30 Jun 2022
Help! I’m in a Sexless Marriage (Part One)
I want to speak to a husband or a wife who has remained faithful to their marriage vows but is experiencing the pain and unfulfilled longings of a sexless marriage. Perhaps you’ve tried to talk with someone about this, only to come away feeling misunderstood or even accused of things that may not be true. I hope this post will be a balm to your soul, and an encouragement to seek Christ in this trial.
God Is Glorified in Your Faithfulness
First, I want you to know that God is greatly glorified by your faithfulness to your spouse. Amid loneliness, confusion, unsatisfied desires, and painful feelings of rejection, you have resisted the easy escape of masturbation, pornography, and adultery. What a testimony to the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9)! If only we could pull back the curtain to see a glimmer of the eternal weight of glory that this momentary trial is producing. It’s no easy pill to swallow, but we all know the utter gravity of being in the presence of a brother or sister in Christ who has experienced profound suffering without blaming God or giving in to unbelief. Your faith is being tested but, as Peter says, it is more precious than gold and its genuineness results in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
God Is Near to the Brokenhearted
Sex was designed by God to be one of the most intimate, affirming, life-giving experiences two humans can know. It’s one of the fundamental glues that holds a marriage together. We all long to be fully known and fully loved. And holy sex is one of the most tangible ways we experience the unconditional love of God for us, through our spouse. For that to be withheld can bring a flood of doubts and concerns. “Is my spouse tired of me?” “Did they find someone else?” “I guess I really am unlovable.” “I can never compete with my spouse’s ideal standard.”
God hears your heart and invites you to draw near to him. He can be trusted with your heart and your longings. Well did Isaiah say of Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:3; Matt. 12:20).
Questions to Consider
By design, sex is not a solo activity. It requires cooperation, trust, love, respect, and a mutual willingness to enter into a moment of unrivaled vulnerability. Because this act is so sacred, it’s understandable why many feel intimidated by it. I’d like to walk you through a few possible reasons why your spouse may not want to engage with you on this level. This is not meant to point the finger at any one person, but it is important to soberly assess how sexual intimacy is typically hindered in a fallen world.
- Life’s busyness. This is perhaps the most common scenario that leads healthy marriages into a sexual desert. The demands and pressures of work, kids, church, social activities, and school all crowd out time and energy for any kind of marital investment. Life is just about survival. While all marriages will likely go through seasons like this, busyness is typically not the only—or even the main—factor why one spouse may be completely avoiding any opportunity for sexual intimacy.
- Hidden sexual sin. Sadly, there are scenarios where your spouse may be avoiding sex with you because they’re satisfying their sexual desires outside of their covenant vows. Whether it be compulsive use of pornography or a secret affair, some spouses treat sex as an appetite, not an act of selfless love. If they’re getting their appetite satisfied elsewhere, they may feel zero responsibility within their marriage. This may be what you fear is happening in your marriage, and perhaps you have compounding evidence to back that up. You’ll need wisdom to know what confrontation should look like. But please don’t let fear and shame keep you from getting help.
- Physical brokenness. Sex is a powerful bodily experience. In many ways it is a whole-bodied experience. When I consider just how many ways our bodies could break down, I often think it’s a miracle that any of us walk around in a state of good health. Engaging in sex requires a relative degree of health. The fall affects some people’s sexual organs, making sex a painful, fearful experience. Men may struggle with erectile dysfunction and could be too scared to admit it to their wives. Heart conditions, motor diseases, and paralysis may restrict sexual activity. The list of health-related reasons to refrain from sex is probably longer than we even imagine. It’s important to consider this because your spouse’s refusal to have sex may be related to their health and not a rejection of you. It may be just as painful and lonely for them to refrain as it is for you, but perhaps they’re too scared to tell you what’s really going on.
- Relational brokenness. Marriage is a covenant established by God. Covenants are accompanied by signs. In our covenant relationship with Jesus, we are given the signs of baptism and communion. In marriage, a couple is given sex as the sign of their covenant union. Just as the sacraments are meant to remember, celebrate, and strengthen our union with Christ, so too sex in marriage is meant to remember, celebrate, and strengthen the union of husband and wife. Scripture instructs believers not to partake of the Lord’s supper when there is unrepentant sin or unresolved strife with another believer. The covenant sign should be forgone until those issues are resolved. To partake of the sign unworthily is a matter the Lord takes very seriously.So, too, in marriage: we cannot separate the act of sex from the quality of the marriage relationship. Paul Tripp says, “You always drag the character and quality of your marriage relationship into the marriage bed.” This means that if there is relational distance in your marriage, sexual distance may be a result of that. It’s not right to act harshly toward your spouse in the kitchen but then seek to act tenderly toward them in the bedroom. Sex is meant to be a celebration of all the love expressed outside the bedroom. How you love your spouse at the dinner table, in the car, in public, with your children, when you’re tired, when you’re sad, when you’re frustrated—it’s all making deposits into your relationship. If your marital account is running on a deficit of love and not a surplus, it may say a lot about why your spouse is so distant from you sexually.
- Personal brokenness. We all go into marriage carrying many things from our past. Past traumas or regrets may continue to haunt you to this day. God imbued sex with incredible power but, in a fallen world, that power has the ability to create destruction like few other experiences can. Past sexual abuse can make sex feel like the most dangerous experience imaginable. Shame about past sexual experiences could make your spouse feel like sex is only a dirty act. Some people wrestle with crippling anxiety disorders, and sex may be a trigger for those anxieties. For example, there is a condition called homosexual obsessive-compulsive disorder, or HOCD. This person does not struggle with same sex attraction. But they’re so fearful about having a homo-erotic thought that they’ll avoid situations that could trigger them. These types of anxieties are more common than you may realize.
Hope in Christ
Life in a fallen world is not how it was meant to be. But praise be to God that, as Margaret Clarkson wrote, one day he will transmute every earthly sorrow into gold of heavenly gain.
In my next blog, I will look at how you can walk this painful path with your Savior and your spouse. Jesus cares about this aspect of your marriage. He has marked out a way forward for you to honor and love your spouse as you entrust your longings to him.
12 May 2022
The Gospel According to Sex: Holiness
As designed by God, both sex and the gospel are bounded by exclusivity. The biblical concept through which we can understand what is meant by this is sanctification, or holiness. We often associate these terms with the process of growing in holiness as we turn from sin and act righteously. This is true.
But, more basically, holiness carries the idea of being set apart. Ultimately, God himself is most holy because he is set apart from us in the perfections of his being and righteousness.
God’s People Are Set Apart
The Bible speaks of God setting apart his people, the church, to belong to him. God does this by making distinctions to separate his people from all other peoples. In explaining the Passover event, through which God separated out his people from Egypt, he said, “But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7). King Solomon later says, “For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God” (1 Kings 8:53).
The rules of Leviticus enforce this call of being set apart to belong in a unique way to God: “I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. …You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev. 20:24–26). “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. …I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Lev. 20:7–8). The people’s commitment to holiness was simply a fitting response to God’s gracious separation of Israel from all others as belonging to him—his precious, chosen possession.
This is a gospel pattern. God graciously makes distinctions to put the church into a category different from the rest of humanity. He sets us apart as his bride. We then respond as those who belong to him. It’s a picture of faithful, exclusive devotion.
Marriage as Setting Apart
God’s divine purpose is for marriage and sex to share this pattern of exclusive devotion. In Ephesians 5:25–32, this aspect of making holy or sanctifying is especially emphasized with respect to a husband’s love for his wife. How does he do this? A husband does not remove his wife’s sin. But he does set her apart by distinguishing her from all other women. His sexual union with her is at the core of that distinction. He puts her in a different category than any other person; she alone belongs to him in the union of marriage. So, because sex is designed to uniquely express that union, in all things sexual he gives himself exclusively to her. Fittingly, she responds with the same exclusive commitment to him.
Setting Apart as the Gracious Initiative of Christ
This leads us to ask why Christ takes the initiative to set apart the church for himself? God says that he did not choose Israel because of a quality he saw in them—the size of the nation, their power, or their influence (Deut. 7:7). He chose them simply because he decided to love them.
In Ephesians 5, it’s clear that the church is set apart and presented in splendor and without blemish because Jesus gave himself for her, not the other way around. We have not earned the right to be set apart. God was not attracted to us as better than anyone else in any way. God does not look for the most beautiful people and set them apart to belong to him. No, he places his love on the people of his choosing and makes them beautiful by setting them apart.
Practical Implications for a Set-Apart People
What difference does this make to your daily Christian life?
- You are saved by grace. It was not your goodness that convinced God to save you or that keeps him loving you. He is not waiting for you to mess up one too many times so he can dump you for other, holier people. You are holy because Christ made you holy. What a great comfort!
- How should this affect your relationship to and love for Christ? Your love for Christ is your response to his loving you. You can rest and rejoice with gratitude in the security that comes from knowing that this is all his initiative, not his response to your deserving anything.
- Your fight with sin is empowered by gratitude, not by any need to earn or stay in God’s love. Firm in your gratitude for his setting you apart as his own, you want to grow in acting as one who belongs to him.
What difference does this make to your sexuality?
- God wants this gospel dynamic to shape our sexuality. Therefore, the long-term sexual union of marriage must be founded on a choice to love, not mere attraction that easily fades or wanders. This is not to say we should feel no attraction to our spouses—indeed, the mutual passion and delight of a husband and wife is also designed by God to show us the gospel! But in accordance with the gospel pattern, your spouse should not have to earn your delight. Rather, enjoyment of each other grows as a fruit of mutually setting each other apart in love.
- How does this work? Setting apart your spouse in love means you commit to make distinctions between your wife or husband and all others. This means, at least, that anything and everything pertaining to sex and romance is reserved exclusively for your spouse—every advance, every flirtation, every glance, every imagination, every intention is focused on the one whom you have set apart. In this context, enjoyment and delight grow over time.
- If you are single, use your time as a single to grow in your faith, confidence, and joy in being part of Christ’s set apart Bride. Learn to bask in the benefits of this gospel truth. Then commit to reflect it in your sexuality. If you remain single, you set yourself apart to belong only to Christ. If you will marry, handle your sexuality now as something which you will give exclusively to your future spouse—setting that person apart even today.
The gospel pattern of the exclusive love of God for his chosen people is our hope and our motivation for fighting sin. We’ve been undeservedly set apart to enjoy God forever—he set his love upon us when we were unlovely. May we grow in holiness as Christ’s exclusive love warms our hearts, reminding us of the eternal belonging he won for us within the set-apart people of God.
27 Aug 2020
What About the Sexless Marriage?
Let’s suppose…the husband is truly repentant and growing, but he also feels like his wife’s coldness to him is making it more difficult. Is 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 relevant for him?
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by R. Nicholas Black and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “The Whims of Erotic Attraction and 1 Corinthians 7,” which corresponds to this video.
18 Oct 2018
Wives and Porn and Busy Church Leaders
Just heard it again. Another wives and porn story. A sad and frustrating story from a wife who discovered her husband looking at porn again. She had hoped for the best, believing he had been walking out a path of faith and repentance and was “doing okay” (his consistent answer when she asked him).
But then, a quick slam shut of his iPad when she unexpectedly walked in on him. Porn. Again.
But then the story went from wives and porn to busy church leaders. I celebrated her courage to approach her pastor and ask for help, confide in him about her hurting heart, and to open a window for him to see into a very broken and fragile part of her life: her marriage. Thankfully, he listened, he prayed, and then he told her he’d leave it in her court if she needed anything else.
Yes, this pastor did enter in, he did listen, and he did make himself available for a ten-minute conversation after church. But then he left her on her own.
It’s hard enough for many women to approach male pastors for help, but it’s worse when they do and are given little time and dismissed afterward on their own.
A wife who is sleep deprived and emotionally beaten down will struggle to feel safe approaching a church leader who seems to only have five minutes to spare.
First, let’s be fair and honest. Church leaders are busy and overwhelmed with the needs of the sheep under their care. There are dramatic and complicated things happening in the lives of people in our churches, and pastors are typically on the front line of being asked to help. Pressured by crises and meetings and other commitments, church leaders can come across as disinterested, uncompassionate, or dismissive. Sometimes these perceptions are true, but not always.
In this context of seeking help, a wife who is sleep deprived and emotionally beaten down will struggle to feel safe approaching a church leader who seems to only have five minutes to spare.
Secondly, another more disheartening reality is when wives are under the authority of church leaders who preach an anti-biblical message about husbands who struggle with lust. It’s just what men do. It’s just who they are. Wives need to trust the Lord and get on board with what he wants to do in their husband’s lives. Get behind his recovery and help him however she can.
Of all the hundreds of wives I’ve gotten to sit with, not one of them feel safe (or cared for) in churches where that message (of minimizing the effect of porn use or ungodly sexual behavior) is taught or implied by church leaders.
Third, I’ve read how many wives manifest symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of a husband’s sexual betrayal. It’s important to keep in mind that when wives come to us for help, that the teary or paralyzed or embittered (or all of the above) woman sitting in front of us may not be her true self. Traumatic experiences have the power to reshape people as pain washes over every aspect of life.
“PTSD identifies traumas that don’t seem to fade. Although many difficult events in life such as the death of a loved one don’t really fade, PTSD is used to describe events that intrude into daily life by way of complex emotions rather than simple grief. You can feel numb, you avoid anything that could possibly be similar to the inciting event, you feel depressed and hopeless, or you feel restless, irritable, hyper-vigilant, anxious, and over-reactive. And you can feel all these things at once.”
These are the behaviors and emotions I see time and again in working with wives whose husbands have betrayed their vows by habitually looking at porn or have been involved in an emotional or sexual affair.
Don’t give up, don’t grow weary in well doing when it comes to resting in the comfort of Christ and then offering that same comfort to hurting wives.
Now, imagine all of these scenarios converging. A busy pastor (or a church leader) getting a phone call from a wife who is in the throes of a PTSD-ish response to her husband’s sin. She’s anxious, brokenhearted, unable to accurately form her thoughts, and breaks into sobs with no warning. Her heart has been shattered, her thoughts are a scrambled mess, and most likely she is exhausted. And she’s asking you for help, but she probably doesn’t even know what she needs.
Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that church leaders, even those who are well-meaning, just don’t know how to engage a wife when she’s in this state. Seminaries don’t train future pastors how to do triage counseling, much less how to walk with a hurting wife over the long haul.
Here’s some steps to help you grow in wise, effective pastoral care for a hurting wife.
- Learn. Read books, blogs (check out our Harvest USA resources!) and articles that will educate you in what sexual betrayal feels like and the impact it has on a wife.
- Ask. Whether you are a woman or man in leadership, ask women to submit anonymous stories about their experience in seeking help. What helped them? What didn’t?
- Teach. Use your platforms of influence (the pulpit, the Bible study podium, the home group, etc.) to teach Christ’s heart for hurting women, including wives betrayed by their husbands.
- Hope. Yes! There is real, transformative, life-changing, and healing hope through Jesus for couples impacted by sexual sin. Don’t give up, don’t grow weary in well doing when it comes to resting in the comfort of Christ and then offering that same comfort to hurting wives.
- Engage. Move towards hurting wives, listen, ask questions, and connect her with others who can encourage her and provide the support and counsel she needs.
Ellen shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Can Church Leaders Help Hurting Wives? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
18 Oct 2018
How Can Church Leaders Help Hurting Wives?
It’s a weighty responsibility to shepherd God’s people. Ellen shares how Psalm 34 can instruct pastors and church leaders in wise ministry to hurting wives who are crushed by their husband’s sexual sins.
To learn more, read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Wives and Porn and Busy Church Leaders.
What happens to a marriage when pornography invades the home? What is its relational and sexual impact on the couple? While our culture increasingly dismisses any talk about the negative impact of porn, the reality is that it’s much more corrosive and damaging than you think. Long before your marriage descends into the chaos of exposure and threats of divorce, you need to know the damage that porn can inflict on relationships. It’s never too late to change direction if you know or suspect that porn is disrupting your marriage. One way to start on the road to transformation is to honestly examine the damage porn has already done to you and to others. Sometimes God uses warning signs in our lives to get our attention. There are three major ways that porn disrupts and eventually destroys marriages.
Pornography Destroys the Beauty of God’s Design for Sex
A healthy marriage is based on intimacy. Adam and Eve were “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), a description not just of sexual pleasure but of relational intimacy. They held nothing back from each other; they were totally open and vulnerable. They knew each other in a way that no other couple ever did. Before sin entered the human heart, they experienced sex as God designed it, mutually pleasurable as both sought to selflessly please the other. God gave them the gift of sex as the means to deep relational connection.
But when sin entered the world, the perfect intimacy that Adam and Eve shared collapsed. Because God made sex such a powerful experience, it needed the relationally safe boundaries of marriage. Intimacy is not something that happens quickly between two people; it grows through the years as the couple faces problems together. That is why the father in Proverbs 5 tells his adult son to remember the years he has spent with the “wife of his youth.” He is not to throw away those years and experiences to have sex with anyone he chooses. The pleasure sex brings is better within the boundaries of marriage, with the wife he has spent years knowing and loving. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18–19).
God created sexual pleasure within marriage and values it as a foundational expression of growing spiritual and emotional intimacy. But the physical intimacy with your spouse that God values so highly is steadily corrupted and ultimately destroyed when you engage in porn.
Pornography Makes You Selfish and Self-Centered
As one Christian counselor put it, viewing pornography is all about masturbation.¹ In other words, when you engage in porn, it’s all about what you can get out of it. It’s about your fantasies, your pleasure, and your desires. Women and men are reduced to mere sexual objects for your own selfish pleasures. The people on the screen, whether you are passively viewing them or actively engaged with them (via webcam, texting, or chat rooms) exist only to please you. Real intimacy, which by its nature takes time to develop, is obliterated in quick hits of self-centered fantasy.
What gets lost in viewing or engaging in pornography is this critical fact: the person you are interacting with is not real and neither are you, because the foundation of your “relational encounter” is a total lie. In real life and real relationships, there is someone you want to get to know, and someone who wants to know you as well. The fantasy of pornography is that you believe you are the object of someone else’s interest and desire, but the cold reality is that you are really alone with yourself.
Pornography Isolates You from Your Spouse and Family
The more you use pornography, the less you will attempt to relate to your spouse as God intended, because that involves effort and a willingness to care about someone else. In contrast, porn becomes the way you escape the endless stresses of life, especially the stresses that are part and parcel of marriage. Life in a fallen world is difficult. A good marriage not only lets you weather the storms; it helps you grow through them. But porn entices you with the false promise that you don’t have to face those storms. Instead, it promises pleasure and escape. In porn you will find women who are beautiful, daring, lonely but anxious to be fulfilled by you—quite different from your wife. In porn you will find men who are thoughtful, romantic, and willing to tackle any challenge to have you–quite different from your husband. But porn, very simply, entices you into a world that doesn’t exist.
Your spouse, meanwhile, continues to occupy the real world, and the more you pull away into fantasy, the more he or she will feel abandoned by you.
¹Jeffrey S. Black, Sexual Sin: Combatting the Drifting and Cheating (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2003), 6.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by Nicholas Black, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook, and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
Devastated! For most wives, that word describes sexual betrayal. When a woman confides that she’s discovered her husband’s porn habit or his infidelity with an online sexual encounter, what do you say to help? What can you do?
Here are five good first steps to take:
- Listen, listen, listen
The woman in front of you just had her world rocked, and a primary way to love and help her NOW is to know her and understand her situation. Too often, wives who find out about their husband’s porn problem hear others minimize their pain. “Is it really that bad? You’re making such a big deal out of this! It’s not like it’s with a real person!”
No, this is a big deal! Porn, along with its many ancillary behaviors, means that her husband has gone outside the marriage and engaged sexually with others, and the fact that it’s an online image, person, or fantasy persona doesn’t matter.
You’ll need patience and self-control too, to hear her heart and resist the urge to overwhelm her with interrogating questions, advice, resources, or actions you think she must take now. No, make your initial priority to love her through listening, comforting, and knowing. Don’t be afraid to cry with her and get angry at sin with her. Give her hope from Scripture, like Psalm 32: 8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Leaning into Jesus will give you everything you need to gently help this wife do the same.
- Understand that sexual betrayal is traumatic
This wound can trigger paralyzing fear, depression, sadness, confusion, and bitter anger. Any combination of these is a normal response! Your willingness to grasp trauma’s impact is vital. God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
- Offer practical help and love-in-action
Are there practical ways to help her today or this week? Childcare, meals, making phone calls? If she discovered her husband’s sin rather than him confessing it, she may need help knowing how and when to confront him and may desire that someone be with her for this scary conversation. The goal is for all things to be “brought into the light” (1 John 1:7) so that the couple is facing the truth of their situation and not a façade. This is the healing path that Christ is calling them to walk: honesty, humility, and a new beginning through the gospel of grace which enables repentance.
God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
If everything is out on the table already, yet her husband is resisting repentance (say by minimizing what he has done), and refusing to get help, she may need guidance and encouragement to speak with a pastor or another trusted spiritual leader, effectively ‘outing’ her husband and his sin. This marriage is in crisis, and it needs outside help from one or two mature believers. This kind of sin and the pain it causes won’t just work itself out in isolation.
- Check in on her and follow-up
Follow up is not just important, it is probably the most powerful help you can give. A text, call, FaceTime chat, walk around the block are simple ways to help her not feel so alone.
Do not fear getting in over your head, or that to love this woman means signing your life away. Yes, you will be giving her your time because right now she’s hurting and needy. Focus on this week and not on an unknown future. Reach out to her with love, even if this week your presence can only be a series of text messages that say you are praying or a Scripture passage. The main thing is: keep in touch.
- If you’re her husband reading this, you must be completely honest
This means full disclosure of what you’ve been involved in. Not the nitty-gritty details, but enough to be fully known. I cannot emphasize how painful it is when a confession comes in like a slow trickle of admissions over weeks or months. Ongoing deception will be crushing to your wife, and it will profoundly damage any attempt to rebuild trust.
If you need help, listen to a podcast by Brad Hambrick called False Loves. Steps 4 and 5 regarding repentance and confession are particularly practical. God is with you in this humbling and scary process, and you can only take responsibility for your obedience and not your wife’s response to your confession.
These 5 points will help you connect well with a hurting wife. She, and the marriage, will need lots of different kinds of help over time. But utilizing these five things will help her move forward on the right foot, gently helping her to trust Jesus to bring healing to her heart and wisdom over the long haul.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, every broken marriage has two sinners contributing to it. A wife is never responsible for her husband’s sin, yet I’ve seen God use the trial of sexual betrayal to bring transformation to so many wives. One woman said,
“I was not only bitter towards my husband but marriage in general and ultimately towards God as well. If God was sovereign, why did he allow me to marry a man with such a struggle that was so isolating for me? As God worked on my heart through a couple of friends who journeyed with me through this season, I began to see that I needed grace as much as my husband. My lack of forgiveness was just as despicable to God as his pornography. At the foot of the cross, we were equally in need of Christ’s mercy.”
Hurting wives and struggling husbands need Christ’s mercy, just like those of us who want to love them well and wisely. Hopefully, these five steps can assist you in doing just that.
To learn more, watch the accompanying video: What Should I Say to a Hurting Wife? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
14 Mar 2018
What Should I Say to a Hurting Wife?
In the second part of this two-part blog on how to help wives whose husbands are looking at porn, Ellen gives five key things to say and do, at the beginning, to effectively help.
Click here to read more on what Ellen is saying on her blog: Wives and Porn: What to Say or Do that Really Helps – Part 2
Click here to see Ellen’s first blog and vlog.
For a large majority of men today, the ubiquity of porn on the Internet and its ability to provide unlimited access to it (especially via search engines) means that the issue is no longer, “Have you looked at porn?” but rather, “Are you actively looking at porn?” Many wives may already fear or suspect that their husbands are engaging in pornography.
Looking at porn is not harmless (see the short video of Bob Heywood’s struggle with porn and its impact on his marriage). But the problem is that pornography usage is usually hidden, a closely guarded secret. What if you suspect that porn is impacting your marriage (or your relationship with your boyfriend or fiancé)? Here are some things you can look for, as well as steps you can take to bring healing.
Signs that may indicate usage of porn:
- Unusual decrease in sexual activity between you and your husband—and increasing relationship distance physically.
- Mental distance between the two of you. He’s physically present but not mentally there when you seek to engage him.
- Late-night computer activity, especially a pattern of needing to use the computer after you have gone to bed.
- He quickly changes the screen when someone comes into the room, and he is spending more and more time on the computer.
- Secrecy regarding finances, like not letting you see credit card statements.
- Any gaps in accountability for time and finances.
- No history on the web browser after he spends time on the computer (keep in mind that private browser windows are pretty standard today, leaving behind zero web history).
What steps can you take?
Viewing pornography is sexual sin and is not “just what men do.” While painful and devastating for any wife to acknowledge, you must honestly face the reality of sexual sin impacting your marriage. Now is not the time to be passive. You have a vital role to play in helping your husband break free.
- Know that the Lord has comfort for you! He has not abandoned you or your marriage. Feelings of grief, shock, fear, and despair are normal for the wife who’s just discovered her husband’s porn usage. God is your compassionate Father and source of comfort and strength. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.)
- See this as a real threat to your marriage. Don’t deny it or hope that it will just go away. Now is the time for you to battle hard for your marriage through prayer, courageous confrontation, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
- Talk openly with your husband about your concerns. You may need to acknowledge that this is a common problem for men today, even Christian men, so come alongside him rather than take an oppositional role. Watch for his response to your inquiry. Is there defensiveness, anger, deflection? Check your own heart for self-righteous indignation.
- Pray for and seek helpers who can encourage you and pray with you. Seek out godly Christian women or any ministry leader who is a “safe” person for you to talk with (someone who has track record of godly living, is compassionate, and is trustworthy with confidences). Talk with your pastor.
- Don’t put yourself in the position of being his “porn police” or primary accountability partner. If he admits he is struggling, tell him to talk to one of his friends or his pastor to set up accountability. If there is a group of men who meet regularly for these issues, encourage him to attend.
- Do not think or accept (if your husband suggests) that his porn issue is your fault. He is responsible for his own behavior. His behavior comes from within his own heart (Matthew 15:17-20), and your behavior cannot cause him to look at porn.
- Consider marriage counseling with a pastor, counselor, or a trusted couple. This may be a perfect time for both of you to seek assistance to talk through ongoing issues or problems. Couples that do not talk openly about their struggles, needs, and disappointments (especially sexual problems and disappointments) are wounding their marriage. They need to be willing to look deeply at motivations and past events that affect their relationship with each other. Since sexual sin is so dangerous and powerful, it is something which must be dealt with openly—with the help of other Christians. Your marriage will not survive if this is not dealt with and if your husband refuses to seek help.
- Run to the Lord as your refuge! Psalm 16:1-2 says that God is your strength, hope, and safe place as you navigate these painful and scary waters in your marriage. You cannot control your husband’s heart or his response to the Lord, but you can bring your own needs, pain, and confusion to him, and you need to!
Christian couples dare not keep sexual sin hidden in the shadows. It will only get worse, and its potential to destroy the marriage is real. The hope of the Gospel is that in Christ we can find restoration, reconciliation, and victory, even over deeply embedded sin patterns. There is hope for deep change and profound healing through the power of Jesus Christ.
We have a great devotional book for wives dealing with this issue in their marriage. It’s called When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart, by Vickie Tiede. You can check it out here.
11 Nov 2014
Living in the Shadows: Life as a game-player
Below is a brief excerpt from John Freeman’s book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, from New Growth Press.
Men struggling with sexual sin are, at deeper levels in their lives, God-haters and idol-makers. A third element that goes on under the surface in the men who come into our office is that they are accomplished game–players, juggling all the seen and unseen parts of their lives. I see this game-player category in virtually everyone who struggles with sexual sin, but more so with believers. Why? Because in the church, struggles are kept secret from others as the pressure of appearances takes over. You are accepted if you have it all together, but you are viewed differently if you admit you have problems or difficulties. This is especially so when the struggle involves sex, with its attendant shame and guilt. In other words, Christians believe they should not have these problems. The church should not be this way, but oftentimes the “culture” of a church creates this relational dysfunction.
This was made clear to me a number of years ago when our ministry placed carefully-worded ads in local newspapers and magazines, aimed at those who might be questioning what was going in their lives. The short ads would say something like, “Porn Struggle? Help Is Available” or . . . “Does Porn Have a Grip on You? There’s Hope for You.” When we ran those ads, we could get up to forty calls a day.
As I talked with people who responded to these ads, I noticed something: A good number who called were non-Christians, but the ad spoke to them with some kind of clarity and hope anyway. One of the verses that has always been foundation for our outreach is Proverbs 14:13, “Even in laughter the heart may ache.” No matter how much people’s lives look put together as they bask in their sexual freedom, there can still be a lot of pain and hurt underneath—even in an unbeliever!
I realized something else about those who initially came to us as unbelievers. If men came into our ministry, joined one of our Bible study/support groups, and then eventually came to a first-time, saving knowledge and faith in Christ, they often had a much better prognosis for dealing with their sexual sin biblically and sincerely. They had a healthier journey of growing in Christ and “putting off” their sexual sin than did believers who came to us after living disjointed, compartmentalized lives for many years.
How could that be? First, you’ve got to realize that, if you are a believer dealing with struggles. . . no one may know about your hidden struggles because you’ve designed it that way! Maybe no one even suspects the deep waters of your heart in this area and the efforts you make to keep it all working. People can go on for years with these heart-crushing, life-devastating behaviors. No one in your life may ever catch on, and you’re worse off because of it. If you are ever going to deal with your heart with integrity, you will have to unlearn all the coping mechanisms you’ve developed to function in both worlds—your sin-oriented, secret world as well as your “Christian” world.
We have a wonderful man named Bob Heywood on staff in our national office in Philadelphia. He disciples men and works with some of our small groups. His is an amazing story of how the Lord broke into his heart over a dozen years ago, as he lived one of these game-playing, compartmentalized lives. Bob talks about the way his half-hearted Christian life was able to co-exist for so long with his sexual addiction. Bob was an active elder at his church. . . But he had hidden problems that were compounded by the fact that he was able to get away with living a double life. Bob says, “As I began giving in to this temptation, I realized I was getting in way over my head. I felt like I couldn’t stop. I’ll never forget when I came to what I now consider the worst soul-deadening conclusion ever in my life. And that was, ‘Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can be a leader in the church and look at porn at the same time.’”
When Bob teaches and shares his testimony now, he often uses Proverbs 7:13-18 to describe his experience. In that passage, Solomon describes the way a prostitute seduces a young man.
She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
“I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.”
Bob uses this vivid picture to say that he was more like the prostitute than the seemingly innocent victim of someone’s charms and seduction. Bob will tell you that for years he did what the prostitute did—he “offered sacrifices and paid vows,” thinking this would take care of his spiritual problem and relieve him of guilt and shame. In other words, he did all the Christian stuff—went to church, read his Bible, prayed, put money in the offering basket, etc.—just as the woman in the passage carried out her religious activities. At the same time, he spent twenty years viewing adult videos. Bob’s Christian life had become a works-oriented, graceless world where doing was more important than being. His carefully crafted façade allowed him to function in two worlds and fool everyone because he looked really good—at least, on the outside.
When it comes to sexual sin. . . men can live for years without anyone knowing how they’re misusing sex. The secret nature of sexual sin allows it to go on for years without anyone ever knowing. Therein lies its deepest power to do soul and heart damage. It can lead to dozens of years of being a game-player, even as a Christian man. How does it happen? Easy. We learn to compartmentalize, that is, to wall off many parts of our lives early on. . . We can be this person over here, that person over there. And the person, even as a Christian, who learns to do that at age fifteen is soon the person doing that at twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five, or fifty-five. . .
Being a game-player can be exhausting. But one of the most deadly consequences of learning how to live with a pornified heart is the inevitable corrosion that takes place in our hearts over years. The problem, though, is that you won’t know that your own heart is decaying! You may be the last to know. . .
The real effects of a corroded heart
Our sexual sins not only cause our hearts to go dead, but they also keep us from being who and what we should be as men, husbands, and fathers. Due to years of sexual temptations and unforsaken sins, our neglected hearts will rob everyone in our lives of something! There are at least three ways that this happens.
First, a continued history of failures, a commitment to playing games with these issues and with the Lord, and a commitment to silence will rob you of your effectiveness as a man of God, as a husband, and as a father. It will rob you of the gospel words you’re called to speak on a regular basis to your own heart and to the hearts of those closest to you. You can no longer preach the gospel to yourself with authority. It falls on deaf ears. You cease to believe it for yourself, even though you may go through the motions of acting like you believe it. This can be true even if you are in ministry.
Think about it. You lose your bout with Internet porn on a regular basis. You’re filled with guilt and shame most of the time, with the harsh realization that you’re living in defeat all the time. Now, are you going to be engaged emotionally and practically the way you should be with your wife? Are you going to be proactive in speaking into her life and your children’s lives the way you know Gods wants? Probably not. You know the reality of your record, and it’s zapped your relational strength, vitality, and integrity. You’ve come to see yourself as a fake, a phony, a sham. . .
Second, this heart-neglect robs men of their confidence in, love for, and excitement about things of God, especially about the gospel. How could it not? When you know deep down what’s going on in your heart, how you’ve been taken captive by your own untamed desires—and when you know your own record of defeat—it robs you of the love for the gospel you once had.
Third, our unaddressed struggles, our sexual idols and compulsions also rob God! How do they do that? . . . The counterfeit sexual idols we bow to vie for a deep place in our hearts, a place where only God was meant to dwell.
So, does your continual inaction, resignation, and inattention to your heart rob God? You bet. Do they rob you and those around you? Absolutely. They keep you from being fully available to God and others. They rob the body of Christ in a very real way. Your secret sexual idolatries, your addictions, and your compulsions keep you from being who you were called to be. In our addictions, our hearts seek attachments that cripple our image-bearing capabilities and the exercise of our gifts to bless others. This is one of the saddest, most damaging consequences of our hidden sin—everyone loses out. . .
Real change isn’t measured just by what we stop doing. It’s always measured in character change; whereas your former preoccupation with yourself robbed others, now you begin to be more interested in others than yourself. You see yourself wanting to bless others, desiring their good and not just your own. You no longer hide what you are doing; instead, you are increasingly open with others about your struggles and faults. As one man said to me about his decades of hidden sexual struggles: “I’ve been a liar all my life.” But now, he is learning how to be a truth-teller, to his wife and to everyone he knows. Character grows when we live for God and serve others. One of the ways God starts to change us is to move us to start dealing with our sexual idols.
What does it take to want to start walking in repentance and find the help you know you desperately need? How do you get there? What is the path to freedom? How do you start to live with sexual integrity when you know you don’t have the human resources to do so? You have to be willing for God to do something new and to begin to see yourself as you’ve never done before.
John’s intent in this chapter is to give hope to sexual strugglers who feel the pain and pressure of their hiding (from God and others), yet feel either hopeless to do anything about it or falsely believe that they can battle it on their own. The book lays out a way to go forward into freedom from sexual sin. Check out the testimony that follows for one man’s story of hope and change.
You can take a look at John’s book by clicking the following link – here
Stepping into the Light after a Lifetime of Shadow Living: One man’s testimony of transformation
When does the healing from a life time of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? How many days must I make it without giving in yet again to temptation? These are questions I struggled with for years before finding any answers.
At ten I found a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that proved irresistible to my young mind. I began a life long journey of living life in the shadows, one foot in the world of my family, church, and jobs; the other foot hiding in the darkness of fantasy and sin and increasing despair.
The first thirty years I was successful in hiding my sin from everyone, but like most men enslaved to pornography, I got caught. More than just my sin was exposed; my whole life crumbled. My wife discovered not only that I looked at porn, but also that I was not the man, husband, and father I pretended to be. For the next twenty years, I struggled to be the man I was supposed to be while wresting with the man I actually was.
Years of disappointing and isolated self-effort got me nowhere. I would go for as long as six months before falling. Then the hiding cycle, with its lies and deception, began all over again. Even when I had some success from engaging with porn, my heart and mind remained trapped in the lies I was living. The biggest lie I believed was that no one could possibly love me if they really knew me. That drove me to believe that I had to fight this battle on my own. I could stop doing this, and no one had to know the real me, especially the ugly parts that I carefully kept hidden.
But this also meant that I was cutting God out of all this. You see, if God was a part of my change, I knew things would be really messy. While I had prayed for decades for God to rescue me from my sin, I also was dimly aware that I was terrified he would answer that prayer. Did I want to be clean? Yes! But I knew God wanted more of me than just being a man of sexual integrity. He wanted all of me, not just that part of me that needed fixing. I have spent most of my life in fear of being discovered. This sin warped and twisted all my relationships, from God, to my wife, to my children, to my friendships. With God in the mix, I would be completely exposed for who I was, and in my mind I was unlovable.
Did I want to test the limits of everyone’s love? No! I’m not a stupid guy. I’d rather remain hidden. But to change, that would mean no more hiding. I would need to live fully in the open. No more lies, half-lies, rationalizations, excuses; I would need to confess, admit failure, acknowledge how I hurt people, be a truth-teller, and learn to live fully in the present without escaping into my fantasy world.
Only the last few years has that elusive healing finally begun. What happened?
I joined a community of men who also struggled.
When I started to meet with other men I found out I was not alone. I was pushed to examine my life in a safe environment. There is no judgment on Monday nights when we meet. I found I could confess my lies and struggles, while also helping other men who also struggled. In this group I learned to trust Jesus. I learned that I was not unlovable, but loved beyond anything I could imagine. I knew all along that Jesus died for my sin, but I didn’t know it deep in my bones, deep in my heart. The reality of Jesus and his love for me is now being woven into the tapestry of my life; it is becoming a part of who I am.
I discovered that I cannot learn, much less know, of the love of Jesus by myself. I need men, sinners like myself, to remind me of Jesus and how his costly love pursued and embraced me. Do we hold each other accountable for our sin? Absolutely, but even more important we hold each other accountable for seeing Jesus at work in our lives. The question we ask over and over of each other is this: Is Jesus enough for us?
For far too many years the answer was no. Fleeing to porn to escape was my instinctive reaction to pain and difficulties. Now when asked that question, I stop and think and step out in faith, knowing that he is. When I attend a service in my church and look around the sanctuary and see those men whom I meet with, I am reminded of Jesus, because these men know the real me and love me anyway. When I come home now, it is not in fear, but in relief, knowing that my long-suffering wife knows who I am and like Jesus loves me anyway.
Is Jesus enough for you?