Bill and Kathy are in their mid-forties. They have been married twenty years and have six children. Bill is a military officer and Kathy is a stay-at-home mom. Kathy sought marital counseling when she caught Bill viewing Internet pornography. A scan of the history on his laptop computer, cell phone and tablet revealed that he had been viewing pornography every day for months. After an individual counseling session with Bill, it was determined that he was addicted to pornography. Kathy felt devastated. For her, Bill’s use of pornography was as serious as an extramarital affair. Trust and marital vows had been broken. She cycled through many emotions: shock, numbness, anger, sadness, fear, etc. Bill felt a deep shame and sadness. He didn’t realize how deeply his pornography use would hurt Kathy. He was also shocked when he realized he was addicted to pornography. According to Bill, pornography was simply “adult entertainment.” It was also encouraged among men in the military. Both knew they needed help and were eager to work on recovering from the addiction and healing their marriage.
To begin the healing process, counseling is needed. It’s important to find a therapist who is trained to work with couples that have been affected by sexual addiction, betrayal and trauma. More importantly, the husband should be the one to locate such a therapist. He needs to take the initiative to work on healing the marriage. This speaks volumes to his wife about how sorry he is and that he is committed to fixing the damage that was caused by the pornography use.
Understanding Her Pain
After admitting there is a problem and seeking help, the first thing a man needs to do to heal his marriage is to truly understand how his pornography use has hurt his wife. Early in the healing process I invite couples to a marital session. In that session I ask the wife to describe how pornography use has affected her. She needs a safe place to share how deeply she has been hurt. This can be very painful for husbands to hear; however, they need to know how their selfish actions have hurt their wives. They need to have healthy empathy for their wives. I often witness men begin to cry in counseling sessions as they hear about the pain they’ve inflicted on their wives. Their hearts are broken because they realize how deeply they have hurt the persons they vowed to love and honor all the days of their lives. This deepens their commitment to working on healthy recovery and to healing their marriage. The road to restoring the marriage may be long and hard, but knowing you understand her pain sets a firm foundation for effective healing.
The therapy session where Kathy shared how deeply she had been hurt was difficult for Bill. For most of the session he sat silently. He tried to hold back tears of sadness. The guilt and the shame were almost unbearable. Still, he knew he needed to hear this. He needed to know the extent of the damage he had caused. As difficult as this was for him, it helped Kathy to know that he finally understood how she felt. She needed his empathy. His heart broke for her and he was ready to offer a sincere apology and be committed to healing and recovery for himself, Kathy and their marriage.
In addition to understanding a wife’s pain, she needs to know her husband is truly sorry for the harm he caused. An apology needs to be heart felt and sincere. Often men will offer apologies that are not sincere. They might say “I’m sorry if you feel hurt by my pornography use” or “I’m sorry if pornography offends you.” These apologies are weak and lack any acknowledgement of personal responsibility. With a sincere apology, you take full responsibility for your actions and the pain you’ve caused and you express true remorse. You acknowledge the results of your actions, such as:
- Marital betrayal and violated trust
- Wasted money on pornography
- Lose of valuable time with your wife and children
- Wife feeling lonely and rejected
- Infecting your wife with sexually transmitted diseases
- Being a hypocrite to others around you
Bill was heartbroken as he heard Kathy relate how his pornography use and addiction hurt her and their children. He couldn’t believe how cruel and selfish he had been. His apology sounded something like this:
“Kathy, I now realize how my use of pornography has deeply hurt you and I am so sorry. I know it was selfish of me. I broke our marriage vows. I know you must have felt lonely and rejected by me because of it. I never meant to hurt you or the kids. I know I have a lot of work to do to overcome my addiction and restore our marriage, but please know that I am committed to it. I don’t ever want to hurt you or the kids ever again. Please forgive me.”
While Kathy was still hurt and angry with Bill, she knew his apology was sincere. This gave her hope that Bill could overcome his addiction and they could restore their marriage. They left the counseling session with a renewed hope for their marriage.