It’s Q&A with J time! Today’s question comes from a wife married for 16 years to a husband with many sexual troubles.
My husband has struggled with sexual issues since he was a teenager, going to strip clubs, prostitutes, gay hangouts and a porn addiction. He has had at least two affairs and would video chat often with others and masturbate with them online. Of course I didn’t know about this when we married even though it has been an issue for him since before we met. Twice in the past I had caught him out in one of these things and we sought counselling and stayed together. Last year, I caught him out a third time and when his behaviour did not stop, we separated. Since then, he has had individual counselling, we have had marriage counselling and I have had individual counselling also. His behaviour has changed a lot, he has worked hard to rebuild trust and a few months ago he moved back in with the kids and I. We were working hard on our marriage and ourselves and things were improving.
Then I discovered that he was somewhere he shouldn’t have been, and when I asked how things were going he lied and said everything was fine and he wasn’t struggling at all. After I told him I knew where he had been, he also admitted to searching for pictures of boobs on the internet recently. Since then, I have been really struggling. I have not kicked him out of the house again, but the trust we had been rebuilding has gone once more. I cannot be intimate with him, I don’t even know how to be affectionate towards him. I don’t believe that God wants us to separate permanently or divorce (I would have done that already if God had not been telling me to keep my marriage together), but I just don’t know how to move forward from this point. What should I do?
Plenty of us enter marriage with sexual baggage, but it seems like your husband brought in a U-Haul of issues. That’s not going to be cleared out quickly. But it can be done. If the Hoarders TV crew can help people find their furniture, I sincerely believe God in His infinite power can help you find your covenant intimacy past all the baggage your husband dragged through the door into your marriage.
Here are some very positive things from your story:
- You know what you’re dealing with. The secrets are out. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
- When your husband continued in his bad behavior, you did not enable his sin. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
- When faced with real consequences, your husband sought help and worked to rebuild trust. This is huge, because it requires confession, humbling, and commitment. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Your marriage was improving. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
And now he screwed up. Big time.
Because — and hey, hubbies, listen up to this one — not only did he seek out porn again, he lied about it. Which makes a gal wonder what else he’s lying about and why he won’t just come clean and let you help him deal with the issue already!
But let me tell you a little story. I smoked in college. (Thank goodness my parents don’t read this blog. Don’t anyone tell them, please.) A couple of years later, I committed to never smoking again. Have a kept that promise? Oops. I ended up with a pack of cigarettes one time for a totally different reason and smoked half of one. (Oh great, I just realized my husband will be reading this. Oh well, confession is good for the soul and all…) Did I tell anyone? As you can see, no, I did not. Why? Because I was thoroughly disappointed in myself and utterly ashamed.
We should tell our secrets. But sometimes it isn’t because we’re trying to hide our sin from others so much as we are weighed down with the shame of what we’ve done.
So, while I’m absolutely not excusing his lying (so please don’t anyone comment that I am), I understand why someone who “falls off the wagon” would have a really hard time fessing up. Your husband may have rationalized that he didn’t want to hurt you or have been worried that you’d kick him out again for messing up.
What you and he need to establish is a No More Secrets rule. No matter how bad the infraction is, if his demons take hold again and he screws up, he needs to immediately come to you and ask for forgiveness.
Realistically, many who struggle with an addiction, or simply with sin itself, will get off track and sin again. But you need to communicate that there is a difference between stumbling off the path and getting right back on and veering way off the path so that you’re breaking the whole marriage covenant. Visually, it’s like this:
There is a big difference between these two — both to God and for your marriage. If your husband just messed up, he needs to know that you are there for him, that you will stand behind him in his fight against the pull of porn, that you will not abandon him so long as he is seeking righteousness. But if your husband is falling back into patterns of ongoing porn use and lying, that’s a different story. And you simply cannot enable that sin.
As far as what you should do to figure out which one you’re dealing with, you need to start with that conversation. Explain to your husband that you’re not only hurt by his actions of seeking out porn, but by his lying which erodes your trust. Tell him you’re in his corner, and if he messes up, it’s not the end but he must come clean.
He really needs an accountability partner as well, not just you. Men often report that a key factor of getting off porn is having another man check in regularly and ask how it’s going. With an accountability partner (who is also male), your husband can explain the particulars of his offense. the temptations he’s facing, the emotional struggle, and strategies for staying on track.
When one spouse has cheated, it’s also important that they get in the habit of opening up their lives to their mate. If someone uses their phone and computer to commit adultery (extensive porn use is adultery, because it involves a third person), then they don’t get privacy with their phone and computer. Frankly, everything you do should be viewable by your spouse. I’ve never cheated, but if my husband wanted to look at my phone, he could go right ahead because there’s nothing there to warrant concern.
This also means that your husband should give you an accounting of where he is, what he’s doing, and when he will be home. I know people can feel like this is authoritarian monitoring, but really, it’s just good manners. “Hey, sweetheart, the guys and I are finishing up on Hole 9, running by Starbucks for a coffee, and I should be home by 6:00 p.m.” What’s the big deal about that? Nothing. Just show a little courtesy to each other. And it has the added benefit of keeping you honest.
You two should also install software to protect your husband, like Covenant Eyes. That will provide additional accountability and help him to avoid dangerous websites. Just like recovering alcoholics shouldn’t hang out in a bar, porn addicts shouldn’t hang out at online sites where the temptation is. Build a reasonable barrier to keep that enticement out of your home.
Consider returning to counseling. If it worked before, you might want to keep going on a less regular basis. Even after things have improved, it could be helpful to continue for a while, perhaps once a month. That atmosphere could be more comfortable for you to discuss what issues still remain or what temptations he’s still facing.
Rebuild trust on your end. I completely understand you not wanting to be intimate with your husband after he returned to the mud pit, wallowed a bit, and lied about it. But ultimately, to have a healthy marriage, you both need to make an effort to rebuild trust. For specifics on how, I suggest this post: Rebuilding Trust in the Bedroom.
Together, and with God’s redemption, you can foster new and deeper intimacy in your marriage. But it will take time. Continue on the path you’ve already started, and ask for God’s hand along the way.