Dear Dr. David,

I read the story of the woman whose husband struggled with, and fell into, pornography over and over again. My husband also struggles with pornography and I have chosen to tolerate it while he works through this. Every time he falls, every time he looks at pornography, he goes into this major guilt trip. Even though this seems normal, sometimes he beats himself up spiritually so badly it makes him cry. It hurts me deeply to see him like this, and he tries so hard to kick the craving to view pornography. 

I am wondering how I can help him beat this habit. I pray for him and lift him up to the Heavenly Father. I give him words of encouragement whenever I can, but it doesn’t seem to help for long. What else can I do? I feel so helpless and so useless to him when he struggles. When he needs me the most I feel like I am failing him. Is there any advice you can give?

~Sad, Useless Wife

Dear Sad,

I have written before about the tragedy of pornography and sexual addiction, but your letter speaks to a different issue—the hopelessness and guilt the mate of the addicted person feels. Not only does the sexual addict feel powerless to change, and tremendous guilt and remorse, but often the spouse feels some of the same overwhelming emotions.

Your letter certainly speaks loudly about the love you feel for your husband. However, your guilt is really false guilt. You are trying to do something that is out of your power to change. His sexual addiction is not your burden to carry. Reading Galatians 6:1-5 says you are to help him with burdens he cannot carry, while insisting he carry his own load.

Let’s examine what this means.

First, how can you really help him? Certainly praying for him is a wonderful first step. But, simply encouraging him to beat the tiger of addiction off his back will not help. We wouldn’t encourage our spouse to take aspirin for a seizure disorder; neither should we simply encourage a mate with an addiction. To stop there is to enable the dis-ease process to continue. We must insist that they take appropriate action. This will require specialized treatment, such as participation in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or church-sponsored groups such as Celebrate Recovery. He must be held accountable for changing his life, and lifestyle, so that recovery is possible.

Second, to insist he carry his own load means he must take appropriate action to heal from his addiction. Patrick Carnes, in his ground-breaking book, Out of the Shadows, predicts the kind of guilt your husband feels. Carnes notes that sex addicts go through cycles of preoccupation with the pornography (or other acting out behaviors), ritualization, compulsive sexual behaviors and finally, despair. Your husband can expect to feel more despair until he takes decisive action. You can expect to feel more despair if you try to treat an addiction without appropriate intervention.

So, instead of continuing in this cycle of addiction/ compulsion--acting out—despair—encouragement—addiction/ compulsion--acting out--despair, take stronger action. In my book, When Trying to Change Him is Hurting You, I emphasize that real change requires real action. Without significant action, and trusting God for the courage to change, you will always be discouraged. Trusting God for the courage and power to take decisive action, you will find victory.

Dear Dr. Hawkins,

I quite enjoyed your book, When The Man in Your Life Can’t Commit, and was so "hungry" for answers and insight into my three year relationship, that I read it in three days! This is miraculous for me!