Who to Talk to When Your Husband Is Using Pornography

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, we featured a post from Revive Our Hearts cohost and friend Dannah Gresh called “Five Biblical Tools to Fight Your Husband’s Pornography Problem.” Today we’re grateful to have Dannah back once again to look at another aspect of this difficult but important issue. 

If you say, “How are you?” to a woman whose husband is looking at pornography, there’s a very good chance she’ll answer, “Fine.”

It’s not true. She’s not fine.

For one thing, she’s lonely. And she’s feeling lots of other terrible things, including what could range from embarrassment to full-on shame.

These aren’t just emotions. They’re military strategies of the enemy of our souls. He is weaponizing your own mind to achieve your physical and emotional isolation.

Do not comply.

Loneliness is an emotion we can, ironically, experience most acutely when we are with people. It’s not the external state of being away from others. (I love solitude!) Loneliness, rather, is an inner mental anguish. 

I experience loneliness most acutely when all is not right in my world, but I feel socially compelled to pretend that I’m fine.

Are you there now? If you’re still playing pretend after discovering your husband’s sin, you probably know it. Let me help you understand why you’re doing it and why you should stop.

I’m going to make a (very educated and experienced) guess that one reason you’re tempted to isolate right now is shame.

The Genesis of Shame

There was a day when we humans did not have the emotion of shame in our repertoire. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve did not feel it at all. Genesis 2:25 reports that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (ESV). 

Shame is an emotion that can only be experienced in a fallen, sinful world. But that’s where we live, so we definitely know what it’s like!

The first couple responded to this new, acute emotion by hiding from God. And, it seems, from one another’s gaze (Gen. 3:7).

We’ve been hiding ever since. One way we do this is by playing pretend when we feel ashamed.

Shame is a hotly debated term. So let’s take a moment to lay a biblical foundation for it. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition.

Shame • “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused
by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

Shame is an emotion. And all emotions have a job to do. They are messengers. For example, feeling stressed tells me, “You’re doing too much!” If I respond to that feeling appropriately by reducing obligations, the emotion should go away. In this way, feeling stressed is useful if I respond to it appropriately.

So can shame also be useful?

Sometimes. Useful shame can point us to our separation and need to repent. It draws us back to God and others as we confess honestly and openly.

Too often though, instead of allowing our shame to point us toward freedom, we respond by hiding—just like Adam and Eve hid behind their fig leaves. That’s usually toxic shame which tells us that we are unloveable and unredeemable. 

In Luke 8 we read about a woman who suffered from chronic hemorrhage for twelve long and lonely years. She had seen Jesus heal others and longed to receive His touch but was too suffocated in toxic shame to ask Him for help. What if someone overheard her talking about her embarrassing problem? She sought to hide in anonymity and decided to just touch the fringe of our Savior’s cloak, hoping that would be enough to heal her.

But when this lonely woman touched Jesus’s robe, He immediately asked, “Who has just touched Me?” It’s a question that begs us to slow down and wonder why the Son of God would need to ask that question. Jesus knew who had touched Him. Did He want her to experience the emotional healing that comes from being seen?

Often when I am advising a woman whose husband is caught in sin, I see very quickly that she is suffering from toxic shame. Sometimes she thinks something like, “My husband would not have cheated if I were more attractive.” Or she might believe, “My husband’s battle with pornography nullifies my call to ministry.” To me these are obvious lies. But toxic shame is a convincing deceiver.

So often these women delay their healing because they spend precious weeks, months, or years pretending and telling people, “I’m fine!”

You’re not fine.

Don’t hide. You need help.

Here’s the irony of hiding: the most common fear associated with shame—whether it is useful or toxic—is being disconnected from others. We imagine that “if they only knew,” we would experience rejection and be cut off. So we put on our fig leaves—or our red lipstick. To avoid being rejected, we withdraw and hide by acting like everything is okay. So we end up isolated and lonely, just as we feared.

Think about that!

The act of hiding is illogical and counterintuitive to our fear of being disconnected. When we do not tell others what we are going through, we guarantee disconnection. That’s when the loneliness sets in and you need to immediately begin to use another tool of redemption.

Community: God’s Cure for Loneliness and Shame

In the Garden of Eden, God saw Adam’s loneliness and declared it was not good. And then He made Eve. And the resulting community of two relieved Adam’s loneliness.

Community is an important part of what will cure you of the pain your husband has caused by using pornography and giving in to lust! That’s a journey I know something about. When I was looking for women to support me, I discovered that there were two types of community a hurting wife needs. 

  • You need friends who have worked through or are working through what you are walking through. It’s so healing and helpful to be able to communicate with women who have been where you are. They will understand your unique journey. 
  • You also need to let your closest, safest existing friends know what you are experiencing. It is my opinion that the greatest way to break through the toxic shame is to tell women who already know you and love you what is happening in your life. It’s one thing to tell an author or speaker or another woman in a support group who barely knows you. That’s helpful, but it doesn’t always break the bondage of toxic, undeserved shame. Sometimes you need a girlfriend who truly knows you to look you in the eyes and simply say, “I see it all, and I’m here for you.” 

It probably could go without saying that you should use prayer and discernment as you decide who to let into your inner circle of confidence. There’s a big difference between sharing your pain with a trustworthy friend or a confidential support group and broadcasting your troubles (and your husband’s sin) on social media. There’s also a lot of gray space in between those options, so it can be difficult to know what to say and when to say it. But the Spirit will guide you if you let Him. Actually, you will need God’s Spirit in all of these conversations because they require great courage! If you are unsure where the boundary lines are or if you’re in a situation where someone close to you tends to gossip, seek out a counselor or a confidential support group first.

One more thing: your support community needs to be made up mostly of women who share your faith. Make a point of surrounding yourself with people who have experienced the redeeming love of Jesus. The conversations will be different. Richer. Deeper. More useful.

More importantly, your own faith will be bolstered.

Let’s look at a hidden treasure in Ephesians 6.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. (v. 16 ESV)

Years ago I studied the Roman military armor that Paul would have had in mind when he wrote this passage. I learned some fascinating things about the shield the Roman soldiers carried. It was large—about two by three-and-a-half feet. Crafted of curved wood, it was often covered with a layer of leather that could be soaked in water. This was the secret to putting out flaming darts or arrows.

Imagine holding a shield that large up to protect you. It would get heavy quickly.

Unless you had help. The kind of help that comes from a community of faith.

Another interesting observation is that flaming darts tend to come from above. To protect themselves the Roman soldiers often clustered together in a kind of “turtle” formation. Those in the middle held their shields above their heads to create a roof above them. Soldiers near the outside of the cluster held their shields up to make a wall. When they worked together, they were better protected.

Did Paul have that in mind when he referred to our faith as a shield? It’s certainly a beautiful picture of how community helps protect us.

Go find your friends.

This article is adapted from Happily Even After: Let God Redeem Your Marriage by Dannah Gresh.

If this topic is important to you, you won’t want to miss the current series on the Revive Our Hearts podcast. In “Happily Even After,” February 13–15, Bob and Dannah Gresh will help you work through how to respond if your husband confesses something painful. 

About the Author

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh is the co-host of Revive Our Hearts podcast and the founder of True Girl, a ministry dedicated to providing tools to help moms and grandmas disciple their 7–12-year-old girls. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including a Bible … read more …

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