Karen took a deep breath as she walked into the counselor's office for the first time; the air seemed to stick in her throat. After she had settled into the chair, the counselor smiled and asked her why she had come. Karen looked at her through tears and said quietly, "I’m having an affair and I don't know how to stop." Karen braced herself for the judgment that was sure to follow such an admission.
But the counselor looked at her with compassion. "I see,” she said. “Tell me more about it."
"Well, I'm a Christian,” Karen began, “and I know that what I'm doing is so wrong, but it feels like love. My husband is so mean to me, and we're completely disconnected. He always finds something to criticize me about, and we haven't had sex in years! I'm honestly not sure if he even likes me. I don't understand why this is happening. I just feel trapped."
Tears spilled from Karen's eyes. She went on, "I've pled with God over and over to change our situation, but nothing changes." Karen's shoulders slumped. "I never thought that I would do something like this. But when I met this other guy … he was so kind to me. It was so different than how my husband treated me, and it felt really good."
The counselor nodded. Karen felt encouraged to continue: "I just wanted to enjoy the attention, but then I started developing feelings for him. Then one day, I tried to initiate sex with my husband, and he refused me again. I got so angry that I drove to see the other guy and that was where the full-blown affair began. I try to end it, but I just can't seem to do it. Being with him feels like life, and being with my husband feels like death."
She summed up her feelings: "I love the Lord, but part of me is so angry that He has not helped me. I feel abandoned by Him, too."
Truth and life
When Karen started going to counseling, she didn't understand the deeper causes of the distance in her marriage. Karen and her husband, Bill, operated almost as roommates rather than husband and wife. The relationship lacked emotional closeness, affection and intimacy. While no excuse for an affair, the state of their marriage contributed to her vulnerability to another man's attention. She would soon discover that Bill had a problem with pornography, which was a big factor in his rejection of her.
Karen's needs were not met, though she had tried everything she could think of to improve the relationship with her husband. The other man made her feel beautiful, cared for and desired. She thought the affair would make her feel better; however, she soon found herself in a situation that was even worse than her previous one. Her heart was torn. The Bible talks about the wages of sin being death (Romans 6:23), and that's the kind of pain she had to endure as she finally and bravely ended the affair.
Honesty and openness
Karen was tired of pretending that everything was fine. She was miserable. She found a counselor whom she trusted to support her. She realized that she and her husband would have to be completely transparent and honest with each other. This meant getting guidance to disclose her affair and insist on talking about his pornography use. Karen didn't feel safe to do this on her own, so her individual counselor referred her to a marriage counselor, who specialized in helping with disclosure and facing these issues as a couple.
Karen was terrified but prayed hard and imagined Jesus walking into the marriage counseling room with her. With His strength, Karen told Bill about her affair. Bill was understandably shocked and hurt. However, in the structure and guidance of the counseling environment, he acknowledged that he had a role in her vulnerability to the temptation.
Karen and Bill had a long conversation about whether they wanted to stay married. When they both agreed to fight for the marriage, the healing began.
Karen learned that without honesty and vulnerability, having a real relationship was impossible. Each time she pretended that she was not upset and suppressed the deep longings she had for their marriage, she lost an opportunity for connection.
Karen slowly overcame her fear of confrontation by practicing authentic self-representation — she began to clearly, yet calmly, speak about the legitimate desires of her heart. Instead of her standard avoidant answers such as, "I'm fine" or "Nothing's wrong; I'm just tired," Karen started telling Bill what she was really thinking and feeling. This was uncomfortable at first, but the more she practiced, the easier it became.
As Bill started healing through his own counseling, his attitude toward Karen changed, and he became a safer person to whom Karen could risk opening up. Karen had not known if she could ever feel love for Bill again, but God softened their hearts as true communication happened. They continued marriage counseling and learned to work through their conflicts in a productive way.
Growth and healing
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, Karen was taught that it was not OK to feel, want or need. She had tried hard to shut off her legitimate desire and emotions for the sake of everyone else. She had not realized how much hurt and resentment she held inside.
Karen began to educate herself on what her counselor called "codependence" and started to understand the unhealthy pattern of people-pleasing that she had been living for so many years. She learned that there was a healthy balance and that it was OK to take care of herself, too. She discovered that as Bill also grew in maturity, he actually liked hearing her thoughts and feelings. Karen was validated, and finding her voice in her marriage felt good. She no longer had to pretend or keep secrets.
Karen was no longer trapped in shame and sin. She knew both God and Bill forgave her. She realized that God wanted her to make changes, knowing that He would provide the strength for each step. Karen and Bill's marriage was eventually restored, and they both grew emotionally through the process.Michelle Habel is licensed professional counselor candidate (LPCC) and has been providing therapeutic services to couples and adults since 2015.
A variety of issues can fuel habitual pornography use. Understanding the deeper needs of individuals affected by this common problem is important. Reach out to well-trained counselors, and if you are a married couple do so together. Deeper transformation and healing that leads to change are possible! Focus on the Family can guide you as you seek help. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.