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Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I post a Reader Question and then attempt to answer it. This week is a question that I get from many women, and in fact I had two versions of it last week. Here’s the first version:

My husband was addicted to porn. I would catch him, and he’d say he was sorry, but then I’d catch him again. Recently he’s gone through a big accountability program, and I think he’s clean. But I’m so worried about him relapsing. I don’t know if I can take much more of this. I’m just so exhausted it would be easier to leave. And what about my sons? How will they grow up to respect women and treat them well when their father watches filth where women are degraded? I don’t know how to get past this.

I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this. Really. I know how betrayed you feel, and how disgusted that your husband looks at porn, and how utterly exhausted and spent you must be. It is a really long haul.

I think I’d say a few things:

1. Go with these facts

Divorce is really hard on kids. Really, really hard on them. Right now you’re the one who is in pain and who is suffering, but if you divorce, in a way you transfer that suffering onto them. And chances are your husband would have shared custody, and then your kids would be with him without you to intervene. That means that they could see what he’s doing on the computer. Right now you’re keeping him from using porn more than he otherwise would; if you separated, that would likely increase.

That doesn’t mean you should necessarily stay in the marriage forever; porn addictions can get so out of hand that sometimes a separation is the only way to jolt him into cleaning up his act. But at the same time, doing anything permanent has some really negative repercussions.

So that means that trying to make it work is likely the best option for right now.

2. Get some help yourself

You are carrying a lot. You’re worried about him. You don’t feel close. You feel lonely. And he can’t help you with those things because he’s an addict. So you need to surround yourself with a support system that you can talk to. And you need to get some outside hobbies or interests that can take your time and energy so that you don’t just worry.

Add some joy to your life, in whatever form you can. Really look for things that you can do to change the dynamic in your own life, even if he stays stuck, so that you do have something to get excited about.

Maybe start working out? Learn to knit? Volunteer at an animal shelter? It could be anything, but something that adds to your life is so important.

3. Release your boys to God

I can feel your fear for your boys, but honestly, what I have found in these situations is that the husband is often so disgusted with himself, and hates his addiction so much, that the last thing he wants is for his sons to get trapped the same way he is. Your husband doesn’t WANT to be like this; but porn has likely become his way of relieving stress and of feeling good about himself (ironically). It gives him that temporary high of feeling powerful, before the shame comes crashing down.

Just keep praying over your boys, and watch what they see on the computer, but I have often found that these kinds of addictions, if they’re being confronted and dealt with, do not often get passed down.

4. Work on your friendship

Perhaps this should have been #1, but really work on your friendship with your husband. Your relationship right now is characterized by a lot of negativity. Find things that you can do to laugh, and to add fun to your lives, so that the porn is not the only thing that your relationship is about. Start biking, or hiking, or playing squash, or gardening, or painting, or anything. But just do things together in a low-stress environment, so that when he’s with you he’s not always feeling like you’re mad at him, and you’re not always supicious.

Will this get better? I don’t know. It depends how serious he is about addressing the root of the issue. The Road to Grace by Mike Genung is really good at walking men through the two stages of healing: addressing the symptoms, and addressing the cause.

Other than that, all I can say is that some women have a LOT to bear in their marriages. It is really hard. There is no magic fix. And each day is a constant trial of trusting God that you may one day be able to build something intimate. And that’s lonely. But there really isn’t a good solution other than trying, as long as he is always being serious about doing the work.

I’d have a serious talk with his accountability partner, and get that partner to agree to be honest with you if your husband has ever given up or is just saying the right thing but doing the opposite. At that point, you may need something more drastic. But if he is trudging along, keep praying, surround yourself with help, and try to bring some fun to your life in other ways.

5. Is It Okay to Just Forgive his Porn Addiction and Move On?

What if the situation is a little different, though–what if he hasn’t relapsed? Here’s another letter:

Shortly after my husband and I were married I found that he had been addicted to porn. He’s stopped, and he lets me see his computer. He quit and he cried about it and he confessed it to me. I forgave him. I want to work on the marriage. But did I let him off the hook too easily? I want him to feel as if there are consequences to his actions. And how do I gain confidence again? I still can’t let him see me naked, and I still stiffen when he puts his arms around me. I think it’s because it all came out right after we were married, and we never had time to get used to each other. What do I do?

That’s a tough one, too. I’d say that forgiving him and moving forward is exactly the right thing to do–if he’s getting accountability and he’s totally open about his phone and computer. If he’s taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, that’s wonderful. Don’t punish him for that. (A great accountability program is through Covenant Eyes; use code TLHV for the first month free).

But you still have the issue that you feel betrayed and dirty and not quite sexy enough now. Again, totally understandable. And the only way back from that is to do something that will benefit both of you: reclaim intimacy. Right now, after his porn addiction, he will tend to see sex in mostly physical terms, and not in terms of emotional and spiritual intimacy. And that’s why it’s become dirty to you.

31 Days to Great SexSo work at just being intimate. Try taking a bath together. Hold each other naked. Pray together in bed a lot. Just get used to each other. And practice forgiveness everyday. As you practice forgiveness, work on your friendship, and cling to each other more, you’ll likely find that you can trust him again.

It isn’t right to deny him the chance to see you naked, because that’s part of intimacy to him–and to you. But I know it’s hard. If you want some help to make it more natural, my book 31 Days to Great Sex can walk you through this, step by step, day by day, to help you increase your intimacy slowly. And it deals with this problem, when sex doesn’t seem intimate anymore. If you want help getting past this, I’d really recommend it.

Honestly, I have such sympathy for women dealing with their husband’s porn addiction.  It is so, so tough. And there aren’t often easy answers. It takes a lot of work to rebuild intimacy, and a lot of work to break the addiction which often starts even before the marriage does. But God is bigger, and it is when we are weak that His grace and His strength show up the most, too. Just please, don’t despair. Lean on God. Get some great support around you. Keep praying. And then trust that no matter what happens, God will lead you and guide you and will bring you to a place of peace and joy again.

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