If you are a woman who has any leadership role at all in a local church or ministry, chances are great that other women will think of you if they need to talk to someone during a time of crisis. As a pastor’s wife, I have had women come to me with everything from parenting questions to requests for Bible study recommendations. Some of the most heartbreaking moments, though, have come when women have come to me in tears asking for help after finding out that their husbands have an addiction to pornography.
I listen to these women, and my heart resonates with every word they say. I don’t just hurt for them, I hurt with them—because I, too, have been in their shoes. I know what it’s like to pull up a browser history and sit in numb shock at the list of websites that appears. I know what it’s like to listen to my husband confess yet again that he has given into the sin of lust. I know what it is to watch him out of the corner of my eye when we go out, wondering if he is attracted to the women who walk by. And I know what it is to feel shame over my own body, assuming that if I were skinnier or prettier, then he would not be tempted to look elsewhere.
As I have dealt with this battle in my own life, and as I have struggled with trying to help others while hurting privately, the Lord has helped me gain a few key insights that may be helpful for you if you are ever in the position of counseling a wife through this hurt or if you are ever the hurting wife yourself. Any type of counseling involves both listening and talking, so here are a few ways you can listen well to a hurting wife and a few things she might need to hear from you.
How to Listen Well
1. Focus on her story, not someone else’s.
The word pornography immediately brings up images in our minds that may or may not be true in every case. You may have known other men addicted to pornography. You may be married to one yourself. But every story is different, and you must make sure you are not interjecting another story into hers.
Her husband may be involved in some of the more explicit forms of pornography, or maybe his struggles wouldn't even be labeled pornography by some. Some men need intensive, long-term counsel, and some just need a friend or mentor providing accountability. He may have confessed on his own and is actively fighting this sin, or he may have gotten caught and is not repentant at all. It’s important to try to get an accurate picture of the situation so that your counsel can be effective. To be clear, you do not need to know details. You just need enough general information to be able to provide or enlist the best help for that situation.
2. Be a safe place for her to talk about something that is most likely very difficult for her to share.
I went years without ever talking to anyone because I was so ashamed for anyone to know. Pornography is one of those sins that is so hard to bring into the light because it carries a weight of shame that many other sins just don’t carry. So if a wife has come to ask for help, there’s a very good chance she is embarrassed and needs you to respond to her with love and support, not shock and horror.
She may have really struggled with wondering if she is betraying her husband by sharing with you. When I did finally open up to a few ladies about my story, I was scared they would think my husband was a terrible person. You may be legitimately surprised or even shocked to hear her story, but you must communicate love and grace if you want to be any help at all to this wife and her family.
3. Let her tell you how she feels, which may or may not be how you expect her to feel.
Many women will feel devastated, heartbroken, angry, scared, ashamed, or any combination of these. However, I once counseled a woman who was in a relationship with a man who struggles with pornography. She asked, “Is it a bad thing that I don’t feel more hurt by this?”
She was able to see his sin as independent of herself and was not taking it personally. However, so many people she had talked with expected her to feel heartbroken, and she was starting to think something must be wrong with her. So we need to really listen to what a woman is feeling and thinking without assuming we already know. She needs to be able to communicate those emotions to you. Only then can you meet her where she is and begin to help.
So You’ve Listened. Now What Do You Say?
1. Preach the gospel to her.
More than practical help or even a listening ear, she needs to hear the gospel as it applies to her situation. If her husband is a believer, remind her that even this sin is covered by the blood of Christ. Help her remember that Christ died to break the strongest chains (even chains of addiction) and that with the help of the Holy Spirit, there is hope for her husband to walk in victory. If he is not a believer, remind her that his greatest need is Christ even above the need to stop looking at pornography. Show her that her worth and identity are rooted in Christ and His love for her, not in anything her husband does.
2. Remind her of grace.
Remind her that she, too, is a sinner in need of grace. When I realized that there were sins in my own life that followed the same pattern of temptation, indulgence, shame, and remorse, it really helped me to start looking at my husband with eyes of compassion instead of hurt.
Suddenly I could empathize with his battle. If he is a believer, help his wife to remember that he is also her brother in Christ and is struggling with sin and needs grace in much the same way that she does. Also, help her see God’s grace working in the situation. Is her husband repentant? Did he confess on his own? That’s grace. Has God protected him from progressing as far down the road as this sin could take him? That’s grace. Is he willing to fight this sin? That’s grace. There is grace to be found even in the most desperate situations. Help her find it.
3. Help her to respect her husband.
Even when he has sinned against her in this way, she is still called to respect him. As she processes through her emotions, she may speak disrespectfully of him or disclose some ways that she has been treating him disrespectfully.
I’ve talked with women who responded to their husbands’ confessions by taking their phones away and refusing to allow them access to any of their computers or media. There may be some similar steps that need to be taken. My husband has used filtering and accountability software, and we have a passcode on Netflix that only I know. However, these are steps that need to be decided mutually.
Help her remember that she is his wife, not his mother, and it is disrespectful for her to treat him like a disobedient child. Also, she may need a gentle rebuke if she is speaking disrespectfully about him or to him. It’s very easy to lash out at the one who has hurt us, but she must be very careful not to sin against him in her response to his sin.
4. Tell her that his sin is not about her.
My husband was first exposed to pornography in middle school and was addicted before I even met him. By the time we were newly married, when I first started finding out about it, he had been entrenched for more than a decade. But I still thought it must be my fault. If I were prettier, skinnier, and could satisfy him more completely, he wouldn't struggle.
These were lies, but I believed them. And almost every other woman I’ve talked to has believed them as well. My husband told me over and over that his sin was not about me, but I refused to believe him. Again, it was only when I saw that the pattern of his sin was so similar to the pattern of sin in my own life that I began to realize he was telling the truth. This sin had a hold over him that had nothing to do with how much I weighed.
Repeat the truth over and over to her—his sin is not about her. Unfortunately, sometimes he may tell her that it is her fault. Don’t let her believe this. He is responsible for his own body and his own sin. Nothing she has done in their relationship gives him an excuse to sin in this way. His sin is not about her.
5. At the same time, encourage her to
avoid withholding intimacy from him.
This is a very delicate conversation to have. A wife who feels betrayed and hurt by a husband who has been unfaithful, even if only with his eyes, is not likely going to be in the mood for intimacy. He needs to be patient and understanding with her in her hurt, and in some cases, a more extended time of abstinence may be wise.
However, God created both men and women with a desire for sexual intimacy, and He created marriage in part to provide a safe and holy place for those desires to be met. If she is refusing to meet that need in her husband, gently help her see that she is not loving him well and that she is likely making his struggle for purity more difficult. It’s not healthy or loving for her to use sexual intimacy as a punishment or reward for his current level of victory.
Help her see that God can give her the grace to be intimate with her husband even when she may not feel like it. She needs to see that sexual intimacy is a source of ministry and comfort in a marriage. It bonds a wife and her husband like nothing else can. This act that she feels like she never wants to do again may be the very thing that starts the healing process. Encourage her to ask God to help her be intimate with her husband, and remind her that God can redeem a marriage devastated by pornography.
6. Finally, pray with her.
Let her hear you intercede on behalf of her heart and her marriage. Let her hear your affirmation of God’s power to heal and restore what has been broken. Thank God for her husband and her marriage and for the work He is doing. Pray that her husband would gain victory over this sin and walk in purity and that he would desire Christ above all fleshly desires. Pray that she would be a wise and loving helper for her husband and that God would heal her hurts and help her speak truth to herself. Pray for protection from the enemy. Thank Him for the cross, which breaks all the bonds of sin in a believer’s heart. Let her hear you pray these prayers of hope over her.
She may not be ready to hear all of these things at once. It may take much time and patience. But if she receives compassion from you and knows she is loved by you, then God can use that to keep the door open for you to continue helping her.
Keep Your Eyes on Christ
The tragic reality is that pornography is becoming easier and easier to access at younger and younger ages. You may actually end up using much of these helps to counsel the mother of a child addicted to pornography as more and more teens and even children are exposed. The statistics are alarming, and one thing we can assume from them is that women's leaders will be approached with these stories more and more. Our hearts will break and we may be tempted to despair, but let me leave you with one encouragement from Scripture.
At the end of a long list in 1 Corinthians 6 of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, including the sexually immoral and the adulterer, Paul says: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
As you minister to these hurting women, do not despair. Their hope, their husband’s hope, your hope, and our hope is in Christ, and He alone has the power to transform. I can testify to His faithfulness to me over the years and to His power to help my husband finally walk in victory. Keep your eyes on Christ, and point hurting women to do the same.
This article originally appeared on ReviveOurHearts.com. Used with permission.
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com
Publication date: June 23, 2017