When Your Pastor-Husband Looks at Porn

Article
10.30.2018

Has your husband just confessed that he has been looking at pornography? Perhaps, even worse, did you catch him in the act? Do you feel anger? Sadness? Rejected? Disgusted? Disgusting? Or maybe you’ve caught him so many times you’ve grown disheartened and don’t care any more?

Sister, you are not alone.

The sting of pornography has struck many marriages. The way forward can feel confusing and demoralizing. But there’s hope. I’m writing primarily for pastors wives here, but much of what I will say applies to any wife in this situation.

To give you a little background, my husband—who’s also my pastor—has a history with the sin of lust, which has included a long history with pornography. Even as a young pastor, he secretly hid his sin. On our second date, he shared with me his entire history with this sin, so I could make a quick exit if I needed to. But I stayed, knowing this would likely be a battle we’d fight together the rest of our lives.

I’m not here to share 10 steps to handle your spouse’s porn problem. You can’t walk through this valley with pithy lessons. What I intend to do is share five truths that have helped me keep my eyes on Jesus while walking this path in the hope that you too will be freshly reminded of God’s amazing grace to us in his Son.

1. The body of Christ is a gift .

How do my husband and I move forward? Can we rebuild trust? How can I not sin in my anger? These are real questions. Don’t try to figure this out by yourself. You need others around you, and God has provided help in your local church.

First, lean on fellow sisters . Being a pastor’s wife can feel isolating, especially when you need to talk about issues you and your husband are facing. But you need a godly sister or two in whom you can confide. They need to be spiritually mature, they need to believe the gospel deeply, they need to take sin seriously, and they need to take grace even more seriously. Is there another elder’s wife who’s godly and humble? Is there an older saint who can listen to you and give you wise counsel? Or maybe a mature friend at another church? Pray for God to give you a good friend in whom you can confide.

Secondly, go with your husband to the elders . If your husband is repentant and desires help, you should bring his sin to the other elders of the church. They love your husband, and they love you. God has called them to care for your souls, and though they may not do so perfectly, God will use them to help you know the way forward.

Realize that your husband needs help from his fellow leaders in discerning whether he has disqualified himself from ministry and may need to step down. That may sound scary, but it will serve the long-term good of your marriage and the church, even if there are short-term costs. Also, see these articles for more help on the question of whether pornography disqualifies a man from the pastorate.

Thirdly, go to the elders if he’s hiding his sin . This may be hard to hear, but if your husband doesn’t see his sin as serious and is unwilling to come with you to the elders, then go to them alone. You’re not betraying him. In fact, he needs you to be brave for him. He’s betraying Christ, his marriage, the church, and himself. This may be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done, but it may also be the thing your husband needs the most. You may be helped by this article by Andy Naselli’s about pastors with a seared conscience.

2. God’s holiness explains your pain.

The revulsion and confusion you feel about your husband’s sin is right. Our God is holy, and His law affirms that He hates your husband’s sin—even more than you do. God’s faithfulness stands in opposition to your husband’s wandering eye (Ex. 20:14; Lam. 3:23; Matt. 5:27-30; Rom. 3:3). His heart has wandered in unfaithfulness, he has betrayed your trust, and his sin is unjust. Because of this, God stands with you in your righteous anger toward him and his sin.

Sister, you are not alone in your situation, because God stands with you. He also opposes your husband’s sin. This comfort gives you courage to stand, and to help him repent of this sin. It also serves as a caution in regards to ways you may be tempted in this vulnerable time (Gal. 6:1-2). God tells you, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). It is right and good to be angry, but God alone knows how to carry out justice (Rom.13:17-20). This is why our anger and our husband’s sin must be taken to Jesus and seen in light of His gospel.

3. The gospel will give you strength .

I’ve heard it said that we never graduate from needing the gospel. Facing this trial brings that truth to bear. When you’re sinned against in this way, you need the gospel for yourself. While it’s true that Jesus’ blood covers all our sin, it’s also true that some sins seem to affect us in more extreme ways than others. Pornography is one of those sins. It feels like a direct attack on the spouse. You’ll feel devastated and dirty. You may feel rejected and wonder if it’s somehow your fault.

Throughout all this, you need the gift of the gospel to strengthen you. Cling to the good news that Jesus enters into our suffering. He has compassion on our crushed spirits, and he has suffered to make you his own. Though you feel rejected, in Christ you are loved and accepted, and he promises to never leave you or forsake you.

If your husband’s sin is publicly known, then you may feel the weight of eyes on you. Shame has a way of latching itself to anyone nearby, and who’s nearer to your husband than you?

But amazingly, the Holy One himself drew near to touch sinners and absorb our shame. As your husband repents and fights against his sin, you both can be assured that Jesus did not only pay for your husband’s guilt from sin, he also covers over both his shame and yours by association. Extending forgiveness to your husband and walking with him in God’s forgiveness of him unites you with Jesus. Granting forgiveness is a road that he first walked, and joining with him in this in a unique way provides joy that will keep you afloat amid the tidal wave of pain from pornography.

You need strength—not only for yourself, but the strength to give the gospel to your husband. This doesn’t mean you cannot grieve your husband’s sin. It’s right to mourn how his sin has hurt you, but it’s also right to draw upon God’s grace to help your husband. He needs to know God’s grace covers his guilt (Rom 3:19–26). He needs to remember his transgressions have been nailed to the cross (Col 2:13–15).

Showing gospel love and speaking gospel truth to your husband after he has sinned against you will be terribly difficult. Though some of us may share their struggle, many of us cannot fathom why our husbands would draw any pleasure from looking at pornography. The Scriptures remind us, however, that temptation is common to us all, and this is simply the form his sin is taking (1 Cor 10:13). Though my husband’s struggle with lust looks different from my own sin struggles, the gospel reminds me how much we both need Jesus.

Sister, I know you’re hurting, but remember how compassionate the Lord has been with you, and ask him to help you have compassion on your husband. If you truly desire to help him walk with the Lord and grow in holiness, then compassion will be a necessity. Pray for God to help you have godly sorrow, not only over how his sin affects you, but how it grieves God. The gospel strengthens you both to run to God’s throne of grace in your time of need (Heb 4:14–16).

4. Marriage is for God’s glory .

God has designed marriage as a beautiful picture of his glory. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and wives submit to their husband as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22–33). Sin doesn’t change this. Sisters, let’s not get it twisted and think that if we’re sinned against in marriage that we have the right to make marriage something else. I don’t say this insensitively, but when we’re hurt, we can be tempted to feel entitled. But marriage is from God and for God, and only he can declare what it is.

Knowing and believing this about marriage changes the way we respond when our spouse invites sin into our lives. Your marriage covenant is intended to point you to God and remind you that your response, your words, and your actions toward your husband all matter because they say something about God.

As you cling to Jesus by faith, and respond to your husband from faith, God mightily works to sanctify you and make you more like Jesus. In this sense, God can actually use the sin that has hurt you so badly for good by pressing you and your spouse closer to Jesus. The Holy Spirit will bring these truths to mind and kept me from completely disengaging and giving up when sin entangles our marriage.

The Lord has used our marriage, with all its imperfections and abiding sin, to shape both my husband and me into the image of Christ. He still battles lust, and I still don’t understand it, but we’ve both grown so much. So, as you feel tossed to and fro, look to Jesus as your faithful bridegroom and know that your response to your husband is a response to him. Lean on his strength—and in doing so, you will bring God much glory even in the middle of your pain.

5. The Scriptures are your lifeline .

If you discover your husband’s sin, you’ll feel like you’re sinking. In these moments, God’s Word is your lifeline. You may feel too angry or too anxious to read. You may be overwhelmed with emotions, but God has given his Word to you.

Through his word, he speaks into your pain as he did with Hagar in the wilderness (Gen 21:17). Through his word, he draws near to you like Jesus did to the woman with the issue of blood; he says “daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:27–34). The Scripture is filled with accounts of God mercifully caring for his suffering people.

He assures us that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). His Word brings us face to face with our own sin and supplies grace to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matt 18). There we find help in our time of need (Heb 4:14–16), comfort in our afflictions (2 Cor 1:3–5), and the certain promise that our sufferings will be eclipsed by his glory (Rom 8:18). Sister, don’t lean on your own understanding in this time of trial, but trust in the Lord with all your heart by listening to his Word. He will show you the way (Prov 3:5–6).

Recently, our church studied the beautiful passage in Luke 15 about the prodigal son. My heart was freshly instructed because I think we generally associate with one of the two sons. But this time, the beauty of the father’s heart convicted me. He joyfully welcomed back his son who had sinned against him in so many ways. He ran to him. He didn’t scold him. He didn’t throw all his offenses back in his face. He held him. He kissed him. He clothed him with a clean robe and rejoiced over him.

My heart naturally reacts so differently toward those who sin against me, including my husband, and especially when it involves something intimate like sinful lust. But the Scriptures call me to look to God and seek him in prayer. Through prayer and his Word, God reminds me of the weight of my own sin and the wonder of Christ’s sacrifice.

God’s compassion toward sinners reminds me how much he loves my husband and me. This brings me peace to know that he has not brought us to himself to harm us. His Word helps me keep my eyes on Jesus, and it will do the same for you. He is faithful, and he will help you take every step that lies before you.