"I told her I was sorry, and I meant it." Randy gave Marcia a sheepish look, then turned to the therapist. "It's been a month since I looked at pornography. We've attended these sessions for three weeks now. How much longer is this going to take?"
"It will take as long as it needs to take," said the therapist. "But the more you pressure Marcia to trust you, the more difficult it will be for her to do. You have to see things from her perspective. Your behavior has cut her to the core. A brief change in habit isn't enough to restore her trust. You've got to patiently and humbly follow the recovery plan to show your change of heart."
The therapist gestured toward Marcia, "If she is to have a fighting chance to heal, you will have to establish accountability and get the support of a trusted men's group and a counselor. It's not safe for her to completely move on until she sees a long-term trajectory of your behavior change."
Marcia folded her arms and nodded. The therapist's gaze shifted in her direction.
"As for you Marcia," she said, "as far as I can tell, Randy is genuinely repentant for what he's done. At some point you have to choose to let God heal your broken heart."
It takes two
Healing a marriage after the damage of a pornography addiction is no simple matter. By design, a healthy marriage requires deep commitment from both parties. The same goes for healing a broken marriage — both spouses must take specific steps to restore their relationship.
Before we dig into what those specific steps look like, we need to understand how a pornography addiction damages trust.
Trust can be restored
Trust is fluid, like a river. It flows based on how consistently it's fed. It takes daily input to keep trust at a healthy level. When a husband discloses a pornography issue, trust dries up. To fill it again, the husband must show trustworthiness through observable actions.
The good news is that just as water can transform a dry creek into a flowing stream, restoring trust will eventually help build a thriving relationship. Over time, you and your husband will experience moments of relief and refreshment. But as Randy realized, it takes more than just a few weeks before that trust is replenished. Most often, it takes a number of years of trust-building work for a marriage to reach the point where a full and unwavering trust is in place. When this happens, it's the result of investing in consistent accountability practices and heart-sharing through many transparent conversations.
Stay in your lane
Randy and Marcia had to learn that neither of them could expect the other spouse to do all the work to heal their marriage. They were going to have to work in tandem for their relationship to be restored.
The husband's responsibility is to initiate actions of trust, to live in a trustworthy way and to assure his wife that his behavior really has stabilized and changed. This includes a variety of defined actions or boundaries that ensure his fidelity and prove his long-term commitment to recovery.
For instance, many men's recovery groups assist husbands in developing a list of boundaries and corresponding consequences to help them avoid overwhelming temptation. They agree to abide by and check in on these specific points with their counselor and supportive men in their group. If they slip up or experience intense temptation, they discuss it with their recovery partners and decide how to better respond in the future. This journey to understanding the roots of their addictive sin does not happen overnight.
Define trust-building actions
Wives, with your input, your husband can learn which actions are most meaningful to you and help build your trust. These might include your husband making a quick phone call or sending a selfie that proves his whereabouts. It may be downgrading technology and holding to certain computer or phone restrictions for a time. Other steps might be deleting problematic social media accounts, cutting off or minimizing risky relationships and changing jobs. Typically, the husband needs ample measures of help and support in learning these steps and courageously taking them.
I typically recommend that wives insist on these nonnegotiable trust-building actions: your husband gives you password access to all devices and accounts, he seeks male support and accountability and he seeks professional counseling.
For you as the wife, your responsibility is to be willing to receive and accept your husband's trust-building efforts. Do so without being lenient or gullible. But you need to acknowledge if he is making true and sincere investments in your marriage. Even if his record is imperfect, you can be assured that your relationship is important to him if he is sincere and generally consistent in following through with his recovery plan.
If you are not open to forgiveness or reconciliation, your husband's work in earning your trust will not be meaningful to you. Likewise, if you don't take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually, you will be unable to recognize or receive your husband's efforts of reconciliation. You will not have the energy to see the change in his behavior. At that point, both of you will be more likely to give up on your marriage.
Of course, you've been through a lot. You will need time to process your pain and loss before you can expect to reconcile. But when you are ready to move toward recovery, your steps include nourishing your spiritual life, working with a professional counselor, taking care of your physical needs and seeking the help of support groups.
You're facing a difficult and long road, but it is doable and actually has rewards along the way. As you both take steps toward recovery, you'll be able to witness each other's hard work and dedication to repair your relationship, and that in turn will give you hope.Adapted from material created for future publication in book form by Joann Condie, licensed professional counselor, with Geremy Keeton, marriage and family therapist.
A variety of issues can fuel habitual pornography use. Understanding the deeper needs of individuals affected by this common problem is important. Reach out to well-trained helpers, and if you are a married couple do so together. Change is possible! We can guide you as you seek a referral and take your first steps toward recovery. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or