Editor’s note: Several years ago, author Meg Wilson had it all. She was a suburban wife with two daughters, two cars, two pets, and “a firm grasp on the American dream.” Central to everything in her life was a loving and successful husband who loved the Lord.
But her picture-perfect life came crashing down around her when her husband confessed to a decades-long struggle with sexual addiction—a secret life that included infidelity and an obsession with pornography.
As part of her journey through forgiveness and healing, Meg started a support group for women whose husbands struggle with sexual addiction. Her interactions with the women in those groups as well as her own healing led her to write of her experience. Eventually Meg’s husband, Dave, began to visit the support group for their first meetings to answer questions from members of the group.
The following are some of the questions that wives ask the most about sexual addiction, along with Dave’s answers, adapted from Meg’s book, Hope After Betrayal. You can also hear an interview with Meg on FamilyLife Today.
Can you pinpoint when it all began?
Every man I’ve talked with knows when his sexual addiction started. For most it began when they were around ten years of age, and they found their father’s stash of pornography. For some the beginning was after one or both parents abused them sexually, physically, or mentally. The fastest growing trend has young men telling me that their problem started after viewing porn on the computer.
When I was about ten, I found a stash of pornography. I can still remember the rush of adrenaline and other chemicals surging through my brain and body.
A common thinking error that men fall prey to is, Someone else is at fault. Blaming my dad for years was easy. He wasn’t there. The truth is, if it hadn’t started then, it would have started later. Only recently have I discovered how my choices caused or worsened life’s difficulties. I picked the escape route. Many of my friends while growing up turned to alcohol or drugs. Every step of the way I made choices to continue with my addiction and knew these choices were wrong. The guilt kept me in hiding and going back.
Why didn’t my husband tell me about his problem before?
Most likely he believed that you’d walk out on him. I remember being nudged by the Holy Spirit to tell Meg about my addiction before it had progressed, early on in our marriage. I truly believed she’d run out of the room screaming, and our marriage would end.
One of the differences between sexual addiction and other forms of addiction is the shame and guilt that are associated with it. Today, when people admit to being an alcoholic or a drug addict, they’re celebrated for their courage in admitting their struggles. That’s just not the case for men struggling with sexual addiction. Not only do men have a sense of guilt and shame about their addiction, society denies it’s even an addiction. People either laugh or make jokes or automatically assume all men with sexual addiction are child molesters or predators.
Do I need to know everything?
The answer is yes and no. Your husband does need to tell you everything, especially if he’s had physical contact with another person. As hard as it will be to hear, it’s important for two reasons. One, it’s for your safety so you’ll know what you have been exposed to. And two, it’s the only way your husband will be able to start the recovery process.
When God finally broke through to me, two things entered my mind. Meg’s health was potentially at risk, and God was still in control. He assured me the right thing to do was to tell Meg everything—even though there was a chance that being totally honest could mean the end of our marriage. I then had an overwhelming sense of peace. Regardless of whether or not Meg and I would remain husband and wife, I knew in my heart and soul we’d be okay. For the first time in my life, I knew I could tell someone my complete story.
While you want your husband to be totally honest with you and not to hold anything back, you don’t need to know all of the details. One of the things that Meg regrets is asking about some of the particulars. The problem was, by telling her some of the minutiae, it created an image in Meg’s mind that she then had to deal with.
What was going through your mind as you continued in your addiction?
The most prevalent feeling is the shame and guilt. Another lie that sexual addicts believe is, “If anyone really knew me, they wouldn’t like me or want to be around me.” Believing this lie is the foundation for the shame every sexual addict carries. Knowing that I truly wanted to stop doing what I was doing, and asking God countless times to help me stop, yet continuing to “act out,” was extremely frustrating and depressing. But the feelings were unbearable, knowing that what I was doing was wrong yet fearful for saying anything because I was sure people would be repulsed. Who would understand? I truly believed that if I told anyone, I’d be ostracized. The more alone and isolated I felt, the more I acted out.
What was the turning point for you to come clean?
For me, the turning point came when God allowed me to reach a point where I knew if I didn’t choose to seek help, I’d die. Not just emotional and spiritual death. I was on a path that would eventually lead to physical death. At the same time, God showed me that He would be there every step of the way. By that time, by God’s grace, I was already part of a “For Men Only” small group. The hard part was confessing my entire sexual addiction to my accountability group and to Meg.
The turning point for most men is when they get caught either by their wives, their bosses, or by the police. You’d think this would be the moment when the truth would come out and the healing process would start. Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time. Some men get defensive and are in complete denial. They try to shift the blame and are unwilling to admit the fact that they have a problem. Most try to minimize it by saying it’s no big deal, and their behavior isn’t hurting anyone. Others come clean—but only partially.
Regardless of how a guy gets to his turning point, the critical step to his healing is his being 100 percent truthful with his wife. Omitting anything at this point is like leaving a crowbar for Satan; he’ll use it as leverage, and the shame and guilt cycle will continue. There are many good resources on the subject of sexual addiction for both the husband and wife to read. There are also Christian counselors available, which is a wise choice for the husband and/or wife, either as a couple or individually. Being part of a group like “For Men Only” can be a tremendous help. The churches in your area may not offer this type of group. There are resources on the Internet and there are support groups.
What could I have done to prevent all this?
Nothing. Your husband was already heading down this path long before you met him. Every guy that I’ve spoken with can identify a time around eight or ten years of age when his sexual addiction began.
I can’t stress this enough: your husband’s addiction does not have anything to do with you. It has nothing to do with how you look, how available you are to him sexually, your personality, your weight, height, or the color of your hair. One lie perpetuated even by some counselors and pastors is if you’d be more available sexually, your husband won’t have to go elsewhere. Let me say again, this is categorically a lie based on total ignorance of the pathophysiology of sexual addiction. Meg and I had, what I thought, was a good sex life all while I was “knee-deep” in my sexual addiction.
What can I do to support my husband’s healing?
You can’t make the choice for him to get better. Regardless of whether he’s made that choice, your main job is to get healthy yourself and pray for your husband. Learning the truth will enable you to set boundaries to protect yourself.
Right now praying for your husband may be the farthest thing from your mind. Divorce or causing him bodily harm may be the thoughts that are in the forefront of your mind. I can understand that. I knew that there was a good chance my marriage was going to end based on the choices I made. If I ever choose to go back to my sexual addiction, my marriage will most likely end. The bottom line is, your pain is real. I know that it isn’t easy for you to pray for your husband, because it’s hard to pray for the people who hurt us. I can say, though, because of Meg’s determination to pray for my healing and for me, I was able to continue on the path of recovery. There were times when she’d pray for me before we went to bed. There were many more times when I felt her prayers as I went through my day.
The power of a praying wife should not be underestimated. Your prayers are important. They will lift up your husband as he pushes through the lies of the enemy, and they will give him strength to work on his recovery. Your prayers will also be a powerful tool to help your husband if he’s in denial or unwilling to start the process of recovery.
Please believe me that God will bring your husband to a point of decision. Your husband will decide either to continue on his path of self-destruction or he’ll decide to get healthy. You can’t make that decision for him. But you can pray that he’ll be receptive to what God is trying to do in his life. Your prayers and the prayers of others will play an incredibly important role in God’s getting your partner’s attention.
How will I know if my husband is getting healthy?
The first marker of healthiness is honesty. For years, your husband has been living a lie. He's used lying as a way to keep you and others from knowing who he really is. One of the lies he probably believes is that if anyone truly knew him, no one would want to be around him. So his lying is a defense mechanism, and he’s perfected it over many years. As he moves along on the journey to healing, he’ll learn that honesty is essential to his recovery.
Secondly, is he growing closer to God? You see, divine power is the key to your husband’s recovery. Sure, there have been guys who have mastered their sexual addiction on their own. They’ve hung on for dear life, trying to manage their addiction. Changing behavior, however, is only part of the healing process. If the guy hasn’t started to deal with his heart issues, then it’s only a matter of time before a relapse occurs. Only God can show a person what is in his—or her—heart, and only God can give a person the strength and wisdom to deal with these heart issues.
Lastly, are you seeing real change? Is he more attentive to your needs? Is he trying to really see you? Is he trying to connect emotionally, spiritually, and not just physically? Is he becoming the spiritual leader that God has called him to be?
All of this takes time. Don’t expect your husband to be miraculously healed. He’s going to stumble and fail. The important thing is that he’s serious about continuing on the road to recovery, and he’s sharing with you what’s going on during his journey.
Leave your husband’s addiction and his recovery in the hands of God. And you should not expect to find your hope in your husband’s recovery. The most important thing for you is to take care of yourself. Let God heal the hurt you’re experiencing. Seek Him and let Him restore your heart and reveal His amazing love for you. This is where hope comes from after betrayal.
Adapted from Hope After Betrayal. ©Copyright 2007 by Meg Wilson. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Meg Wilson is a regular speaker to women’s groups, Bible studies, and conferences. She founded the Healing Hearts Ministry to offer help and hope to women whose husbands are caught in the web of sexual addiction.