Q.My husband is having an affair with a co-worker. After three months I told him he could leave, as he said he was going to do. However, now he told me he wants to stay and that he loves me and the children. What should I do? We are both Christians and attend church regularly. Is it wrong if I still feel like he should leave even if he doesn't want to now? I need some biblical answers.
A. From the way you worded your question it sounds like your husband is still having the affair. If that's the case, there are only two viable options. He can either choose to stop having the affair and deal with the situation in a biblically consistent way or he can leave. No negotiation. No discussion. No other options. In our more that thirty years of experience we can tell you that there is no such thing as working on a relationship while continuing an emotional or physical affair. It just doesn't work.
If he loves the Lord, if he loves you, and if he loves the children, then the choice for him is simple. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Confession and repentance is the first of several steps. For the next steps he needs to contact your pastor or an experienced Christian counselor who knows the Word and is experienced in helping people recover from an affair.
The healing and restoration process will take time— for both of you. The challenge will be to understand what forgiveness looks like and then take the steps to experience healing. Trust that is broken in an instant often takes years to heal. You've been on an emotional roller coaster and it's not over yet. We would encourage both of you to read Dave Carder's exceptional book, Torn Asunder (Moody).
We've worked with hundreds of couples whose marriages have been scarred by an affair. The bad news is that it hurts. The good news is that God is still in the business of saving souls and healing broken hearts. You and your husband can still experience a godly marriage. With patience and prayer you can discover that rebuilding a marriage is an opportunity to go deeper—to find out what hasn't worked and do things differently.
In the last part of your question, you asked if it is wrong for you to want him to leave. The Bible doesn't directly address the issue of separation so the real question isn't, Is it wrong but rather, Is it wise. Will making him leave increase the likelihood of healing and restoration?
Since research and our own experience demonstrates that the vast majority of couples who separate end up getting a divorce, we rarely recommend separation. One exception is when the safety of the spouse and children are a concern. The second exception is when one or both partners want or are seriously considering a divorce but are willing to accept a separation for the purpose of healing and growth. During this time-limited separation, they both sign a contract in which they agree not to pursue divorce or pursue any other romantic relationship and to do specific activities (including counseling) designed to rebuild hope and lay a new foundation. If you choose to ask him to leave, please talk with an experienced Christian counselor before you make a final decision.
He Confessed to Using Porn
Q.My husband and I have been married for a little over a year. We've enjoyed a fantastic marriage so far. Recently, however, he confessed that he'd been engaging in Internet porn for several months. I feel totally broken because I asked him about it once and he made up this huge lie and ran with it. I always considered him one of the most honest and genuine people I knew, and now I feel totally crushed. It's so hard to know what to do—to know what is overreacting and what isn't. Please give me some perspective.
A.The fact that he has been engaging in Internet porn doesn't mean he isn't an honest and genuine person. It means that he is someone who has a weakness that, if not dealt with, can become a sexual addiction that could destroy his marriage and his life. Thank God that he has acknowledged the problem, since that is the first step toward getting help.
Most people grossly underestimate the insidious nature of pornography. We've worked with many Christian men who were suckered into viewing pornography by the misbelief that it would help their sex life. Sixty percent of all Web site visits are to pornographic sites. The tragic reality is that statistics link pornography to an increase of unrealistic expectations, decreased sexual desire, decreased sexual performance, weakened or destroyed marriage relationships, aggression toward women, and violent crime. Seventy percent of all pornographic magazines end up in the hands of minors. Pornography is an $8 billion-a-year industry that compromises character, infects integrity, and plants pictures of perversion in the thought life that may never be erased.
If he is a normal man, the odds are good that this problem didn't just arrive out of nowhere a few months ago. Almost everyone struggling with porn can trace pornography exposure to childhood. The average age of exposure used to be eleven, but with Internet and television, and events in the Clinton oval office, the average age is now seven.
It might be helpful for you and our readers to know the observable symptoms for becoming a sexual addict. They include the following: preoccupation with sexual behaviors, escalating patterns of sexual activity, acting distant or withdrawn, a pattern of out of control behavior, inability to stop despite adverse consequences, ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior, sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy, increasing amounts of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficient, severe mood changes when exposed to sexual activity, and the neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior.
It seems to start innocently enough but what happens is that enough is never, ever enough. Recently, one man told us, "The more I got into it, the more I felt that the material had to be stronger, more explicit. I started getting videos. I even called some of those dial-a-porn lines." Feeding the preoccupation leads to ritualization, then to compulsive sexual behavior, and eventually to a sexual addiction. Patrick Carnes describes sexual addiction as "the athlete's foot of the mind." It never goes away. It always is asking to be scratched, promising relief.
The predictably downward spiral of sexual addiction can lead from printed pornography to videos, adult night clubs, massage parlors, sex with a consenting partner, prostitution, exhibitionism and voyeurism, involuntary sexual contact, obscene phone calls, bestiality, rape, incest, and child molestation. Your husband is fortunate because he has the opportunity to deal with the problem before it takes him down and out.
The good news is that according to Romans 8:37, we can become more than conquerors. If your husband wants help, it is available. The first step is to acknowledge and confess his sin to the Lord and to you. The next step is to turn to someone in your church or community who is trained to deal with sexual addiction. No sin is a private sin that affects only you. In fact, one of the greatest myths that leads the potential addict to repeat sexual behaviors is that it does not adversely affect other relationships, especially a marriage.
It will also be important for both of you to learn more about the trap of sexual addiction. A great resource is a book by Dr. Mark Laaser, Faithful and True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World (Zondervan). Last of all we encourage you to find a couple of trusted friends and ask them to pray for you and your marriage at least once a day for the next six months. You don't need to tell them specifics. Simply let them know that God is doing a special work in your relationship and you would value some intercessors to support you during this time. Remember that according to Philippians 1:6, God will continue the work he has begun in us. Our only job is to let him.
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D., is the author of numerous books and is executive director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a clinical therapist at the PeopleCARE Clinics, specializing in marriage and family and women's issues. She is a seminar leader and co-author, with Gary, of Raising Sons … and Loving It! (Zondervan) The Olivers have three sons.
We are not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like us to address in this column, send your question to:
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.