Today, please welcome guest post writer from Through the Fire, Lisa Hall-Wilson, as she shares her journey and thoughts about porn and its effects on marriage.
Is looking at porn cheating? You know I’ve got a few opinions on this because this question inevitably leads to – Is it OK to divorce him/her because of the porn? That’s a much bigger question.
I recently interviewed Canada’s Christian Sex Lady – Sheila Wray-Gregoire for an upcoming article. We got chatting briefly about porn and porn addiction. If you’ve been reading Through The Fire for a while, you know about my husband’s multi-year addiction to porn.
I thought there would be value in sharing my journey and thought-process of having lived through it.
Is looking at porn really cheating?
I’m not an expert on sex – don’t claim to be. I’m not a biblical scholar either. But I’ve lived this. My husband didn’t go out and find a prostitute, he didn’t commit adultery in the physical sense. The Bible says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) NASB
The Bible calls it adultery, but society doesn’t. Society says looking at porn, assuming those involved in the production of it are consenting adults, is harmless. (I take issue with the ‘harmless’ label: From Men’s Health: “In a Utah State University study, for example, more than half of male users said looking at porn led to problematic outcomes—social, spiritual, psychological, or relational. These negative effects weren’t linked to viewing time—the men who watched porn frequently were just as likely to report problems as those who watched it less often.”)
But let me tell you this, as the spouse, it FEELS like cheating. He chose photo-shopped images and FICTION over me. He poured out his desire on them instead of me. He had no interest in me. The cycle of shame and guilt he lived with caused him to be explosively angry, verbally abusive at times, and distant. Now, I know that his addiction had nothing to do with me. His choice to turn to porn wasn’t because of my lack. Understanding the why of it lessens the sting, but at the end of the day you’re still facing the reality that there’s no trust or respect left for him.
So, if the Bible says it’s cheating, and qualified psychologists acknowledge that to the affected spouse it feels like cheating…
If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
As someone who lived through this, I considered it cheating. Would it have been worse if he’d physically gone out and committed adultery? I don’t know. In my case there wasn’t ‘the other woman’ instead I faced ‘hundreds of other women’ embedded in his memory and within easy access – though I never feared any of them would call, show up on the doorstep, or take him in if I kicked him out. Hope I never have to find out. But where does that first question inevitably lead spouses?
If viewing porn is cheating, does that make it grounds for divorce?
This was a question I wrestled with. I mean blood, sweat, tears, guts-on-the-floor wrestled with. The New Testament gives a couple of instances where divorce is allowable: abandonment, adultery, and many tack on abuse of any stripe. Death is the only instance the Bible states is cause for remarriage. (I only bring this up because it factored into my own thinking – this is not a comment on anyone’s decision.)
I felt I had biblical grounds for divorce if I wanted that, but I had to abandon any thought of remarrying. (I realize that not everyone would agree with my thinking, but this is where my conscience led me.)
Was I willing to spend the rest of my life (I was in my early 30′s at the time) alone, or could I maybe work this out? Ummm….. Being alone forever sounded pretty good. I was done with men and with relationships in general. But forever is a loooong time.
The story of Jesus saving the adulteress from stoning came to mind. The Bible gives us these words: “He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) NASB
Could I honestly say I had NEVER entertained a lustful thought about a man who wasn’t my husband? But I’ve never looked at porn – assuming malicious pop-ups don’t count.That’s not the question. Have I ever entertained a lustful thought about another man? Yes, I’m guilty of that. Didn’t that also make me guilty of adultery in the biblical sense?Ummm…..
The other story that came to mind was the story of a king who was owed a large sum of money but he forgave the debt. The forgiven debtor then went to a man who owed him a much smaller sum. The forgiven debtor threw the second man in prison when he couldn’t pay. When the king learned of this he said, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’” (Matthew 18: 32-33) NASB
The first man had been forgiven of a much bigger debt than the second man, but forgiveness is what was expected from both who held the debt regardless of the amount. How much had God forgiven me of? A LOT. ….Oooh (There are perhaps better examples of this principle, but this is the one that came to mind.)
If I could forgive my husband of this hurt, (and again, my conscience warned me that God would require this of me regardless) would I be willing to still be married to him?
Suddenly my self-righteousness lost its luster, the glitter flaked off, and I was left with the naked truth. When held to the biblical standard, was I any better than him? That didn’t diminish my hurt, or the work he had to do to make it right – not what I’m saying. But when we’re judged by the same stick, did I still have a case? Yes…and no.
That’s the journey my thoughts took which helped me decide to stay and not seek divorce. It was a lot of work to rebuild our relationship. Not a single bit of it was easy. That road was paved with hurt and tears and many sleepless nights. On the other side of it we’ve now got a history together that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My decision seemed rather black and white because my husband was truly repentant. He earnestly sought professional help, he did the hard work of breaking the addiction and has stayed free of it. If that hadn’t been the case, the other evidence that influenced my decision still remained true, but it would have made my decision a lot more difficult.
It was my conscience, not my heart, that convinced me to stay. My conscience, and my desire to be obedient to the principles and moral code set out in the Bible as I understood them. Not everyone will agree with the path I chose to arrive at my decision, not everyone will make the same decision I did. And that’s OK.
Lisa Hall-Wilson has published over 70 articles in the Canadian faith-based market, is a syndicated columnist, and has won national awards for her writing. She blogs at www.lisahallwilson.com but you can find her hanging out on Facebook.