I don’t have a husband; I am a husband. But I was asked to write an article for the wife who just found out that her husband is watching porn. What advice or counsel would I give to the woman whose life has just likely been turned upside down. Let me say that I am not a licensed counselor. This is simply pastoral advice from a pastor’s heart.
Here is the issue: if you caught him watching (or having watched), it is different than if he confessed it to you. If you caught him there are probably two scenarios that may play out. If he confessed it to you, there are probably two different scenarios for why he did so. If you caught him, whether going through browser history or catching him red-handed, it means that he either 1) wasn’t ready to tell you because he was ashamed, or 2) enjoyed what he was doing that he wanted to keep doing it as long as he could get away with it. Number 1 (shame), may initially come across as “I didn’t want to hurt you.” That might have something to do with it, but in reality it is pride. He didn’t want to feel badly for hurting you. That sounds selfish, but pornography is the epitome of selfishness. It is simply one way (albeit a major way) of exposing a prideful, selfish heart. Number 2 is self-explanatory. The problem with catching rather than confessing is that he is not yet ready to deal with his problem. Perhaps, if he is ashamed and being confronted, he might get ready, but at present he is not.
That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. Pornography has underlying issues–issues of which neither you nor he may be aware. Putting up blockers or accountability sites, while necessary, are not going to get rid of the underlying issues. Encourage him to get counseling.
If he confessed to you: 1) it very well may be that he is ready for help, or 2) that he was simply a jerk and trying to hurt you. If it was during a heated argument that he brought it up, he may have been trying to hurt you. If it was a “we need to talk” type of confession, it probably means he is ready to get help and as painful for you as it might be, he desperately needs that first moment of help to come from you. Christian men who are steeped into pornography feel alone. Even though statistically speaking more than half of church-going men confess to pollsters that they struggle with pornography, it still is a lonely, private, dark, shameful matter for the individual. If he confesses to you, it means that he is trusting you and is very well aware that he could be rejected. But is hoping that after an initial rejection, your love for him will bring you back to help.
Here are a ten realities to keep in mind if this is happening to you now:
- It isn’t your fault. No matter what he says, this isn’t your fault. He chose to look at pornography. It was his decision. At any time he could have said no, but didn’t. From the fall, people have tried to shift blame onto someone else because they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions. When God approached Adam about his sin, his response was simply that this woman whom God gave to him gave him the fruit and he ate. Don’t let him blame you. It isn’t that you aren’t his fantasy girl or that you don’t give him enough sex or the type of sex he wants. It has nothing to do with looks or age or weight. It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t allow him to blame you either.
- It isn’t something you can fix. It is easy to think that you can become what your husband needs. Since the problem is an issue of the heart, then the answer is heart-transformation. That’s not something you can do directly. That means that more sex, different positions, role-playing, and such is not going to keep him away from pornography. Remember, since it isn’t your fault, it isn’t your fix. I said directly, because you can indirectly help him. You can pray for him and pray with him. But if he is a believer, then this is a sanctification issue which mainly involves God and the individual. Accountability partners, wives, family, and friends can indirectly help in the process, but the main participants are the Holy Spirit and your husband.
- It isn’t God’s fault. Adam said, “This wife you gave me.” Not only did he blame Eve, he blamed God. Very few people go around saying, “this is all God’s fault.” It’s much more subtle. “I must have been born this way.” “I’ve asked God to change me but he won’t.” “When God is ready, he’ll make me better.” James makes it clear that God cannot be tempted and God tempts no one to evil (1:13). No one deserves the blame except the porn-watcher/addict.
- God can fix it. You and your husband are not left to your own devices; God is at work. As Paul wrote to the Philippians that they were to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in them to will and to work to his good pleasure. Two quick thoughts: 1) this salvation is not the getting right with God salvation, but rather the becoming holy salvation. We are to work out our holiness. 2) God is at work in your husband (if he is a believer) to will (desire, wish, want) God’s desires, wishes and wants and to work. God is not only working in your husband the desire to change, but also is giving him the ability to work on it and at it. The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That is why we are called to pray. Upon praying, we are to then act. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
- There are underlying factors behind the watching. I know I’ve already stated this, but it needs to be restated. Most likely pornography is only one way that this heart-issue is expressing itself. For example, if your husband constantly seeks approval from you or others, if he gets depressed or stand-offish when not receiving the accolades he wants, or something similar, it could be that he is watching pornography because the heart issue is one of the need of approval. The need for approval could then manifests itself in various ways, one of which is pornography. This is only one example, but there are many more reasons out there. (Also, not every man seeking approval is looking at pornography, but some looking at pornography may be seeking approval).
- Blockers, filters, accountability sites, and accountability partners are not enough. Because number 4 is true, number 5 is true. Because the issue is one of the heart and not one of the eyes, then all the external dealings are not going to be the solution. They may help buy some time while he deals with the heart, but they are not an end in and of themselves, but a means to an end, and only one means among many that will be needed. Thus, get counseling for him and for you. You both need healing.
- Pornography can be an addiction. Often times, people who don’t have an addiction don’t understand this. They see this strictly as a sin issue. It is a sin issue, but it is also an addiction issue. I’m not a neurologist, but here is what I know. The brain is something like one of those snap-on electrical toys that kids can get. They make connections from point “A” to point “B.” The brain does the same thing. What an addiction does is reroute a normal circuit of electrical impulse in the brain. The more often the pornography is viewed, the stronger the circuit becomes. This is why it is easy to go from lingerie catalogs as a kid to nude pictures to soft-core to hard-core. Those impulses need more “juice” which means newer content. Here’s the thing: one cannot (almost 100% of the time) just take scissors and cut the electrical wire–metaphorically speaking. It’s too thick of a wire. What almost always happens is that there needs to be rewiring in the brain once again. That circuit will be thin. Electrical impulses will still want to go through the great big wire in the brain rather than the newly created thin wire. However, the more one can reroute the impulses to that circuit, the stronger it gets and the weaker the other wire becomes.
It should go without saying that it takes patience, time, endurance, and understanding. Often times, relapses will happen which will be devastating to you both. At those moments, confession and repentance need to be made, and the journey starts again.
- I would suggest reading two books that will help you understand and work through this issue–both you and your husband: Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers and Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester. Wired is a great resource to help understand the neurological side of the issue. It is good for both you and your husband to read. It is not to be used as an excuse, “See, I can’t help myself,” but as a help, “now I know what to expect as I pursue purity and holiness.” Window is a wonderful resource for those seeking to get out. Tim Chester has written very candidly (very candidly) about pornography, but not in a sexual manner that would stir up those electrical impulses. Read the introduction; don’t skip it! This book is very convicting for the porn-user, but also hope-filled. Both books are worth the read.
- Your feelings of devastation are valid feelings. He has betrayed your trust by breaking his covenant vows and lying. You have every right to be angry, hurt, heart-broken, confused, alone, distrusting, or lost. I’m sure some of you are feeling emotions I haven’t described, or even emotions you don’t know how to explain because they are so complex and jumbled at the moment. They are normal, they’re real, and they’re valid.
- His sin does not entitle you to sin. Some wives will want to try and “be” what the husband is watching. Other wives will have all these emotions within them and will want to lash out, seek vengeance, or punish their husbands. As the old saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” You will be responsible for your sins just as your husband will be held responsible for his own.
That being said, I know this may be hard to read at this moment, but you need to forgive your husband. As a believer we are forgiven and so we must forgive. I’m not saying it will be easy; most likely it won’t be. I’m not saying it must come today or tomorrow. There are so many emotions and questions and unknowns to fully work through it to fully get to a point of forgiveness. This is a moment of betrayal from your closest friend and lover. But scripturally speaking, we don’t get to decide who we will forgive and who we won’t. I would suggest that you start with simply praying for your husband. It is hard to stay angry when praying for someone (pray for, not against). Pray for yourself as well, that God would work forgiveness out in your heart. It will take time, but don’t allow his sin to cause you to sin.