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The following is an excerpt from Ellen Dykas’ workbook for women, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2013 by Harvest USA. This Harvest USA resource can be used in a one-on-one discipling relationship or in a small group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore, www.harvest-usa-store.com 

What does it mean to be relationally and/or sexually broken? The Bible clearly states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The impact of sin has had a devastating effect on all of creation. One aspect of this utter ruin is that nothing functions in the way our Creator originally intended. Our world is broken. Relational and sexual brokenness thus refers to the sin struggles and temptations that women and men battle against while they live on this earth. Relationships become a prime ground for our idols to be nurtured and developed, as we seek people to be what only Christ can be. Sex becomes a way to medicate the pain within our hearts—or to feel anything at all. Our gender and sexual identity become confused, blurred, and even frightening. All things may have been created through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16), but no one experiences life entirely according to his good design. Our lives are broken—but the gospel of healing, restoration, and forgiveness has broken into our brokenness!

Women are sexual beings just as much as men are. However, they often experience an even “louder silence” regarding their sexual sin and temptation. The Christian community has taken slow steps in recent years to address issues of sexuality, including addictions of a sexual nature. However, the opportunities for women to have the gospel specifically applied to their areas of relational and sexual brokenness have been few and far between. It’s our hope that Sexual Sanity for Women will provide opportunities for women to gather together and receive encouragement and teaching that will help them to, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let [them] run with endurance the race that is set before [them], looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).

A few thoughts as you begin to work through this study: Although an individual could journey through it herself, this material is meant to be used in a group setting. There is power in people coming together to walk in the light with one another, confessing weakness and sin, praying for one other, and urging each other on in the calling to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no provision for fleshly desires (Romans 13:14). This process of throwing off sinful patterns of life is just that—a process! This material will assist women to begin that process of freedom and change and gives strugglers a place to start in addressing these deeply held and usually carefully guarded issues.

Many women who wrestle with their sexuality in sinful ways—including promiscuity, pornography, fantasy life, masturbation, and homosexuality—have other heart struggles as well. The Bible is clear that we all live out of our hearts, and yet our hearts have been impacted by living in a sinful world, where people sin against one another in traumatic ways. This study is not meant to provide in-depth counseling for the pain brought on by trauma and abuse. Professional counseling and/or pastoral counseling by wise, mature Christians is highly recommended as part of this process of opening up one’s personal history and struggles. Ultimately, healing and change is the work of our Savior Jesus Christ, who came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captive free—including female captives and daughters of God who are brokenhearted!

Sexual addictions among women are rarely talked about. Women strugglers often feel loaded down with a heavy sense of shame. They feel they are somehow “extra-abnormal” because sexual sin is typically addressed only as a man’s problem. When we consider female homosexuality and same-sex attraction, there is confusion in the way it is discussed and understood. We hear many explanations about why individuals are attracted to the same gender. There has been a major push in the media to say that homosexuality is something that’s inborn and unchangeable, as in, “I was born this way.” Even within many faith communities, there has been growing acceptance of homosexuality as a God-blessed identity—“I’m a gay Christian.”

How does a biblical view inform not only the question, “Is being gay OK?”, but “what is homosexuality?” And does the Bible really address seemingly “private” sexual activities such as viewing and reading pornography or masturbation? And if I truly love and am committed to someone, what’s the big deal in expressing myself sexually with that person outside marriage? Finally, does God really have helpful advice about addictions in our lives, especially those of a sexual or emotional nature?

What we’ll learn (in the sessions that follow) will give us hope and confidence that God’s Word does speak into all these sensitive areas. Through the person of Jesus, God has given us more than a set of rules to follow or a series of steps to complete. He loves us and is actually after so much more than behavioral change. He is able to transform our hearts and minds and grow us into Christlike women!
The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to every struggler—woman or man, younger or older. And whether the sinful pattern takes the shape of sexual promiscuity with men, women, (or both), homosexuality, emotionally enmeshed dependencies, or habitual sexual patterns (such as masturbation, pornography, or an obsessive fantasy life), God’s Word has hope for real change. This study will explore how these patterns develop and how, through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the truths of the gospel, new Christlike patterns can grow and flourish in the life of any woman.

In Matthew 12: 33-34, we read, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Jesus consistently describes behavior as coming out of the heart of a person. He puts it this way: “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33, Luke 6:43–45). He also says that it’s not what we put into our mouths that corrupt us, but what comes out of our mouths (our words) that corrupt us. He says the mouth speaks from out of the heart (Matthew 12:34). What Jesus seems to be saying is that the inner issues are what really drive us, and what we say or do reveals our hearts. Jesus consistently focuses on what’s inside a person, not just on outward manifestations of behavior. He compared the behavior of religious leaders to cups that were clean on the outside but dirty on the inside (Matthew 23:25). Jesus was very compassionate to individuals struggling with sexual sin. He showed great love and compassion to women who are sexual strugglers (Luke 7:36−48; John 4:7–26; and 8:1–11). If you were to encounter Jesus today, you could have confidence that he would not condemn you but would show you love and mercy. You could also be confident to know that he would not focus exclusively on your outward behaviors and sins, but rather on the deeper motivational issues that arise from the core of who you are in your heart. Beginning to deal with your sexual behaviors, relational struggles, and emotional attractions can be very scary and difficult. The purpose of this group is to provide a setting where you can deal with some painful and troubling issues within a caring and supportive group setting.

This study will guide you through a model for understanding behavior called the Tree Model. It’s based on what Jesus said about being able to tell a tree by its fruit. This model will become critical to your understanding of why you do what you do. Remember, God is seeking much more than outward change through transformed behaviors! He is seeking heart change—which means that the deeper, inner issues in your life will be addressed and then “redressed” with the grace and truth of Jesus. True change and healing is possible, as we set our focus on Jesus Christ who has come to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free!”

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise

Updated 4.20.2017

A positive theology of sex
Harvest USA articles usually deal with the negative realities of sexual sin, and many people think evangelical Christians, when it comes to discussions of sex, are negative, nit-picking prudes who do not have enough fun and who believe God is anti-pleasure and only says “No!” Harvest USA, in its work with people who struggle with sexual brokenness and sin, speaks seriously about these issues, but serious does not mean negative.

We are about an incredibly positive message; we are about real joy, restoration, and redemption that flow from God’s grace, mercy, and love. This applies to matters of sex!

Scripture says God makes and gives to his creation the best pleasures. Psalm 16 says, “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore!” (ESV). Sex, with all its emotional and physical components of pleasure, came from the mind of God. It was not something man invented in opposition to God’s plan. Scripture declares that God designed us to please him and live a life full of lasting pleasures and joys.

This is good news. Even though sin has corrupted all good things, much of the goodness of God’s work of creation remains and God’s work of redemption extends hope to bring joy from despair. We are called to live within the good and right parameters of God’s design. In the area of sex, it is imperative to grasp the positive theology of sexuality that God designed. Doing so will help us live lives that are glorifying to God, enjoy his creation more and avoid the entanglements of sexual idolatry and sin.

Consider the following seven truths about God’s great gift of sex.

1. God made us male and female–the crowning masterpieces of his creation
The good news about God’s gift of sex and sexuality begins with God the almighty, all wise and all loving Creator. God declared the world was good and that man and woman were very good. Our maleness and masculinity or our femaleness and femininity are great and astounding works of divine creativity. Every man and woman is a crowning masterpiece of the Creator.

What are we masterpieces here for? Our culture says life is for sex, and sex is the reason for life. Our culture teaches us to radically devalue our masculinity or femininity unless we are sexually active. Unmarried Christians are tempted to believe their single years are a waste if they cannot have sex and tend to make marriage an idol in their hearts. This “life is for sex” view is far too one-dimensional. If by “sex” we only think about acts of sex—the acts that lead to orgasm—then our definition is extremely narrow and artificial. It is easy to “miss the forest for the trees.” If we think only about the sex act, we miss a grand forest of God-made sexuality and sexual identity.

While it is true that God designed us to have the capacity for sex, we are really created for relationships. We are not a masterpiece to hang alone in an art gallery, nor are we made only for sex. In Psalm 8, King David praised God that we were made “a little lower than the angels” (v. 7, NIV). As male and female, we each have astounding dignity—even glory—to bear his image and have a personal relationship with him. God also enabled us to enjoy a kaleidoscope of relationships because he lovingly gave each of us our gender identity. Maleness or femaleness is the context not only for being husbands and wives, but also fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, male friends and female friends, etc. We best experience this dignity and glory that God graciously intends for us as we love God and our neighbors as ourselves.

2. God’s gift of sexuality reveals his own nature and glory
Art reflects the character of the artist, and a novel yields insights into the mind of the author. In a mysterious way, the fact of two genders capable of sexual intimacy reflects the nature of God. Even before time began, God the Father loved God the Son. The Father, Son, and Spirit shared a communion that was complete and perfect. It is the perfect relationship and reflects absolute transparency and intimacy. The Bible specifically teaches that each person of the Trinity has total awareness of the others (Luke 10:20; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:11, etc.). The intimacy of the Trinity—the three in one—is the source of and reason we are humanly capable of cultivating intimacy. The ability to build trust, closeness, and knowledge of another is itself a love-gift from our Triune God who delights, for example, when two of his children “become one flesh” in marriage.

Scripture also shows the nature of God’s love for his people through metaphors relating to marriage. Ezekiel 16, Hosea 2, and Song of Solomon in various ways point to God as a faithful husband who redemptively loves his undeserving bride. Paul specifically states that marriage reflects the love Christ has for his church (Ephesians 5:32). When married couples have sex they can reflect a glimmer of God’s passion for his church, and the reality of perfect intimacy in Heaven—our state after the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

Through faithfulness, chastity, and modesty, unmarried people can enjoy many levels and types of intimacy (other than engaging in sex) in the context of their God-given gender identity. Marriage is not the only venue for a deep and abiding relationship. Singles can and ought to involve themselves in close, long-lasting friendships. These, too, are relationships that reflect the intimate connections of community that the Trinity displays. Unmarried individuals also can reflect the sacrificial love of Christ for the church. Single men can sacrifice themselves for others by doing things that seemingly come naturally to men—manual labor, repairing things, etc.—yet which require them to act relationally towards others. Single women can sacrifice themselves for others by doing things that reflect a woman’s natural affinities. Women often seem more alert to an individual’s needs, both physical and emotional. We each function out of our sexual identity even if we are not engaging in sex.

3. God’s gift of sexuality is for all of us, whether we are single or married
God made each man and woman able to live righteously and have an abundant life regardless of his or her age or marital status. Both the married and unmarried state can be joy-filled and God-honoring, yet many Christian singles are not feeling the glory of being single. The gift of celibacy sounds like a hard sell. “If only…” riddles and even cripples their joy in life, especially as they strive in good faith to live pure against the backdrop of our orgasmically-obsessed secular culture.

Single Christians wonder, “Will I miss out on something fundamental to life if I never have a full sex-life merely because I don’t have a spouse?” Are the pleasures of sex in marriage better than the pleasures of godly unmarried sexuality? If we say, “yes,” we fall into a two-class view of Christianity that is both un-biblical and destructive. This is just as erroneous as saying that having children is essential to the Christian life and that childless couples are somehow second-class Christians.

The core blessings of the gospel are for everyone who believes, whether married or not. The diverse benefits of the gospel, however, are not equally distributed to all believers at all seasons of life. Remember Jesus? He was unmarried, sinless, and lived without the pleasures of sexual intercourse. Remember Paul? He said that he would rather remain unmarried. Remember Daniel and numerous other singles in the Bible?

The pleasures of sex in marriage are not better than the joys God provides unmarried believers. In the same way that chocolate chip cookies are great and strawberry shortcake is super, these pleasures are not better or worse; they are simply different. An apple pie lover would be foolish to say rhubarb pie is bad simply because he or she had never tasted it.

So is the married state to be preferred to the unmarried state? Not necessarily. While Paul does say that it is better to marry “than to burn” in lust, he also advocates the gift of celibacy over marriage for the sake of service to the Kingdom, especially during times of persecution (I Corinthians 7:9, 28-29). Here is a reality check: Many unmarried Christians experience more intimacy through godly friendships and fulfillment through unhindered service for the Kingdom than others in poor marriages. Singles and married people can be miserable or content. It is all a matter of God’s grace, which good gift God chooses to give his children, and what we do as stewards of these gifts. Some are called to celibacy—not a season but a lifetime of singleness—and so God gives special grace, special opportunities, and especially significant service.

In a season of singleness, God’s powerful and diverse grace is the real key to joy and brings significance to times of challenge. Singles are not the only ones asking, “What am I to do with all my sexual desires?” Single chastity is not easy, but married people will tell you that maintaining purity and growing in intimacy is not a cake walk either.

The fact that purity is hard cannot be a rationalization for compromise. Acting out sexually is not synonymous with intimacy. Masturbation is a prime example. It can give fleeting pleasure, but it is often addictive, always selfish, and cannot deliver intimacy or lasting relational joy.

God our Father is not surprised or outwitted by the sexual temptations we all face. Our Heavenly Father wired us to have desires, and he gives strength to draw near to him and avoid sexual or any other sin. He does not tempt us to sin, but he affords us opportunities to seek and find what is far better, himself, rather than fleeting bodily pleasures. Unmarried men and women can channel their sexual energies toward non-sexual but very fulfilling relationships, noble accomplishments, and adventures in service and ministry. The biggest hazard of singleness is not missing out on sexual release—it is being isolated and alone. Isolation is choice, but it is not God’s will for Christian singles to live without the grace of Christian friends and spiritual family. Life is too short to not have and be family. God provides his body, the church, as a functional family for both time and eternity.

4. God designed sex with marriage to bless, protect, and empower us 
Some fear the power of sex, but God gave sexual intimacy the sacred power to bond a husband and wife together—body and soul—in a covenant of loyalty and love. “Becoming one flesh” within marriage is more satisfying that anything the world offers as a sexually attractive substitute. Like a fire inside a fireplace, it provides light and warmth, but outside the right context, sex can destroy like an un-extinguished cigarette can burn down a huge forest. Sex is not the purpose of marriage or a good enough reason to get married. Sex is not the goal. It is a means to an end. The Lord gave sexual intimacy, as a natural part of married-life, to be an intense, joy-giving way to celebrate and reaffirm covenant love. Rest assured God is very pleased when godly couples enjoy it.

Marriage protects sex from promiscuity and exploitation, and sex is to protect marriage by giving comfort and relieving temptation. That is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, commands husbands and wives not to defraud each other sexually but to lovingly fulfill their marital duty to one another. A church that neglected to celebrate Christmas and Easter would be spiritually malnourished. A marriage without sexual intimacy is likewise emotionally impoverished. Godly, other-centered sex protects married couples from temptation and helps keep marriages together. Proper sexual expression in marriage is a celebration that renews commitment and love.

Genesis 1:26-28 reveals that God designed sex within marriage to empower us. God never rescinded his plan for us “to have dominion … be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Dominion may sound like an archaic and politically incorrect concept. Yet, God gave sex within marriage for not only joy, intimacy, mutual comfort and support, but also procreation of children! Without moms and dads, where would we be? One divine purpose of sex in marriage is to provide a context to bear and then empower children who will grow up to fulfill a Kingdom purpose—to spread God’s justice, wisdom, and love to the entire world.

5. God gave our sexuality so we could know Christ better and love others as Christ loves us
The world teaches that whatever one person can do to get another “consenting adult” to please him or her sexually is permissible. God gave us a sex drive not to make us sin but to love well. It takes knowing Christ better to realize that sex is not a toy and we are not consumers of sexual experiences. It takes loving Christ better to see our sexuality as a platform for self-controlled and self-giving love.

When we are tempted to trust sex to heal our emotional needs or save us from emptiness, we become convinced that our pain is worse than sin. We defend our sexual compromise. It takes knowing Jesus better to believe sin is worse than our pain. It takes loving Christ better to sincerely want freedom from sin rather than freedom to sin. This moral challenge does not surprise God. He allows these tensions and tests as opportunities to turn to him for grace and power in our times of need.

The joys and trials of marriage in general and sex within marriage are given to make us holy more than to make us happy. In seasons when a marriage becomes strained, hard, or painful, the desires accompanying sexual intimacy can turn a maturing Christian’s heart toward Christ. Christ provides wisdom and strength to love an imperfect and even unlovely spouse with sexual faithfulness and perseverance, even when one’s flesh wants to run or rage. We can learn, “The better I love Christ, the better I will love my spouse. The better I love my spouse, the better I will love Christ.”

All these sexual tensions, temptations, and emotional desires offer singles and those married opportunities to grow finding paths to joy as God faithfully provides our true needs. When we find him faithful and follow him with trust and integrity, we honor him. Our sincere hearts shine through our good deeds of self-sacrificing love and sexual integrity. This is one way our sexuality gives God glory.

6. Sexuality points to Christ and the church—we need the church to shepherd the story of our sexuality
The world really cannot find a grand story for human sexuality. Secular people want life to be a comedy where being sexually active brings happiness. They find monogamy as boring as re-runs and the sexless narrative of chastity or celibacy a pointless tragedy. In Scripture, on the other hand, God places our sexuality into the grand story of redemption. Our sexuality points towards the grand divine drama—the true story of the High King who builds a Kingdom of people redeemed by a blood covenant through his Son, Christ Jesus.

The gospel story of God making and keeping the covenant of redemption is the grand context within which we should express our sexuality. Our story and Christ’s story are forever united. This union is compared to the connection of the head to the body. As the body of the crucified and risen King, we extend his truth, life, and redemption against all sin, death, and evil. All sexual matters are placed into the epic struggle of good and evil—the Kingdom versus the evil empire.

Since God made sex to be powerful, Christ commissioned the church to function as a shepherd and guide in this area as well as in all other areas of life. The church—the people of God—is a gracious gift to each Christian. It is in the community of Christ that we give and receive guidance, encouragement, correction, and company. Other Christians are crucial to assist us when we are struggling with sexual issues and to keep our eyes on Jesus. Our sexuality is not just our story; it really is part of the family story, and the church family has a say and stake in how we live out our sexuality. Our sexuality is so big no Christian can handle it alone. Christ gave the church as the “family of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) because when sexual brokenness and sin enters our lives, we need a healing community to affirm the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. The church is the spiritually functional family that accepts and guides us in repentance and into the joys of restoration.

7. God gave sex to point us to heaven—sex is not for forever
In Matthew 22, Jesus stated there will be no marriage and therefore no sexual intimacy in Heaven. How can something as intensely good as sexual intimacy be left out of heaven? God will not leave sex out of Heaven because it is inherently sinful. God declared all things good on Day Six after He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply—a task that required sexual activity. If sex is good for time, why is it not good enough for eternity?

It is because there is something better. It is because sex, in the fullness of its meaning, points to greater realities in the way a road sign points to a great city. The sign of sex will be obsolete in Heaven because the reality it points to will be replaced by the greater reality itself. It is the same way with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Heaven, both sacraments will cease since they have their fulfillment there. The Lord’s Supper—a meal remembering Christ’s death and signifying our union with him—will be replaced by the great Wedding Feast. We will be the Bride and he the Groom! Baptism, which is a sign that we belong to Christ, will be replaced in Heaven because we will be face to face with Christ.

The intimacy we will have with Christ throughout eternity will be so great that sexual intimacy will pale in comparison. The ecstatic pleasure of even the best orgasmic 15 seconds shared in a godly marriage will be like tasting the plainest food compared to the everlasting joy and intimacy we will share with Christ at his banquet table.

If sex can be this good now, even in a world tainted by sin, think how much better sinless and perfect intimacy with our Creator will be! It will be the coming home into the embrace of the One who has loved us before the foundations of the world. It will be so glorious not one of us will regret “missing sex.” Instead, we will wonder how we were ever so preoccupied with it. Nothing can compare to entering into the presence of the glorious radiance of God Almighty.

God gives the best sex
God gives the best sex. He gives sex and sexuality for our joy and, ultimately, for his glory. Our Father does not deprive us from pleasures, nor does he condemn us for our failures. God faithfully provides forgiveness and empowering grace so that the trials and joys related to our sexuality work together to prepare us for eternal intimacy with Jesus Christ. Our sexuality offers a tremendous opportunity to live a life of faith and love. As we live with his gift by means of his grace and together with his grace-giving people, we live out the hope of the gospel and are a light to the world.

Updated 4.25.2017

The following is an excerpt from Vicki Tiede’s new book, When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2012 by Vicki Tiede. This Harvest USA resource can be used individually, in a one-on-one discipling relationship, or in a small group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore: www.harvest-usa-store.com.

“Trust was definitely lost and took years to rebuild. There have been times of relapse, and those have taught us how to rebuild trust on a continual basis. Initially, I felt like I had lost my husband. I didn’t know who he was anymore. Were the vows we made years before even valid? I had been lied to for so long.”
– Jessica

Be∙tray∙al, noun: the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals.

Falling in love is an indescribable feeling. Do you remember when you fell in love with this man you call “husband?” When you stood in front of the minister and made a covenant before God and others to love and honor this man, I’m sure it never occurred to you that giving your heart away to him gave him the ability to break it. While the official definition of betrayal describes the breaking of a contract, trust, or confidence, the practical definition should include the breaking of a heart. When your husband’s addiction to pornography was revealed, you learned firsthand that the betrayal of love and trust doesn’t happen only to other people. It can happen to you. It did happen to you. As you sort through the debris in the aftermath of the discovery you find your heart lying in the rubble with deep, painful wounds. And you may wonder if you’ll ever trust again.

Let’s get one thing clear: Acting on a pornography addiction constitutes a betrayal. If your husband, well-meaning friend, or a misinformed therapist told you otherwise, he or she is wrong. God designed sexual intimacy to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage. As soon as sexual pleasure is sought outside the marriage—whether with a partner or in self-gratification while looking at porn—it is adultery. Such choices will devastate trust and have repercussions in the marriage and in the husband’s relationship with God. Sexual infidelity is a tremendously difficult betrayal from which to recover, but there is hope.

Did you hear that? There is hope. The journey of a broken heart on the road to healing will take time, and broken trust leaves scars. But remember, a broken bone is stronger after it has healed than it was before it was broken. In the same way, in time your heart will heal to be stronger than it would have been if it had never been broken at all, especially if you understand that time will not heal your broken heart, God will. I know you are up for the journey or you wouldn’t still be reading this book. Persevere. In time, you will reach your destination, and God will heal your wounds. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, ESV).

Lies are the backbone that supports an act of betrayal. You have no doubt heard your share of stories. When you asked, “What were you doing up until 2:00 a.m.?” or “Why did you have the office door locked just now?” your husband wouldn’t look you in the eye. He gave a vague response, and your trust was damaged. (When I confronted my husband about graphic sexual photographs I’d found in his filing cabinet, he claimed he was doing research for a book. My husband had a very respectable career and was not a writer [neither was I at that time in my life], and if he had written a book describing what I saw on those pages, it could have been sold only in an adult bookstore.)

When the full spectrum of the betrayal was revealed, your damaged trust in your husband was exchanged for full-blown devastation, and you were ushered into the present crisis. Let’s consider for a moment what possessed your husband to lie in the first place. I’m going to be honest and give you the bottom line first. Your husband lied because he could and because, for a time, it worked. In addition, he lied because he was self-deceived, he hoped to avoid conflict with you, he feared the consequences of you knowing the truth, and he feared the possibility of not being able to “have it all”—you and the outside sexual opportunities. Ultimately, it backfired. As you know, lies are the tool of the devil because they kill trust.

I wonder if, like me, you find yourself creating new categories of time: before I knew about the addiction, during the unveiling, and after the fact.

I know you did not sign up to travel on this road. It stinks. At times, it may even feel unbearable. I recall many nights of crying until I was physically sick. A broken heart is agony.

You don’t need to spend much time in your Bible to recognize that God knows precisely how it feels to give his heart to someone, only to have her give her heart to someone or something else. God made a sacred covenant (like marriage) to the people of Israel, and throughout the Old Testament we see them reject him again and again. They committed spiritual adultery, and God was hurt, angry, envious, and betrayed. Does any of this sound familiar? Yes, I thought so.

Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
– Psalm 78:38–39

The real showstopper is that very little has changed in the last four thousand years. The Word of God chronicles a wild rescue story. First, there is a need for rescue (Genesis 1—11), next the rescue is proclaimed (Genesis 12—Malachi), at last the Rescuer arrives (the Gospels), and finally the rescue is fulfilled (Acts—Revelation). You would think we would all bask in our glorious freedom from the chains of the enemy, chains from which the Rescuer saved us. You would think—but that’s not the case, is it? Instead, we betray our Rescuer every time we run back to the lies and temporary pleasures with which the enemy tempts us.

Yet despite our repeated betrayals, God stands with his arms outstretched, waiting for us to turn to him so he can forgive us and welcome us back into his arms. God doesn’t differentiate between his prodigals. He longs for all of us. Whether we bear the title “betrayer” or “betrayed,” God is waiting for us to turn to him so he can begin the relationship again. That’s what God does in the face of betrayal. He begins again.

God could choose to grab us under the armpits, pluck us out of our rebellion, and stick us safely back in his arms where we belong. He could, but he wants us to call out and move toward him. He could force the restoration of our relationship, but God allows us to be responsible for our actions. Thus, it is the responsibility of the unfaithful one to own his actions and take the steps to restore trust.

Likewise, you must surrender your attempts to control your husband’s life. Let him be responsible for the choices he makes. It is his responsibility to take the first steps to restore trust in your relationship. He will have to earn your trust by demonstrating trustworthy behavior. This isn’t going to be a ten-minute tidy. His past lies have probably caused you to question the truth about absolutely everything he says or does, so you can expect that the cleanup from those lies and the rebuilding of trust will take time.

Trust is an asset we don’t fully appreciate until we don’t have it in a relationship. Before you were aware of your husband’s addiction, you may not have given trust a second thought. Since the unveiling, however, you conjure up countless possibilities in your mind every time your husband walks out the door, or you walk out the door leaving him alone, or he gets on the computer, or he pauses while flipping channels, or he . . . . You get my drift. It’s torture.

You and your husband will not rebuild healthy trust unless you are both sure you are heard, understood, and loved by the other. It is liberating to know you are known and accepted by your partner. Then and only then can you be who you are—without pretenses. That is what it means to trust.

Trust is when you are secure enough in your relationship that you don’t need to edit everything you say and explain everything you do. You can be yourself without fearing that the relationship will end if the other person sees your flaws. This is your goal.

You will choose to trust your husband when you are ready. Don’t worry— trusting and forgiving are not the same thing. Rebuilding trust will probably take much longer than it will take to forgive. You will know it’s time to trust when your heart helps you choose to believe that he will make the right choices. His behaviors will become your trust barometer. If he wants to demonstrate his trustworthiness and he is making right choices, he will have no problem being accountable and undergoing a reasonable degree of scrutiny. (This does not give you license to be the porn police!) If, however, he insists that you should be able to simply “get over it” and take his word that he’s “done doing that,” and he resists accountability, you should be cautious about trusting. This is a direct indication that he is not serious about healing from his addiction and restoring trust in your marriage.

I can’t promise you that this will be an easy road to travel. Nor can I assure you that if you arrive at your destination and choose to trust, your husband will not fall again. But I can tell you that God will heal your broken heart.

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Updated 5.29.2017

Look for the signs 

In a broken world, we all must face the consequences of sin—our own sin as well as the sin of others. For a woman whose husband is addicted to pornography or sexual sin, this dual battle of facing both her husband’s betrayal and her own struggle to respond appropriately can be excruciating. How can she best love her husband during his gradual, often lengthy, journey of growth, maturity, and change?
And how can she endure if he refuses to work on restoring their marital unity? These are important questions for wives whose husbands struggle with any form of sex addiction.

The shock of discovery and his initial pursuit for help often give way to an unsettling sadness and real confusion about how to move on down the road. Fortunately, some women married to sex addicts eventually find that their husbands’ movement into change and accountability has actually strengthened their marriages. Spouses who choose the path of ongoing honesty and repentance can enjoy the reward of a more satisfying union. However, many wives find themselves facing an ambiguous husband, a husband not committed to working hard on his issues, a husband who promised faithfulness but won’t sever ties with his idolatry of lust. How is such a woman supposed to live as God’s daughter in that kind of circumstance?

There are, of course, no easy answers. Wives of sex addicts are on a path that is both frightening and largely uncharted. But there are signposts that mark this path of marital disappointment, landmarks that identify for travelers that they are on the road that will bring them to their destination. When the way to a destination is new, it is comforting to know what to expect. What signposts can a disappointed wife expect to see along her journey toward renewal in her life and marriage?

Signpost #1: Anger, shock, and numbness

When the issue of sexual unfaithfulness comes out into the light and a wife finally is confronted with the reality of her husband’s struggle, it is common for her to react with shock. There will likely be much anger and crying, which may not be pleasant but is healthy and normal. However, within a few weeks it isn’t uncommon for the wife to then feel numb. The initial adrenaline of discovery and the burst of energy to find help wear off as the realities of daily living settle in.This is a crucial time during which a woman needs support and guidance. Her overwhelming pain will surely tempt her to shut down emotionally or to build walls, protecting herself from more hurt. Under the layer of shock and numbness are her broken dreams about marriage and life. She rightly expected marital faithfulness but found betrayal, and it is enough to stagger even the most pragmatic wife. Having discovered her husband’s addiction to pornography or sexual sin, her life has been profoundly altered. Certainly no wife is foolish enough to think she has married a perfect man. But living with a husband who has deeply failed her at the core of their intimate relationship plunges a woman into huge ambivalence. She longs for the intimacy of marriage, but how can she go on giving her heart to her wayward husband? This part of her journey is neither pretty nor simple, but it is, in fact, God’s invitation to the redemptive process of grief.

Signpost #2: Good grief—mourning the loss

Grieving is not a popular experience, but it is absolutely necessary for the restoration of a marriage in which a spouse has crossed moral boundaries. Grief is a deep, emotional reaction to a loss. Our culture legitimizes mourning the death of a person who is important to us. Less supported, however, is grief when something less tangible “dies.” Moreover, the shame attached to sexual sin and the fear of exposure to others (especially in the church) makes this experience of loss even more isolating.

Scripture, of course, is not silent about grief. In fact, mourning is often spoken of as a normal part of living in a fallen world. Did not Jesus say in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (ESV)? Comfort comes to those who mourn, and Jesus was speaking to a very large audience when he said those words. The psalmist reinforces this concept by reminding us, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). God seems to expect that our hearts will be broken relationally, and when we experience this, he intends that we bring our crushed and broken hearts to him for his comfort. Nor does God expect our expressions of sorrow to look pretty or to be worded in calm and logical prose. David’s psalms were anything but serene. He often began by complaining or beseeching God to pay attention to his circumstances and to punish those who were harming him. Of course he usually made a shift from distress to worship and from anger to gratitude for God’s love. But never does he pretend that life is not difficult.

Many other men and women in Scripture struggled with painful relationships and disappointing events, and they did not hesitate to bring their grieving hearts to God in earnest prayer, telling their Creator how they felt. Consider Moses’ complaint in Numbers 11, Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1, or Job’s many lamentations, especially in Job 23. Even Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” as he faced his imminent death (Hebrews 5:7). God’s people do not run from grief. Rather, they boldly enter it, for there they find the waiting arms of their heavenly Father.

Our culture, unfortunately, seldom teaches us how to handle our emotions when our world is shaken. People today don’t often share the Scriptural perspective that sin has altered the experience of life and all of creation groans in waiting for the finality of redemption. But we can take God’s word for it: It is normal to groan about damage to one’s heart and marriage. Naturally we want to know how long this grieving stage will last, but there is no perfect timetable. Grief must run its course. We will know when our grief has crossed the line from healthy mourning to entrenched self-pity. God will surely show us (even while we’re still grieving) how to move toward loving others who have hurt us. And be prepared: God always starts with the person whose attention he has at the moment—which may be the offended one, not the offender.

One winter’s day while journaling about my own heartache at having been disappointed by someone I trusted, I (Penny) felt entitled to list for God all the reasons I should never trust my heart to anyone again. Tired of being hurt, I was on a roll. My litany of mistreatment went back to childhood, including such sorrows as sexual abuse, being stood up for two proms in a row, and several experiences of being betrayed by close friends. I ended up feeling justified for never letting my heart be mishandled again. “It just isn’t safe!” I self-righteously concluded. Quietly I waited in the sun-drenched warmth of my room, confident that God would comfort me by affirming my self-protection. Instead he gently guided me to this question: “And just whose definition of ‘safe’ shall we use—yours or mine?”

I was caught; the sin of my own heart exposed. My view of safety had been entirely self-focused: I wanted to never be hurt again. Furthermore, my commitment to safety meant I would never love deeply again, and thus I would cease to reflect the Father I was called to imitate. My own self-consumed heart was juxtaposed to my Father’s long-suffering heart, he who had not spared his own Son to insure my eternal safety. In repentance I saw once again God’s commitment to love the unlovely, which of course included me. How could I not show to others the same love I had myself received? Grief does not nullify our obligation to love others. Rather it reinforces it.

Signpost #3: Accepting the risk of loving the unlovely

Any woman married to a sex addict wonders how to move from the anguish of betrayal to the risk of trusting her husband again, knowing she is likely to be re-disappointed because sensual gratification is such an easy-to-obtain commodity. If she understands that her husband’s sin is to seek refuge from stress and to sexualize his disappointment with life, she knows there will probably be further failures. But a wise woman becomes a helpmate ever better suited to her husband if she will remember that she no less than he is tempted to handle the pain of life in sinful ways.

The ground is always level at the foot of the cross, each of us carrying our dignity and depravity in ways unique to our own particular history and temperament. And because of the hope of the gospel, a marriage can be rebuilt when both husband and wife enter together the humility of being sinners who need grace. The process may be long and painful, but the rewards are sweet. One major part of loving the unlovely, therefore, is the risk of offering forgiveness, which essentially means not “holding on to wrongs suffered,” as described in 1 Corinthians 13:5. My pastor says it like this: “Forgiveness means taking the snapshot you have of this person (a snapshot that may have been at one time accurate) and shredding it.” How can a wife begin to shred this picture of her husband as infidel? This is the work of warfare praying.

Signpost #4: Prayer warfare

A wife begins to risk her heart as she prays for God to change her so she can love her spouse as God himself loves him. Inviting God to show her his view of her husband will allow her to see him not only as a sinner, but also as a man designed to reflect God’s purpose in a dark world. How would her husband be if he no longer were in bondage to sexual sin? What kind of man would he be if he understood the depth of God’s love? What would it look like if he became the protector to her that he was designed to be? How might their marriage change if his heart was captivated by the beauty of God ‘s gift of sexual unity in marriage and he cherished his wife as he found himself cherished by his Holy Suitor?

Seeing her husband from God’s perspective can rejuvenate a wife’s respect and passion for him. As a woman reflects on how her husband is caught in the foolish web of illicit sexual gratification, she can begin to pray for his soul in ways that honor him as the image bearer he is called to be. In prayer she can re-commit herself to her marriage, longing for her husband’s restoration and allowing God to bring his grace to her so she can in turn offer it to her fallen husband. Such a wife cannot stay hard or bitter. When she aligns herself with God’s purposes, offering her heart to God to soften and fill, she will be able to love well the man who has caused her much sorrow. What a reflection this is of God’s own love, which ever extends toward those who have caused him sorrow.

Signpost #5: Facing an ambiguous outcome

There are times, however, when in spite of a wife’s perseverance in warfare praying, her husband remains in bondage to sexual sin. Despite her seasoned prayer on his behalf he refuses to become the man God and she are inviting him to be. What can a wife do in the face of his hard-heartedness? Such was the plight of Abigail, as described in 1 Samuel 25.

She was married to a foolish and rude man, Nabal, and though we know little about her, surely her life with a boorish man occasioned many moments of intense prayer between her and God. And out of the wisdom and faith nurtured in Abigail’s walk with God, she took an amazing risk, jeopardizing her life to save her household and to protect David’s reputation as God’s man. This she did by literally standing in David’s way as he marched to take revenge on Nabal for disrespecting him. Abigail’s intervention not only saved the lives of many, but it also changed the course of David’s personal history. Then, when Abigail went home to her drunken husband, she shrewdly timed her intervention of truth telling for when he was sober, at which time Nabal appears to have had a stroke. Scripture then says, “About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal and he died” (v. 38, emphasis mine).

For ten days, God let Abigail live in a situation that had gone from bad to worse with no guarantee of a positive outcome. If I had been Abigail, I would have been furious. “Oh, great! This is how I’m rewarded for following you? Now I have to take care of an abusive stroke victim?!” How could Abigail have gone on? I am convinced it was only because of her connection with God. Only by his grace could she have lived without allowing her circumstances to harden her heart toward God. For wives whose husbands are in bondage to pornography or other sexual sin, it will take much prayer and shrewdness—which only come from hours spent in prayer, asking the hard questions about what the next step should be. It also will involve at times a willingness to fight with her husband as well as for her husband’s soul.

Signpost #6: Productive fighting—hard consequences for hard hearts

How can a wife engage in productive fighting on behalf of her marriage? For one thing, she must choose her battles carefully, discerning which issues are worth being addressed and which must be overlooked. Nor should she struggle by herself. She may need a mentor to come alongside her, helping her to see her situation with “new eyes.” Also, if her husband is a believer, she may be able to bring her situation to the attention of the elders of their church. The discipline outlined in Scripture is designed to reach a soul dulled by sin to matters of conscience. Moreover, the hardest consequence a wife may face because of her husband’s continued disobedience could include divorce, and she will need the support of good men from her church to pursue this difficult step if it becomes necessary.

In the meantime, keeping a soft heart but a hard line is a difficult balancing act. A godly wife’s tone and mood should be firm, winsome, and brave. She must require what God requires of her husband: faithfulness and holiness. A wife can say hard things to her husband if her words communicate her sorrow if he persists in sin. For example, in order to protect her health, she may need to require that her husband be tested for sexually transmitted diseases before she can receive him again sexually. She might say something like, “It grieves me to enforce this, but it is necessary for our future relationship. I will be deeply sorry if you refuse, but I will also celebrate your repentance as I see the steps you make toward restoration in our marriage.” A hard line need not be drawn with a hard fist. Being available to fight with her husband for her marriage will require much strength.

A wife focused on challenging her husband in these ways will need support. Talking with a counselor, being involved in a support group and coming to her pastor with her concerns will be an important practice to keep her from feeling isolated. She also needs a wise ear to help her discern her own motives as she plans how to respond to her spouse.This work will be exhausting.

To love another this well will cost her dearly. She must compensate for the sorrow she embraces by seeking rest in her Heavenly Father, who promises his presence to “those who are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Allowing mature friends to walk along side her as she does this work will also provide her with strength and refreshment.

Conclusion

These then are six signposts along a wife’s path toward wholeness when her husband’s sex addiction has been exposed. Recognizing the signposts is not always simple, nor is the journey linear or clean. But it is a journey of hope for any woman who will allow her heart to be broken by the effects of her husband’s sin, and yet be softened toward God and toward her husband. Only as she commits herself to spend time with her heavenly Father can she love from a heart that longs to see her husband restored and conformed to the image God has for all his men. On such a journey, no woman is ever alone, for Christ himself will companion with her and bring her finally Home.

Updated 4.25.2017

When sexual sin within marriage is exposed in the local church, often the spouse is lost in the shuffle. This is a grave oversight in light of the pain he or she is bearing. Often no one comes alongside to help them process their pain. David White shares ways the church family can approach and help someone in this situation.

Crushing pain

One Sunday all was fine. The next Sunday the pastor suddenly resigned with no explanation. The following Sunday both the pastor and the church organist were gone, and the pastor’s wife sat alone in the second pew. There she sat for months listening to the sermons of fill-in preachers, and then her attendance became sporadic and finally she too was gone. Years later one of the members of the congregation was shocked to look through a denominational directory and see a picture of the former pastor and his new “wife”—the church organist. He and she made a life for themselves, but what happened to the first wife? No one seemed to know what happened to the first wife—her pain had been great and she had kept up a strong, silent front for several months before disappearing. Did anyone in the church help her process her pain? Did anyone help her financially? The answers to those questions go unknown, but it is probably safe to assume that she lived under a veil of secrecy and endured crushing pain.

Understanding the pain

The opening illustration is a true story related by one of the Harvest USA staff. He grew up in the church and saw all this happen, but as a teen did not process it until years later. What could have been done? This article focuses on ministering to spouses whose marriage is impacted by sexual sin. The spouse is grievously impacted, as sexual sin is a desecration of the marriage covenant and strikes at the vitals of marital intimacy.

First, it must be stressed that “spouse” does not mean wife! The church is reluctant to face the reality of sexual sin in her midst and, even when willing, often sees sexual sin as a man’s problem. This could not be further from the truth! A recent statistic suggested that 34% of church-going women have intentionally visited porn websites. Currently, women age 35 and under have the same rate of infidelity in marriage as their male peers. This represents a significant and historic moral shift as men—even cross-culturally—have always had higher rates of infidelity than women. Sadly, the sexual revolution has finally balanced the inconsistencies existing between the outward depravity of the sexes. The church must be intentional about addressing this reality because the default response for couples whose marriages are scarred by sexual sin is silence—this is particularly the case when the wife is the offending party.

When sexual sin within marriage is exposed in the local church, often the spouse is lost in the shuffle. This is a grave oversight in light of the pain he or she is bearing. The spouse has thought he or she was going crazy—sometimes for years. The struggler is committed to keeping the sin hidden and making every excuse for erratic behavior, peevish silence, absent finances, etc. The spouse’s questions are casually dismissed, scorned as paranoia, met with rage, or flatly ignored. The spouse is entirely responsible for keeping the relationship together. Marriages impacted by sexual sin enter into a ‘dance’ —certain topics are off limits, behaviors and responses that would be challenged in a healthy marriage are accepted.

Couples learn to make life “work” around the sin. The spouse learns how to “manage” the struggler, careful not to step on toes and striving to keep the struggler happy. In many relationships this means satisfying the unholy desire for sex on demand—a radical twisting of God’s design of selfless service—and any number of other stipulations, from the mundane to the horrific. Spouses, terrified of losing the relationship, are willing to submit. The spouse is forced to compensate within the family for the struggler’s sin, bearing alone many responsibilities in parenting and household management that should be shared in marriage. Worse, the spouse is blamed for all the problems in the relationship. The struggler argues that the lack of intimacy is the spouse’s fault. All along the spouse knows that something is desperately wrong with the marriage, but the struggler maintains that everything is fine.

In short, the struggler holds all the “power” in the relationship because his or her behavior, mood, etc., sets the tone for the marriage. Conversely, the spouse is left with all the “responsibility” in the relationship; he or she must strive to satisfy the struggler and keep him or her in the home. Neither the spouse nor the struggler is innocent in this dynamic. There is willfulness and fear on both sides that must be wisely addressed.

The challenges of rebuilding the marriage grow in proportion to the duration of the sin. Trust is obliterated. Messages have been sent that the problem would not exist if only the spouse were prettier, in better shape, more exciting, more emotionally engaged, more masculine, more successful, etc. Every spouse dealing with sexual sin in their marriage believes it is his or her fault on some level. The struggler fuels the spouse’s insecurity with sinful accusations and cruel criticism. In one particularly painful situation, a wife shared how her husband referred to her as “plain vanilla.” She obviously needed comfort! Spouses are as desperately in need of the Gospel as the struggler.

Facing the pain to remain

The first decision facing the spouse is the future of the relationship. In the first part of Living in the Light, we discussed the importance of full disclosure within marriage, and another word should be added: The full revelation should be made as quickly as possible. The spouse is not in a position to commit to the marriage until he or she has a complete understanding of the nature of the offenses. Further, once the spouse has committed and begins to work on rebuilding, new revelations of past offenses severely undermine reconciliation. Each new disclosure essentially sends the couple back to the beginning of the process when trust is again obliterated, doubt and fear creep back. “Is this really the end, or am I going to learn something new next week? Is there no end to the deceit?” Dragging out the revelations is essentially a decision to postpone the rebuilding process.

A word of caution: Be wary of the “quick divorce” response. Sexual sin is the ultimate “get out of a bad marriage free” card. Obviously, sexual sin is deeply damaging to marital intimacy as it erodes trust and destroys the ability to be vulnerable and draw near to another. Therefore, the spouse has been living in a bad, possibly miserable, marriage, sometimes for decades. The Bible clearly offers divorce as an option in the face of sexual infidelity, but careful counsel is required. God “hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16), and yet the divorce rate among professing evangelicals is actually slightly higher than the general population! By rigidly interpreting Matthew 5:28 that a lustful look is tantamount to adultery, many spouses view pornography use as the “out” they have been waiting for. There are times when repeated, unrepentant use of pornography can clearly be grounds for having abandoned Christ and the marital covenant (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). However, even in the face of blatant adultery, our desire should be for healing and reconciliation, seeking divorce only after prolonged separation in which it is clear that the struggler is committed to pursuing sin, not Jesus.

Further, a “quick divorce” decision, without taking time to process the disclosure and the ramifications of divorce often leads to regret. Once the court date has passed, the “what if” questions begin. This is true regardless of the time invested in the decision, but careful deliberation, bathed in prayer and the counsel of others, will provide peace, whereas a “knee jerk” decision may bear fruit of regret for a lifetime.

Entering into the pain

So what does it look like to offer practical ministry to the spouse?

First, spouses need to be assured that they are not crazy! Given the dynamic described above, the worst thing you can do is begin by questioning the spouse’s experience in the marriage. It is crucial to listen carefully to their description of what is happening in the home and affirm that you will be with them through this process. Many spouses do not receive the support they need because church leadership is convinced that the situation is not as bad as they think.

Church leaders need to be especially wary with couples for whom they have a natural affinity. A pastor may be more prone to disbelieve the wife of his church golf buddy than he would a member with whom the relationship is more distant. Assume that the person in the “one-flesh” relationship has some idea about what is going on in the marriage! It is better to err in the direction of supporting the spouse and defending him or her. Spouses desperately need to be heard and have their concerns taken seriously. Remember, the struggler is typically committed to deceit. Do not be surprised if you are pitted between a spouse pleading for you to believe there is a problem, while the struggler insists that the spouse is crazy or inflating the situation. Believe the spouse and hear the serpent’s hiss in the struggler’s casual dismissal!

Second, you need to enter into the spouse’s pain and experience. The disclosure of adultery, in particular, is brutal. In fact, when sexual sin is disclosed, spouses often begin to exhibit symptoms similar to people experiencing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder! The spouse is confronted with the stark reality that his or her perception of the marriage was an illusion. In light of the revelation, life as he or she has known it ceases to exist. The spouse grieves as if experiencing the death of a loved one. The spouse’s sense of identity is deeply shaken. Those ministering to spouses must be compassionate experts in listening and encouraging. They must be ready to deal with the whole mess of emotions that accompany the disclosure of sexual sin in marriage. Emotions swing dramatically. Decisions about the future dart between polar extremes, sometimes within minutes of each other!

The spouse’s faith is often shaken to the core. “Where was God when all this was happening? How can he really be good when the world is so broken?” Ministry people must be ready to handle these tough questions without dismissing them, condemning the wrestling, or compromising the truth.

The Psalms are crammed with similar, gut-level wrestling and provide a treasure trove of hope and peace for people who live in the realness of this fallen world, but cling to the great and precious promises of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the Biblical narrative makes manifest that God orchestrates all of human history to his glory. Mind-bogglingly, this includes even sin. Behind the boasting of Joseph, subsequent betrayal by his brothers, and the injustice with Potiphar’s wife, God’s guiding hand was preserving his seed (Genesis 50:20). Out of David’s lust, adultery, and murder, the promised Deliverer descended through Solomon. Christ’s great work of atonement is the result of human rebellion and yet orchestrated by the Father. Peter makes this explicit at Pentecost, saying, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

The spouse’s pain is real. The wrestling must be allowed, but through it all, we must gently and compassionately point to the Bridegroom whose name is “Faithful and True.” He is even now ruling over the universe for his church (Ephesians 1:22). In his economy, no pain will be wasted. Scripture repeatedly promises that even the trials of this life will result in blessing, but before speaking, you must weep with those who weep!

If your default mode is to immediately proclaim these great theological truths, you will run roughshod over the hurting spouse. Job’s friends are a great example of the danger of spouting off truisms in the face of tragedy. At the end of the story, God’s anger burns against them and sacrifice is necessary (Job 42:7-9). Yet, despite their failures, even they had the compassion to sit with him in the dust for seven days weeping and wailing before they addressed any of the issues in his life (Job 2:11-13). You dare not speak until spouses know that you love them, grieve with them and are prepared to walk through this trial at their side.

Redeeming the pain

After you have listened well and entered into the mess with the couple, it is necessary to begin taking action steps. If the spouse has decided to stay in the marriage, structures must be in place to protect the spouse and help bear his or her burden. Part 1 of this article discussed accountability from the vantage point of ministering to the struggler, but accountability is also necessary for the good of the spouse. Accountability both safeguards the struggler’s behavior, but it also provides the spouse with a safe environment. As described above, the spouse has been suffering alone and “in the dark” for years. Spouses desperately need brothers and sisters from the body of Christ to come alongside and support them.

The spouse should never be the struggler’s primary accountability person. It is hard to imagine a more unbiblical model of marriage than “cop and robber.” A crucial aspect of accountability is that the spouse has the assurance of knowing others are asking the struggler all the hard questions. The accountability plan must include that if any sin is exposed, the spouse will be made aware within 24 hours. This takes pressure off the spouse and the marriage as a whole and begins to balance responsibility and power in the relationship. The couple is able to invest their time together focusing on rebuilding intimacy, rather than reenacting the Inquisition. Further, because a key component of accountability is creating safety for the spouse, he or she needs to have a role in crafting the specific questions that will be asked of the struggler. The spouse must approve the individuals who will be involved in the accountability.

Harvest USA recommends developing an official “accountability agreement” that details specific questions, the participating individuals, the number of contacts the struggler is expected to make each week, the steps to spousal disclosure if the struggler falls, and the responsibility of the struggler to call a meeting of all involved if the plan is not working. The agreement is then signed by all parties. The formality of the agreement underscores the importance of this support and makes the expectations and responsibilities clear to everyone involved.

Formal accountability is only one aspect of the role of the body of Christ in rebuilding a marriage. The couple needs godly brothers and sisters who will be involved in their daily lives. Although couples may appear highly competent from outside observation—successful careers, active in church, etc.—know that sexual sin does not occur in a marriage that is otherwise healthy. It is indicative of deeper, systemic problems that need to be addressed.

Most marriages plagued with sexual sin resembles a business partnership at best—often it looks more like a war zone. It is crucial for godly, mature couples to come alongside in order for the marriage to be rebuilt in a way that will honor Christ. Couples need to learn how to communicate effectively, fight fairly, risk vulnerability, and develop intimacy. The struggler has lived for years satisfying selfish desires—breaking this pattern and learning to consider others is a process that takes great intentionality and increasing dependence on Christ. It is crucial to spend time with the couple together, observing their interactions, attitudes, and family dynamics. No marriage can be transformed without the involvement of the body. This is God’s design for the sanctification of his people. The community of faith is essential for growth in holiness.

Because recovery from sexual sin is an extremely draining and time consuming process, it is wise for the spouse to have a Christian counselor. A counselor will provide the spouse with regularly interaction, helping to process the intensity of his or her emotions without “using up” friends and family who are in the midst of their own struggle to sort out the situation. Further, a counselor is able to be more objective than loved ones who are closer to the pain and may struggle to lead the spouse in wise and godly decision-making.

Finally, the spouse needs to be challenged about who he or she is going to be in the situation. As discussed above, the spouse must be urged to see God’s hand in his or her life and be challenged to make decisions for holiness. This is crucial because, as Paul Tripp has articulated well, “Sinners tend to sin when sinned against!” This is probably true in marriage more than any other relationship. Given the grievousness of the offense, spouses will be angry and struggle to get beyond it, even if the struggler’s repentance is deeply genuine. The spouse must be given time but continually challenged with the exhortation, “Be angry and do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26).

Spouses need to be encouraged to express the depth of their pain without fearing the struggler’s response—this is an important step in giving “power” back to the spouse—but they need to find holy ways to communicate what they are experiencing. Further, although the call to forgive is certainly not the first topic of conversation, it does need to enter the discourse in time. This is for the spouse’s benefit as much as the struggler. As Anne Lamott poignantly stated, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison, and then waiting for the rat to die!” When there is clear evidence of the struggler’s repentance, demonstrated by concrete steps of obedience away from sin and toward holiness for an extended period of time, the spouse will begin to undermine the healing process if he or she refuses to forgive, constantly holding the struggler’s sin over his or her head. Even in situations where the struggler is unrepentant, the spouse needs to relinquish the demand for justice, being like Jesus, who “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The spouse needs to be careful that “no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

Not alone in the pain

The great hope of the Christian faith is “God with us.” By his Spirit, Jesus is united to his people, promising that through his power we will bear fruit (John 15:1-11). Jesus warned of the hard reality of this fallen world saying, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Spouses need the encouragement that God has purposes in their suffering. He identifies with their pain as he deals with his own adulterous Bride. Through this trial, the spouse is entering into the sufferings of Christ in a unique way and has the opportunity to encounter him and the power of his grace afresh. May God give us the grace to serve with compassion, tangibly demonstrating love as members of his body and faithfully pointing to the head, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19).

This article originally appeared as “Living in The Light: Part 2 — Redemptive Ministry to Spouses” in the Harvest NEWS in 2006. 

Updated 4.25.2017

The discovery of sexual sin in a marriage is usually a devastating experience for the faithful spouse. In an instant, everything is forever changed by the disclosure. The marriage you thought you had does not exist. Maybe it never did. Your whole world is turned upside down.
You might not be able to think straight, sleep, or eat. Your emotions may feel out of control. All these are typical responses you might have to the relational betrayal of sexual infidelity.

Sexual infidelity is clearly contrary to biblical teaching (Matthew 5:27 –28). As the reality of sexual betrayal sets in, the first question that you may begin to ask yourself is, “What do I do now? Do I stay in this marriage or do I leave?” This is never an easy question to ask or answer. Leaving a marriage is clearly an option in the aftermath of sexual sin (Matthew 5:31-32). However, there is no biblical mandate that requires leaving the marriage after sexual sin.

As difficult as it may sound, waiting a while before making this important decision is often the best option. The betrayal of infidelity triggers a trauma-like response that can last from six to eight weeks. During this period of time, it is often difficult to think clearly, making it unwise to make important life decisions. Only after the initial trauma response has subsided can difficult decisions be addressed. Inviting wise counsel and resources to join you in the process of making those decisions may be profitable to you and your marriage. This is not a decision that should be made alone or impulsively.

So how do you decide whether to stay or go? Wrestling with this issue after sexual betrayal is normal. It is natural to look for ways to eliminate and reduce pain. If your goal is to feel better or lessen your pain, leaving might do that, but it probably will not bring you the relief that you desire. Unfortunately, broken hearts are painful, whether you remain in the relationship or not. Leaving the marriage will cause separation, but not necessarily pain relief.

Remember that while the marital covenant between you and your spouse has been breached, the relational covenant between you and God is still intact. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we are called to fulfill the commandment to love God and others well (Matthew 22:37-39). As difficult and insurmountable as the issues in your life seem, God can make a way through the current difficulties for you and your spouse, if you choose to pursue that path. Your goal then should always be to do what loves your spouse and points him or her towards God. Whether you choose to stay or not, you need to first answer the question, “What loves my spouse best by pointing him or her to God?”

There are three issues that might be helpful to think through as you wrestle with your decision: safety, repentance, and reconciliation.

Safety 
If it is unsafe for you or your children to live in the same house with your spouse, then separation is recommended. Safety is not simply related to dealing with a violent or threatening spouse. Safety issues include how the spouse is responding to concerns about medical testing. If physical sexual contact has been made with someone else or is suspected, issues like testing for STD’s and HIV need to be addressed immediately, regardless of any decisions about the future of the relationship.

A marriage that feels unsafe to a betrayed spouse can be made safer by the assurance that comes from knowing that the sin is being addressed through appropriate accountability, church discipline, and counseling. No one can promise that the infidelity will never happen again, but strong stop-gap measures can be put in place as some insurance that it will not. Sufficient attention to stop-gap measures that address the sinful behaviors and relational patterns that accompanied them can make a distressed marriage feel safer. Restoring trust in your spouse is going to take a long time, but you can feel a certain level of safety when such measures are invested in for positive changes in your marriage.

Repentance
Repentance is turning away from sin and towards holiness. Nothing can give you more hope than watching your spouse actively pursue repentance by deepening his or her personal relationship with Christ. Failure to see this, on the other hand, may be a sign that repentance is not really taking place. Sometimes when there is a long history of the sexual sin, what loves a spouse best and points him or her towards God is the exact opposite of what has been tried in the past. Old sin patterns often need new interventions, and sometimes this might include separation or divorce.

Reconciliation
Reconciliation requires a decision from both you and your spouse to re-enter the marital relationship. Reconciliation is an emotional process that will include many difficult ups and downs. God will invite each of you to reconciliation with him and then with one another. Invariably, the marriage at the end of this process will be stronger than the marriage was when it entered the process. In the midst of this, there will probably be times that you will question your decision to stay all over again. If there is a focus on reconciliation by both partners, then there can be perseverance through the hard times.

Finally, there is nothing more that you can do than attempt to fulfill the law of love that Jesus has given to each of us. Whatever your decision, to stay or to go, you will have loved well if your goal is to bless your spouse by pointing her or him to God.

Updated 4.25.2017

How many of us have responded to trials by figuratively shaking our fists at God and saying, “This isn’t fair!” Or, maybe just tearfully crying out to him, “No, Lord, I don’t want this…I can’t handle it…it’s too much.” I have, on more than a few occasions, done both. Contentment and trust in the Lord are like the waves that crash in from the ocean.

They wash over me as I fix my faith upon him, and then, as the waves slowly recede, I look away from him and get ‘caught’ in the “snare of the compare.”

At The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference in June 2012, Carolyn Mahaney gave a great talk on this subject of comparing ourselves with what God brings into the lives of others. She spoke on John 21, focusing on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter on the beach. After being told of the painful death he would one day endure, Peter’s response to Jesus echoes what so many of us would say: “But Lord…what about this man (referring to John)?” (v. 21). Jesus’ response was the most loving and caring thing he could have said: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (v.22).

I’ve heard so many relationally and sexually broken women express this same kind of struggle: “Lord, why does this temptation of being attracted to other women persist? Why won’t you just remove it completely? Father, why didn’t you allow me to learn of my husband’s porn struggles before we got married? Why do my friends all seem to have happy, sexually whole marriages—and I don’t?

While we live on this earth, we may receive some of the answers to the questions that arise from our hurting and confused hearts. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered. This may feel unendurable in our information-saturated culture, where we seek for and demand quick answers. Yet the most loving, helpful counsel isn’t to have every nitty-gritty detail made available, but rather to hear and reflect on what Jesus said to Peter: “You follow me.”

Yes, to follow hard after Jesus, to be fixed upon him and to let him lead, instruct, teach, and counsel us (Psalm 32:8) through our valleys, temptations, heartaches, and pain. When we are faced with circumstances we don’t want and which are out of our control, Jesus calls us to trust of him. This is faith, expressed in love (Galatians 5:6), and it will look different from woman to woman. Living with unanswered questions is one way the Lord draws us to trust in his heart for us.

What would be some ways to live this out?

• Resolving daily to follow Jesus, and to receive the losses which will come from having to refuse influences which tempt you          towards emotional and sexual lust
• Letting go of or allowing significant space between you and a friend in a relationship that has become life-consuming for you
• Courageously and humbly seeking help from others for your marriage when the pain from your husband’s sexual sin is so              overwhelming
• Confessing to a sister in Christ or a spiritual leader that you are ensnared in sexual sin and that you can’t battle it on your own    anymore—you need help!

What Peter couldn’t understand when Jesus commanded him to follow him at all costs was that soon the Spirit of Jesus would be sent into his soul. It is the Spirit, living within us, that gives us constant communion with Christ, enabling his grace to do its work within us, to follow and obey.

Will you say this to him now? “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you today, and not look behind, or to my right or left, or seek to compare myself to others in their walk with you. I will allow you to do your unique work within me, as I make my home in you.”

Updated 5.8.2017

In June 2012, I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando, FL, with 3800 women from across the USA and from other countries. Many more women also listened in via a live web stream, adding another 1200 or so women to the attendance.

The theme of the conference was “Here is Our God,” and speakers unfolded Scripture with passion and vision, helping us to see the treasure of Jesus and God’s Word to all of us. The entire conference is available online for free on The Gospel Coalition’s website. I encourage anyone to listen for excellent teaching from the Bible.

There was, however, one disappointing reality about the conference that disheartened me as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA and as Ellen, a woman needy of God’s grace and truth for my own brokenness. I’m referring to the fact that, in the course of the eleven talks I attended, I heard only two very brief comments related to sexuality. Both of these were just a quick phrase or sentence that mentioned an aspect of sexual brokenness with which women struggle. In other words, in the eleven talks which constituted about 660 minutes of Bible teaching and application, there were only ten seconds’ worth on how the gospel of grace intersects with the sexual brokenness of women!

Ten seconds?! Hear me out: I’m not disparaging TGC or the Women’s Conference; but this void spoke loudly to me, and I’m assuming it also communicated something to the thousands of other women who were listening. Perhaps many were hoping, praying, wondering if our God and his Word had anything to say to those who have quickly become addicted to the new craze of “mommy porn?” Or if there is any gospel hope for women who are in emotional and sexually broken relationships, with men or women? Or if there is grace for the woman in a marriage scarred by serial adultery and a husband who is addicted to porn?

I want to assure you, if you are a woman in any of these circumstances, that there is much gospel hope, grace, and truth for you! I actually met with one such woman in my office two weeks after the conference, who stopped by our Harvest USA display table at the conference to get more information.

Join me for the next few blog posts as I apply the rich teaching I heard from this conference, to the relational and sexual brokenness of women! Jesus said, “[The Father] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV). Jesus, our God, promises this to all women—including daughters of God who are heavy and ache with the pain, shame, and fear associated with sexual sin.

Has this been your experience, that you never hear pastors or Christian leaders talk about sexuality? Do you feel, as I do, that you need good biblical information on this in order to walk with sexual integrity?

Updated 5.8.2017

So let’s continue on with some more thoughts on people and food addictions. What are we to do if we are compulsive eaters? If we run constantly to food, snacks, bingeing on Boston creme-filled donuts, potato chips, or super chunk peanut butter chocolate ice cream, or whatever foods are most irresistible to you?

Well, first of all, we need to realize that what we’re hungering for really isn’t those items. Those goodies do taste good, and they can be enjoyed in a way that doesn’t numb but delights you…but only if you know what your heart is really hungering for.

Psalm 34: 8 says that we are to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (ESV); we are blessed when we take refuge in him. We might also say we are blessed when we feast upon him through relationship with Jesus, through prayer, through trusting and obeying him, through surrendering our lives. Having him be my banquet table allows me to enjoy and delight in the gifts that are presented to me.

This is so similar to people addiction or the ‘worship’ of people. A few posts ago, I wrote about how women (and men too) can be enthralled with each other, or seek to ‘feast’ upon each other through emotional connecting, nurture, affection, etc. This fixation really isn’t about a certain woman or person or people in general. Like food, it’s about our souls seeking what they were created for: satisfaction. But true satisfaction can only be found through the only One who fills us, the Bread of Life, Jesus. This is great news for us and gives us so much hope, even if we are people or food addicts!

What things or people are you seeking to find satisfaction in, apart from Jesus? How have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good, even more than your ‘addictions’ and temporary satisfactions?

Updated 5.12.2017

I frequently talk with women who are struggling, hurting, or confused because either one particular relationship, or many relationships with other women, have resulted in obsessive, entangling captivity. It’s been a pattern of relating since they were young or, as an adult, a relationship grew to something that seemed to control them in a destructive way.

John Donne’s Holy Sonnet #14 has a line that expresses the answer to why the experience of women being enthralled with each other will never work: “Except you enthrall me, never shall [I] be free.” The craving to be enthralled by someone, the driving desire to have your heart filled up by the emotional and perhaps physical connection with another woman is evidence of your heart being created to worship! Yes, God has created us to worship, to be fully, wholeheartedly enthralled with Another, with One: Jesus Christ. John Donne had it right: Unless we find our deepest satisfaction, comfort, and security in him, we will not be free, and our relationships will be unenthralling more often than not!

Women seeking life in other women—emotionally, sexually, mentally—rather than in Jesus have at least two things in common: They are deeply loved by Jesus who wants to bring freedom and life to their hearts through him. Also, they will continue to experience the ‘captivity of creation’ until they seek life in the Creator.

Do you need a safe place to talk about your struggles, temptations, questions, and hurts in these areas? If so, call us here at Harvest USA. We warmly invite you and will seek to be a safe place for you to process your relational world! Jesus Christ is your Hope, Haven, and Help.

Updated 5.19.2017

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