With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood gives his thoughts on what the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. Bob lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage. This three-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.
I mentioned in my last post (here) that one of the most devastating things that impacted your wife when your sexual sin finally came out in the open was this fact: You were living a double life. You lived one way in front of her, and you lived another way behind her back. That type of secrecy in a marriage causes great damage.
One of the first things you need to do to rebuild your marriage is to learn—carefully and with sincerity—how to rebuild the trust that you broke. I’ve already said a few things about the first step you need to take: Take a hard and honest inventory of the damage you have caused to your wife and marriage.
And if your wife is still willing to stay in the marriage, here’s a second big step you must take:
Give your wife space to walk her road of healing, at her pace
Don’t expect that trying to do all the right things and doing lots of good activity this time is going to fix everything. If this is your new focus, you will put a crushing weight of pressure on your wife. How? Because most likely, underneath all your “good” activity, is an unspoken demand that she should respond and accept your earnest steps to change.
When you do this, you are shifting the dynamic of the relationship off of you and onto her. Now the future of the marriage depends on how she responds to the “new” you. Oh, this is subtle! You may not even be aware of it. But if this is happening, and if your wife is having big problems accepting the new you, then you attempt to justify that, whatever happens, at least you really tried. After all, marriage involves two people working at it, right?
Yes, start changing your behavior, and begin relating to your wife as a man of honesty and transparency. But you have got to disconnect your behavior from expecting a particular response to it. You must.
The most important thing she needs from you right now is to give her all the space she wants to heal at her own pace, not yours. She is disoriented from living with a man who lived two lives. Jesus said sexual sins were legitimate grounds for divorce. You need to face the reality that you crossed that line—whether your sexual sin involved a physical encounter or “just” a virtual one.
Your wife will be struggling with the reality that you crossed sexual boundaries, that you took your heart and your body outside of your marriage. That’s bad enough. But she will also be struggling—perhaps more so—with your deception. Your wife can’t fix that. You’ll have to give her emotional space as she struggles with how to move on. How to learn, slowly, whether she can begin to trust the person you are now showing her.
One thing that God will work on in your heart is this: your desire to control things and make them work out your way. That’s what your sexual sin was about. Your desire for control is what plunged you into porn or whatever you did to seek emotional or physical intimacy outside of your promise to your wife. Control, to be in charge, to make sure you got what you wanted—and avoid whatever it was that you hated—is what kept your deception going.
Your idolatry to control your life is one giant lie that God cannot satisfy you. Your refusal to seek him led you to seek something else that promised no disappointment, no pain, no struggle, no problems.
But now you need to learn from God that your control was an illusion. You thought being in control would give you what you needed. And now your continued desire for control will also lead you to think that you need to—and can—fix this relationship and get it back on its feet. But that’s not going to work this time.
This time, you are going to have to deeply rely on God to fix this. You can’t fix this on your own. At this point, your promises, your new intentions, your new behavior are going to have to be seen to be believed. Over time. Over a lot of time.
You must now learn not to depend on yourself—your “wisdom,” your schemes, your manipulations. You can’t make this thing work. It’s in the mess that you have made of things that God is trying to make himself real to both you and your wife. It’s in the brokenness that God slowly brings new life.
Don’t push this, don’t rush this, don’t expect things from your wife. Don’t pressure her to heal faster than she can. Love is a long road. It’s worth the trip. She needs to go at her pace, and you will need to learn to love her at that pace.
God is in the business of redeeming lives, but he also insists on doing it his way. You’ve got to learn this yourself. Are you willing to be a disciple, willing to walk with her at his pace? Then realize that his pace for you includes the time your wife needs to heal. When you give her space, you walk at your master’s pace.
10 Oct 2012
Lately I’ve been soberly pondering how to live now; I want to have lived a well-lived life at the end. One of the blessings of serving at a ministry like Harvest USA is growing in grace while being daily confronted in my work with the devastation of sexual sin. Our staff and I are honored (truly!) to be invited into the pain of men, women, couples, and parents, and to walk alongside them.
They are facing the wreckage, pain, and heartache as hurting Christians who, after a season of giving way to sin, are now turning back to Christ. As the grace and love of Jesus Christ floods into and awakens someone from the dulling and destructive impact of living in sexual sin, the road is both glorious and painful. Emotional affairs, random sexual hook-ups, feasting on the ugly and foul “banquet table” of pornography, enslaving and obsessive co-dependent relationships, and sexual sharing with one or more persons outside of marriage—these are the things we hear in our offices and our support groups daily.
It’s glorious to hear of the Lord’s rescue of women from temptation and sin, yet painful to watch them “wake up” and realize, “How did I end up here? How do I get out of here? How do I change?” It’s terribly sobering for me and causes me to shudder every so often, knowing that this woman, or this man, or this marriage got “here” by taking a lot of little steps over time. All these steps are ones that we choose, even while, in the moment of struggle, we may feel that they just “happened to me.”
Gospel hope and wisdom tells us, though, that a life well-lived is also the fruit of taking a lot of little steps in a given direction… over and over, day by day.
Recently some sobering confessions of secret sin were shared with me just as I had finished reading an autobiography of Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Congo from 1953-1973. I was also at that time beginning to read a biography of Charles Spurgeon, an amazing Bible teacher, preacher, and pastor from the 1800s. This woman and this man are two of my heroes of the faith, and their stories remind me that well-lived lives include suffering, ongoing battles against sin, and lots of seemingly little steps of obedience.
I also began to read and reflect upon Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, wondering how Paul arrived at a point where he could say towards the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).
I’m pretty sure that a part of the answer to this question is in knowing that a life well-lived happens as we live each day and through each circumstance like Paul did: deciding in this moment to fight when confronted by temptation and sin; committing today to run the race and fix my eyes upon Jesus, surrendering in this situation to trust the Lord through faith, believing that his purposes are always good for me.
What do you think? Are there heroes of the faith in your life? Who do you look up to, and what are the daily or habitual faith steps they took that bore the fruit of a life well-lived? No one walks this life of faith alone. God has given us a “cloud of witnesses” to show us how to live well.