Wives and Porn and Busy Church Leaders

Just heard it again. Another wives and porn story. A sad and frustrating story from a wife who discovered her husband looking at porn again. She had hoped for the best, believing he had been walking out a path of faith and repentance and was “doing okay” (his consistent answer when she asked him).

But then, a quick slam shut of his iPad when she unexpectedly walked in on him. Porn. Again.

But then the story went from wives and porn to busy church leaders. I celebrated her courage to approach her pastor and ask for help, confide in him about her hurting heart, and to open a window for him to see into a very broken and fragile part of her life: her marriage. Thankfully, he listened, he prayed, and then he told her he’d leave it in her court if she needed anything else.

Yes, this pastor did enter in, he did listen, and he did make himself available for a ten-minute conversation after church.  But then he left her on her own.

It’s hard enough for many women to approach male pastors for help, but it’s worse when they do and are given little time and dismissed afterward on their own.

A wife who is sleep deprived and emotionally beaten down will struggle to feel safe approaching a church leader who seems to only have five minutes to spare.

First, let’s be fair and honest. Church leaders are busy and overwhelmed with the needs of the sheep under their care. There are dramatic and complicated things happening in the lives of people in our churches, and pastors are typically on the front line of being asked to help.  Pressured by crises and meetings and other commitments, church leaders can come across as disinterested, uncompassionate, or dismissive. Sometimes these perceptions are true, but not always.

In this context of seeking help, a wife who is sleep deprived and emotionally beaten down will struggle to feel safe approaching a church leader who seems to only have five minutes to spare.

Secondly, another more disheartening reality is when wives are under the authority of church leaders who preach an anti-biblical message about husbands who struggle with lust. It’s just what men do. It’s just who they are. Wives need to trust the Lord and get on board with what he wants to do in their husband’s lives. Get behind his recovery and help him however she can.

Of all the hundreds of wives I’ve gotten to sit with, not one of them feel safe (or cared for) in churches where that message (of minimizing the effect of porn use or ungodly sexual behavior) is taught or implied by church leaders.

Third, I’ve read how many wives manifest symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of a husband’s sexual betrayal. It’s important to keep in mind that when wives come to us for help, that the teary or paralyzed or embittered (or all of the above) woman sitting in front of us may not be her true self. Traumatic experiences have the power to reshape people as pain washes over every aspect of life.

PTSD identifies traumas that don’t seem to fade. Although many difficult events in life such as the death of a loved one don’t really fade, PTSD is used to describe events that intrude into daily life by way of complex emotions rather than simple grief. You can feel numb, you avoid anything that could possibly be similar to the inciting event, you feel depressed and hopeless, or you feel restless, irritable, hyper-vigilant, anxious, and over-reactive. And you can feel all these things at once.” 

These are the behaviors and emotions I see time and again in working with wives whose husbands have betrayed their vows by habitually looking at porn or have been involved in an emotional or sexual affair.

Don’t give up, don’t grow weary in well doing when it comes to resting in the comfort of Christ and then offering that same comfort to hurting wives.

Now, imagine all of these scenarios converging. A busy pastor (or a church leader) getting a phone call from a wife who is in the throes of a PTSD-ish response to her husband’s sin. She’s anxious, brokenhearted, unable to accurately form her thoughts, and breaks into sobs with no warning. Her heart has been shattered, her thoughts are a scrambled mess, and most likely she is exhausted. And she’s asking you for help, but she probably doesn’t even know what she needs.

Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that church leaders, even those who are well-meaning, just don’t know how to engage a wife when she’s in this state. Seminaries don’t train future pastors how to do triage counseling, much less how to walk with a hurting wife over the long haul.

Here’s some steps to help you grow in wise, effective pastoral care for a hurting wife.

  1. Learn. Read books, blogs (check out our Harvest USA resources!) and articles that will educate you in what sexual betrayal feels like and the impact it has on a wife.
  2. Ask. Whether you are a woman or man in leadership, ask women to submit anonymous stories about their experience in seeking help. What helped them? What didn’t?  
  3. Teach. Use your platforms of influence (the pulpit, the Bible study podium, the home group, etc.) to teach Christ’s heart for hurting women, including wives betrayed by their husbands.   
  4. Hope. Yes! There is real, transformative, life-changing, and healing hope through Jesus for couples impacted by sexual sin. Don’t give up, don’t grow weary in well doing when it comes to resting in the comfort of Christ and then offering that same comfort to hurting wives.
  5. Engage. Move towards hurting wives, listen, ask questions, and connect her with others who can encourage her and provide the support and counsel she needs.

Ellen shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Can Church Leaders Help Hurting Wives? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Ellen Mary Dykas
About The Author
Ellen oversees the Philadelphia office’s ministry to women. Her ministry is focused on discipleship with women who are struggling with sexual and relational sins in their own lives, as well as women who are impacted by the sexual sins of their spouses or others. Ellen is available to teach, equip and encourage others (churches, organizations) to become more effective in ministering the gospel of Christ into the midst of all aspects of sexual brokenness.

7 Comments:


  • By Marisa 19 Oct 2018

    This was extremely informative, affirming, and helpful. Thank you for the work you do, the ministry and love and support you give to women in this difficult situation.

    • Ellen Mary Dykas
      By Ellen Mary Dykas 19 Oct 2018

      Marisa,
      I’m glad it was helpful! These posts come out of my 11+ years of ministry to wives so it’s a topic I’m passionate about. Blessings to you!

  • By Colleen 20 Oct 2018

    I’m hurting and ready to give up…I have felt all of the feelings you listed. Deeply. Intensely. I fell like I can’t deal with it anymore. After dealing with my husband’s temptations and sexual sins of lusting (after women, and I found out recently, teenage girls), pornography, and self-sex for 21 years…I feel like I can’t take it anymore. We have been here so many times…I don’t want to deal with it for the rest of my life. I feel like triggers are everywhere (mail, store advertisements, tv commercials, public places, cell phone, computers, just everyday occurrences – and will never go away – for me – and him. He’s been going through a program…but, recently admitted to being attracted to a teenage girl – at my teenage daughter’s volleyball game! For me, that just crossed a new line that I hadn’t even considered – I was devastated, disgusted, lost respect, so angry. I have 4 children (1 college age, 1 high school and 2 in the elementary years)..I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s been through this…I’ve tried to deal with it on my own for the most part. Not very well, I might add. We did talk with a pastor a few different times…but, I still have so many of those feelings and don’t know how to even try to get over them…knowing it probably will happen again. Please help!

    • Lauren Berkhouse
      By Lauren Berkhouse 08 Nov 2018

      Colleen, This is very hard. We grieve with you. If you’d like to set up a time to talk by phone with one of our staff, please call our office at 215-482-0111.

  • By Cindy 04 Nov 2018

    As a wife of 24 yrs, who is going through this struggle right now I can tell you from experience that church leaders don’t have a clue about Betrayal Trauma not do I think most of them care that they don’t. I recently reached out to our pastor and his wife, who I would also call a friend and asked for help for my husband and I. We have endured over 10 yrs of Porn use and relapses and this past March there was another discovery. But, asking with that discovery and the desire to “do it right this time” came the painful truth that it had been going on for 24 yrs, the entire length of our marriage, and almost continually the past 10 yrs. As you know, porn is a symptom of much deeper and complex problems that need to be addressed. Also with the addiction comes a set of behaviors that have been patterns for years. Anger, rage, emotional abuse including lying, gas lighting, denying, minimizing and the list goes on. I reached out for help with my husbands anger and rage and ended up being told that I had a Spirit of Defensiveness, and they were concerned that I was being influenced by the Spirit of Jezebel. I was told that trusting again was a choice that I had to make every day when I woke up. My husband still lies almost daily, although he has been porn free for 7 mo, we have yet been able to talked about the hard stuff without him getting defensive, and arguing. I ended up walking out of the meeting with our pastor and his wife, sobbing and literally traumatized by the event.

    • Ellen Mary Dykas
      By Ellen Mary Dykas 05 Nov 2018

      Cindy
      I’m so sorry you’re in the midst of such a horrific situation. While I can celebrate that your husband has been porn free for 7 months, years and years of deceit and brokenness are not easily overcome. Or healed. Trust takes years to restore. I’m wondering if you do have anyone who is on the ground with you, who knows what you’ve been walking in beside your pastor and his wife?

      If you’d like to set up a time to talk by phone, please call our office at 215-482-0111. If you’d rather take some steps with some online help, I’d encourage you to check out leslievernick.com as she has an extensive ministry for women in troubled marriages.

      I’m so sorry, truly, for your pain Cindy and will pray as I send this email that Jesus will somehow deeply assure you today of his love, presence and power.
      Ellen

  • By jayne 06 Nov 2018

    I’m very thankful that this kind of info is out there. I have PTSD as a result of my wife’s infidelity. I’m the pastor. I have yet to find a resource or article that truly delves into what to do if it’s the ministry leader’s wife that is unfaithful. News stories here or there, but no real resource. Have you ever come across something? I have made friends with men in similar circumstances and we are all stymied. Most material written is to deal with elders or speak to the particulars of a woman’s struggles. But ours are sometimes different. Thanks SDG – Pastor Jayne

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