When She Discovers His Porn Addiction: Helping Wives Process the Pain

Leaders, I’m grateful for this important article from our ministry friend Ellen Dykas. This is one to print and keep in your files. It equips us to minister in Christ-like ways to women who’ve been deeply wounded by a husband’s pornography.

During April, we’re tackling difficult issues on our sister blog True Woman and on the Revive Our Hearts program. Hop on over to these sites to glean and grow in gospel-centered leadership. Cheering you on! Leslie Bennett, Women’s Ministry Initiatives

Another devastated heart due to a husband’s porn problem. Another marriage reeling in pain and shame. I kept reading the journal entry she sent to me.

God, I come to You very weak and broken, grieved over my husband’s sin. I feel shocked, betrayed, angry, distrustful, and sad at sin’s corrupting power—very aware of my own desperate need for grace as I confront him.

This dear woman knew of her husband’s pornography battle prior to their marriage but had “naively assumed” he had overcome it and their “marital bliss would provide the antidote he needed against temptation.” When she discovered he had accessed porn sites on her laptop (bypassing the filter on his own), her dream of a happy, secure marriage in which she felt compellingly beautiful to her husband was shattered.

In the ache of her raw emotions and pain, what would you say if she reached out to you? I’ve sat with hundreds of women over the years who’ve faced the trauma of a husband’s sexual unfaithfulness. As if being betrayed wasn’t enough, many people tell these women unhelpful things that heap more confusion and pain onto their situation.

Let’s be clear that men aren’t the only ones giving way to pornography and other forms of sexual sin! I’ve addressed how women need transformation in their sexuality and desires and also can get ensnared in pornography. But for now let’s focus on what many wives, including those married to Christian men, need immediately after the painful revelation that a husband has been sexually unfaithful.

Four Ways to Hurt a Hurting Wife

Let’s start with four things that should never be said to a wife.

1. “You do realize that most men including Christians struggle with lust, right?”

This kind of response minimizes both the ugliness of sin and the real pain a wife experiences. Yes, statistics are sobering regarding how many struggle with pornography addiction. However, as well meaning as it may be to attempt to normalize sin, including lust, these words will wound rather than help a wife just after learning that her husband has been unfaithful and deceitful.

2. “I know it seems impossible, but God will grow something beautiful out of this!”

Those who want to truly offer comfort and Christ-centered wisdom to a wife need to avoid spiritualizing her pain, which is something so easy for us to do when we feel uncomfortable.

A time will come when we will need to challenge and exhort this hurting woman with God’s redemptive purposes through trials. However, a wife first needs to be comforted before she can comprehend God’s bigger picture. While it’s always a good idea to encourage someone to look to Christ, it’s just as important to discern what a traumatized person is ready to hear and receive.

3. “Come now, it’s not that bad! At least your husband didn’t _________________.”

One-upping someone’s difficult circumstances rarely leads to Christ-centered encouragement. Furthermore, minimizing a woman’s specific situation and pain dismisses her new reality. Comparing stories serves to overlook her story.

4. “I know you’re hurting right now, but what’s your sex life been like?”

Oh, the anger that boils up in my heart when women tell me this is what friends and spiritual leaders have said to them in the vulnerable minutes after they reveal their husband’s infidelity! Sexual love between a husband and wife is important, but a lack of sex is never the cause of another’s sinful choices. Never place blame on a wife for her husband’s sin.

Dear leader, pray for your heart, mouth, and mind to be controlled by the Spirit as you engage this brokenhearted woman.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another (Col. 3:12–13).

Four Ways to Love Her Wisely

Now that we’ve considered what not to do, here are four ways to love a woman in the early stages of facing her husband’s sexual sin.

1. Listen, listen, listen.

The woman in front of you just had her world rocked, and a primary way to love and help her NOW is to know her and understand her situation. Don’t minimize it. This is a big deal!

Her husband has sinned against God and her by doing a 180 in response to God’s command in Ephesians 5:25. Rather than loving his wife like Christ loves the Church, he’s pursued selfish idols by sinfully investing time and energy outside the marriage. Even the “private” sin of pornography robs the marriage, replacing spousal love with a fantasy world. This is excruciating to say the least!

Don’t overwhelm her with interrogating questions, advice, or actions you think she should take. No, make your initial priority to love her through listening, comforting, and knowing. Don’t be afraid to cry with her and get angry at sin with her. Psalm 32:8 will strengthen you if the path forward seems murky. Jesus is with you and her! Leaning into Him will give you everything you need to gently help this wife do the same.

2. Understand that sexual betrayal is traumatic.

This wound can trigger paralyzing fear, depression, sadness, confusion, and bitter anger. Her sinful heart will, of course, be interacting with these emotions, but it’s vital for you to grasp how sexual betrayal sends devastating shock waves into a wife’s being. The terrain of her marriage has been exposed to reveal cracks and hidden darkness. Depending on the depth of deceit woven into the cover-up of sin, when reality comes into the light she will feel as if the marriage and husband she thought were hers don’t exist.

God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well. Nestle into Jesus’ promise to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds (Ps. 147:3).

3. Offer practical help and love in action.

Are there practical ways to help her today or this week? Childcare, meals, making phone calls? If she discovered her husband’s sin rather than him confessing it, she may need help knowing how and when to confront him and may desire that someone be with her for this scary conversation.

The goal is for all things to be brought into the light (1 John 1:7) so that the couple faces the truth of their situation and not a façade. Christ is calling this couple to walk forward into a humbling and gut-raw honest process of radical dependency upon His grace. What’s one step you can help her take in that direction?

If everything is out on the table yet her husband is resisting repentance (by minimizing what he’s done) and refusing to get help, she may need further guidance. Encourage her to speak with a pastor or another trusted spiritual leader, effectively “outing” her husband and his sin. This marriage is in crisis, and it needs outside help from mature believers. This kind of sin and the pain it causes won’t just work itself out in isolation.

4. Check in on her and follow up.

Follow-up is not just important; it is probably the most powerful help you can give. A text, call, FaceTime chat, or walk around the block are simple ways to help her not feel so alone.

However you choose to reach out, don’t be afraid of getting in over your head or thinking that to love this woman means signing your life away. Yes, you will be giving her your time because right now she’s hurting and needy. Focus on this week instead of on an unknown future. Reach out to her with love, even if it’s only a series of text messages that encourage her with Scripture and remind her you’re praying. The main thing is to keep in touch.

These four points will help you lovingly connect with a hurting wife. Over time, she and her marriage will need different kinds of help. But following these guidelines will help her move forward on the right foot, gently helping her to trust Jesus to bring healing to her heart and wisdom over the long haul.

This article was originally posted as a two-part series on “Wives and Porn” for Harvest USA.

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About the Author

Ellen Dykas

Ellen Dykas

Ellen Mary Dykas serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality and gender. She writes and teaches on these topics and others and has authored Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness and Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word, and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. She lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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