Helping Women Whose Husbands Struggle with Pornography

Article
10.29.2018

No doubt the sin of watching porn plagues many in the church. While much attention is given to counseling those who watch porn, what counsel can we as pastors give to the wives who have both been sinned against and who desire to see their husband grow in holiness? [1]

1. Sister, seek solace in Christ.

A wife who has just heard her husband confess might seek solace in hearing more apologies, in dreaming of a husband who doesn’t watch porn, or in having a marriage without conflict.

But ultimate solace cannot be found in anything other than Christ the Savior and faithful bridegroom. When one feels intense feelings of betrayal and abandonment, pastors need to comfort the afflicted by leading them to their faithful Savior who loves them and promises never to leave them or forsake them. Pastors should assure these wives that God stands with them against their husband’s sin. [2] He has compassion for the hurting. He draws near to the broken-hearted.

But looking to God in Christ might mean helping the sister to come face-to-face with her own misplaced hopes. In these moments we ought to remind the sister that God uses our circumstances to wean us from even the good things that fails us (spouses, marriages, etc.).

For those who feel hopeless and abandoned, we point them to Christ as the true rest for their soul (Mt 11:28–30). For those fearful and anxious about the eternal destiny of their husband’s soul and the “success” of the marriage, we point them to Christ as the One whose promises and power can be confidently relied on (Phil 1:6). For those who are insecure and filled with twisted jealousy, we point them to Christ and remind them that God alone deserves all the glory from his creation and that he alone is to be the grand object of our attention and affection (Rom 1:18–32; 1 Tim 1:15).

Only God is worthy of our perfect trust and ultimate hope. Therefore, encourage the afflicted to seek solace in Christ.

The next two encouragements aim to strengthen the hurting heart to be one that helps.

2. Sister, remember that your husband has sinned primarily against God.

It will be devastating for a sister to hear her husband has been sinning against her by watching porn. And yet, though the husband has indeed sinned grievously against his wife (and others), we must not forget that he primarily has sinned against God (Ps 51:4).

Forgetting this truth may actually put the husband’s soul in an even more precarious place. After all, it’s possible for a wounded wife to wish for her husband to reconcile with her before any mention is given to God.

Understanding that sin is primarily sin against God reminds sisters to live in the reality that God demands her husband reconcile first and foremost to him. As a pastor, your counsel in this area should aim first at helping the wife see her husband in relation to God, and then only secondarily, in relation to others. If you reverse the order, then the wife will functionally and perhaps even inevitably become a god over her husband. But when the order is preserved, he will know he is primarily accountable to his Maker.

3. Sister, look for yourself in your husband.

Though she may not sin like him, she’s nevertheless a sinner like him. And when a sister lives life before the eyes of her holy God, it’s only right she be able to humbly acknowledge she, too, is a sinner.

It may be difficult for a sister to hear such counsel depending on how fresh the wounds are and how deeply they are felt. Pray for wisdom to know when and how to counsel certain truths over the course of counseling. It can be useful to clarify that the aim of such counsel isn’t to excuse the husband’s sin, but to help cultivate identification with her husband. The larger point is, the person who doesn’t know she needs forgiveness will never forgive. She’ll only make demands for perfection, which means that her marriage will never be restored.

By reminding themselves and even embracing their need for God’s grace, the offended party can soften their own hurting heart and cultivate a much-needed spirit of cooperation.

4. Sister, fight for your husband’s faith.

God desires spouses to be agents of sanctification for each other. The degree to which one helps depends on how much one is able to bear.

It’s rare, but some spouses become each other’s accountability partners. It’s more common for a wife simply to know her husband receives accountability from some brothers in the church. There’s no single right answer here. As a pastor, help the couple find the correct balance for them.

More than anything, you want the sister to see the sweetness of co-laboring with her husband. How can she help?

First, by praying. Pray his heart would be enthralled and satisfied with Christ (Ps 23:1) so that he would forsake sin. Pray he would grow in loving Christ. Pray God would convict him deeply of his sin in all of its facets. Pray he grows in zeal for and knowledge of the glory of God. Pray this zeal compels him to use his “instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6:13), and this zeal stirs in him a desire to see all God’s created people do the same. We could go on with good things to pray.

Second, by growing in a biblical understanding of the nature of lust. Such understanding prepares her to minister to her husband. Of course, her ministry doesn’t have to stop there. This understanding prepares her to minister to other sisters in the church who battle in similar ways.

Here are just a few helpful resources for people beginning to work through the issue.

  • Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is, by Joshua Harris. This book discusses lust and pornography from a biblical perspective and in an introductory way.
  • Making All Things New, by David Powlison. This book presents the fact that the sin doesn’t spring up in isolation but is often fueled by or connected to other issues and sins.
  • Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, by William M. Struthers. This book tackles the effects of pornography on human physiology. While approaching the subject from a biological point of view, it’s still helpful in understanding why the addiction to pornography is so strong.

The information gained in resources such as these should help the sister understand the nature of lust which will in turn help her fight for her husband’s faith, working with him for his joy and holiness in Christ through prayer, understanding, and encouragement (2 Cor. 1:24).

5. Sister, seek accountability.

Our sisters are best helped if we prepare them for what may be a long and hard battle as her husband’s temptation to pornography may last extended periods of time. She’ll need to persevere amid trials as she reminds herself of her identity as a child of God, trusts in God’s sovereignty and goodness, and helps her husband by loving him with the love of Christ.

While the pastor can regularly check in on the couple, she will be served best by having accountability with another sister. If she doesn’t know who to ask or where to start, match her with a fellow member of the church. As she strives to trust in Christ and minister to her husband, she’ll need the encouragement of church members who will fight for her faith as she fights for her own and her husband’s.

CONCLUSION

Much more could be said, but I hope these foundational truths help us pastors minister to the hurting hearts of sisters whose husbands struggle with pornography. By God’s grace and with Christ’s example, these wounded sisters can move toward helping their husbands, even in the face of such great offense.


[1] Using Paul Tripp’s structure for counseling—“love, know, speak, do”—this article addresses what pastors are to “speak” and call their people to “do” what God desires. However, it bears repeating here that pastors should seek to understand (love and know) those they counsel, as facts gained and feelings understood will undoubtedly shape counsel given. For Tripp’s counseling format, see Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change, Helping People in Need of Change.

[2] Jesus even gives grounds for divorce for sexual immorality, which includes pornography. See Tom Schreiner’s article in this issue entitled “Pornography and Divorce.”