You found out your partner is or was using pornography. Whether they came clean and confessed on their own, or whether you stumbled upon “the facts” you know your partner is or has been involved in porn. Perhaps this is something that “used to be” a problem for your partner. Or maybe it's something that’s totally new to your relationship.
Regardless of the details, you may be asking yourself:
How can I heal?
How can I cope with the pain, the betrayal, the hiding, and the violation that has happened in the relationship?
Where is God in all of this?
There is hope. Healing is possible. Here are 9 steps you can take in the journey:
1. Know You Are Not Alone.
First of all, know you are not alone. While the exact statistics are hard to come by because it’s not something people are actively admitting, much less broadcasting on their facebook profile, from my experience, the vast majority of people in committed relationships who have internet access (all the couples I know except my 80 year old grandparents) have been affected by one or both partners' use of pornography. To be honest, there is no one who I have ever talked to about porn who has said “this has never been an issue in my relationship.” NO ONE.
Just because we aren't talking about it, doesn't mean we aren't all struggling.
While the majority of research and conversation around pornography consumption is related to the person using it, Fight the New Drug, a non-religious organization committed to analyzing the scientific research around pornography has found:
“Individuals who learn of their partner’s porn habit often internalize their shame and confusion, asking themselves why they aren’t “enough.” They may feel undesirable, unattractive, and worthless. Many partners of porn consumers even start showing physical symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Research has also found that because of the shame a partner’s use of pornography causes, the majority of women distance themselves from their normal social support network when they find out their partner has been using porn. Unfortunately, this is the time the betrayed partner needs their friends and other social supports the most.
2. Know This Is Not Your Fault.
Your partner’s use of pornography is not your fault. I repeat: this is not your fault.
As strange as it may sound, your partner’s choice to engage with porn is not about you. Ultimately, porn use like any other unhealthy behavior people engage in is a false way of trying to get needs met. Your partner’s use of porn has little to do with you or your body and so much more to do with the unmet needs in his/her heart. These are needs that only Jesus can fill. As a partner or spouse, one of your primary roles is to point your partner back to Jesus because you are not God. You cannot meet all the needs of your partner’s heart, nor were you ever intended to.
3. Tell Someone Safe
After finding out your partner has been using pornography, you need to find someone safe to tell. Staying silent or keeping their secret will only cause more pain. The pain of a partner’s use of porn can be so immobilizing that you need the care and empathy of another human being to keep you on the path towards healing. Be wise in who you choose to tell. Not everyone you are in relationship with is worthy of trust or will be safe and respond appropriately. Ask God to show you who you can be open with as you walk through the healing process. A safe person will respond with kindness and empathy. She will not minimize your experience or blame or shame you for your partner's actions. If the first person you tell does not respond appropriately, find someone else you trust.
Ask God to show you who you can be open with...
4. Grieve Before God: Write and Pray a Lament.
The pain that can come from a partner’s use of porn can be excruciating. As a human being, you are not meant to carry this type of pain.
One of the best ways to release the pain of a partner’s betrayal is through the Christian spiritual practice of lament. A lament is a completely uncensored prayer to God where you tell him:
1. exactly what you are thinking
2. how you are feeling
3. what your partner’s actions have cost you.
With a situation as significant as a partner’s use of porn, it would be very helpful to first write your lament, and then pray it out loud in the presence of a safe person.
During the grieving process it’s so important that you list out absolutely everything you are thinking and feeling, including your thoughts and feelings about your partner, yourself, and God himself. You pray (and maybe scream and cry) and tell God exactly how you feel because HE CAN HANDLE IT.
Your emotions are meant to be released, not bottled up, but they need to be released to the only ONE who can actually handle them: God.
Not only can God handle all our emotions, he is longing for us to bring him everything, even our darkest thoughts and feelings. He’s God, so he already knows exactly what’s in our hearts. Opening your deep emotions to the Lord is ultimately an act of worship because you are saying: “God I want to give you my everything, even the secret, painful, and hidden parts of myself.” He receives this offering as act of faith and trust in him.
5. Listen For the Voice of Jesus
After you have prayed and completely poured out your heart, sit in silence and wait for the Lord’s response.
Ask him to give you a picture of how he feels about your pain.
Ask him to show you a time when he felt the way you are currently feeling.
When you’re ready, ask him if he can take your pain. Ask him to take the pain that you have poured out of yourself and take it on Himself.
Ask him anything else you need to.
The still small voice of the Lord can often be heard the loudest during times of immense pain. As you pour your heart to him, he will meet you.
Jesus knows what it is to be completely betrayed by those that he loves most. He left perfect fellowship with his Father and came to earth for his bride who lied to him, abandoned him, and eventually crucified him. Jesus KNOWS the pain of betrayal by the ones he loves. He is longing to meet you in your pain and take the weight you are bearing.
After you have grieved and lamented the pain of your partner’s betrayal, you are free to move towards forgiveness. I am often hesitant to even mention the word forgiveness because it has been so misused, misunderstood, and in some cases even used to further abuse victims of abuse.
But we need to talk about forgiveness because when forgiveness is properly understood, it is what sets people free.
Let’s be clear about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t--
Forgiveness is NOT:
Forgetting about it
Pretending the betrayal never happened
Excusing your partner’s sin
Saying what your partner did was ok or not that bad
Something that can happen without really grieving
Something that requires your partner’s repentance
The same thing as restoring the relationship
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is moving the offense of your partner off you and onto Jesus. It is choosing to believe by the act of Jesus on the cross that your partner’s sin was paid for.
Before we can forgive we must grieve before the Lord, and we must count the cost of our partner’s actions and label them as sin. Forgiveness does not say what our partner did was ok. Just the opposite--forgiveness says “What my partner did was wrong. It was sin, and therefore requires forgiveness.”
Only when we first acknowledge the sin of the other person and acknowledge what it has cost us can we forgive.
How to forgive:
A way to practically walk through the forgiveness process is by asking God to give you a picture of Jesus taking your partner’s sin and putting it on the cross. (Again this can only happen after you have grieved.) As you picture this, you may want to name each of the items you are specifically forgiving your partner for and what they have cost you. Imagine each of these things being nailed to the cross. As you do this, you can ask God to help you release your desire for revenge and put it in his hands. When we make the choice to forgive something supernatural happens--God honors that choice and frees us from carrying the weight of our partner’s actions.
7. Set Boundaries and Make a Plan to
After you have done the grief work and walked through the forgiveness process you are in a healthy place to begin creating some new boundaries in your relationship. A tangible tool for re-establishing trust is called a trust agreement. This document provides a space for to you write the ways in which your partner can re-establish your trust. Having this clearly defined and in writing removes the confusion that often accompanies the trust rebuilding process.
How does a trust agreement work?
The individual whose trust was broken is the one primarily responsible for completing the trust agreement. You will think of the ways in which your partner can practically show that they are now worthy of trust. Each item listed on the agreement should have a timetable so that it is clear to both you and your partner when trust is to be re-established. After the you have thought of the items and timeline connected to those items, you can present them to your partner.
How trust can be established #1: My partner will provide me with the password to his/her phone and allow me access to all texts, emails, voicemails, social media accounts, photos, etc.
Timeline: Trust will be established after I have had unlimited access to the items above for 9 months
How trust can be established #2: My partner will find and meet with an accountability partner or group
Timeline: My partner will be in contact with the accountability partner or group at least once per week for 6 months
Also, remember that your partner’s adherence to the agreement is up to him/her--You are not the porn police.
Your forgiveness, love, and respect for your partner does not depend on the items listed in the trust agreement, but your ability to trust your partner does. Your trust in your partner depends on his recovery, but his recovery process does not depend on you.
Accountability is important for your partner during this time, but generally it is best if another group or individual, and not you serve as the source of your partner’s accountability. Additionally, know that it is not your job to be your partner’s therapist. It is not your role to “fix” their problem or even to try to analyze why they began using porn. Your job is to create clear boundaries, know their porn use is not about you, and to care for yourself.
8. Make a plan for Self-care
Walking through the healing process is neither fun nor easy, but it is always worthwhile. Regardless of what your partner does or does not do in the midst of this, it is important you take care of yourself. Surround yourself with those who you feel emotionally safe with and who will encourage and listen to you as you walk the messy steps of healing.
Do things that nourish your soul. This looks different for everyone. Some ideas might be keeping a journal, being outside, playing with your kids, resting, reading a good book, eating good food, doing something that you consider fun. Most importantly, spend intentional time with Jesus. If you can, take time every day to let him love you and remind you that he is the perfect spouse. He is the only one who can meet all your needs. He is always there. He will never let you down. He sees you and knows you fully, he and longs for you to share your all moments with him.
9. Consider Seeing a Therapist for Your Own Healing
Walking the road towards healing from your partner’s use of pornography or other types of betrayal is often best done with the help of a trained professional. While friends serve an important support role in the journey, a professional therapist is trained to walk with you as you heal and can help you learn to set appropriate boundaries. Because every situation is unique, there are no universal rules regarding what specific boundaries are necessary. This is especially true if your partner isn't repentent or doesn't see a problem with pornography. Help is available. You are not alone and there is hope.
If you are interested in learning more about counseling or setting up an initial appointment either in office or via online video, email: firstname.lastname@example.org