“I don’t know what to do.”
That’s the most common statement I hear from women who’ve discovered their husband’s porn addiction. So much confusion and pain in those words.
Those first moments of discovery take your breath away and leave you in shock. Even the most intelligent, take-charge woman feels off balance. So, if that’s where you find yourself today, give yourself some grace.
How do you process this betrayal?
Where do you turn?
What should you do?
It’s time to take your first measurable steps away from uncertainty and confusion.
That first step is to run to God. In Psalm 11, David says, “I’ve already run for dear life into the arms of GOD.” I love this image. When I felt threatened, unsafe, or scared, I’d run to my dad as a little girl. If you’ve experienced a healthy, loving relationship with your father, you understand the safety and comfort found in your dad’s arms. Our heavenly Father’s arms are a safer place. In those moments of panic, the best you can do is run to God to cry out for Him to rescue you. It’s a prayer He answers.
I’ll never forget the peace I sensed when I cried out to God after Dave revealed his porn addiction. Though my knees felt like jelly, I told God I couldn’t believe what was happening and needed help. Immediately, He directed my thoughts and brought people to mind I could trust.
The second measurable step in your healing process takes courage.
You need to act on what you’ve discovered. According to the Gottman Institute’s research, most couples wait six years to get help for crises in their marriage. The lie the enemy of our souls foists upon us is that it’s better to keep quiet. The fear he pokes at is rejection and loss of reputation. The initial thoughts that you can’t tell anyone cause more harm to your heart, mind, and soul. You think no one will believe you. Let me expose this lie.
I will believe you.
When we told our story, we were believed, encouraged, and promised a better future. You get the same promise.
Porn addiction and sexual betrayal do not have to remain part of your story. You have a choice, which leads me to your third initial step.
The third measurable step brings drastic change.
The worst thing you could choose is to continue with life as usual. That choice feels the safest in the crisis, but it’s not. It’s sticking your finger in the hole in the dike, hoping to hold a crumbling structure together. Not possible. Just like this story of the little dutch boy could never have happened, choosing to ignore the problem doesn’t resolve the issue. Change must come.
But here’s the more challenging part of the change: both parties must be willing to do whatever it takes to reconcile and save the marriage. Honestly, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Either the porn addict won’t admit to the problem, or the betrayed spouse can’t get past the betrayal.
This year, believe that life can be all you’ve dreamed it could be.
If porn addiction is part of your marriage story, you can choose to change that narrative, and it won’t be a one-time decision that eradicates the porn in your marriage.
Instead, like dealing with any significant change, healing from porn addiction and the devastation of the betrayal involves a series of concrete, measurable steps.
1. Be specific.
Just like setting a new goal, your steps must be specific and measurable. What is it you want to change? You can decide, “To recover from this betrayal, I will make an appointment with an expert by January 25.” You’ve named the action you desire and set a concrete deadline. For the addict, it could be, “I will write down my main porn triggers by the end of this week. For each trigger, I’ll develop an escape strategy. Every day for the next month, I’ll review these triggers and escape strategies.” Again, specific and time-sequenced.
2. Memorize one verse from the Bible.
While recovering from suicidal depression, God showed me many verses. I chose to write these down and review them regularly. You can download a list of these verses here. Find one verse that resonates with a lie you believe and memorize it. Post it where you can see it multiple times a day. We fight the lies of the enemy through God’s word. It’s our most potent weapon.
No one can hold us accountable, but there’s something powerful about asking another person to pray for you and ask about your situation. Our recovery team included a few people we met with regularly.
3. Gather a support network. We gave this small, trusted group the right to ask us any question. In the throes of this mess, we needed others who were spiritually mature and emotionally strong to step into our world and help us navigate our journey toward health. Identify two or three people who will do this for you. Knowing others will check on your progress creates another level of desire to accomplish what you’ve chosen to do. This is positive peer pressure.
4. Guard your heart and mind.
What you allow into your mind every day impacts your recovery as the recovering spouse. In computer language, what are your inputs? Do you surround yourself with forward-thinking people? What books do you read? What movies or television shows are your favorites? How much news do you listen to each day? What we consume impacts our thoughts, words, and actions. It’s how we’re created. As a recovering spouse, carefully evaluate your inputs. Surround yourself with people who speak life rather than death. If you want your marriage to survive, you want to learn from those whose marriages have come through a crisis not only intact but are also thriving.
5. Understand that slips happen.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if once we’d made up our minds to change, we did so flawlessly? Yeah, it doesn’t happen. Dr. Mark Laaser says, “Slip is an acronym for ‘Short Lapse in Progress.’” While Dr. Laaser speaks to men in this resource, the truth is, as the spouse of an addict, we need to understand this truth as well.
So often, women tell me they’re terrified their husband will look at porn again. The truth is, he might. The key to understanding that slips happen is to look at the progress made before the slip and how the addict handles the slip. Did he quickly turn away from the porn? Did he use the escape strategies he outlined? What about you, the wife of the addict? How did you respond to the slip? Did you fall back into unhealthy patterns, or did you use the strategies you’ve learned to move forward?
If you’ve run to God and believe He can do the impossible in your marriage crisis, then it’s time to take these measurable steps.
I know it’s hard and painful and feels overwhelming. I’ve been there.
But here’s what else I know: God is greater than my pain and yours. He specializes in doing the impossible. That’s precisely what God did in my life and marriage. The impossible. God restored our relationship with Him first. Then, He gave two selfish, messed up people a brand-new life and relationship. I’d love to hear your story, encourage your heart, and help you see the abundant future God has for you. Just reach out.