Spiritual Healing in the Midst of a Husband's Addiction to Pornography
A short time ago, while posting a poem titled “I Looked for Love in Your Eyes,” I lamented that while there are many, many books written to help men overcome an addiction to pornography, there is very little written to help the women who have been victims of a husband’s addiction. Shortly after I received an email from Vicki Tiede who has written just such a title. Her book, titled Mosaic Heart: Spiritual Healing in the Midst of a Husband's Addiction to Pornography (Update: The book has been released as When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography) will be published by New Growth Press, probably about a year from now.
I asked Vicki if, in the meanwhile, she’d be willing to do an interview to offer some words of help to women who are struggling with the effects of their husband’s sin. She was kind enough to do so. Here is what I asked her:
What is the scope of this problem? How many women are struggling with the effects of a husband’s addiction to pornography?
For nearly every man who regularly views pornography, there is likely a wife or girlfriend experiencing the fallout resulting from his choices. According to TopTenReviews.com, 28.8 million U.S. men regularly visit pornography websites. 50-60% of Christian men struggle with addiction.
From a wife’s perspective, is there a difference between an addict and a more casual user? Should there be?
This is a great question. First let me give you a technical response and then I'll give you a heart response. The term "addiction" implies that there is a progression, tolerance, and an inability to stop the behavior even when there is a desire to stop. A single act of viewing pornography would not be an addiction. However, a "casual user," indicates more than a single act and I would suggest that a "casual user" is already on the slippery slope of addiction. Pornography has a snowball effect; what may begin as seemingly "innocent," occasional visits to a porn site often slowly increases to greater frequency of visits and for larger amounts of time.
Sadly, this increased exposure to porn results in desensitization and tolerance, so when free internet pornography no longer satisfies their supposed needs, some men expand their repertoire to include subscription pornography, massage parlors, strip clubs, prostitutes, hotel rooms, and travel expenses for clandestine affairs. So to answer your initial question - Is there a difference between a one-time exploration and an addiction? Yes. Is there a difference between an addict and a more casual user? No, there is not enough difference to suggest that we can dismiss casual use as harmless.
Now, here's the heart response of a wife ... I would ask the question, "Is the betrayal any less heartbreaking if a husband only has an extra-marital sexual affair 'once in a while,' and he insists he can 'stop having affairs anytime he chooses to do so,' than if he seeks sexual fulfillment from someone other than his wife several times a week and can't stop himself?" It seems ridiculous to even answer such a question, doesn't it? Whether a man claims to be a casual user of porn or is addicted, his wife still experiences the same feelings of rejection and loss.
To be honest, in my book I tell women that they should thank God if their husband is struggling with his addiction to pornography. That struggle is an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work. It's when a husband feels no conviction for his sexual sin that hope seems harder to hold onto.
What is the struggle of women whose husbands are battling (or perhaps given over to) pornography? What do men need to know about the way a husband’s use of pornography tends to affect his wife?
When the truth is unveiled about a husband's addiction to lust, self-gratification, and pornography a wife needs to take time to grieve her losses, of which there are many. They don't need to pretend everything is okay, when it's absolutely not. Topping the list of losses is trust. She trusted her husband enough to share everything with him--her heart, mind, and body-- and that's been betrayed. I spend a lot of time helping women wrestle down this issue in my book.
Many women also lose financial security and health. When most people grieve losses (i.e. in the case of a death), they are able to share their pain with friends and family who are aware of their suffering. Grief resulting from betrayal is unfortunately usually very private, covered in secrecy and shame. I sincerely want women to know that they are not alone and I equip them to choose safe and healthy support networks.
It's also very normal for the wife of a porn addict to feel suffocated by feelings of fear, need for control, guilt, anger, and dependence on her husband for her happiness and sense of self-worth. In my book, we walk through the process of surrendering those feelings and replacing them with healthy alternative, which are grounded in Scripture.
Finally, it stands to reason that when a man chooses to burn the midnight oil looking at computer-enhanced images and engaging in self-gratification rather than enjoying real intimacy with his wife, there are going to be significant repercussions in the marriage bed. Consequently, often much healing is necessary in the area of sexual intimacy.
When writing on this topic, why do you focus on spiritual healing? What about other types of healing (emotional, sexual, etc)?
My prayer is that a woman will focus her eyes on the God of Hope, rather than basing her hope and happiness on her husband's choices. Learning to allow God to meet her greatest needs is a long and learned process, probably longer than the amount of time it will take to go through my interactive book. It's a slow dance through brokenness in the arms of the Almighty. I know. I've been in her shoes and I've learned the intricate steps to finding Hope in the midst of a husband's addiction to pornography.
As a woman works her way through the book, learning how to let God heal her heart, she will also be dealing with her damaged emotions and painful sexual experience--total healing.
More than anything, I want my reader to know she isnot alone or abnormal in her experience and the ensuing feelings that come with a husband's choice to engage in pornography. I do this by providing true, first-hand accounts from 26 other women who have made it through or are successfully navigating sexual betrayal.
Mosaic Heartis interactive, giving the reader ample opportunity to engage in Scripture related to the stages of healing her heart. Guiding questions and plenty of white space give the reader a place to process her own story and discover how what she is learning in Mosaic Heart applies to her unique situation. As a result, she is able to redeem the pain of her own sexual betrayal in the wake of her husband's pornography addiction, and embrace personal and spiritual growth.
What are two or three things a woman needs to know in order to begin to think biblically about her husband’s addiction to pornography?
Only two or three? Okay, here it goes ...
First, she can't base her hope on her husband. Throughout the course of the book, many times she'll hear me say that her hope and happiness must not be dependent on the choices her husband makes every day.
Second, God longs to meet her in the center of her pain. He can handle her tears. He knows her anger. There isn't a feeling she's experienced that He hasn't experienced Himself. He hears her cries for mercy and He will come to her relief. Regardless of how deep her pit of despair, His hand can reach her. She can trust that whatever He allows in her life has eternal value.
Finally, even while she is in the midst of her husband's addiction to pornography, God is able to collect her broken and fragmented heart and begin creating a work of splendor in His masterful hands. Believe it. It's true.
What should a wife’s role be in helping her husband overcome an addiction to pornography? What should it not be?
I want to be clear about two things. First, Mosaic Heart is not meant to give a woman a list of tools and skills to fix her husband. This book is for and about her, not her husband. There are several outstanding nonfiction books that offer general information about what a pornography addiction is all about, however, my book is about healing her broken heart, it's not a "How to cure your husband's pornography addiction" manual. God is the only one who can and will heal her husband if her husband is willing to commit to the hard work. Our God, after all, is on a wild rescue mission to restore each of us to a right relationship with him. God can do it. She can't.
Second, despite anything her husband or others might have told her to the contrary, there is absolutely nothing she has done or not done that has caused her husband to choose pornography. Period.
Having said that, there are some things she can do to promote a healthy environment for healing. I address these at the end of my book. She can...
- Work toward forgiveness. (This is a process, not an event!)
- Fix her eyes on God and credit Him for the work He's doing in her heart, her husband's heart, and in their marriage.
- Talk to her husband about true intimacy.
- Address the issue of the pornography addiction. Talk about it!
- Be extremely sensitive to sexually charged media or resources in their home.
- Remember that God appointed the Holy Spirit the task of conviction. She is only responsible for her obedience to the Word of God. She is not responsible for his daily choices.
A healthy environment for healing does not include ...
- Acting like the "porn police."
- Withholding forgiveness because it feels like a "get out of jail free" card.
- Withholding intimacy, especially when healthy intimacy had been reestablished.
- Being vengeful.
- Ignoring her own issues of sin or brokenness.
- Being unwilling to separate his addiction from who he is aside from the deviant behavior. He is not all "bad," just as she is not all "good."
It seems that most pornography counseling focuses on helping the man overcome his addiction. Are pastors who counsel men prone to overlook the way pornography may have affected this man’s wife?
Oh, you were looking for more than a one word answer?
I think this is absolutely true, but not because they intend to overlook the wife. I believe most available resources focus their attention on the man and how to help them stop their behavior. Many resources specifically for wives, are meant to educate women about the addiction. I wrote Mosaic Heart because I could findno published Christian books specifically addressing the spiritual healing that only God can provide a woman as she seeks total healing in the wake of sexual betrayal.
In addition to reading Mosaic Heart and working through the questions in the book, I strongly encourage women to seek professional counseling with a qualified therapist, pastor, or counselor-led support group. To be honest, many pastors feel ill-equipped to counsel a woman in this situation. I pray this book will provide an additional tool for therapists and pastors to offer wives, and that it will minister to her heart in order to equipher to be a healthy partner, which in turn promotes a restored marriage.
What would you say to the woman who can’t wait a year for your book?
To gain understanding about the addiction, I recommend the following book and website:
- Laaser, Debra. 2008. Shattered Vows: Hope and Healing for Women Who Have Been Sexually Betrayed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- www.pureintimacy.org — Focus on the Family's website (Dr. James Dobson) has a great deal of information about intimacy, sexual addiction, and sexuality in general.
- I'd also encourage her to try to find a support group. www.purelifealliance.org — This website helps people find healing communities-support groups, counselors, resources.
I wish I could send every woman to her home church, but I'm hesitant to do so. I am well aware that some churches take the "medicate the symptoms" rather than "acknowledge and address the disease" approach when faced with issues like pornography and advanced levels of sexual addiction in the family. I love the local church and I feel very strongly about submitting to the authority of a healthy local church (emphasis on healthy). However, I encourage women to prayerfully proceed with caution. It pains me to feel the necessity to give this warning, but not all churches and pastors are safe places. I've heard too many stories of wounded women going to their church after learning about their husband's addiction, and receiving counsel that does not promote healing. In Mosaic Heart, I help women discern whether or not her church is a safe place to go for healing. My prayer is that with continued transparency about this issue in churches, more and more churches will become safe places for these women.