“Hi, Honey. I’m finally at the hotel. I just wanted you to know I’ve unplugged the TV as I promised.”
I smiled as we continued our conversation before he had to run to his first meeting.
Why did Dave tell me that? Because, as part of his recovery from porn addiction, he told me he would not watch any TV when traveling. Access to pornography was too easy.
Such a simple thing.
When you are a porn addict’s spouse, the small kept promises build trust as nothing else can.
In Worthy of Her Trust, by authors, Stephen Arterburn and Jason B. Martinkus, encourage recovering addicts to “deal in the details, because they’re the currency of trust-building.”
Each time Dave showed integrity in the everyday moments of life, my trust built one crumb at a time. It sounds harsh to say it that way, but that’s how it felt.
His pornography addiction shredded my trust, obliterated it.
Rebuilding trust takes delicate care and consistency.
It doesn’t happen <poof> “I quit looking at porn, now trust me.” Men who expect that are gravely mistaken. Plus, that kind of attitude further demeans and negates the damage they’ve done to their wife.
Basically, that attitude says, “I said I’m sorry, so you forgive me, and let’s move on. I’m not willing to put in the work necessary to restore your confidence and trust in me. You’re not that important to me.” It’s one of those “get-out-jail-free” card desires.
Wouldn’t it be simpler if you could say “sorry” and trust was restored?
Yes. But that’s not how it works for a wounded spouse.
Understand it takes time and positive boundaries to build trust. How do you do that?
Here’s what my husband did.
Encourage the development of his relationship with God first.
Not only does porn addiction break marital intimacy, but it also breaks spiritual intimacy with God. When we deliberately sin (we know what we’re doing is wrong, but we choose to pursue it anyway), those sins interfere with our communication and relationship with God. King David realized this, turned away from his sin, and asked God to restore the relationship.
Each time I observe Dave reading the Bible, praying, and then expressing what he’s learning and discovering about God, Dave builds trust with me. I see the heart change, the shifted attitudes, developing patience, and I feel safe. When I prepare to do something challenging, and Dave asks to pray for me and over me, wow! Not sure I can explain what happens, but I feel invigorated for the task at hand. And I see he’s committed to rebuilding his connection with God as well as our connection.
Complete, transparent truth.
There is no such thing as a “little white lie.” Either it’s the truth, or it’s a lie. When you’ve been wounded by the one you trusted your heart and body to, any word that isn’t absolute truth causes your mind to jump to the worst conclusions. Is that fair or right? Probably not. But that’s the reality for the spouse who experienced repeated lies and betrayal. Life becomes black and white.
This was hard for Dave to grasp initially. And it was hard for me, too. In my wounded state, I wondered if I’d ever know the truth again. Thankfully, as he told me the truth about everything imaginable, including those tough subjects like, “How far did you go with the pornography?”, “Have you ever had sex with another woman?” slowly, my trust built again. Being a truth-teller is a matter of integrity.
Keep in mind, telling the truth also means you don’t “forget to mention” something that might paint you in a poor light. When you’re recovering from this type of wound, egos get in the way. Rebuilding trust and your relationship mean every word matters. Ask yourself, “Am I telling the truth, or am I trying to protect myself in some way?” If you can’t honestly answer that you’re telling the truth, you need to confess that to your spouse if you hope to rebuild trust.
Overall, Dave excels in this area. He’s kind, gentle, and respectful most of the time. But, in our recovery, I learned respectful conduct extended far beyond his normal treatment of me. For instance, when we engaged in intimate behavior, if he got frustrated or angry when I didn’t respond positively to some activity or position, he showed disrespect. When I continued to live with suspicion and fear in an area where he proved he was trustworthy, I showed disrespect. When either of us doesn’t adhere to agreed-upon boundaries, the boundary-breaker shows disrespect.
You cannot demand respect from another. You receive respect as you exhibit it. When you treat your spouse with kindness and care even though they don’t trust you, you show you understand the damage you’ve done to them. Respect, like trust, builds in every day, small acts of consistent conduct.
Accept each other’s level of healing.
Just like I can’t demand how my husband learns to turn away from porn, he cannot dictate my recovery. This understanding unlocked real freedom in me. When I quit trying to control how my husband’s recovery happened, I had space to work on my trust issues with God and Dave. It’s amazing what God does in and through us when we get out of the way.
The more I turned to God with my fears, questions, pain, disgust, and doubts, the better I could cope with being around Dave. For several weeks and months, after I chose to remain in my marriage and continue to love my husband, I didn’t like being around him much. That’s a normal response to the marital division caused by porn addiction. Why would I want to spend time with someone who traded me for an image on a screen? Think about that. Slowly, through Bible reading, journaling, and going on walks, God allowed me to work through my pain and questions. As Dave allowed me to heal in my way and time, he created moments to build trust. He respected my boundaries, which showed me I could trust him in this area.
Agree on healthy boundaries.
How do you establish healthy boundaries when they feel nonexistent? You won’t do this immediately in many cases. Although, I encourage you to establish this boundary at the onset of your recovery process:
Pornography does not belong in your marriage. Ever.
Let’s define that one, though. It means you don’t:
- visit porn sites on the internet, strip clubs, or peep shows
- read materials that exhibit scantily clad men or women, or that titillate your sex drive
- watch movies or TV shows that carry any hint of sexually explicit information or scenes
- meet with a person of the opposite sex alone or in private
- travel with a person of the opposite sex without a third party
If you’re the addict, agreeing to these healthy boundaries starts to build trust with your wounded spouse. Your adherence proves to your spouse how serious you are about getting healthy.
If you are the wounded spouse, you need these boundaries as well. You need requirements that start to rebuild your trust and grant you some peace of mind.
After agreeing to these ways to build trust, your new open transparency helps you discuss other healthy boundaries in your relationship.
Additional ones include:
- No more excuses about your behavior. Own it—the good, bad, and inappropriate.
- Ending an extra-marital relationship immediately.
- Speaking to one another respectfully. When you get into a disagreement, if one party cannot control their words and emotions, you agree to take a time out to re-establish your emotional intelligence. Set a time to come back together to resolve the issue.
- No gaslighting.
- No projecting onto the other person for anything.
- Answering a phone call from your spouse right away or calling back within five minutes.
- Changing your phone number and restricting who has the number, especially when there’s been an extra-marital relationship.
- Access to all emails, text messages, and social media sites for each other.
I think you get the idea.
There are many more boundaries you might need to establish.
However, you must agree to them with each other.
As you choose daily to adopt healthy boundaries, allow God to heal, and see the changes begin to take place, you will build trust with each other.
If you’re not sure where or how to start, please reach out. I’ve been there. Let’s talk.