1. Realize you have been sinned against, so pain, anger, and confusion are not wrong. If you start to look at the statistics on the prevalence of pornography and as you get tired of dealing with the subject, you will likely wonder if you are just over-reacting. Just because something is common does not make it less wrong or less painful. You should not stop/camp out in your pain, but neither should you feel guilty for it.
You may have over-reacted at times in what you said or who you said it to. This wrong does not erase the wrong done to you. Neither does the wrong done to you erase your need to repent. Resist allowing conversation to degenerate into a guilt competition. The purpose of your repentance is not to let you husband of the hook, but to return the focus to the primary matter of marital restoration – his sexual sin.
2. Realize that pornography is not primarily about you. This is hard for many women to accept. Lust is not usually against anyone (vindictively); it‟s just for pleasure (unbridled hedonism). Even as you accept that you have faults in the marriage, these faults did not cause your spouse‟s sin. Later in the restoration process, these faults may cause you and your spouse to consider some marriage enrichment, but marriage enrichment is not pornography prevention.
It is tempting to believe that you caused your husband‟s sin. If this were true, it would give you some control over preventing him from sinning this way again. Many books on marriage that speak of “needs” and “love tanks” might lead you to believe that your husband only sinned because his needs were not met. This is simply untrue and contrary to Scripture. We sin because we are sinners.
Consider the analogy of appetite. Bad cooking does not cause hunger any more than good cooking eliminates hunger. Sin is an appetite of the fallen human condition. Whether the food is good or bad, hunger will return. Even with a perfect spouse temptation will come at opportune times. Where and how we choose to eat (handle our temptation) is the moral responsibility of each person.
If you personalize the sin of your husband, two things will happen. First, you will magnify the pain of this time period by considering pornography not only a betrayal but also a personal insult. Second, you will grow to resent everything you do to bless the marriage from this point forward because it will carry the pressure of not pushing your husband back into sin. It will feel like the blame-shifting has merged with every effort of marital enrichment you do.
3. Forgiveness does not mean naivety or the removal of any expectations. Too often we view forgiveness as just being nice and pretending nothing happened. Forgiveness removes the punishment of sin not the responsibility to pursue holiness. As you seek to wisely forgive your husband, below is a list of questions that it is recommended that you ask your husband. Your purpose in asking these questions is not to be his counselor or his conscience, but to help you piece together the history of your marriage (something you lost when this surprise disrupted your life) and survey the severity of his struggle with pornography.
When did you first look at pornography?
What forms of pornography have you looked at (magazine, video, internet)?
In the last year what is the longest period of time you have gone without viewing pornography?
Have you ever viewed live pornography (massage parlor, strip show, prostitute, affair)?
Are there any particular fetishes that you have developed in your viewing of pornography?
Have you ever sought accountability to help you stop? If so, who? How long did it last?
How have you lied to me and covered your tracks in order to prevent me from learning of your habit?
Do you have pornography hidden anywhere?
Have you ever been confronted about pornography at work and has you job ever been in danger?
Have you subscribed to any pornographic websites and do you have a secret credit card you use for these purchases?
Do you have a secret e-mail account at which you receive pornographic mail?
Have you ever interacted with a live person on the phone, in chat, or by webcam?
Have you ever put your real name and contact information in a personals website?
These questions may be hard to ask and hard to listen to the answers. You need to be prepared to ask them. In order to know the types of steps that need to be made to restore the marriage, these things need to be known. In order to not be naïve, you must “know the facts.”
If your husband is defensive or refuses to answer these questions, that is reason to doubt his repentance. That is not to say that he is not sorry for his actions, but repentance involves the commitment to change and the willingness to take the steps necessary to ensure that change happens (Jesus used graphic hyperbole to make this point clear in Matthew 5). More will be said on your husband’s need to be transparent in numbers 2-4 under “Advice to Husbands.”
4. Do not try to be your spouse’s primary accountability partner. Asking the questions above is not the same thing as being an accountability partner. An accountability partner is an on-going relationship for the specific purpose of rooting out sin and pursuing holiness. Often because of the privacy desired and embarrassment associated with pornography a couple is tempted to ask the wife to be the accountability partner. After all, “she already knows.”
This is a bad dual relationship. The husband is more likely to lie to his wife so as “not to hurt her further” and, thereby, believe his deceit is somewhat noble. The wife lives in fear and carries the burden of always having to ask. Eventually she either takes on a “moral mother” role or believes she should quit asking in the name of forgiveness. Neither is good for the marriage or rooting out the sin of lust. Another evidence (and fair expectation) of your husband’s repentance is his willing pursuit of someone with whom he is willing to maintain a long-term accountability relationship.
5. Allow your insecurities and struggle to forgive to point you to Christ. This moment is bigger than you are. When you feel like you do not have the strength, patience, grace, courage, or will to get through all that will be required of you, you are exactly right. Here the words of Paul in II Corinthians 1:8-9 and identify with him:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
You are in the same place (as a sufferer) with your struggle to forgive and work on the marriage as your husband (as a sinner) is with his struggle to overcome lust – completely dependent upon Christ.
Do not think that this means God orchestrated these events to teach you something new. That is another form of blame-shifting for sin. Rather view the growth you will experience (personally, in marriage, and spiritually) as part of the redemption God will do in the midst of the pain.
Each time that you are tempted to lash out to protect your broken heart, remember there is One who has promised to never leave you and to walk through the darkest places with you (Psalm 23:4). When you are tempted to think that you just cannot do this anymore, remember that his strength is made perfect in your weakness (II Cor 12:9). As you are tempted to think you are alone in this betrayal remember that Jesus was also betrayed by a kiss (Luke 22:4748). Turning to Christ does not make the suffering less intense, but it does make it less alone and less dependent upon you.