Kaylee* ran her arm across her husband’s side of the bed and wasn’t surprised to find it empty at 3:15 a.m. For many years her husband, Jackson, struggled with insomnia, and he often read or played internet games until he was sleepy enough to come back to bed. Whenever she stirred awake to check on him, he usually urged her to go back to bed so at least one of them could get a full night’s sleep.
On this particular night, Kaylee got up to search for her husband. She didn’t find Jackson reading in his chair in the family room. Instead, she saw a sliver of light under his office door—the light of his computer.
Without knocking, she quietly entered the room. Jackson’s back was to the door. Kaylee had a full view of his computer. The sexual images she saw on his computer screen shocked and sickened her.
“Jackson!” she gasped.
Instantly he hit the close button, whirled around and shouted, “Why are you sneaking up on me?”
Kaylee whispered, “I only wanted to see if you were OK.”
She closed the door—angry, stunned and emotionally dazed.
The road to healing
Healing a marriage after the damage of a pornography addiction is no simple matter. By design, a healthy marriage requires faithful commitment from both parties. The same goes for healing a broken marriage—both spouses must take specific steps to restore their relationship.
If you’ve discovered your spouse is looking at pornography or has been sexually impure in other ways, you may feel as if the floor has dropped out from beneath your feet. On the surface, you may be functioning pretty well—intact marriage, healthy children, steady job and busy family life. Perhaps no one would suspect that your household has been devastated by the impact of such actions. But the truth is that your stability has been shaken, and you are scrambling to hold everything together.
Seeing your spouse’s heart
A second couple, Randy and Marcia, sought counseling for Randy’s battle with pornography addiction and the negative effects of porn.
“I told her I was sorry, and I meant it.” Randy gave Marcia a sheepish look, and then turned to the therapist. “It’s been months since I looked at pornography. We’ve attended these sessions for weeks now. How much longer is this going to take?”
“It will take as long as it needs to take,” said the therapist. “But the more you pressure Marcia to trust you, the more difficult it will be for her. You have to see things from her perspective. Your long-term behavior cut her to the core. You’ve got to patiently and humbly follow a recovery plan that shows heart-level transformation and new, sincere relational skills, not merely a brief behavior change.”
The therapist gestured toward Marcia. “If she is to have a fighting chance to heal, you will have to establish accountability and get the support of a trusted men’s group along with our couples’ counseling. It’s not safe for her to completely move on until she experiences a long-term trajectory of your behavior change.”
Marcia folded her arms and nodded. The therapist’s gaze shifted in her direction.
“As for you, Marcia,” she said, “as far as I can tell, Randy is beginning the path of repentance and healing. At some point you, too, have a choice. Your job is to hold goodwill in the journey and rightly evaluate his ‘trust deposits.’ You need to fairly recognize what is occurring in your husband’s life and acknowledge it, if in fact he is making true and sincere investments.”
Rebuilding trust takes time
Trust is fluid, like a river. It flows based on how consistently it’s fed. It takes daily input to keep trust at a healthy level. When a spouse discloses a pornography issue, trust dries up. To fill it again, the individual must show trustworthiness through observable actions.
The good news is that just as a water source can transform a dry creek into a flowing stream, restoring trust through heart-invested actions will eventually help build a thriving relationship. Over time, you and your mate will experience moments of relief and refreshment. But it takes more than just a few weeks for that trust to be replenished. Most often, it takes a number of years of steady growth for a marriage to reach the point where a full and unwavering trust is in place. When this happens, it’s the result of consistent accountability and sharing heart to heart through many transparent conversations.
It takes two
Both of these couples had to learn that neither spouse could expect the other spouse to do all the work to heal their marriage. They were going to have to work in tandem for their relationship to be restored.
In these stories, the husband’s responsibility was to initiate actions of trust, to live in a trustworthy way and to assure his wife that his behavior really had changed. This included a variety of actions that ensured fidelity and proved long-term commitment to recovery.
For instance, many recovery groups assist individuals in developing a list of boundaries and overt safety plans to help them battle temptation. They agree to abide by these specific points and check in with their counselor and supportive members in their circle. If they slip up or experience intense temptation, they discuss it with their recovery partners and decide how to better respond in the future. This journey to restoring trust does not happen overnight.
Build trust through action
With your input, your husband can learn which actions are most meaningful to you and help build your trust. These might include your husband making a quick phone call or sending a selfie that proves his whereabouts. It may be holding to computer or phone restrictions for a time. Other steps might be downgrading technology, deleting problematic social media accounts, cutting off or minimizing risky relationships or even changing jobs. Typically, the struggler needs help and support in learning these steps and courageously taking them.
We typically recommend that wives insist on these nonnegotiable trust-building actions for recovery to begin: Your husband offers full transparency with his digital devices and social media; he seeks male support and accountability and he seeks professional counseling.
For you as the wife, your responsibility is to be willing to receive and accept your husband’s trust-building efforts. Do so without gullibility or turning a blind eye. But acknowledge if he is making true and sincere investments in your marriage. Even if his record is imperfect, you can be assured that your relationship is important to him if he is sincere and consistent in following through with his recovery plan as soon as struggles arise.
Moving toward reconciliation
If you are not open to forgiveness or reconciliation, your spouse’s work in earning your trust will not be meaningful to you. Likewise, if you don’t take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually, you will be unable to recognize or receive even your mate’s best efforts of reconciliation. You will not have the energy to see the changes in behavior. At that point, both of you will be more likely to give up on your marriage.
Of course, you’ve been through a lot. You will need time to process your pain and loss before you can expect to reconcile. But when you are ready to move toward recovery, your steps should include nourishing your spiritual life, working with a professional counselor, taking care of your physical needs and seeking the help of a specialized support group.
You’re facing a difficult but potentially rewarding road ahead. With patience, the process of rebuilding trust is doable. As a couple matures through recovery, they often witness each other’s hard work and dedication to repair the relationship, and in turn experience hope. Restoration of a marriage is truly possible—perhaps even building a relationship better than it was before! •
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
We’re Here to Help
We can guide you as you take your first steps toward recovery. Focus on the Family offers a one-time, complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. To reach a licensed or pastoral counselor, call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time or email us at [email protected].
No Porn Marriage Podcast
Whether you have struggled with pornography or have been hurt by your spouse’s addiction, this series hosted by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley will help you start a journey toward healing and find freedom in God’s grace FocusOnTheFamily.com/NPM.