by Ella Hutchinson
Last week we launched Ella's two-part post on six things the Church should never say to wives of sex addicts. As Ella mentioned in Part 1, there are doubtless more things yet that get said (that shouldn't), but these six are ones that are heard far too often.
I'll also take a moment here to say a big "thank you" to the many churches (they've been growing in number over the years) that I'm aware of who offer excellent support to wives of sex addicts. If you're part of a church who really cares about doing right by the hurting, betrayed women in your congregation and want more resources, consider reading this PDF by Covenant Eyes.
4. “Don’t ask your husband to leave the home”
This is again encouraging enabling behavior and discouraging healthy boundary setting. In Luke Gilkerson’s article, “Is pornography Grounds for Divorce: How my Opinion Changed”, he references Vicki Tiede, stating:
"She recommends a time of mediated separation for the couple (if conversation and confrontation do not work) in order to “create the crisis necessary for him to seek help and finally work toward restoration,” with the goal still being the restoration of the marriage. She writes:
'Think of it this way: the greatest gift you can give your husband is to love God more than you love your husband. God can redeem your husband; you cannot. Thus you love him more by loving in light of his need to repent” (p.244).'
The goal is not only the promise to stop the pornographic behavior, but the rebuilding of trust and intimacy in the marriage through changed behavior."
5. “Use this an an opportunity to look at yourself and the role you play in your marriage problems”
Many are eager to point out that although the husband has cheated, his spouse isn’t perfect either. She too is flawed. In fact, they say, she chose a sex addict as her husband because of her own dysfunction. Although I’ve heard of wives being told this for years, it never fails to shock me. Everyone is flawed and everyone has dysfunction in their past to some degree. But, I can’t think of one possible reason that pointing this out to a wife could be helpful at a time like this. What I am positive of is that nothing is more damaging to a marriage than sexual betrayal. Encouraging focus elsewhere only comes across as trying to place blame where it doesn’t belong and trying to distract from the real issue.
6. “A Godly wife will immediately forgive her husband”
Forgiveness is a process, not a one time event. While critical, forgiveness takes time. Pray with and for a wife as she grieves her husband’s betrayal and she will come to a place of forgiveness in her own time. Again, please don’t beat a woman over the head with the Bible by throwing scriptures out that will only serve to shame her. You will simply hinder her healing and become an unsafe person for her. Pushing forgiveness on someone who isn’t ready to forgive is one of the most invalidating things a person can do.
Barbara Roberts, in her article, "Three Kinds of Forgiveness," states:
Jesus forgave the repentant man who was being crucified on the hill with Him; but He did not forgive the unrepentant scoffing man on that other cross. If Jesus’ intent in “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” was to indicate a mass forgiveness to all who had put Him to death, then there would be no need for repentance in order to be forgiven, and both men on those crosses would have been ushered into the presence of God upon their deaths. We simply know that not to be true.
Instead of pressuring a wife to “forgive and forget”, you might explain to her that forgiveness is not about trust or reconciliation, which are earned, and that in her own time she can choose what Roberts describes as, “Renouncing retaliation and vengeance”. She explains:
Renunciation of vengeance generally also entails letting God take your hurt, and letting Him heal you to mitigate the adverse effects of the abuse. Many of us have found that this is an ongoing process, because the adverse effects are not all apparent at the beginning, and some memories of the abuse had been buried but later get triggered. …the pain rises up in waves to the surface … there are lulls and there are surges… but it generally settles down over time, if there is no further abuse. You could call this process ‘psychological forgiveness.’
To help a betrayed wife begin her healing journey you don’t have to have any magic words or even any formal training in sexual addiction (although becoming thoroughly educated on this topic is becoming increasingly necessary for those in helping roles). By simply listening to a betrayed wife, allowing her to express her grief, and telling her it’s okay to feel whatever she is feeling, you’ve already helped her beyond measure.
Ella Hutchinson LPC-S, CSAT-C, CCPS (APSATS) had her life was turned upside down through the discovery of her husband, Jeff's, sexual addiction. After two years of healing, recovery, and restoration, she began counseling wives of sex addicts herself. Soon after, Ella and Jeff began working together to help couples find the same healing they had found. Today Ella and Jeff are following God’s calling for them as they facilitate couple intensives from their office in Houston.
Learn more about Ella and her counseling services at her website.