During an especially draining season of life, I discovered information that led me to ask Curtis how he was doing in the area of sexual purity. He quickly confessed that he was struggling. This was not the first time in the battle against porn that we had cycled through this miserable scenario, but it turned out to be one of the most painful for me.
Even before he confessed his sin, circumstances felt too difficult to manage. We were both adapting to significant shifts in life. Our sleep schedule was irregular due to the demands of caring for a loved one who needed our attention all hours of the day. I was also managing a nagging health issue. On top of this, a spiritual drought brought on by many months of neglecting Scripture intake had left me spiritually brittle. When Curtis confessed his sin, my trust wasn’t the only thing that shattered. My emotional well-being crumbled too. It became hard to get out of bed. Heavy grief made performing the simplest daily tasks feel like they were beyond the amount of energy I was able to exert. Deep discouragement overtook me as I surveyed the state of my soul and the state of our marriage. I really wasn’t sure that I would be able to rebound from the pain or that we would be able to bridge the chasm between us.
I was barely speaking to Curtis, so I texted him: Find me a counselor.
He responded with a few names: We could go see ____ or ____?
He didn’t understand my request, so I replied: I am going alone.
It’s not that I didn’t ever want to work together toward reconciliation—and we eventually did get wise counsel together—but as I examined my heart, I realized it resembled a war zone. I needed God’s help and the help of a wise counselor to tend this sacred space. I needed to draw near to God and learn how to lament so that I could eventually learn how to hope. Robert Kellemen talks about the potential for growth out of grief. He wrote, “It’s normal to hurt and necessary to grieve . . . It’s possible to hope and supernatural to grow.”1
Have you come to this book spiritually parched, grieving, and wondering, Why can’t I have a happy marriage? I’ve been there. It’s good to admit those things and voice your pain. You would be lying if you pretended that life is fine. Life shouldn’t feel great soon after porn comes to light. This sin really does cause suffering and disconnection. You do perceive the situation rightly when you experience sadness as a result of porn; whether your spouse is forsaking you in order to secretly engage with imaginary sexual partners or you are pursuing porn as a couple, it is a violation of God’s commands for purity.
Sometimes people turn to porn in an attempt to momentarily escape life’s troubles, but it leads to the same disruptive end—disengagement at home. Sexual intimacy can rightfully be a place of solace for a weary spouse, but that comfort comes through mutual self-giving—a wife loving and serving her husband while the husband loves and serves his wife. Porn severs holy unity because it is primarily about an individual indulging and gratifying the flesh, even when it is indulged in together. There’s no joy to be found in that self-centered, others-demeaning world. Joy comes from being loved by God and, in turn, loving God and others.
The Sorrow of Sexual Intimacy after Unfaithfulness
Porn turns the joy of sex to desolation. Those parts of your experience that have been darkened by shame need to be flooded with the light of God’s Word. What are some of the sorrows you have experienced because of porn? Here’s one that is especially painful: Does the togetherness of sexual intimacy feel sorrowful since his porn use has come to light? It’s no wonder that there is often a deadening effect on the sexual intimacy of a couple after one or both partners view porn. In a healthy, God honoring marriage, sexual intimacy is a time of focused, loving unity, but in the aftermath of porn, the unity is fragmented and can make engaging sexually feel like the loneliest experience imaginable. Reuniting sexually with someone who has severed the exclusivity of the union is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences a spouse will ever have to face. More than that, intimacy might also become a place of embarrassment as a wife reevaluates her physical form in light of the rejection she has experienced.
You might wonder why your husband uses porn. That’s a good question. There are certainly varying factors that motivate people who seek out pornography. These are worth exploring in your own marriage with the help of a counselor or pastor. When you enter these hard conversations and get down to the heart of why your husband turns to porn, you will likely find that it has everything to do with his relationship with God and little or nothing to do with you. That’s why many men who view porn can honestly say they find their wives beautiful. But there’s no real consolation in that affirmation because, at the core of porn use, there’s still a heart of discontentment toward God and a rebellious overstepping of the boundaries he has placed on sexual expression. When we are not loving God rightly, as is always the case with porn use, it’s reflected in the ways we treat our neighbors. When your husband consumes porn, he isn’t loving you rightly. His unloving actions degrade intimacy, and they can damage your self-appraisal. That’s why you may be tempted to feel less valuable and less beautiful after he looks at porn. If you struggled with self-image prior to marriage, his porn use will reinforce your worst thoughts about your appearance.
God intends sexual intimacy to be an exclusive gift for married couples to enjoy together. Instead, when your husband chooses to view pornography, it reinforces the powerful lies that you are dispensable and that your participation in acts of sexual intimacy is inadequate or meaningless. In most cases, husbands truly do not intend to diminish the worth of intimacy with their wives, but sin has unintended real repercussions. When he turns anywhere other than you for a sexual experience, he is acting as though you are not precious (Proverbs 5:15–23). If you’ve dealt with porn repeatedly, intimacy might feel increasingly humiliating. Have you found yourself wondering how long it will be before he rejects you again? Feelings of rejection and humiliation can harden into a deep-seated resentment. It’s possible that the residual discouragement of your husband’s ongoing or past sin has left you feeling joyless toward both the physical and emotional intimacy of marriage. Has this been your experience?
Deep Conversation with God
Porn brings with it so much pain and sorrow. What do you typically do when you feel sad? Where do you go with your pain? Do you bottle it up, refuse to feel it, or angrily vent it in the wrong places? What do you think about the idea of pouring out your grief and complaints before God? Being honest with God is something that I find very difficult. What about you—is this easy for you? Does going to God with your frustration, anger, and sadness seem like an appropriate thing to do? If not, I hope to convince you that it is.
God wants us to express the confusing spectrum of life’s ups and downs in his presence. This doesn’t come naturally for me. I like to wait until I have things figured out and I don’t feel angry about the difficulty at hand. Once all my thoughts and emotions are in check, I go to God. But sometimes I don’t go to God at all because I can’t figure out the perfect way to express complicated thoughts. This is not the way I should handle problems; it’s not what we see the Psalmists do. Throughout the Psalms, we see God’s people going to him when they are confused, angry, and full of despair. I am slowly grasping that the times I experience those intense feelings are the times I most need to pray sincerely and reorient toward God’s care for me.
A great example of this is found in Psalm 73:21–28. See how Asaph approached God in verse 22 (NIV): “I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Robert Kellemen describes Asaph’s honest lament this way:
Suffering is an opportunity for God to divulge more of himself and to release more of his strength. When Asaph’s heart was grieved and his spirit embittered, God brought him to his senses. Listen to his prayer. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). In grieving we say with Asaph, “My flesh may be scarred, my heart may be scared, but with God I can survive—forever.”2
You might wonder whether this honest expression of pain is a contradiction to thankfulness. After all, the Bible says it’s God’s will for Christians to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Yet, Scripture simultaneously shares many complaints from saints—over one-third of the 150 psalms are songs of lament. Laments by definition contain complaints.3 Scripture doesn’t refute itself, so how are we to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between these two responses to suffering—gratitude and complaint—which seem to counter one another? Here’s the answer: There is a faithful type of prayer that voices the tension between pain and God’s goodness.4 It’s called lament. Lament allows God’s people to share their grievances and gratitude at the same time. This is what I hope you remember as you practice lament: We belong to a loving God who doesn’t expect us to gloss over suffering. He knows we don’t have everything figured out. He invites us to communicate our difficulties in real time. God welcomes us to grieve in his presence and honestly express the pain we face as a result of living in a fallen world.5
Just as there are two types of complaining—sinful complaints and faithful complaints—there are also sinful and faithful ways to seek consolation amid pain. Here are some examples of sinful consolations: griping to a best friend, shopping excessively, binge eating a carton of ice cream, getting drunk, bitterly replaying difficult interactions, and stewing over his sin. Can you name your own sinful consolations? These behaviors fuel self-centeredness, harden our heart toward our spouse, dampen gratitude toward God, and also make us less attune to God’s good purposes in the midst of pain.
Have you submitted to the false notion that pretending everything is fine is a Christlike response? Are you trying to ignore the pain of betrayal? I know from experience that there’s nothing more isolating than putting on a phony smile and speaking a sappy platitude in the face of real pain and loss. Don’t tell God you are ok when you are bleeding to death. Don’t smile and fake it with trustworthy friends when you are hanging on by an unraveling string.
Every trial is temporary in light of eternity, but the ways they shape our character are long lasting. God uses trials to make his children more like Jesus. Who will each of us be when we emerge from these dark tunnels? Although every person encounters pain in this life, not every person grows as a result of suffering.
Sometimes pain is the reason people give for rejecting Christianity. It’s possible that this current trial could become an excuse for abandoning faith in God. The spiritual discipline of lament is marked by the desire to run toward God, rather than away from him. Do you hope to become more entrenched in your own sins or more like Jesus? If we want to grow in Christlikeness, we need to run to God and lament our pain, while at the same time committing to trusting his purposes when we can’t yet see the good that he is working toward. God will come through for his people. When his children experience hardship, it is never futile. God won’t let our pain go to waste. Let’s resolve to be on the lookout for the good that is coming. Through lament, we can continually remind ourselves to do just that.
1. Robert W. Kellemen, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2010), 18.
2. Kellemen, God’s Healing, 55.
3. Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 30.
4. Vroegop, Dark Clouds, 21.
5. Vroegop, Dark Clouds, 26.
Excerpted from Reclaim Your Marriage: Grace for Wives Who Have Been Hurt by Pornography © 2022 by Jenny Solomon. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.