Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and give my thoughts on how to deal with it. Today I’m answering a really tough one: What do you do if your husband has herpes (or another contractible STD)? A reader writes:
Can I ask your advice on how to minister to a friend of mine and her husband? They have been married for a few years now. Just a week before their wedding she found out he has herpes – and apparently has severe outbreaks from them. My friend Becca has a health condition that could severely be impacted by contracting HSV.
Can you give me some guidance to help them, specifically her… there are so many facets from the original betrayal of not knowing in enough time to think clearly before the wedding, the actual breakouts being SO severe, they cover him from thighs to mid stomach including genitals, and the loss of physical intimacy is damaging her self esteem.
Thanks for any prayers and words you could share.
This is probably one of the hardest Reader Questions I’ve ever had. My heart just breaks. This is one of the reasons God wants us to wait for marriage to have sex! Sex before marriage seems so enticing, but it can wreak such havoc with the rest of your life.
I don’t have an easy answer to this question, and so I’m just going to put up a few thoughts.
1. If Your Husband Has Herpes, Get Medical Help–and Keep Asking
For those of you who don’t understand what the issue is, the herpes virus, HSV (and there are two kinds of the virus), doesn’t ever go away. It stays in your system. Often you have no symptoms whatsoever, but every now and then you’ll have an outbreak with blisters, often accompanied by pain and fatigue in your muscles. The blisters may be just on your genitals or they may spread further.
There is medication to suppress the virus, which helps. But the problem is that you can contract the virus even if you’re not symptomatic–though it’s not as common. So making love poses a risk to the non-infected spouse. And when you do want children, there are added complications, because a woman with the virus risks passing it on to her kids. At one point they automatically did C-sections for women with the virus; now most deliver vaginally.
The outbreaks also often diminish over time. Couples often find that while the outbreaks were bad initially, after a decade or two they really are almost unnoticeable. And some people aren’t even symptomatic.
The key thing is to talk to your doctor. Find out what medications you can take. Talk frankly about sexual options–what is safe to do? What is not safe to do? Will a condom fully protect me? What do we do when we want to get pregnant? If we’re not symptomatic and there are no outbreaks, is sex safe?
I don’t want to answer those questions because I’m not a doctor, but things change really quickly, and they’re always developing new medicines, so keep asking. And even look for trials for new medications, because you never know!
2. You Simply Must Forgive Him
Here’s the really hard part. At some point you have to let it go.
This ironically can be even harder to let go of than an affair that happened during marriage, because as time goes on, the reality of what you’re dealing with sets in. With an affair, it gets further and further into the background. This is always there.
And there’s a danger that you’ll start saying to yourself:
My life would be easier if I didn’t have him. If I hadn’t have married him I wouldn’t be dealing with all of these problems.
It’s understandable. And in this woman’s case, it sounds like she has other health issues which would be severely compromised if she contracted the virus herself. So every day that you live with it often gets more and more difficult.
You have to fight. Take every thought captive! When you start feeling resentment, take that resentment and give it back to God. Say to God, “Thank you for my husband. Thank you for what we do share. Thank you that you will carry us through this.”
Yes, you have a lot to deal with, but many couples have things to deal with. Life isn’t smooth for everybody else, either. You have a problem which is really obvious, but if you both rely on God, you can get through it. It will be a challenge. Sex will be harder for you than it will be for most people. But if you can remember that you are on the same team, you will be so much further ahead.
And here’s where I’m going to say something that is going to sound mean.
You married him as he is.
In this case, he should have told his wife earlier. The pressure to go on with the wedding must have been intense! But I get so many emails from women detailing all sorts of things that are wrong with their husbands, and yet in most of these emails, the roots of the problem were visible before the marriage.
If you knew this about your husband before you were married, and you married him anyway, you don’t really have the right to be mad at him for it now.
I know that sounds harsh. I know I don’t fully understand what you’re going through. But it’s still true. The vow matters, and you made a vow to that man, as he is. You can’t second guess that vow now.
3. You are not Being Punished by God
My mother said something interesting to me recently. She was reflecting on some of the things that she doesn’t particularly like about her life, and she realized that a decade or two ago she would have assumed that God was punishing her. Those things that she doesn’t like were God’s punishment.
Now she has a different perspective. God isn’t punishing her, but what she’s going through is a natural consequence of choices that she made. You reap what you sow.
When you go through something like this it’s easy to think, “God is punishing my husband, and now my husband is punishing me, too!” And then we think God is angry, and it all gets into a huge mess in our minds.
But God isn’t necessarily punishing anybody. STDs are natural consequences of sleeping around before you’re married. Don’t think of it as God being angry; think of it as just you are now living with consequences.
If you see it that way, it’s easier to throw yourself at the throne of God and say something like this:
God, we are going through something that is so hard. We don’t know how to do this. We want to love each other but we can’t even make love the way we want to. We’re worried about the future. We feel distant. God, we need you to fight for us. You promised that you would heal our infirmities and carry our sorrows, and we need you to do that. We need hope. Give us a glimpse of your grace, and help us to see that we are on the same team, together, and that you are there to carry us.
I believe that it is often in these really hard challenges that God shows up the most. But it takes us first being honest and humble. It takes us first realizing, “I did vow. I did commit. I did marry him just as he is, and I have to accept that.” And it takes him saying, “I did do something that has hurt us both, and I’m sorry.” We need to be honest about our past choices and we need to own those past choices. When we are honest ourselves, we are laid bare. And when we are laid bare, God can work. When we carry anger and bitterness and blame then God doesn’t do very much. But when we’re broken, He often transforms.
So, please, keep banging on the door of your doctor and getting good advice and following up with treatment options.
But then, also, you simply must let it go. You must forgive your husband, and you must come to terms with the fact that you made the commitment to him AS HE IS. Then both of you, together, throw yourself on God’s mercy and ask Him to build something beautiful out of your marriage. I do believe that God can do that, and it is often in the things that seem the most broken that God does His most beautiful work.