Responding to Your Husband's Secret: Porn

distressed husband wife in the background
Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Thinkstock (Models for illustrative purposes only)

Several years ago while my husband, Greg, and I were teaching at a marriage seminar, we had an evening break and decided to grab some dinner and go back to our hotel to watch a movie. This is our typical plan for an evening off — to enjoy each other — but that night our conversation took us in a much different direction.

As we sat in our car in the drive-thru at a local restaurant, Greg and I began talking about one of his recent trips with two of his male colleagues. I had heard from one wife that apparently there had been some "interesting" conversation on the trip and the guys talked about their biggest struggles in marriage. So, of course I couldn't wait to hear what my husband had shared — or could I?

What's his secret?

Waiting in the drive-thru, I suddenly remembered the conversation with my friend and thought it would be the perfect time to ask Greg what he had shared with the guys. His face blushed, and he began to do a lot of hemming and hawing. I continued to push — and then Greg made the qualifier: "If I share with you, you have to promise you won't freak out!" I couldn't imagine what would be so bad that I couldn't control my emotional response, so I agreed and the conversation continued.

Then Greg explained, "What I shared was … Occasionally I look at pornography." And my heart sank. I had agreed not to freak out — but freak out I did. I'm not sure what was racing faster, my heart or my mind. The questions I suddenly had were too numerous to count. And just then the drive-thru window opened and an innocent teenage bystander witnessed the super uncomfortable scene being played out in our car. I'm sure it was as awkward for him as it was for us as we sat in complete silence — although I was anything but silent inside.

Maybe you have found yourself on the receiving end of a conversation similar to this one. I feel for you — it's no fun. However, Greg and I have learned some things as we've walked through this difficult, honest and authentic place in our marriage. If you recently discovered that your husband is viewing pornography or you have dealt with it in the past, I encourage you to continue reading.

What do I do now?

As we drove in silence back to our hotel room, I wasn't sure what to say or do. I knew I didn't want to regret what I said in the heat of the moment, so I decided the better route was to remain silent for now. I told Greg that we would talk but I just couldn't do it right now. I could tell he was heartbroken.

I had so many emotions swirling around that I wasn't sure what to do first. What I did know was that I loved my husband — but I felt very betrayed. I never dreamt this was happening in our home.

Although Greg claimed that viewing pornography was only happening occasionally, I needed to know what fit his criteria of "occasional." Later that night as my heart began to soften, I started asking Greg questions: "How often was this happening?" "What did I do wrong?" "Was he unfaithful in our marriage?" "Why hadn't he told me before?" "What else was he hiding from me?" The questions just kept coming — and the conversation began.

It was not an easy conversation. And no, I didn't handle myself as well as it sounds in written form. I cried, I raised my voice and I questioned the past 20 years of our married life. But, we talked — openly and honestly. It was the beginning of a new level of intimacy in our marriage. The conversation was not done that night; in fact the conversation continues several years later. It is ongoing and it isn't always a neat and tidy conversation tied up with a perfect little bow.

What's next?

When you discover that your husband has been secretive and hiding a sexual sin like pornography, it will be difficult to hear and it can leave most wives feeling nauseous, betrayed and unloved. You may feel angry, bitter or invalidated. You may feel a myriad other emotions all at the same time, but I encourage you to allow your heart to fully grieve.

I will caution you, however, to be careful with how you express your emotions because you don't want to further damage your relationship with belittling accusations or name-calling. Yes, it is devastating to hear that your husband has been choosing to view pornography, but you also have a choice in the situation. How will you respond to this discovery? Let yourself experience all of your feelings and then talk to a counselor, write about them in a journal or talk with an agreed upon trusted mentor or friend.

How will we ever recover?

Recovery from this discovery will take some time. It will be an ongoing process. Trust has been broken, and a major issue has surfaced. Although I know I cannot control Greg, I have learned that I can control myself, so I have dug deep to grow and learn through this painful time. James 1:2-3 promises that growth is possible as a result of trials: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

Here are some tips for you — from me — as you walk this road of recovery with your husband:

• Don't jump to conclusions. When confronted with pornography in your marriage, it's easy to let your mind race to catastrophic places. Try to listen. Seek to understand the facts and your husband's feelings. Although I know that this process is not easy, I believe that you can do it with the strength of Jesus.

Regardless of my sin, Jesus has continual patience and an enduring love for me. Jeremiah 31:3 reminds us that God says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love." Knowing how God loves me, I ask Him to give me that same kind of patience and love for my husband.

• Discern your husband's heart. Is your spouse repentant or defensive? Is he angry that he got caught or is he heartbroken over his choices? Does he want to get help? The apostle Paul reminds us: "Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Exploring these heart issues will allow you and your husband to determine the best path to take for healing.

• Agree upon who will be involved in your healing process. When you discover your spouse has been struggling with a "secret sin," it must be handled with grace. This specific sin tends to be one that is difficult for couples to talk about because there's a deep level of emotional safety needed before sharing that part of your heart. No one wants to display his or her sin — I know I sure don't!

So, who will be allowed into this intimate place of your marriage? Maybe it's a mentor, counselor or pastor. However, a good rule of thumb is to involve only those who are or have potential to be a part of the solution. I understand that you need to have a safe place to express your feelings, but this doesn't need to be part of your next Facebook post for all to see. Keep in mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:15, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."

• Show understanding without condoning the behavior. After doing some research and then talking to many of my friends about this issue, I have discovered that Christian women are occasionally led to believe they are to forgive their husband and just move on. However, you and I both know that couples cannot just move on. As believers we are called to forgive our spouse, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are consequences to poor choices. A husband's choice to view pornography leads to a wife's feelings of betrayal, a break in trust and a need to get help. Tolerance is not an option here. Although my eyes have been opened to the vast array of temptations my husband is met with each and every day — and this gives me a clearer understanding of his struggles — I refuse to condone the behavior. Greg and I both recognize that we cannot excuse what he was doing.

I personally believe that the Enemy is out to destroy the oneness God intended for a married couple. He recognizes the power of a unified couple seeking Jesus with all their hearts, so it's essential that we show Satan we are willing to fight for unity in our marriage. Ephesians 4:3 says we are to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," so I have decided to stand in unity with my husband in order to battle the Enemy who loves to tempt him.

• Focus on communicating your feelings, concerns, thoughts and expectations with your spouse. It is normal to feel fearful when your husband shares his secret about pornography — your world has been rocked. However, it's best if you can communicate honestly without attacking, shaming or threatening. Be clear about what you need and expect in your relationship, remembering that: "If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).

If you are unable to communicate with your husband in a healthy nonthreatening manner, please seek the help of a Christian counselor. Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to help you and your family. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.

As you walk this very difficult road, I encourage you to see this experience as an opportunity to strengthen your marriage. Although it is nothing I would have signed up for, this trial has provided a place for growth and greater authenticity in my relationship with Greg. It's built a stronger foundation in our marriage and led to personal growth in both of us. I encourage you, one wife to another, to continue to fight for your marriage. Although that commitment can be difficult when your spouse reveals his struggle with porn — and it will look different in every scenario — through God's strength, you can be led to a new place of intimacy with your husband and with your heavenly Father.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. — James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Erin Smalley is a co-author ofThe Wholehearted Wife and serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family.

© 2016 Focus on the Family. From Focus on the Family website at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

You Might Also Like: