Reader Question: How does a guy make it up to his wife if he's used porn?How does a guy make it up to his wife if he’s used porn?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. Here’s a sad story from a relative newlywed who confessed to his wife that he used porn. Now she’s devastated, he’s broken, and he’s wondering what to do about it.

He writes:

I grew up Catholic, but in college drifted away from my marriage. In college I also met my now-wife, who is the best person I know. We married a little more than a year ago and now go to [an evangelical] church. She has made me such a better person just by being my wife.
In my early teens I was exposed to some dirty magazines. This grew throughout high school and in college I began to look at porn on the internet.  It was entrenched in me that this was normal, that all the guys I knew did it, that it was somehow not as bad as it was.  It was a release for me. I didn’t look at it as cheating.  I never thought once of how it would make [my wife] feel which probably was my biggest problem.
I knew once we got engaged that I would need to give it up, but since we were also saving ourselves for the wedding night it became difficult.  Once married I knew it was wrong, but I would occasionally just look at porn and not masturbate so I thought I was tons better than before.  My wife and I since have struggled a little bit on our intimacy issues and in our latest conversation, I felt a need to confess to her my secret. She is hurt, feels betrayed, and as if I was cheating on her.
I never looked at my bad habit as cheating.  I never once even pondered the idea of finding someone to be either physically or emotionally connected to besides her. My wife says she is in the process of forgiving me now and she has been 10x more gracious than I ever could be.  I just don’t know what to do with all this shame and guilt I am feeling.  She now is questioning every time an attractive woman comes on the T.V. screen if I am fantasizing about her and questioning if she is enough for me.  I don’t want to hurt her any more, but I feel so guilty that I keep bringing up how sorry I am and she says that doesn’t help her recovery.  I am struggling to eat and or work because I am so upset with myself.
1.) How can I help my wife?  She says she doesn’t want to bring it up again because the more we bring it up the harder it is to get over.
2.) I feel so terribly guilty I can’t do anything.  I can’t eat, I can’t concentrate.  I never thought of this as cheating and now I can’t get over the fact that it might be just like cheating.  I am so disgusted with myself.
Could you please give me any advice you might have I am desperate?

Wow. What a story.

(Side note: most of the questions that I publish on this blog are about this long, but I edit them WAAAAAY down so that it’s just the essence. This one I left mostly as is, because I really thought it would help so many wives whose husbands have just confessed they used porn to hear the heart of another guy in the same situation.)

Okay. Lots to say. So here’s my plan: I’m going to give three quick thoughts, and then I’d really like to open this one up to comments and ask the rest of you what you think, because many of you probably have some ideas for this guy! So here goes.

What can a guy do to repair the relationship with his wife if he's used porn? 3 Steps to rebuild.

How can a guy rebuild trust with his wife after he's used porn? 3 steps: Click To Tweet

1. Feel Guilty about Porn? Understand Grace. Seriously.

You know what is so cool about this letter? This guy GETS how serious porn is. And he feels so much remorse for what he has done! That is so amazing, because when most of us do something wrong we deflect blame, or we minimize what we actually do.

He doesn’t minimize it. In fact, he’s beating himself about it so badly he’s not eating.

The fact that he doesn’t minimize it is great. The fact that he takes responsibility is great.

But now the greatness ends, because he’s in this downward spiral where he’s just blaming himself and hating himself.

Realizing the reality of your sin is the first necessary step in finding freedom. But it’s only step #1. Now we need step #2.  And for that, let’s just revisit the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15.

The prodigal son walks all the way home, practising what he’s going to say to his father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make my like one of your hired hands.

I can hear this husband saying the same thing: “I’m no longer worthy to be called your husband.”

He gets it.

But then the Father does something amazing. He stops the son mid-speech (he doesn’t even allow him to say that part about being the hired hand), and he puts that robe and ring and sandals on his son and holds a party. He redeems him.

The redemption couldn’t have taken place if the son hadn’t admitted his guilt. But it also couldn’t have taken place if the son hadn’t have let the Father dress him.

He accepted the Father’s view of who he was rather than his own view.

I normally don’t tell people to rush to grace first, because I don’t think that we can rush healing. We have to feel the reality of what we’ve done before we ask for forgiveness, and sometimes in Christian circles we’re too rushed to say, “you need to forgive!” Or “Jesus loves you anyway!”, and we don’t stress enough that Jesus wants changed hearts.

But this guy gets it. So now he needs to get the rest of it: Jesus already paid for your sin. Jesus is not in the guilt business but in the salvation business. Two verses for you:

Godly sorrow leads to repentance that brings salvation and leaves no regret, but wordly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 8:10)

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

Jesus paid for it. Accept that. Let it go.

2. Changed Behaviour Speaks Louder than Guilt Over Porn

Feel guilty over the porn? Okay. But I think what your wife really wants is to see that you’re serious about doing something about it. She doesn’t want to see that you’re focused on the past. She wants to know that you’re committed to doing things differently in the future.

Sure, most women need to see that their husbands understand their hurt. But that’s not all they need, and in fact, it can make it worse if all  you do is revisit that hurt.

What your wife needs to know is not just that you hurt now; but that you won’t hurt her again.

She wants to know that you’re thinking, “I want to protect you now.” Ironically, if you stay mired in guilt about what you did to her, then you’re still making it about you, and not about her. Move forward and make it about her needs.

So if she starts to question about whether you’re fantasizing about a woman on TV, you say,

I am so, so sorry you need to ask that. But I want you to rest assured that I have an accountability partner now, that I have filters on my phone, that you can look at this stuff any time, and you don’t have to worry. I want you to feel safe, because you’re the only one I love, and I never want you to feel unsafe again.

She needs safety. So instead of reassuring her of your guilt, reassure her of her safety.

3. Rebuild Trust Through Accountability

Covenant EyesIt’s much easier to reassure her of that if you humble yourself and take steps to show her you’re serious about this not happening again. Step one: Get a filter on your phone, devices and computers, or an accountability system (or both!) Covenant Eyes has a really great one, and here’s how it works: everyone in your family can get assigned an account. You can use filtering so that different family members can be allowed on different levels of sites. A 6-year-old will only be able to access a few sites, a 13-year-old more, and an adult more.

Alternatively, you can choose not to use filtering, but you can use accountability, where if you try to access a site you shouldn’t, an accountability partner will get an email. It helps prevent the temptation to look at porn if you know someone will catch you.

So get an accountability partner who is NOT your wife (a brother, someone from your church, a friend). Get the system on your devices. (and if you click through with my link you get one month trial, free!)

And then one more thing: give all of your passwords to your wife–your login for Facebook, access to your phone, everything. She has to know there are no secrets, and that she can pick up anything and look any time she wants to.

(Note: if your husband refuses to let you see his phone or computer, that’s a huge red flag in marriage).

I’ve got some other advice on how to rebuild trust after you’ve blown it in this post, too.

But now I’d love to know from the rest of you: what would YOU need your husband to do? Let me know in the comments, and let’s help this marriage (and others like it!)

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