Wifey Wednesday: Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then you all can link up your own below in the Linky!

I want to talk today about very difficult marriages, and let me begin with a story.

Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?
I know of of a woman whose husband had been involved with porn heavily for years. They had gone to counselors and he had said he would stop but he hadn’t. They had talked about it for years but nothing changed.

Finally, she told a few select people in her small group and the elders at her church, and the elders confronted her husband about this and told him that they were supporting the separation. The small group helped the wife to pack her things and helped her to get into another place to live. They are not divorced; they are separated. But she has tried everything else and it hasn’t worked, and now her church is backing her as she puts her husband in a situation where he has to choose: will I do the right thing and follow God? Or will I turn away?

This, I believe, is the biblical model. I have had other women on this site comment, saying something like:

My husband uses porn but he says there’s nothing wrong with it. I want to speak to someone at church, but I don’t know who to go to, and my husband says that he is the head of the house and I must submit. I’m lost.

That is not headship! That is a cop out.

Headship should never be used as an excuse to continue in sin, or to give you a cover so that you can lead a “second life”. There are times, I believe, when a spouse is so endangering his or her relationship with the family and with God that something must be done. And if nothing is done, then that spouse is giving cover to the sin.

Let me outline the three things I most commonly see in marriages that I believe warrant some outside intervention. I am not going to talk about affairs or abuse or substance issues because we all already talk about those widely in our culture and in our churches, and I hope there’s agreement that in these cases steps must be taken. But too many people think, “because my problem doesn’t fit into those categories I have to live with it and there’s nothing I can do.” Here they are:

1. Porn Use

A man (or woman) who uses porn is not only participating in a sin; he is wandering down a road that will destroy intimacy both with his wife and with God, and will ruin him as a father. It cannot be tolerated.

2. Withdrawal from Sex Altogether

In too many marriages sex has become almost non-existent. Usually when it’s the man who withdraws from sex porn is involved. Sometimes, though, it’s simply major pscyhological and emotional damage. Maybe there are homosexual tendencies, or maybe the man has so pushed down his sexuality because it’s threatening to him in some way that he becomes passive and asexual. Maybe she has so much psychological woundedness or anger that she withdraws.

Churches have sympathy for the wife who comes in and says “my husband uses porn”. They often don’t know what to do with a spouse who comes in and says, “my husband (or my wife) never has sex.”  It doesn’t seem like as valid a complaint. In fact, if it’s the man who is going in to ask for help, often the problem will be turned against him: “what did you do to chase your wife away?” Yet in my experience when a spouse completely withdraws from sex it is often not primarily that other spouse’s fault. It is often something psychological or spiritual going on inside the spouse who has withdrawn.

We were created for intimacy with another person. We are not meant to be lone rangers. If a spouse rejects sex, they are specifically rejecting community. And they are rejecting a huge part of themselves. Do you realize how huge this is? How big a deal this is spiritually and emotionally as well? This can’t be ignored, and a person who has become asexual must be confronted and told, “you need to get counseling”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having psychological trauma; there is something wrong with refusing to deal with it.

3. Financially Endangering the Family

I received an email from a wife recently who said this:

For the last four years my husband has refused to work. When he did work he often called in sick, and was always searching out ways to apply for disability. Now he just sits at home and watches TV and plays video games all day. He’s just a big slob. We lost our house and I’m working two part-time jobs to try to pay the bills, plus keeping the house clean and doing his laundry. He won’t work! What do I do?

A man who refuses to provide for his family, and who has become this lazy, also needs Christians to come alongside him and say, “put up or shut up”. This isn’t acceptable. I would say that the same would be true for a spouse who is consistently getting the family deep into debt with spending.

If your spouse is acting in such a way that they are denying a vital part of themselves and a vital part of the Christian life–like responsibility or intimacy or community–then doing nothing about it enables that spouse to avoid any impetus for spiritual growth.

Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing. (click to tweet!)

And yet all too often that is what we’ve done–we hate divorce so much that we ignore the other side: God does not want an army of wounded, damaged people. He wants wholeness. And so we must deal with people who are refusing to confront huge issues.

Note that I’m not talking about a difference in sex drives, or problems when one spouse won’t do any housework. I’m not talking about disagreements over child rearing or over the role of TV in the house. I’m talking about things that go to the very heart of who we are as people and what is our relationship before God. And these are issues which, if not dealt with, will continue to drive someone further away from God and further into darkness.

In the old days, brothers would come to support their sister and would give the husband a pounding. That doesn’t happen anymore. But churches need to fulfill that role.

In his book Rocking the Roles, Robert Lewis tells the story of an intervention at his church. A woman was married to a man who was consistently driving his family into deeper and deeper debt. She was working hard to try to keep the family afloat but she couldn’t manage it anymore because of his spending.

The elders came to the guy and sat him down and said, “we are going to help you make a budget. Then you are going to stick to it. You’ll report to one of us every week until this is all sorted out. And if you continue to overspend, we all will show up at the house with a moving van and we will help your wife get established with the kids in a house of her own until you come to your senses.”

They weren’t talking about a divorce; they were saying, “what you are doing is so unacceptable that you must stop. And if you won’t, you alone will bear the consequences because we will help your wife through this.”

This is what we need to expect from our churches. Now, elders should never do anything this drastic until they hear both sides of the story; but once that story is clear, if one spouse is consistently damaging the family and damaging his or her own spiritual life, then action simply must be taken. And just because they’re married is no reason to avoid taking that action.

I know most of my readers are women, and so let me talk to the women for a moment. Many of you leave heartbreaking messages on this blog about men who have turned their backs on the marriage, but won’t move out. They like someone taking care of the housework and taking care of the kids, and they like the benefits that marriage brings, even though they have rejected the intimacy and responsibility. Ladies, if you put up with this, you are enabling him to move farther and farther away from God. God did not create marriage so that we would have an excuse to not work on our issues.

So go to your church and find someone who will help you; who will sit down and talk to your husband, whether he likes it or not, to hear his side of the story. Someone who will walk you through an intervention process, if it is necessary (and in some cases it definitely is). And someone who will stand alongside your husband and give him the tools and help he needs to rediscover who he was made to be.

I know this is scary. When you rock the boat, you feel like, “if this marriage breaks up I’ve failed.” But you have not. And while divorce damages kids greatly, there are times when staying in a marriage does, too. Those times are rare, and please, don’t take these words as an excuse to leave your husband because he plays video games too much or won’t put stuff in the dishwasher. I’m not talking about normal marital disagreements. I’m talking about things where men (or women) have completely forsaken key elements of who they were designed to be. And in that case, your children need to witness health and wholeness and healing. So don’t stop until you find someone to help you!

Comments

  1. Sheila, I love this “Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing.”

    I love that you make it clear when to bring in outside intervention – cos there are too many people that’d love to bring it in for anything! I always think that difficult complex decisions like temporary separations should not be something a spouse does alone. There should be pastoral/mentor/elder counsel and support. Thanks for sharing this.

    ps there’s a linky problem (it’s not appearing) :)
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…My Top Posts For 2012My Profile

  2. Thanks Sheila,
    I think you alluded to this, but didn’t outright say that there are biblical authorities above the husband too. He may be the head of the wife, but if he is misbehaving and following a path of sin, there are biblically ordained authorities above his headship, ie) elders of a church, small group leaders for situations such as these.
    Emily recently posted…Tips for Hosting a Multi-Course Dinner PartyMy Profile

  3. Sorry about the Linky not being up! There seems to be an issue when you schedule a post ahead of time with “linkies” in it. When it publishes the linky disappears. It’s a conflict between “schedule” and WordPress, and I hope they resolve it soon. But the linky is now there!

  4. I’m wondering if there are many churches out there who would be willing to step up and do this…What the elders of that one church you mentioned did is amazing. Churches don’t seem to like to confront sin anymore. The rebuking and exhorting is left out…Sad…Does your church do this?
    Lori recently posted…Video Games, Golf, And TelevisionMy Profile

    • I’m not really sure if my church does this. I would hope it would. We’re just a small church. But churches NEED to do this. Churches say they’re in favour of marriage, but they often fail to take the concrete steps that are necessary to actually save and repair a marriage.

      • I have been in church my whole life and have never seen my church or heard of any other church step up and do anything like this until you wrote about it today.
        Lori recently posted…Video Games, Golf, And TelevisionMy Profile

        • I will say that I personally know the church in the first story that I told–about the husband who used porn. That church was really great to the woman, and is still also supporting the husband in that situation coming alongside him and trying to help him stop the porn use.

          • The church I grew up in definitely lived up to this. In fact, they put a woman and her daughter in a “safe house” for awhile, in another town, to protect them from an abusive husband.

            But the sad truth is, too few churches will follow through with Biblical church discipline. And too few of us are willing to submit to it. It can be uncomfortable to be in a church and be transparent, where people are going to actually “call” you on your sin! It certainly isn’t easy for me, anyway ;D But it’s GOOD.

            The goal of that kind of confrontation is repentance and restoration.

            I was thinking about this when you published your “Rocking the Boat” post a few days ago. We have to commit to developing those relationships so that we have people in our lives who know our character and our situation. Relationships take work! We have to invest ourselves in people.

            Julie
            Julie recently posted…The Woods In JanuaryMy Profile

  5. I grew up in a home where my mother withdrew from sex completely after having children, my father was always in debt & gambling, and used porn.

    I must say it was a psychological nightmare for me & my sister, who is still a teen living with our parents. God is still healing me of all the distorted ideas I had been raised to believe were a normal, healthy marriage/family/household.

    I grieve for the other children raised in these warped marriages, because they are just as damaging as divorces.
    Lil recently posted…PhotoMy Profile

  6. I am an adult child of Christian Divorced parents and the best thing my parents did for my sister and I was get divorced. I think Divorce is AWFUL, but since they were not going to or couldn’t get it together and model, not a perfect marriage, but a moderately healthy one, showing my sister and I that their marriage was NOT a healthy or God honoring formula was an absolute blessing. It was horrifying when our family did physically fall apart, but that was what it took for us to get the professional and spiritual guidance we needed. We are not in perfect marriages either, but we are married to our Best Friends and have learned how to work though issues honestly and prayerfully. Thanks!

  7. Heather P says:

    WOW!

  8. One of my best friends just found out that her husband has been cheating on her. Her church (an Evangelical Free denomination) has a very specific strategy that they follow in these kinds of situations and have provided her step by step guidance and support. It has amazed me, since my church (a Southern Baptist/non-denom) does not have this kind of step by step strategy. I wish we would. I think it would be a huge help because there are so many hurting couples in our churches. Thanks so much for the insight you’ve brought to this subject, Sheila!

  9. While I agree that churches should ideally be like this, I think in practise it would not be the case. With my ex-husband, we began counselling with the minister and an elder. Soon they said the problems were deeper than what they could handle and we should go to someone else with more qualifications/experience. Unfortunately they could not point to WHO or WHERE or WHEN we should go to this UNKNOWN person for assistance. In the end, my husband left and the pastor told me to “Go on welfare.” The local body did not help out financially or in any supportive role. I ended up falling for a non-Christian who said he would look after myself and my two kids. In hindsight I realize that wasn’t a good thing but I was desperate and grasping at straws. So now I am left to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences of bad choices. I do wonder what might have happened had we had better support/counselling initially. You don’t tell someone “Yes, you are drowning” and not throw out a proper lift preserver or turn your back on the drowning person. But that’s how I felt when I was going through it 6 yrs ago….

    • I’m afraid your situation is all too common, because most churches are not equipped to deal with this. Preaching and counseling are two entirely different skills/gifts, yet churches tend to hire the good preachers and ignore the counseling side. At least small churches do–there’s often no budget for anything else. And then we get into a problem like the one you’ve described, where churches are legitimately in over their heads, and don’t know what to do now. I think it comes back to priorities: churches need to recognize that they can’t really meet the needs of those in their congregations simply by stressing teaching. They also need to stress relationships and counseling, and put some money there, too.

      • I would like to add that a respect for confidentiality should be a priority as well. While the elders work as a team and may need to share information with each other, going beyond that and passing along details as “prayer requests” in various small groups is inappropriate.

        I loved the comment about the church that had a strategy in place to assist those who need it! As a starting place, it would be nice if those in leadership positions (not just pastors & elders but youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc) had some training in what to do if they are approached to assist someone with a personal issue – even if that’s just being able to identify when they are in over their head and need to refer somewhere else.
        Leanne recently posted…Mortgage tips for renewals and first-time buyersMy Profile

        • Very true, and very good thoughts! I find that the tension is that MOST people feel they are over their heads, but perhaps we’re professionalizing things too much? You don’t need to be a trained counselor to tell a guy “stop using porn”. But I think we now feel that in order to talk to people about their marriage we must have some sort of credentials, and so we stop doing it.

          I’m not saying there isn’t a role for counselors, but I do think that many things could be done by laypeople if we had some honest talk about what our role is and we’re able to do. Common sense stuff is still common sense, but in our society with so many lawsuits people have gotten so careful with saying anything that we just don’t help people enough anymore.

          I’m not sure what the solution is!

  10. Sheila, I love that you’re writing about this, but I wish you would write a little more about how women can confront each other in these areas. For instance, I know that porn use and men who don’t support their families probably weighs on your mind because it’s what women write in to you about, and I really love that you’re pointing them to the church and how the people in authority over their husbands should be handling it. It’s just that if you look around it’s easy to see there are lots of women who feel highly entitled, whose emotions rule over their families, and who either don’t like sex or turn it into a power play. In my life I’ve seen both. I’ve got a cousin in a tough spot with her husband and a mother who is, to put it succinctly, nuts. What steps should a husband/sister/friend do to challenge and restore a wife in that situation?

    • Natalie, that’s a very good point. I’ve written at length to women on how to focus on your husband’s needs, how to be a good wife, and how to not use sex as a weapon, but I haven’t written so much on how to confront a friend who is–as you put it–nuts.

      I guess one reason I haven’t written is because I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is. I did post a Reader Question of the Week a little while back on what to do when you think a friend has deep marriage troubles, but I haven’t written on what to do when you need to confront someone. Let me think that one over.

      I’m not sure there’s a great answer other than just, “talk to her about it and show her that she’s being unfair”, but honestly there isn’t a magical way to do that that will make her listen to you. I think being blunt and telling the woman that you will support her husband in this may be called for, but other than just “tell her she’s wrong” and “admonish her to do the right thing”, I’m not sure what else there is to say. The problem is that most of us are quite reluctant to confront because it’s so awkward. But there are times that we have to. And I think most of us are too worried about stepping into other people’s business that we perhaps don’t do it often enough.

  11. In days of old, when a husband used “head of the house” to justify sin or abuse, the woman’s father and brothers would come over and explain things to the husband. Words were not always the primary form of “explaining” but the message was usually received and followed.

    I am not suggesting we start looking for very large, strong elders, but standing by and letting a wife be wronged and abused is wrong, wrong WRONG. The chruch needs to do it’s job.
    Paul H. Byerly recently posted…Are you hangry?My Profile

    • That works fine for guys. I’m just not sure that the church knows what to do with women who are hurting their families. In my case my mom has emotional issues that stem from her mom. To a certain extent she really needs help and understanding. On the other hand she also really needed someone to tell her in no uncertain terms that she needed to get her head out of the sand and stop hurting her children with her out of control emotions and then be willing to enforce some level of consequences. And part of the problem is that my dad would probably have punched anyone who tried to tell her that…….(sigh)

  12. Thanks for the amazing post :) Absolutely so 100% honest and truthful! I also love your book the good girl’s guide to great sex! Absolutely amazing, I will be recommending it on my blog soon.
    Regina Cozad recently posted…Keeping the FaithMy Profile

  13. I am walking this walk. After 23 years and almost as many counselors, I realized I had no other options. I met my husband at the airport as he returned from a business trip and told him he could vacate by 7p that night or I would take our minor son to an out of state safe house. In the 3 mo since, life in my home has become almost blissfully peaceful. Both of my sons are so much less stressed as am I.

    He is hopeful that after a 6 mo trial separation, I will agree to a reconciliation. Sadly, I do not see that eventuality in our future. Fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me over and over and over…shame on me. I had to figure out that my relationship to God did not hinge on my husband living under my roof. God saw my despair and my desperate home for 23 yrs. Enough was enough. I am free.

    • Carol Anne, I’m glad God brought you to a place of peace. Yes, God hates divorce, but there are cases where it is necessary, especially when abuse is a factor (which it sounds like it was with you). I pray that you will continue to feel His presence with you and your sons, and that He will guide you in what to do now.

    • Sad to say I am really close to going down this path.
      In 2005 my husband gave up a well paid full time role to pursue his music ministry – 13 years and lots of music related expenses, later he is still make make a penny from it, and he has no other income.
      He also doesn’t do any housework or DIY, leaves it all to me. When I complain he agrues that the kids should be helping me with the housework, and for DIY (because he says he is a novice) he says we should hire people to do it, or I can do it – but he doesn’t like to it as he says I thinks I know how to do it better, which I don’t but I research a lot. I also work full time, we have three kids and all that goes with looking after them, I have become really bitter and withdrawn (he then lectures me about not withholding intimacy)…
      I think it may be better for all of us (inc the kids) if we seperate.
      The situation is not a good example to our kids seeing that Dad won’t do anything, just uses his busy “Music Ministry” as an excuse to leave all the work ()housework or DIY) and income providing to me.

      • Cecilia, I’m so sorry that you’re walking through this! Before you separate, though, I’d really advise talking to a pastor or someone who can come alongside your husband and talk to both of you. Don’t separate until you’ve done all that you can do–and that likely involves asking other people to help. I really pray that God will reveal to you the right people!

        • Thanks for your reply, Sheila.
          However when I mentioned to him that we should go get counselling, he says that God is able to get through to us Himself and tell us how to solve our issues and He doesn’t need us to go put out our dirty washing in front of strangers even if that is their job to council… (my husband is a great introvert)
          So really, what am I supposed to do?
          There was a time before when I called our Pastor over to talk – granted it was out of the blue, but I felt desperate – and my husband locked himself into the living room refusing to talk. It was so humiliating…

  14. My former church pastor met with my husband and me when he learned that I was filing for divorce. He met with us separately for an hour to find out what the grounds were for my filing, told me that he felt they were biblical but to be open to what God might be doing in my husband – so I filed and stayed open to what God was doing and my husband never sought counseling, not even one session, even though he gave lip service that he was trying to get back together with me.

    I know of two instances with my former church where they disciplined two women who were engaged in affairs while married. I do not know of any counseling they offered to either and they certainly did not offer any help to my husband or myself when we were going through our separation and ultimate divorce.

    Very sad commentary on our churches.

    • I’m sorry for that, Brenda. And I agree: very sad commentary on our churches. I do think, though, that many churches are simply not equipped. In a congregation of 250, for instance, few have training in counseling. But that means that churches need to get together and find someone they can recommend, or still do SOMETHING. Even if they don’t counsel, they can say, “put up or shut up” kind of thing. And that would be very helpful.

  15. Well since my divorce is about to finalize and there were so many ongoing issues including items 1 and 3, this hits way too close to home. I struggled to find that balance between trying to lovingly support my husband and not go around complaining about the problems or tell his family about the crap, because you don’t want the family to remember the hard times and hold it against him, and yet hold him accountable and not be an enabler. No consequence ever worked – somehow the consequences to his actions always came onto my head. Somehow he always made things out to be my fault and I felt too ashamed to tell much beyond bits and pieces to those who were in similar situations, and he certainly didn’t want me telling anyone about the porn. I honestly don’t know if enlisting my church leaders more than I did would have saved things. Counseling certainly never changed things.

    • Sometimes you can do everything possible and the marriage still isn’t saved because he made his choices. I pray that God will be with you in a very real way now and that He will lead you to a place of real spiritual intimacy with Him.

  16. We often quote Malachi 2:16 in which God says he hates divorce, but then ignore the verses before:

    “Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”

    You are talking boldly in this post about ways we can break faith with our spouse…and that is definitely not okay with God. In fact, He says he no longer pays attention to us when we break faith in our marriage.

    Thank you for speaking with wisdom and boldness, Sheila.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Sexual AppetiteMy Profile

  17. sylvia thompson says:

    Many pastors and church leadership know they need to do/offer this but don’t feel trained, are intimidated overworked and may even feel guilty because they know they don’t have perfect marriages either.
    That’s why we are developing a marriage mentoring training and curriculum to offer churches so that pastors don’t need to add one more thing to their overbooked schedules and so that people with people gifts can use them in a really needed area. Realistically, a lot of pastors and leaders are gifted with leadership, prophetic or administrative gifts…they don’t have the time, training, patience or inclination to help in areas that are not quick fix. But training married people who love being married, who have dealt with issues realistically and still like and respect each other to know how to interact with struggling couples would help marriages and families thrive in these churches. And it would allow us to make a real difference in our culture.

  18. i’m sobbing as i read this. thank you for the advice, but right now i’m so scared and lost i don’t even know what my first step should be. we just moved, so i don’t have anyone at a local church to go to. i don’t even know my neighbors yet. what can i do?

    • Laura, do you have family you can talk to? If not, I really would try a church. Churches SHOULD be places we can go to, even if we don’t know the people well. We still are family! Go in and ask to talk to the pastor or ask if they have a woman they’d recommend you talk to. One of the biggest lies we believe is that we’re supposed to do this marriage thing alone, and we’re not. I know it’s hard, but try to find a big church and take a deep breath and go in and ask for help!

      • I feel better today….not so lost anyway. I walked into a church on Sunday morning, asked about their ministries and was so thankful to hear they have a licensed and certified pastoral counselor on staff! Please pray for me & my marriage as we take the first steps in what I’m sure will be a long journey.

  19. I am a pastor and I’ve also worked full time in a sexual addiction ministry providing counsel to men and couples dealing with sexual sin. I appreciate this article and the discussion. I want to emphasize something, and then add a separate point (or two) to the discussion:

    EMPHASIZE — it has been said already, but I want to emphasize that too many pastors are drawn in to try to counsel people when they have no idea what they’re doing. I went to seminary, but still had little training and experience in counseling. Now as a counselor — with more training and experience under my belt — I am amazed and horrified to hear some of the stories clients tell me about how their pastor “counseled” them. Unless the pastor got special training, they should be referring couples to counselors who know what they are doing. Churches can work with local counselors to set up discounts, and have funds set aside to help couples who need help.

    POINT TO ADD — I would also add this: I don’t want to be too hard on pastors because it is really really really hard for pastors to do marriage counseling with people in their church. Much harder than it is for a third party marriage counselor. Why? Because when couples go to their pastor, there is too much focus on the authority of the church. In other words, when couples come to their pastor for counseling, it’s almost always one of the spouses dragging the other spouse, and desperately trying to convince the pastor (or the church) to “get him / her to behave.” In other words, rather than simple counseling, often you find that people are trying to make a case, and wanting the pastor to be the judge … and then decide whether or not to come down hard on the other spouse, and pressure him or her to do something (or stop doing something).

    When I was a pastor I hated marriage counseling, because that’s almost always the way it worked, and when I left the ministry, it was AMAZING to see how different things were, now that couples weren’t looking for me to take sides and discipline their partner for something.

    So based on my own experience, I would say that it seems to work better to have a neutral third party doing marriage counseling … and when couples seek counsel from the church, there is a much different dynamic because the church represents an authority, and there is going to be much more of a “he said / she said” battle going on.

    FINAL POINT — I will add one more thing. I have come to believe that cases where there is a clear cut culprit are very rare in marriages. In other words, it’s always more complicated than it first appears. While there may be a simple, obvious problem that needs to be solved/fixed that is visible … there are also usually a lot of other, less obvious problems that are related. As the great therapist Virginia Satir used to say, “The problem isn’t the problem.” What is identified as “the problem” is usually one dimension of a deeper set of problems that involves both husband and wife. It’s like an iceburg in that the bulk of it lies under the surface.

    This is another reason why it’s so dangerous for pastors to jump in right away and exert authority to get one of the spouses “to behave.” There is often a lot of other problems that need to be addressed too.

    Churches can and should be doing more to help couples. But the church is at its best when it is helping couples preventatively … helping to build health and community. When couples are in crisis, often it works better for the church to be a support and facilitate a referral process.

    • Mark, I really do hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate your insight. I certainly don’t think most pastors should be doing marriage counseling.

      But at the same time, if a woman is desperate because her husband is addicted to porn, and the church can’t help, then what is the point of having a body of Christ?

      Churches major in preaching, but where the rubber really hits the road is what happens in our individual lives. And if we can’t turn to the church to confront people in sin, then we are seriously failing in our most basic ministry.

      I think sending a couple to a neutral third party for counseling is the best option for everybody. But there are some who ALSO need someone in leadership to come alongside them and say, “what you are doing is not right and it has to stop”.

      That’s not the same as saying, “you are to blame for your marriage problems”. But if you know that a man is addicted to porn, or that a man is refusing to work and financially endangering the family, or that a spouse has completely checked out, I think there is a role for the church to say, “look, you need to change your attitude and your actions, and you need to get counseling.”

      So many people won’t go to counseling or won’t admit they have a problem, and that’s where they need someone to step in.

      I know this is a really tricky issue. I know that there are always two sides. But at the same time, if a desperate spouse can’t go to a church, where can he/she go? And the problem with counselors, at least in my neck of the woods, is that they tend to cost $100 an hour and most people don’t have that kind of money.

      I just think that churches need to realize this should be, if not their #1 priority, at least their #2. We need to help individual families. Pastors may not be trained for that, but then perhaps that’s a problem with the way we’re training pastors.

      This is just such a huge issue, and I don’t know what else to tell people. They HAVE to be able to go to a church. If they can’t find help at a church, then what are we for?

      • Barbara M. says:

        Thumbs up, Sheila. “Like” big time what you wrote!!

      • Sheila,

        Thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment. For some reason I didn’t see it, and forgot about the post, and only came back today, and saw that the discussion continued (it’s now March!).

        I see your point, and agree with what you are saying in expressing the frustration of “if a woman is desperate because her husband is addicted to porn, and the church can’t help, then what is the point of having a body of Christ?” I do think that in our role as pastors to care for the people in our churches, when damage is being done, that we confront it. If abuse or sexual sin is being perpetrated, churches should be stepping in to confront.

        But here’s where it’s helpful to realize that there are two different issues going on here: (a) the cessation of the egregious behavior (b) the healing and restoration of the marriage. My observation is that the church can play a role in both, but that its “power” is limited.

        In terms of cessation of egregious behavior — As with any addiction, no matter how much a sex addict is confronted, he (or she) will only change when they are ready and willing. And very often, they are only ready and willing to change when they experience consequences. (Churches can help with this by imposing discipline – which seems to be getting more rare these days – and also by supporting a spouse who chooses separation for a time, or something like that.)

        In terms of helping to restore the marriage — This is where it gets more complicated because there are usually other issues going on besides the addiction. And often it’s really challenging to help couples see this because they both fixate on the addiction, with the assumption being that if the addiction wasn’t in place then things would be great. It’s only after the addiction is addressed — and some amount of time of sobriety/purity is established, that the couple can start looking at the other challenges going on.

        I said that pastors aren’t usually well trained in counseling … but that’s only part of the issue. Many of us are also not very good at it even if we ARE trained, because it doesn’t suit our personality. I still have a hard time with it because I want to talk and teach too much … and good counselors are better at listening and helping people come to their own insights.

        With that said, I do think part of the solution is for pastors to get more training in counseling and helping people with sexual struggles. Even if they’re not going to be good counselors, at least they can be more wise and helpful.

        Some scattered thoughts :-)

        Keep up the good work Sheila. I love what you’re doing!

  20. sylvia thompson says:

    Thanks for sharing, pastor and counselor. I really agree with you. I so appreciate your sensitivity to the authority issue.
    And I also believe that lay people can help as mentors, perhaps on the more preventive side of things and perhaps as “alongside” if people are in counseling. Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a partnership between trained lay people and professional therapists ?

  21. This was an excellent post. So many times we focus on maintaining the marriage at any cost, but we often don’t recognize the tools to do it properly. Marriage is important and should be entered into seriously, but when things don’t work as planned, it’s good to have resources to help mend the marriage if it can be mended. I hate divorce, but I’m insistent on dealing with issues. If you don’t deal with your issues then your issues will deal with you, your children, and others around you.

    These were great issues that most people don’t want to address, but they needed to be discussed. :)
    Tiffany Godfrey recently posted…Attend the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference — Find One Near You!My Profile

  22. Reading this was like reading an excerpt from my life. I am so blessed that I have a church that came alongside of me during our separation and eventual divorce. But, I know that not everyone who is living with a sex addict has such support. Thank you for writing about this. I feel that this is a topic that isn’t talked about much and definitely isn’t understood. I am a Christian woman who desires the Lord to be first in my life. Divorce was never an option and I was committed to living in misery. The Lord showed me through study of His Word that I was being spiritually manipulated and bullied and being asked to sin in the name of “submission” was a terrible abuse of the role of husband. Again, thank you for bringing this topic into the light.

  23. You provide a lot of information but you don’t address what to do if your spouse doesn’t practice religion actively. Seeking church council might be ineffective if a spouse doesn’t take the advice from church elders too seriously and instead wants to seek out other professional help. I agree that seeking advice and counseling from the church can be very effective for some couples, others would rather not have their issues exposed to the church. I do think that no matter what you should seek some sort of help. And I think you should do it as early as possible before it becomes an issue that can destroy your marriage. There are a lot of people with advice out there (just look at the self-help section of any bookstore), so one must be careful when choosing their route, but nonetheless get some help before things get worse.

  24. Michael Roe says:

    For anyone looking for solid biblical counseling, you can find a NANC certified counselor (most of which are free and associated with churches) at http://www.nanc.org/Find-a-Counselor .

  25. I think that one of the issues at the core of this is the reluctance of christian men to fulfill their role as spiritual leaders in the home. On these same lines, those in church leadership do not seem to place much importance on preparing men for this role, providing any sort of accountability or providing any real support for marriages and families.

    I think this is so unfortunate because, apart from the obvious negative impact on families, it has a ripple back to the church. Unstable families provide a less fertile environment for the discipleship of children. Additionally, if families actually fall apart,it will impact church ministry, finances, and the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of others.

  26. OurStory says:

    I would like to share our story – and I hope that it might encourage some who are reading. My husband and I are still in the early years of our marriage and our first eighteen months was completely stormy and our sex life was not what it could be, even after waiting until we were married. One part of the storm was my own fear and pain which stemmed from being an adult child of divorce. The other part was one that initially remained hidden from me. I did not know that my husband had struggled with an addiction to pornography and that his guilt was what was fueling some of the anger in our storm and the discontent in the bedroom. However, God did know and I had made a decision from when I was engaged that I would trust God to know our hearts better than we do and that if any sin had to be brought up in our lives, that God would be the one to confront it and bring about true change. And God did just that. Half way through our second year of marriage I went away to a spiritual retreat and God went to work. In that week he brought to my attention the depth of my own issues and I was encouraged to ask my husband to seek counselling with me. I was very scared to approach him when I was coming home but I had made up my mind to obey God and trust Him for my husband. When I arrived home not only was I confessing to my husband my own sin which had come out of my pain and fear, but I was surprised to discover that God had been at work on my husband while I was away. In this one weekend of confession and tears he confessed to me his addiction. Yes it hurt to hear the truth, but I was so thankful that he told me. Yes I felt betrayed but God gave us both grace. He humbled himself enough to attend counselling with me, and over the last year or so he has sought many paths of support, given his testimony and is seeking to ways to help others in the same place. God brought light where there was darkness, and I am so thankful. I know that I am lucky to have not found out the hard way and I am grateful for what God has done in both our lives to help us be spouses and not enablers. My heart aches for couples where one or both people are not listening to what God puts on their hearts, and I want to encourage those who are in these settings to not abandon prayer and to seek God’s way to encourage their spouse to walk closer to God, the whatever path that looks like. My story is not everyone else’s story I know, but I hope my story gives others hope and encouragement.

  27. Sheila, your directions will be taken by too many frustrated, emotional women looking to have their feelings validated. This will result in ruined marriages. Living in community means personal commitment to each other – because we know each other personally. It is good advice to suggest marriages in trouble seek out help from wise people in their church – people who are committed to the couple, but bad advice to suggest steps when you have no real relationship with your readers. You won’t be around for the painful aftermath, the hours of prayer, the late night visits, or the inevitable trauma to the children. Mind your own business.

    • Mrs. Mac, I don’t think you realize how many people come here asking for specific steps to take. And the best thing I can suggest, as someone who does not know them in real life, is that they talk to people they do know in real life! If we can’t go to the church when we’re in crisis, I don’t really know where we can go. And not giving people any answers isn’t really a great idea, either, you know? In Matthew 18, we’re clearly told to go to other people–not everyone, just a select few. And that’s the model that I’m advocating here!

  28. So sorry – my internet connection went down before I finished. “Mind your own business” is what we were taught as children and is a good way to live a quiet life, but in the church we are called to live corporately. For those of us in relationship with others suffering in our own churches, commitment to involvement, prayer, and reconciliation is vital for Body health. Holy living and righteousness are the responsibility of every believer – individually and corporately .

  29. annonymous says:

    oh ho I wish someone had done this when my husband had an affair iwth my then best friend. However, they asked HER to leave the church and all of HER friends abandoned her.
    At that point in our lives, I mourned the loss of HER friendship more. I feel like our church handled it so wrong though, not only from the Pastor, but down to our small group study and sunday school class. No one EVER asked me, how I was or what I needed, nor did they ask my husband how things could change.
    I must say also that has been almost two years ago and we are still together. This one thing is one our biggest issues.
    I also still go to the same church, but am actively seeking a new one.

  30. I came across this article by accident, and I just want to cry. I’m exhausted and angry and so, so lost. I’m sick of being nothing to my husband but a housekeeper, cook, and mother to his children. I feel like nothing. Nothing I need, want or say matters to him unless he agrees. Our church has dropped the ball miserably and I’m almost too tired to fight. With church, or with/for my husband. My kids are getting older and they watch us and I hate it. I have so much I could say, but that could take forever. Thanks for the article though, I appreciate it.

  31. Oh Wow!!! Thank you for this article! I was actually in the process of moving out to go stay with my Mom and my husband stopped the move. She was out of state and he could file kidnapping charges. :-( I am really in between a rock and hard spot. This is after years of porn addiction and part time jobs/ no jobs, lost homes, debt etc…! I have been a total enabler. I did get my church involved and fingers crossed. But it’s good to know that I am not being a bad person by setting down some ground rules. It’s been 10 years of broken promises and absolutely no trust in him all because I thought that I was supposed to stay and support and help him release his addictions/ laziness…but it just got worse and worse.

  32. Husband Withholding Sex says:

    The Comment about the Husband Withholding Sex really hit home for me. My husband is not a believer and has not been to church for 4 years. I have questioned as to why he does not want to have sex and to why he keeps rejecting me when I do ask for it. He says he is too tired and just not interested, He also will not hug or kiss me. He refuses to get any help from a doctor or a counselor, I am nervous to approach my pastor or small group leader in regards to this subject, My husband does not like to have anyone approach him to “talk” especially from the church. It becomes a huge battle where the person meeting with him is either left in tears or just completely stumped. He gives them a run for their money. I do feel trapped in my marriage and am generally stressed and anxious most days. Is it appropriate to talk to someone about this.

  33. Dear Sheila :
    Thanx for this post, it’s very enlightening, and it finally brought some validation to me personally in the marriage I had that is broken.
    I won’t bore you with tons of details, or opinions, but rather I will share a few important facts:
    1: We were both a bit broken
    2: Sexual abuse by 3 members of her family ( and other types of abuse as well ) were factors that seemed to be undergoing treatment, but really there was no change for her sadly.
    3: For her parents ( whom she was extrememly co-dependant upon ) she was an Angel; incapable of anything wrong, and also giving her an atmosphere where she was not only not required to be an adult, but also not expected to grow spiritually.
    There were other factors ( too many to list , and some were mine…like being driven & and at times so focused on a goal I forgot about the human factor influencing how everyone felt about things that were happening…) but these were the main and most damaging ones I saw.
    Most of these things didn’t really surface until a few years after we were married, and I only found out about her abuse issues a few weeks befor the wedding.
    What caused me to want to write to you is how you touched on ABUSE, and Spending to the detriment of your family.
    I have never heard anyone say that this was a Major issue, let alone say that it was important enough for the elders of the church to step in. THANKYOU !!! I was slapped, kicked and pushed around for the last 3 years of the marriage ( not all the time, but whenever I stood in the way of what she thought she wanted at the time) and she even got so mad one day that she broke our front door down rather than calling me on the phone like I’d requested ( I did have good reason to be scared of her behavior & the fact that she out weighed me by 60 pounds also was a factor).
    I’ve been rambling a bit, but this might make a bit more sense now…
    The time I described ( 3 years befor I left ) is the time she was also using to tell people how abusive I was, both physical & emotional. People believed her. I was repeatedly accused of this behavior by our pastor without a conversation. I was told that I was at fault. I was warned that I was causing the destruction of my family ( with 2 children under 7, one with Autism ).
    I was not an angel. I was human, and not guilty of those accusations. I had NO support. Noone at the church would talk to me about it. She’d convinced everyone.
    They didn’t know about the abuse she was doing to me, or that she was regularly using Erotica, or that her on-line business was selling Knock-off products and I had to cover almost $20,000.00 Canadian to keep her from being charged criminally. When I told our counsellor at one of the first sessions he basically ignored it. She continued to lose money without regard to how it affected our family .
    No one including counsellors, and the Elders of the church, even the Pastor had no time, or inclination to hear my side for a more balanced view.
    I left the church when I left that marriage in separation ( my desire to work things out was over-ridden by her threats to call the police & have me removed ).
    I’ve taken a lot of words here to say THANKYOU. The issues you raise in this article should be COMMONPLACE as things Everyone needs to help address.
    May God continue to bless your ministry :)

  34. My husband was an alcoholic who would spend his evenings after work at another mans house drinking to the point of stupidity then coming home being verbally abusive to me. I felt abused and neglected and nothing I said to him would get my point across that our kids and I would no longer put up with it and a change needed to happened NOW. I first asked him to go to counseling and he refused. Then I asked his family for help. They rejected me and avoided me and my husband instead which just made him more angry. I then went to the church. They offered zero help and also shut us out. Now we have no family or church family and my husband is so angry with me now. I did not intend to shame him or isolate ourselves , yet that is what has happened. Thankfully God has repaired our marriage and we are closer than ever now. God really is the great physician. However, we still feel incredibly hurt that his family has basically kicked us out and the church has nothing to do with us and we have had to find a new church home. I am afraid that my husband still believes I did the wrong thing and tried to make him look bad. Im also worried that if I ever need help again that the same thing will happen. It’s refreshing to see you talk about this and how churches should respond. I hope that churches and families will rise up and help couples have the marriages God intended.

    • Ali, I’m so glad that God has done a great work in your marriage! That’s wonderful. And I do agree that churches need to come alongside couples more for sure. Hopefully more churches will realize it and gain training in this area.

  35. My husband has been addicted to porn since before our marriage, and we have been married for 22 years. He knows that I know but will not seek help or find an accountability partner. About 10 years ago I went to our church for counseling, and they listened to me but did nothing, never offered to speak with my husband, and had no advice to give. We left that church and moved to another area where my husband’s brother is pastor of a church. We are now members of that church and after I went to my brother-in-law/pastor for counseling, he was very sympathetic but said he could do nothing unless my husband asked for help. Then a year later he made my husband an elder, despite the policy that members who are involved in a sinful lifestyle and lack repentance cannot serve in leadership roles. I didn’t go to the church service where my husband was voted in because I couldn’t vote for him with a clear conscience. Now I am wondering if I am enabling by choosing to tolerate his problem. I used to ask him daily if he had used porn and if not, how long had it been, but the truth hurt so badly I couldn’t deal with it. Now I am considering leaving our church because I feel betrayed by my pastor. After asking for help at two churches and not being taken seriously, I don’t trust anyone else to help me with this. We have three teenage children and I don’t want to leave my marriage, but I think about it every day.

    • Oh, Jen, I’m so, so sorry. It sounds like you did everything in the right, biblical way, but others didn’t know how to handle it. I think having another talk with your brother-in-law/pastor is likely a good idea, and spell out why you are leaving the church. Perhaps go in armed with some info. Covenant Eyes has a great program that churches can use and lots of info for churches; you can find some of it here. Maybe you can show some of this to your brother-in-law and insist that he do something? He still may not, but at least you’ve tried.

      And look at it this way: let’s say that you knew that a DIFFERENT elder (not your husband, but a different elder) used porn. What would you do? I think the answer needs to be the same even if it is your husband, because they’ve put your husband in a position of power. If your pastor won’t do anything about it, then perhaps your denomination would, and it may be worth talking to them and saying that your church isn’t handling porn issues well.

  36. Sheila you are just so awesome at bringing clarity to many areas. I read somewhere that a good writer helps peple to organize their thoughts. You are truly gifted with that!
    Ruth recently posted…A Fresh StartMy Profile

  37. sylvia thompson says:

    Sheila (and Laura)

    I am saddened by your situation and caught by the sense of desperation I sense in your letter Laura.
    If you find that the churches near you are not helpful another resource is “Celebrate Recovery” which is a christian 12 step program.. Anonymity and confidentiality are hallmarks of this program. You will find support and real people who actually deal with their stuff and so, because they have, they know how to walk in grace and how to extend that to others. I actually think that a criteria for a good church in a new neighborhood is finding out if they have a celebrate recovery program. Not only do people who go to the program get better, the church changes: a gradual realization that we are all sinners who need to change and grow and that the , way to help people do that is by support and encouragement rather than by legalism, performance and judgement begins to seep from the recovery program into the church
    Although the program works with people who are actively struggling with sin issues, it is also a safe place for people who are grieving, who are in difficult marriages, who are hurting in other ways. Its made a huge difference on our church to have this program.

  38. Thank you, Ruth!

  39. So true! But in many communities there aren’t any churches like that. So persevere! I think Sylvia’s suggestion is excellent: call around and see if you can find a church like that. A church that has that sort of program is going to have an easier time helping you anyway. But if there isn’t such a church, don’t give up. Still go in and talk to a pastor. And we will pray that God will open a door for you.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.

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  1. [...] to the fabulous blogs and blog hops at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, Romance on a Dime, Hey Mommy Chocolate Milk, Not Just a Housewife, Life of Meg, The Empowered [...]

  2. [...] up with: To Love, Honor and Vacuum, [...]

  3. [...] If your husband is genuinely addicted, and never talks to you or the kids, then my advice from last week regarding getting help from the church is probably the right course of [...]

  4. [...] means re-establishing a healthy relationship, and sometimes that must involve conflict. We must confront over sin. We must talk about hurt feelings. Jesus even said that if you’re about to give your gift at [...]

  5. [...] Root of Marriage Problems–Selfishness When Conflicts Don’t End How Do Marriages Change? Are You a Spouse or an Enabler? (sometimes praying for God’s will in your husband’s life also requires you to take [...]

  6. [...] spouse is making pornographic demands on you, or if your spouse has major sexual sin happening, the next step may be to talk to a counselor or mentor. But you can still choose to love in other ways while the sexual one is dealt [...]

  7. [...] if he looked at child porn, or did something inappropriate to one of the kids on the block, or even cheated on his wife. I like the fact that people feel badly if they do bad things. After all, if we don’t, then [...]

  8. [...] wrote a post a while back asking if you are a spouse or an enabler. Marriage should be a vehicle by which both parties grow and look more like Christ, not an excuse [...]

  9. [...] maybe he plays video games all the time. I’m not talking about the big sin issues, like adultery or using porn. I’m talking about the everyday stuff which can totally demoralize us and weigh us [...]

  10. [...] You were not helpless then; and you are not helpless now. You can choose what to think. You can choose how to react. If the situation is dire enough, you can get other people involved. [...]

  11. [...] if your spouse refuses to listen, then I’d talk to a mentor couple about it. In essence he’s cheating on you, because he’s meeting his sexual needs with someone [...]

  12. […] right. This is just such a difficult issue. So I would say that if you are in this situation, you need to get counsel from a mentor couple who knows you both in real life. I can’t answer all these problems for you because I don’t know your unique situation. […]

  13. […] And it needs to be repented of and dealt with. Here’s a post on how to ask others for help. […]

  14. […] is repentant, but doesn’t know how to stop, then help him. If he isn’t repentant, then lay down some pretty firm rules and an ultimatum. A marriage can’t survive a porn addiction long-term. It is cheating, whether he admits it or […]

  15. […] work at something, I’d talk to a mentor couple, a pastor, or a counselor. As I wrote before, you are a spouse, you are not an enabler. If a man is refusing to do any work at all, and is acting like an adolescent, this isn’t […]

  16. […] marriage or the family (like chronic pornography use, major debt, addiction, or withholding sex), recruit help. Talk to a pastor, or a counselor, or a mentor about what to do. You aren’t mean to deal with […]

  17. […] Now, in some cases you could be living with an emotionally abusive mate, and if you fear this is so, I really advise talking to a couple, or a counselor, who knows both of you in real life and getting their perspective. You may need to take steps to get yourself safe from abuse. […]

  18. […] get withdrawal symptoms, then you have a much bigger problem. You may likely need outside help. So go to your church. Ask a friend or mentor to pray. Maybe even ask a mentor couple to talk to your husband with […]

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