“I remember when time stood still. The list of pornography sites was staring me in the face on my husband’s computer. I kept checking through the list, no thoughts at first, just frozen. My body was in that no-man’s land between being on fire and ice cold. In fact, my body felt like it was miles away.
As the evidence sunk in, I fought to make sense of a senseless horror. Later, when he responded in anger that I had invaded his privacy, I began a journey of raw pain unlike anything my protected life had prepared me for.
Nothing made sense anymore. There must be some mistake – this couldn’t be my life. Everything was different. My sense of who he was, who I was, my relationship with God, my expectations of our future, my sense of trust were all changed. The sky had fallen, and I have foggy memories of desperately trying to reach out for help and coming to the realization that not much help was out there for wives devastated by their husband’s betrayal through pornography.
As the numbness wore off, the pain hit levels in me that made me doubt my sanity and the possibility of ever having joy in being alive. Without counselling, I doubt I would have survived (I didn’t see the point), and I know my marriage would not have survived. The initial process of healing for me was one-to-one support as I struggled to sort through the raw chaos until I could eventually see beyond the destruction. I grieved the loss of the dream of what I thought my marriage was. I despaired of ever knowing what it was to trust again. Then, through group support with fellow wives, I dared to look beyond myself and my pain. Hope is so precious and life giving! To walk through the rubble with first one woman and then others who understood, by reason of their own personal experience, was an incredible blessing. To hear testimony that it is possible to have meaning redeemed, intimacy with God rebuilt, and marriages restored, is liberating.
My journey is by no means over. Strangely, it has expanded. In retrospect, I am ironically grateful for this unbidden trauma, as it was the doorway into the path of looking at many previously unknown aspects of my heart that needed to heal. I have subsequently dismantled many erroneous assumptions about my God, myself, and life this side of heaven. The trauma of my husband’s betrayal has become an opportunity to redefine who I am, who I am in Christ, and to put my fragile trust back into the hands of the One who loves me best for whatever He has for me . . . for us.”
The above is a thumbnail sketch of one woman’s healing journey, illustrating some of the hallmarks common to all journeys for wives. If you are a woman who has recently stumbled upon your husband’s use of pornography, this article is intended to help you in the initial aftermath of the discovery.
Women in this stage of the journey often have similar shock responses, similar emotions, similar fears and similar questions. Later, in the restoration and rebuilding stage of the marriage, the journey often reflects the more unique aspects of the backgrounds, expectations, and personalities of the particular couples involved.
One of the commonalities for wives is a tendency to focus on their husband’s behaviour and responses after the discovery as an indicator determining the outcome of their future. Although this is a normal trauma response, a fundamental task in the healing journey is to set your intention, as a woman, on yourself and your relationship with God. This relationship predates your marriage, and often has become lost or dull in the daily responsibilities of marriage and family. However, personal security in God, when the foundation of your marriage seems irreparable, is crucial. You must re-orient your focus to the Lord for your expectations for your future.
In actuality, it will seem at times like there is a conspiracy against this necessity to trust God. Everything in us, as human beings, is invested in finding a solution to stop the insanity . . . to end pain. We are, to a fault, solution-oriented. We want a quick fix, all of us, even when we acknowledge that the brokenness is significant and no easy remedy will restore wholeness. Our natural inclination is to try to control outcomes. Most women struggle to trust God with the outcome of their marriage. They chafe at the unknowns, and fight against the faith part of the journey. The temptation is to get involved in manipulating God, husband and environment. The lesson will be repeated often, as attention is re-directed to God.
Wives, in their desperation, want a solution and a guarantee, and often the husband does, too. Very seldom does anyone embrace the long and painful process of healing without first initiating a flurry of activity and attempting to solve the problem behaviourally, erroneously assuming that’s all there is to it. Wives often assume that if they give their husbands more sex, if they do less of one thing and more of another, they can govern their husband’s behaviour. They want steps to follow, both to stop their own pain and to stop their husband’s behaviour. One of the first questions wives ask is, “How can I get him to stop?”
At the beginning of their journey, they are often scrambling for information, looking for books and experts to tell them what to do to make it all return “back to normal”. The problem with addressing the behaviour only – it is merely one part of the journey – is that what caused the behaviour is left unaddressed. Use of pornography reveals a brokenness in intimacy; wives struggling to ask for their needs to be addressed in a marriage shattered by pornography suggests a brokenness in intimacy skills as well.
For the wife, many aspects of the betrayal insist on being explored: what the betrayal signifies to her, what it means in terms of what she believes about marriage, what she believes about God and what she believes about herself. This provides a framework for healing, as the meaning of the trauma to her will direct her to what she needs in counselling support, and from her husband.
Many women struggle to identify who they are, what their needs are as women, what their voice is, and what their boundaries might be in order for them to regain a sense of safety. Unfortunately, this is often reinforced by the larger community. Many well-intentioned people who come alongside to help will be prone to focus solely on ending the husband’s sinful behaviour. These people, as well as the husband, tend to ignore the devastation to the woman, and perhaps gloss over her feelings, her healing process and her needs.
How does one heal from such betrayal? It is important for each woman to identify and begin the process of articulating what the discovery of her husband’s use of pornography represents to her. That in itself will help her to take stock of and validate her heartache, and clarify what she may choose to do about the boundaries in her marriage.
Women need, first and foremost, to have their hearts heard. A caring counsellor can begin to model God’s heart for her hurting heart. The work parallels any grief process, as women identify their losses and feel their feelings. As the shock and denial wear off, anger and depression play alternating central roles. A safe place to process these sometimes extreme emotions is essential. In the weeks and months after the discovery, she needs permission to be wherever it is she is at on the intense roller-coaster of emotions.
A wife needs to know the truth that this is not about her. No one is responsible for another’s choices and behaviour – we are each responsible before God for our own actions. It follows, then, that no one can control another’s choices and behaviour. Regardless of the husband’s choices, even regarding recovery and healing, the wife must take responsibility to keep herself safe – whatever that looks like – and to persist in her own healing journey.
A woman needs to know the truth that God loves her deeply and wants to tend to her heart. He wants to restore to her an accurate sense of her worth and dignity in Him. Only in Christ can a woman gain freedom from the pain of betrayal and grow in spite of it. As she releases her husband’s journey to God, more will become clear about where God wants to heal her and what He desires for her. This is an ongoing process, which can deepen intimacy with God in unimaginable ways. Women need to know they cannot think themselves out of their pain and into a better marriage. Instead, healing comes as heartache and brokenness are brought to the cross. God is in the business of healing. Typically, hearts are healed before marriages.
Women need to know they cannot do this alone. Fellowship with the Lord Jesus, company with a spiritual director, work with a counsellor, processing with fellow wives in recovery, and finally, couple counselling, are all possible elements of the journey.
In summary, your husband’s betrayal through pornography use is not about you! There is no quick fix. God is for you! He longs to heal your heart and have a closer relationship with you. Let Him be your safe place, the One who knows your deepest needs and your heart’s desires for yourself, your husband and your marriage. Make Him your chief goal. Therein lies hope.
Louise Madill, MA, RCC, works for Focus on the Family Canada part-time and maintains a private practice in Vancouver, BC.
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