This excerpt is taken from Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography: A Plan for Recovery by Joann Condie with Geremy Keeton. More information on the book and other helpful resources can be found at the end of the post.
One day—either today or several years ago—you learned that your husband has used pornography, and that may, or may not, have led to other unfaithful actions.
I’m sorry. So very sorry. Whatever the details are in your situation, I’m certain it hasn’t been easy. This reality you now live with shocks you and leaves you swirling as you face a reality you never anticipated being part of your marriage.
You may have already confronted your husband about his behavior, but no real change has occurred. Some of my female clients admit they make snap decisions based on emotional impulses without weighing the options or considering the consequences. But most of the wives I counsel are just the opposite: they’re apprehensive and a bit weak-kneed whenever the subject of decision making is brought up.
I’ve not only been where you are now, but I’ve counseled many women who have been there too but have walked the path of recovery and are enjoying the fruit of their courage. Marriages have been restored, and even if they have not, these women have grown into the people God intended them to be. If they could talk to you right now, they would encourage you to stop living in an unwittingly self-defeating way. It isn’t healthy for you, your husband, or your children. And it’s not what God wants for any of you.
Here are seven actions you can start today that will potentially offer relief to both you and your husband.
1. Understand the Severity of Your Situation
Various root issues including lack of caring human connection, or intimacy disorders, can explain why some people are lured into using pornography. In some cases, the addictive nature of pornography and destructive sexual behaviors carry severe complications and cause extensive damage to both partners and the marriage.
To assess and treat the underlying and various conditions, a more specialized type of counseling is needed in lieu of traditional counseling.
Traditional counseling is probably the kind of counseling you’re most familiar with. Perhaps you’ve tried this route in the past, meeting once or twice a week for fifty-minute sessions with a general marriage counselor or your pastor. Traditional therapy is effective for broad-spectrum marriage issues, such as when a couple has a fairly good foundation but has hit a serious snag.
Intensive marital counseling is, in my opinion, a more ideal approach for couples who suffer with an intimacy disorder and the other root issues which are typically part of sexually addictive behaviors. They need a marriage specialist with additional training and expertise in treating complex relationship symptoms. The specialist not only treats the surface behaviors but also knows how to assess, diagnose, and treat the bigger issues hidden beneath the surface. Treating these deeper core issues or “drivers” of the sexual compulsion requires a different format—several hours or blocks of time over three to five days in a row.
2. Build Your Support System
Developing a support system is essential for you right now. You need the love, support, and encouragement of a committed group of friends as you face one of the most challenging decisions of your life.
You may have friends you enjoy being with, but you wouldn’t share personal problems with them. You may also have a handful of friends you’ve known long enough to trust with some of the issues in your life, but not the most painful ones. Then there are two or three close friends who love you unconditionally and can be trusted to hear your heart without judgment. These friends are there for you at any time, listening attentively, responding with sympathy and wisdom, encouraging you, and hugging you. And if you need a strong word, they’ll deliver the truth in love.
3. Make a Decision to Confront Your Husband
These are strong words! I don’t take lightly what I’m going to ask you to do.
You need to make a decision to confront your husband. Specifically, you need to ask him to
- acknowledge that he needs help, and
- agree to treatment that fits his situation.
Maybe you’re thinking, I’ve already asked him to do these two things a dozen times, and he just refuses to change. We go right back to where we’ve been all along.
But this time you’ll be asking in a different way and allowing your husband to experience natural, logical consequences if he refuses to get help. This will be a serious conversation that can accurately be described as a loving but firm and unwavering confrontation.
And this time you’ve finally reached the place where you’re ready to stop living with the pain and degradation you’ve endured. You’ve been working through the activities at the end of each chapter and taking seriously the lessons learned in the process.
If you’re ready to choose the path I’m recommending, the rest of this article (and my book) will take you from this decision point through your husband’s response, your response to him, and into the attitudes and actions that can help you both move toward a restored marriage.
As you move ahead with your decision and prepare for action, I pray . . .
that according to the riches of his glory [God] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
I affirm you and your character for making this difficult decision, and I pray that God will grant you all of the power and love that is yours in Him. No matter how you feel, God is at work, and He is with you!
4. Anticipate Your Husband’s Response
Your husband’s response to your specific requests will determine what you do next. The purpose of anticipating his response is to help you avoid being shocked and losing your composure. If you get rattled at this point, you might not be able to go any further.
Your husband will likely respond in one of three ways when you confront him:
Possibility 1: He will show interest in more fully understanding your felt concerns, express sorrow for his actions, and demonstrate a desire or willingness to get help.
Possibility 2: He will vacillate, make excuses, or back away from any definite course of action.
Possibility 3: He will flat-out deny that he has a problem and will refuse to cooperate in any way.
5. Weigh Concerns of Domestic Violence
Another vital issue I want you to carefully review and consider in light of your marital history is any risk of domestic violence upon confrontation. If physical risks or retaliation of any kind are present, and especially if history in the relationship confirms this, you must seek counsel before any direct confrontation. Only do so in a location and overall manner that does not place yourself in danger.
Do not proceed with confrontation if this is part of your marital dynamic until you have full outside support and safety measures in place. Holding this conversation at the awareness of another, and potentially in a public and visible location, can be key.
I emphatically note to you this directive and concern. Listen to your instincts and wise counsel, and do not dismiss any clear risks or even nagging concerns you hold concerning your physical safety.
6. Learn to Discern Worldly or Godly Sorrow
There is a difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is primarily self-centered and exclusively consequence driven. If your husband has shed tears or displayed grief simply because he was caught in the act, or because his own sin has caused him pain, that’s worldly sorrow. Indications of worldly sorrow include the following behaviors:
- He fails to back up his words with specific, decisive, and visible actions—along with empathy.
- He promises to take part in counseling but backs out at the last minute, or he starts therapy but drops out, covering his retreat with all kinds of empty excuses, such as “We can’t afford it,” “I know more than that counselor knows,” or “I don’t have time right now.”
- He makes all the right gestures but continues headlong in leading a secret life riddled with sexual sins or affairs.
- He reverts to the same old deceptions the moment he’s told that he’s forgiven, and his remorse evaporates.
If you see these signs, you can be fairly sure you’re dealing with worldly sorrow, not genuine or lasting remorse, because your husband shows no empathy for another person’s pain and isn’t sorry enough to make a serious investment in changing.
Godly sorrow often produces positive results as soon as your husband’s behavior is revealed. You may be blessed with a husband who chose to tell you immediately when he realized he had a pornography or sexual addiction. Or perhaps as soon as his sexual compulsions were exposed, he told you the entire truth without holding back any secrets. Some husbands are truly repentant; they’re remorseful with a godly sorrow, eager to mend their ways, and ready to cooperate and seek treatment. If that describes the man in your life, your road to recovery won’t be nearly so rough.
7. Create a List of Non-Negotiables
The following three non-negotiables will help you clarify exactly what you’re requiring your husband to do if he wants to show that he’s truly repentant and serious about getting the help he needs to stop his damaging behavior. These non-negotiables are the bottom-line measure of what your husband must accomplish if he truly wishes to restore and heal your marriage.
You can gauge the genuineness of his repentance and his willingness to fully commit to a recovery process based on whether he actively complies with all three non-negotiables.
The Three Non-Negotiables
He must implement immediate boundaries to prevent easy access to pornography.
Your husband needs to demonstrate initiative and good-faith efforts to distance himself from his sources of temptation and cut off easy access. While he may have limited insights on what this entails, he needs to produce an initial list of boundaries and observable practices that will prevent him from acting on his compulsions, and then he needs to immediately implement these boundaries. Following are some examples:
- Downgrading or giving up his smartphone
- Using his laptop computer only in common areas
- Installing filters and/or accountability software
- Closing social media accounts, sharing passwords, and changing phone numbers
- Cutting off sinful or risky relationships by engaging in accountable, observable communication that ends the entanglement or affair
He must share his struggle with other men who will hold him accountable.
Fighting this battle alone is not an option. It not only perpetuates the isolation and shame that fuel sin and addiction, but it also fails to provide the accountability your husband needs.
Although your husband might not know where to turn at first, he must identify two or three safe and trusted men (your pastor, wise friends, caring siblings) who agree to meet with him on a regular basis for accountability and support. He must reveal his problem to them, as well as the process he’s undertaking at this stage. He must also give you access to these individuals so you can verify that he’s taken this step and is having regular conversations with them in the days and weeks ahead.
He must seek out and begin specialized counseling.
It’s minimizing, prideful, and unwise for your husband to insist on dealing with complex sexual issues through self-help alone. Habitual pornography use and sexual sin have underlying roots and causes that can’t be solved by simply trying harder and promising to stop. Seeking out and participating in specialized, Christ-centered professional counseling is essential for individuals and couples who are struggling with the damaging effects of pornography use and sexual sin.
It may seem hard to find this kind of help, but your husband can begin by researching how the process works with various counselors and/or support groups (even if they seem difficult to access). While you should also become familiar with the various routes into counseling, your husband should be responsible for gathering the information needed to set up initial conversations as well as phone and office appointments, and then determine options for proceeding. In the end, both of you should take part in this process. It’s also ideal if both of you have individual as well as marital support.
Resources and referrals that can help you and your husband with these non-negotiables can be found by contacting Focus on the Family’s Counseling Services Department online at www.FocusontheFamily.com/counseling or by calling 1-855-771-4357. You can also find helpful links and content by exploring the “Family Q&A” web page at www.FocusontheFamily.com/FamilyQuestions.
If your husband fully and willingly undertakes these actions, there is great reason to hope that it will lead to positive change and deeper healing for him and your hurting marriage.
Taken from Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography: A Plan for Recovery by Joann Condie with Geremy Keeton. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?
Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?