Editor’s note: This piece is a lot longer than what you’d normally find on GoThereFor, but I think you’ll quickly see why we felt it was worth sharing. If you don’t have the time to read it all now, bookmark it and come back later. Even if sexual purity isn’t something that you are dealing with right now, this story will give you more insight into how to support those who are, and those who are affected by the struggles of others. Ultimately, it is a reminder that the hope of Jesus applies to the most hurtful of situations.
Weddings used to be my happy place. Lovebirds making commitments to each other; beautiful surrounds, beautiful meals and beautiful fellowship, often reminding us of Christ and his beloved. I still get invited to the odd wedding these days, but sadly they've changed for me. I can smile and still be happy for the couple, but weddings have become a place of deep, deep pain for me—and it’s always at the vows where I start to fall apart.
My husband and I went out for a few years before we got married. He was very honest with me, really desiring for me to know who he fully was before making a commitment. He told me of his troubled past, and struggles with pornography. We discussed things at length, and I was encouraged by his honesty in telling me these things before we got married; I thought his openness was quite admirable. In my mind it was only a bit of porn, and I thought most men struggled with it anyway. I also admired his proactivity, since he was regularly seeing a counsellor to try and address his struggles.
Married life was typical. It was filled with good times and hard times as the challenges of family set in. He was very open about seeking help and exploring new support groups, and so I thought he was progressing. So it came as a complete shock when he said, “There's something I need to talk to you about. Yesterday I did something really bad.”
Adultery is dirty. It makes you feel sick. It makes your innards churn. It is so wrong, and every part of your body despairs because of it. Like the sin it is, there is no good thing about it. It is evil and destructive.
We had a small time of separation to work through the shock and pain of it all. He had invited some leaders in to bear witness to his sin and support me. Those were very dark and lonely days. What I struggled with the most was how he could be so foolish. So very foolish. Folly is the brazen seductress whose path leads to sin and death. How could he not see this? How could he be so reckless? How could he put my life, our marriage and family on the line? I had a lot of fear running through my head.
God is very clear about sexual unfaithfulness. I had grounds to divorce him right then and there. So subsequently every night my thoughts wrestled with how I'd go being a single mum. It freaked me out. How would my family react? How would our friends react? How would I survive the shame and the pressure of the responsibility? How could we ever witness for Jesus as a family again? Often the thought of these things was so overwhelming I could only cry myself to sleep, desperately hoping that I would wake and it would all be a bad dream.
The next year involved couple’s counselling and a few support groups. Suspicion tainted everything, and I found it so hard to respect him for anything he did or said. I was so hurt and so disappointed by the one who was supposed to love and protect me. I found it particularly frustrating when people like his family spoke well of him. It made me shudder and all I wanted to do was give them a serve of who he really was—but I couldn't. I found out the hard way that a lot of people just can't handle this issue. We told a few close friends but, because it was so devastating for them, I found myself trying to help them through their pain. This only increased my burden and loneliness.
During our counselling, I was made aware that resentment and bitterness are the hazards of this journey and I had to be careful. I read some very helpful books that challenged me not to ‘mother’ him, hawking over his every move. For a time I kept a giant record of wrongs and developed an overcritical heart in order to get back at him for hurting me so much. I became quite an angry person for a few months, which was appropriate, but I knew it was taking its toll on my personal godliness and joy. Then I learnt of the dangers of premature forgiveness, short-changing a person from expressing anger, loss and betrayal. I was desperate for a ‘quick fix’ solution, but have now realized it is a process of relational change that needs time—and more importantly God.
I also came to learn the nature and extent of my husband’s sin. What is normal these days? There are God’s standards and there are worldly standards; have we all become a bit lax because we live in such a sexualized culture, where porn and other practices have become an epidemic? I think we are all experts in rationalizing our sin, so I thought a helpful excerpt from a book written by the current Christian lead authority on sexual addiction might help you work out where you are at:
Behaviours and thoughts
|Thinks about sex||Constantly||Occasionally|
|Encounters sexual stimuli, such a pornography or an attractive person||Initiates a cycle of sexual thoughts and hoped-for sexual activities. Disregards all moral and spiritual boundaries.||Notes the stimulus and moves on to other thoughts. Considers all moral and spiritual boundaries.|
|Masturbation||Becomes a habitual pattern used to medicate feelings.||Experiments but doesn’t allow it to become a pattern.|
|Experience of sexual sin||Goes through a cycle of guilt and shame but repeats the sin.||Repents, confesses, and learns from the experience.|
|Marital sexuality||Selfish use of spouse to meet needs, including the need to avoid feelings.||Selfless expression of the deepest levels of emotional and spiritual intimacy.|
From M Laaser, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, Zondervan, Michigan, 2004, p. 27.
My husband fell into the first category. What’s more, I have learnt from this book that the building blocks for a sex addict are fantasy, pornography and masturbation. So, you may have to think again if you think those three things are a harmless bit of fun.
To all those who lead a double life and are entangled by this sin, please realize you are dabbling in darkness. There is nothing good about it; it is a sin that will kill and destroy. As God’s redeemed we are completely saved. How amazing it is that no sin in our lifetime, sexual or otherwise, can rob us of this! But this sin can stunt our growth. God is clear about how we are to deal with sin: Repent from it. Flee from it. Do not entertain it. Do not use your freedom as a cover for evil. You cannot serve two masters. Be holy for I am holy.
I have witnessed first-hand that you cannot muck around with sexual sin. It is truly the sin that entangles, because it is partnered with secrecy. It is shame that keeps this sin so well hidden. Some people ‘play’, realize the potential danger, then back away. But others cannot. Sin’s deceitfulness sucks them in. It becomes something they crave, something that makes them feel good about themself, and, despite all efforts of trying to stop, it ends up controlling them.
My husband’s thoughts and behaviours were out of control. I learnt that his life had a secret, shameful side. He used to pray and pray that God would take these sinful desires away, and he tried to stop too many times to count. He knew Jesus was a powerful saviour in whom complete forgiveness is always found. But then these verses came to mind:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2)
He wanted to change but couldn’t. Things had to fall apart in a bad way—but this prompted him to seek professional help.
Others. You cannot change others. It would be so nice, but that’s not how it works. I could force him to go to ‘stuff’. I could threaten him with walking out. I could question his every move and then question again whether he meant what he said. I could try and find other ways of manipulating behaviour. But these things don’t change a person. A convicted heart does.
Each marriage is as unique as the individuals in it. In our case we had two rough starts: the first betrayal and then a period of dabbling in darkness a year later that I did not know about. In both instances he proactively disclosed these things to me out of a convicted heart. He got to a stage where he couldn’t put up with the sick betrayal any longer. Not wanting to hurt me was part of his reason for seeking assistance, but a bigger part was that it was disagreeing with his salvation on so many levels. He said he needed to get help because it was taking over his life. He couldn’t have two masters—fundamentally opposing masters—and one had to go.
God is a jealous God who does not share his throne with another. I am thankful for this conviction of my husband’s because it has resulted in wise decisions: making changes to his circle of friends, going to counselling, checking himself into a professional rehabilitation facility for sex addicts, attending regular recovery and support meetings, deeper fellowship with close Christian brothers, listening to sermons, and being more connected with reality rather than escaping it. Things are not perfect because change takes time, and I can see that it is hard work, but these verses come to mind:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Pet 1:13-21)
I have come to my own conviction that I will not accept sexual immorality in my marriage, and my husband knows that. Whether I know about it or not, I do not accept it as “just a part of him, a sinner just like me”. No, this is a serious problem for our marriage, and I have made it very clear that I won’t tolerate this kind of abuse if there is no evidence of radical change. I see change. It is still early days but I am thankful for it.
I have been able to see a side of the gospel that is horrible and amazing at the same time. I have experienced the horror of unfaithfulness and just how much it brings brokenness into relationships. And yet there is a faithful God who pursues his unfaithful people with the costly offering of his Son. A faithful God who is committed to an unfaithful people. I know personally what that feels like. I wish I didn’t, but it is a treasured insight from God that has allowed me to see just how amazing and overpowering his love is.
Don’t mistake my comments to mean wives should be faithful to their unfaithful husbands no matter what. God is God, and we are fallible human beings. A big dose of wisdom needs to govern that sort of thinking. Instead, my comments are to encourage you to know that God is truly amazing. He is the definition and example of faithfulness, the only one we can truly rely on. It has been so comforting knowing that he really knows what I am going through, and somehow has a plan to use it all for his glory. Nothing is wasted in his hands. And how kind of him that in his Word he allows the offended party to break their marriage commitment in the event of unfaithfulness. He must know that this particular trial might be too much for some to bear.
If you struggle with this sin then it would be fair to say there is a level of deception where your wife or husband is not aware of your sexual immorality. Deception is never okay. We are people of light, truth and grace. There are wise ways to bring this matter into the open, and yes, it is messy and painful, but please never think it is okay that your spouse is left in the dark. I have such a burden for the women and men being deceived and in some cases being subjected to health risks because their spouses have been too selfish or proud to change.
For those who are stuck in sexual sin, please remember that just because your spouse doesn’t know about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If you have tried to deal with your sexual sin and are still entangled by it, then maybe it is time to change something and seek professional help. But a word of warning: you have to be ready to make that change, because it will be costly. Though it costs you all you have, choose wisdom, please, for the sake of your spouse, your family, your sanctification and your witness.
Finally, I am no expert. I have learnt a lot and continue to learn more. I only have the capacity to take each day at a time. While my husband is working out his salvation with fear and trembling, I can only respond the same way. Yes, I am realistic enough to know that he might lie to me tomorrow, or he might falter next week, but I can only respond to what he gives me today. I know that there is no quick fix. At this point in time, our lives are filled with regular recovery meetings (similar to those for alcoholics but for sex addicts), ongoing counselling, podcasts, and regular application of counselling tools to increase trust and emotional intimacy. It is hard work that is in addition to our regular work, family and church commitments. But I trust that God is using it all for his glory somehow. I am living though the process of repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation.
Maybe I am writing this to encourage others to know that there is hope beyond the most despairing of situations, and it’s worth every ounce of your being to pursue holiness. Or maybe it’s simply to let you know you’re not alone.
Photo credit: Andrea Rose