The following is taken from Finally free: fighting for purity with the power of grace. Get a copy on Amazon.
1. Don’t Struggle Alone—Get Help
In addition to calling out to the Lord for his mercy and grace in time of need, you must seek the aid of wise Christians. Your situation will be filled with dozens of particulars that need specific wisdom beyond the generalities of any book. You will need others to help sort through them. The idea of reaching out to others for help may make you nervous. You may think you can handle this alone, or you may feel too embarrassed to tell a pastor or close female friend. I urge you to think about this a bit more.
As you move toward reconciliation, there will be times when you are discouraged, angry, and drawn toward being unkind. You need people in the fight who will spur you toward right responses. One of the most important things you can do after you talk to God is to talk to a pastor or close female friend. Ask for their wisdom and prayers. Make sure someone is available who will reach out to you and will let you reach out to them when you’re struggling.
2. Deal with Your Emotions Biblically
If you’re like most people, you’ve been overwhelmed by a flood of emotion in the aftermath of your discovery. The emotions you’re experiencing are most likely some kind of anger or sadness. When you think of the betrayal you have experienced and the shock you have endured, you may even be dismayed by the depth of these feelings. There is a ton to say about understanding and dealing with these emotions from a biblical perspective, but I’ll mention two points for now.
If you are angry and sad that your husband viewed pornography, your feelings are appropriate. It may surprise you to hear this from me, but it is true. God’s response to sin is not neutral, and yours shouldn’t be either. God gets angry and sad over sin (see Hebrews 3:17). When we share these emotions, we show that our affections are in line with God’s. In fact, it would be a mark of wickedness for you to respond to sin with neutrality or happiness. In the midst of such a difficult situation, it is important that you understand the legitimacy of the strong emotions you’re experiencing, lest you place undue guilt on yourself for your appropriate response to the sin of your loved one.
There’s more to say about this issue, however.
It is legitimate to be angry and sad over sin, but this reality does not give you a blank check to respond any way you want. Though God responds to wickedness with anger and sorrow, he never sins. Your emotions will be like God’s when your anger and sorrow toward your husband are free from sin (see Ephesians 4:26).
Two principles can help ensure that your anger and sadness are righteous, thereby avoiding sin.
First, your anger and sorrow are sinful when they are unrestrained, so you must fight for self-control when you experience these emotions. If you’ve responded to your husband with screaming fits, cussing rants, spiteful threats to expose him to those he respects, physical violence of any kind, or intimations that you will keep him from his children, then you are sinning in your response to your husband. If you have been guilty of such reactions, you need to pursue the forgiving and transforming grace of Christ. If you know Christ, you are not a slave to your emotions. Christ himself can give you the grace to have righteous anger and virtuous sorrow when you ask him for these things in faith.
Second, your anger and sorrow are sinful when they keep you from being restored to your husband. Though God is angry and sad over sin, he seeks resolution. God moves to deal with his displeasure over sin through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. In a similar way, your strong emotions should lead you toward reconciliation and restoration rather than away from it. If your reaction has led you to avoid your husband for a prolonged period of time, then you need to begin to pursue the forgiving and transforming grace of Christ. You may feel as though restoration is a million miles away, but Jesus has power to get you there when you believe in him. It’s essential that you fight for restoration in your relationship with your husband.
3. Fight to Forgive
The call to move toward reconciliation leads to a critical step that you must take. Ultimately, you must forgive your husband for his sin. The apostle Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). For those who have been sinned against in dramatic fashion, this passage can seem like one of the most controversial in the Bible. The call on your life to forgive may seem overwhelming—even impossible. How can you forgive in the face of such pain? How can you pardon in the midst of such betrayal? You must forgive the way you have been forgiven in Christ. The Bible grounds the command to forgive in the forgiveness we have received from Christ.
We are to forgive others precisely because God has forgiven us. Sometimes it’s possible to believe that a refusal to forgive is a statement about the seriousness of the sin committed against you and is a holy intolerance of it. Though this can seem true, it really isn’t. Ephesians 4:32 teaches that no matter how terribly you have been sinned against, an ultimate failure to forgive is a failure to consider how much you have been forgiven.
Show me someone who refuses to forgive others, and I’ll show you someone arrogantly refusing to consider the number of sins for which God has forgiven them.
For many of you, the problem is not that you don’t want to forgive, but that you don’t know how to forgive. Paul is helpful in dealing with this issue as well. He tells us we are to forgive the way we have been forgiven in Christ.
It is critical to understand what this does not mean. God does not mean he forgets about our sin as though he develops some sort of divine amnesia. God has perfect knowledge of all things—past, present, and future. He knows the end from the beginning. When God says he doesn’t remember our sins, he’s not limiting his perfect knowledge. Instead he means he doesn’t remember our sins against us. God knows we sinned, but he does not allow that sin to impact his relationship with us.
Your forgiveness of your husband will be like God’s forgiveness of you when you extend grace to him and have a relationship with him that does not hold his sin against him. As your husband is fighting for grace-empowered change, you need to commit to moving toward a restored relationship in every area of your marriage. This restoration will not be immediate. The important thing at first is to be committed to getting there. After that, you need to work closely with the person helping you to plan a wise path forward with your husband as a married couple walking in forgiveness.
4. Confess Your Sins
Your husband is responsible for his sin of looking at pornography. You are not to blame for your husband’s sexual immorality. There is nothing you can do and nothing in the way you look that can force your husband to sin sexually since immorality comes from within his heart and not because of outward circumstances. It’s really important for you to know, however, that this is a sword that cuts both ways. You are not to blame for your husband’s sin, but neither is he responsible for yours.
In the aftermath of the disclosure of a serious sin like pornography, many women focus almost entirely on their husband’s sin and forget that they are sinners too. You must work against this tendency by humbly considering your own sin, and not just your husband’s. Have you responded with sinful emotions to your husband’s sin? Have you failed to forgive him? Did you fail to have an active sexual relationship with him before you knew about his problem? There is no expectation of immediate sexual restoration after you discovered his sin, but have you been guilty of withholding sexual affection for a prolonged period of time after he has sought forgiveness? You will never be at fault for your husband’s sin, but it is possible that you need to seek forgiveness for your own sin in these and other areas.
5. Be a Wife, Not a Cop
Chad and Stephanie began to take the journey toward restoration as a couple. Chad was repenting of his unthankful heart and growing in gratitude for Stephanie and in his integrity with God, his wife, and other people. His progress was not without problems, but he was changing. Stephanie was learning to forgive Chad for his failures and to seek forgiveness for her own sins. As they grew together, Stephanie was having a tough time trusting Chad. After the years of being in the dark regarding such a serious sin, Stephanie was determined not to get burned again. She became vigilant, always looking over Chad’s shoulder. She insisted on receiving the reports from his accountability software, constantly checked the browser history on his phone, and asked skeptical questions about women at his work. On one occasion she was unjustly suspicious that he was looking at pornography at work and insisted that he take a lie detector test to disprove her doubts.
Most people understand Stephanie’s struggle to trust her husband after his sinful abuse of confidence, but her response was doing more damage to their marriage. She never intended to make things more difficult. She was trying to deal with the problem in the only way she knew how. In spite of this motivation, there were two main problems with Stephanie’s response.
First, Stephanie’s efforts will never lead to a more trusting relationship with her husband. Stephanie’s constant investigations of Chad weren’t helping her learn to trust her husband; rather, they were helping her learn to trust in her ability to keep tabs on him. If you only believe your husband after seeing accountability reports and the results of lie detector tests, then you’re not trusting your husband. Instead, you’re trusting the reports and results.
Second, Stephanie was focusing on the wrong job. Chad did need accountability. He needed software that blocked porn on his computer. He needed a wise Christian mentor to ask him hard questions about his actions and desires. He needed all of these things and more, but she couldn’t be the one to give them.
So it is for you too. You need to focus on being your husband’s wife, not a cop enforcing purity in his life. You need to know and trust the person who is helping him, and you need to be confident about the accountability measures that are in place in his life. You need to be aware that he is seriously pursuing Christ, and you need to have access to speak with him and the person helping him when you have concerns. If you try to lead the accountability effort in his life, however, I promise it will have a corrosive effect on your marriage. Focus on being married to your husband. Pray for grace to draw near to him and pursue closeness relationally, spiritually, physically, and in every other way. Allow others to focus on enforcement.
In the early days, try running questions and concerns by the person helping you before you go to your husband with them. This person can help you evaluate how pressing your concerns are and whether they’re wise. For example, many women want specific details about the pornography their husbands were viewing. These kinds of details aren’t good to know. Though you may think it will be helpful, knowing them will only make reconciliation harder than it already is. Seek out wisdom from others on this and other matters.