, but “what do you want to know?” sounds like a great question to me. So breathe deep, think hard, pray continually, and ask your questions.
Zero boundaries in the bedroom. You say, “I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries? What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage.” Zero boundaries? Does that mean he gets whatever he wants, and you never speak up for yourself in the marriage bed?
Let’s get super-clear here: You are not his sex toy. In fact, if you’ve been functioning merely as a means to satisfy his sex drive, flip that notion on its head. God’s intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience.God's intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet
The first boundary is you get to say yes or no. Look, I’ve heard all of the statements from well-meaning Christians saying that a wife should ever refuse her husband. But that presumes a husband who is attuned to his wife’s needs and well-being, and that simply isn’t always the case. He could be a complete jerk that way, but more likely, he received bad teaching about sex and faces ignorance about understanding women’s sexual arousal and desires.
Biblical submission includes willingness to submit to another — meaning it’s a gift you give, not a demand someone makes of you. Your body belongs to you, and in marriage you choose to share it with your husband (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). You have that choice.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to bless each other in marriage willingly and frequently with sexual intimacy. But please know that your body isn’t the property of your husband, but rather yours to share with him, according to God’s brilliant design.
Other reasonable boundaries include:
- What sexual activities you will or won’t do. Consider each activity and ask whether it is right and beneficial. If it involves third parties, harms either of you, or qualifies in the ick category (you just can’t go there), say no to that activity and find something else to do. We have a great deal of freedom to explore and pleasure one another in the marriage bed.
- When to engage and when to reschedule. Sometimes sex is just a poorly timed idea, like if you’re recovering from illness, exhausted to the point of forgetting your name, or needed to take care of other family members. You can say not now and reschedule for later. I’m a proponent of rain check sex, when you speak up and say something like, “This isn’t a good time, but how about first thing in the morning?”
- Where and how you are touched. Being touched in some places on your body may produce the opposite effect of sexual arousal. Or being touched with certain pressure or friction may cause unpleasant or painful sensations. You should be able to speak up verbally or move his hand someplace else. Be kind, but help your mate learn the moves that turn you on and bring you pleasure.
For more tips on how to set appropriate boundaries, see Setting Boundaries in the Bedroom.
When each spouse establishes and respects healthy boundaries, you don’t have much conflict about what you’ll do in the marriage bed. Because your focus is on mutual respect, satisfaction, and intimacy. Neither one of you gets to decide everything, because you are both considering yourself and your spouse. And you can relax, knowing you can trust your spouse to respect you.
How to reengage. Honestly, this is one I want to throw over to your counselor, his support group, and other local resources at your disposal. When and how to re-engage is a decision you must make with your particular circumstances in mind.
It’s a slow process to rebuild trust in a marriage. But ultimately it involves creating a safe atmosphere, then making a decision to engage, filling yourself with positive truths to fight bad messages and lingering feelings, and creating a new level of trust and intimacy. It can be done.
I pray your marriage is strengthened and that God carries you through.