Those of you who have read Beyond Betrayal will know I’m a big believer in intimacy. Intimacy with God and others is, in my opinion the most important factor in healing from porn and sex addiction… and it’s a key component in healing from our betrayal trauma as well. An invitation to intimacy extended to our betrayer/husband is an incredible act of grace.
However (you knew there was a however coming, didn’t you), there has been a lot of pressure put on wives to be the main source of human intimacy for the addict/husband who has caused her so much pain. Oftentimes she’ll be told by her husband and others that God gives him grace and she needs to as well. In fact her grace is needed in order for him to heal… so she'd better get a move on. She may even have come away from a recent popular Christian movie about sex addiction with a message like this.
The problem with this reasoning is that she has been showing him grace and love… probably for years. His response? Acting out. If her (or God's) grace was what he needed to change, how was it that it had no effect on his moving toward recovery? Why is it he didn’t make a move that direction until things started to get messy and he started seeking help (if he has started seeking help).
Put up with What!!!???
In the past year I’ve heard of sex addicts telling their wives they need to:
- Accept my BDSM lifestyle (it’s my orientation, so show grace)
- Embrace my polygamous marriage (it’s God’s will for us, so show grace)
- Show grace for my online paedophilic activities (I’ve shown you a lot of grace for your imperfections)
I’m not making any of those up. And the first two lines were from pastors.
In The Solution of Choice: Four Good Ideas that Neutralized Western Christianity, Marcus Warner (a recovered porn addict/former pastor) says:
“In this book, we are proposing that tolerance, as a Christian virtue, is loving your enemies. Tolerance as it is being used in our culture and our churches, however, is more like giving up on the possibility of change… Tolerance is much more hopeless than mercy. Mercy gives people who have failed another chance by providing something they did not have before.”
Some Things He Did not Have Before
There is likely going to be a day when the Holy Spirit begins to nudge us towards having and showing grace/mercy to our husband. However, it’s going to be real grace and mercy: not tolerance of evil.
And the Holy Spirit is not going to do that nudging while we’re still lying bleeding on the road. He won’t ask us to do it at someone else’s command. He is not going to ask us to do it in a way that looks more like caving on our Godly values than helping someone move towards wholeness.
For the unrepentant husband (look at actions, not just words) full of excuses, the most loving thing we can give him (that he did not have before) is grace through boundaries and consequences. As Marc Lewis explains in his book The Biology of Desire, addictions are “amazingly difficult to walk away from until their consequences become intolerable.” Consequences, like seeing his wife’s pain and righteous anger and losing that relationship with her as he knew it (and possibly losing it altogether), can be an incredible gift to an unrepentant man who has yet to launch into a real recovery journey.
Once he is truly on the road to recovery (should he make that decision), and rebuilding trust in the relationship, there is something else we can give him that he did not have before: intimacy. I’m talking about intimacy where our husband makes himself known to us in his sin, shame and struggles… and we look to Jesus and ask Him to show us what He sees.
In response to this earnest prayer, God can give us His perspective and grow His mercy in us. It will be a stretch to begin with… and there may be pain. However, choosing to love our enemy (where that describes our husband) and act, with God, according to his best interests is the greatest act of mercy we can aspire to. A truly repentant man will respond with awe, wonder and possibly tears when presented with the gift. The possibilities for healing, in that Holy Spirit-lead moment are huge.
I recognize, however, that some husbands will not accept God’s, or our, current offer of intimacy. They do not make themselves—sin, weaknesses and all—known and therefore cannot under any circumstances receive grace. The possibility of grace does not exist for those who cannot admit a need for mercy.
In such a tragic situation we need to listen carefully to how the Holy Spirit would lead us. We can still be grace-givers… but what grace looks like may be very different than what we would desire. However, even if grace must come through consequences … God can and will use it: for our husband's benefit and for our own.
Some seasons may be more about giving grace and others more about receiving it. If you do not have those in your life who can show you His grace right now, please keep reaching out... until you find safe, life-giving community.