Last week I wrote on the topic of wives of sex addicts/men with problematic sexual behaviors being accussed of judging their husband. I argued that there is a big difference between discerning (something God asks us to do) and judging (something he asks us not to do). Today I'd like to take a closer look at what types of things we could be looking to discern with regards to our husbands.
Women in the early period (first couple of years) of healing from betrayal trauma frequently ask the question "is my husband actually recovering." This question comes up for a few reasons including, 1. the recovery process from being a porn/sex addict, etc. is not a fast one, and 2. she is frequently in horrible pain from past trauma and possibly ongoing re-traumatization.
Now when I say the recovery process for men with the addiction is not a fast one I am not saying expect little to change by way of his acting out behaviour, lying, hiding, and distorted thinking for decades. Not a chance. What I am saying is that this is a process and hitting a point of "good recovery" (which I've argued elsewhere also looks like emotional and spiritual maturity) takes years. However, it's not like a light switch will go on three years from the day he confesses to you and you'll have a new man on that day. Rather, you should be witnessing steady movement towards this new, more mature man.
There's only one hitch: just as it's harder for you to see the children you're living with getting taller, than it is for the relatives who see them twice a year, it's actually really difficult to see genuine change in someone you live with.
For that reason I suggest to women who have real concerns that there is not enough real growth and recovery going on that they take a snapshot of their husband at regular intervals (e.g. every three months, every 6 months) and compare each new one with previous snapshots. Like measuring your child's height on a chart, it gives you some indication if there is movement in the right direction. I would just add that this is a tool for your information and while you may decide one day to show it to your husband (to either praise him or explain why the big consequences is now come upon him), it will probably just create resentment if you overtly let him know you are "grading him" regularly. This would be a slip into judgment then, rather than discernment, see last week's post for more on this.
The first and most obvious measurement women want to make is around sobriety: i.e., has my husband stopped his acting out behavior(s)? Some acting out behaviors feel bigger and more painful, so these should obviously be the main focus. I've heard from long-time sex addiction counselors (and have seen this myself over the years) that some men have very little difficulty giving up the big, overt acting out behaviors: they let go of these immediately and never relapse. For others (often where there is a deeper level of addiction or trauma) giving up behaviors such as porn tends to be more of a process, with some relapses which become more sporadic over time. I'll add that I've also noticed that when the stakes are higher (i.e., the consequences for acting out are bigger) this tends to help men give up acting out with no relapses to follow. I think there could be exceptions to this though, and I might have a different thought on it five years from now.
So far I've spoken about "the big" acting out behaviors, however, any form of "disconnected" sexual behavior is potentially acting out that feeds the neural pathways of sex addiction. That means intentionally objectifying and lusting after women in any context, solo sex, sexual fantasy are all behaviors which probably need to go in recovery. As they are all sin (because they involve lust, Matthew 5: 27-28), they have no place in a spiritually healthy, or "recovered," person. Thus, these are also behaviors you should be evaluating to the best of your ability, assuming you've had a discussion about them and their is agreement this is the goal.
Now, if either of you feels that some of the above "smaller acting out" is fine, then you'll want to leave it off your evaluation. When women have a lower standard here it's often because they feel guilty for not having sex, or "enough" sex with him, they've bought into cultural lies about sex, or because it's an area of struggle for them as well. If this is your story, I would encourage you to talk to a Christian sex addiction/betrayal trauma professional about this. In the case where he feels that some of the above is fine (usually termed as "impossible not to") but this is your standard, you would be wise again to consult, possibly as a couple with a Christian sex addiction professional and/or betrayal trauma specialist. There are some pastoral counselors as well who will assist you because they hold to this standard... but it's not always a given.
Assuming you have come to a shared definition of sobriety, I would suggest that your snapshot involve deciding where your husband is today with regards to both categories of behavior: the big (e.g., porn, sex workers, hook-ups, etc.) and the lusting (as described above).
On a line like the one below, circle the area which best describes where your husband is at today with regards to his big acting out behaviors. The left extreme indicates: "extremely badly." The right extreme indicates there is "perfect sobriety" from big acting out behaviors. Use the second line in the same manner to record his current lusting behaviors.
Next week I'll finish this series with more behaviors you might be evaluating in order to get a sense of how your husband is doing in his recovery. I'll also make the measurements part of this post into a downloadable PDF worksheet for you.
If you have any questions you would like to have an expert Christian sex addiction specialist or betrayal trauma specialist answer next month, please feel free to email me and I'll send it off for answering. Your identity will not be disclosed to our expert or the community if you prefer to remain anonymous.