Facing the Enemy
Authors Aaron and Jennifer Smith tell how they found themselves at odds with one another when intimacy issues made it impossible to consummate their marriage. Aaron turned to porn in frustration, and Jennifer battled her own grief and anger. Hear how Aaron found freedom from pornography and how Jennifer learned to be his ally in the effort.
About the Guest
- Listen to Jennifer Smith's "Unveiled Wife" interview on FamilyLife Today® from 2016. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/series/the-unveiled-wife/
- Visit Jennifer Smith's website UnveiledWife.com. https://unveiledwife.com
- Visit Aaron Smith's website HusbandRevolution.com. https://husbandrevolution.com/
- Listen to their podcast called "Marriage After God." https://marriageaftergod.com/
- Download the Stronger Forever ebook and enter for a chance to go on the FamilyLife's Love Like You Mean It® cruise. https://www.familylife.com/stronger
- Learn more about becoming a Legacy Partner, a monthly supporter of FamilyLife. https://www.familylife.com/legacy
Aaron and Jennifer Smith tell how they found themselves at odds with one another when intimacy issues made it impossible to consummate their marriage. Hear how Aaron found freedom from pornography and how Jennifer learned to be his ally in the effort.
Facing the Enemy
Bob: Before he was married, and early in his marriage, Aaron Smith battled with pornography. The turning point came when a friend of his finally confronted him.
Aaron: I’m sitting in the car with a mentor of ours. He askes me, “Hey, you walking in purity?” I‘m like, “Uhhhh, no—like last week—you know, it’s been getting less and less,”—kind of going through the motions with my addiction with pornography; right? He’s like, “You know why you keep doing this; right?” I’m like, “Why?” He’s like, “Because you love your sin.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 9th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. The things we love more than we love God in life or in marriage—even the good things—those are the things that will, ultimately, destroy our lives and marriages. We’ll hear more about that today from Aaron and Jennifer Smith. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It occurs to me that, when a couple gets married, just the fact they get married—we are often unaware of this—but what we’ve done, when we get married, is we’ve entered into something that God says, “This is a part of My plan for you.” As soon as He says that, the enemy says: “Okay; well, then, I’m going to try to destroy this. If God is for this, then I’m against it.”
Then, if a couple in that marriage says, “We’re going to be wholly committed to Christ and really try to serve Him with our marriage,” the enemy is going to go, “Okay; we’re going to turn up the attack here.” You guys have experienced this in your marriage; right?
Dave: Yes! It makes me think, Bob—you know, as a pastor, I do weddings. Can you imagine me saying that at your wedding day?—“Hey, by the way, let me tell you what you’re entering into today. You’re into a war! [Laughter] And you’re at the center of this war.” I mean—
Ann: And yet it’s true!
Dave: —it is true.
Bob: You’d like to hand flak jackets out if you could. [Laughter] “Don’t wear a wedding dress; wear a flak jacket to the wedding, because you’re stepping into the crosshairs.”
Ann: I wish I would’ve heard that, because there is an intensity and a mission in marriage that people don’t always talk about before you’re married. If we knew: “Hey, you’re getting ready to enter a battle,”—that’s scary; but there’s also a part: “so put on your armor and get ready, because the enemy will do anything to thwart your marriage.”
Dave: I think the scary thing is—you can sit in church and be a follower of Christ and know better than to buy the culture’s ideal of marriage, but we do the same thing. We watch shows, and it’s all about happiness and finding the one. We know better—we know God’s got a bigger plan—then, you get married and you find yourself wanting the same thing. You have to remind yourself.
Bob: You’ve been discipled by the culture—
Bob: —instead of being discipled by the Bible.
We’ve got a couple joining us this week—Aaron and Jennifer Smith—who know a little bit about the slings and arrows that come with marriage. Jennifer and Aaron, welcome back.
Aaron: Thank you for having us.
Bob: Jennifer and Aaron have written a book called, Marriage After God: Chasing Boldly After God’s Purpose for Your Life Together. Jennifer has been with us before—wrote a book called The Unveiled Wife—and told about some of the hard, challenging early years of marriage. Again, if you’d like to listen to that in some detail, including the unpacking of the story of finding sexual intimacy to be painful during the first four years of [her] marriage, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and listen to that podcast.
But this issue of intimacy was not the only spiritual attack that you found facing you after you said, “I do.” You’re early years included more than just that as a challenge; right?
Aaron: I mean, there’s just the naturalthings: dealing with money, sleeping in the same bed with someone, learning to not be selfish anymore. We think we’re not selfish until we get married—like, “Wow; my wife is the most selfish person I’ve ever met. [Laughter] And I’m great,”—that’s how we think. It’s sanctifying; it’s a process of dying to self. It’s one of the greatest ways God planned to sanctify us—is in our oneness/the unifying nature of our marriage as we, day after day, year after year, walk with each other/learn each other’s ways.
To be honest—often, we try to change the other person to be more like ourselves; and Christ wants us to both change to be more like Him. It’s learning to say, “No,” to ourselves and “Yes,” to God and allow Him to change us. Everything feels like an attack when you’re only looking inward.
Bob: Right; in those first years, when sexual intimacy was painful and was not a part of your marriage—Aaron, we talked about this earlier—one of the ways you dealt with that was by looking at pornography, which had been a part of your past before you got married. Now, you kind of felt: “Well, maybe this is acceptable; because I don’t have marital intimacy. Maybe, this is my alternative.” Did you feel justified, or did you feel guilty? How did you feel?
Aaron: When you have the Holy Spirit in you, the only way to not feel the guilt of our sin is to quench the Spirit and push Him away—eventually, we see our conscience—and that is the result of walking in perpetual, unrepentant sin. I have the Holy Spirit in me, and I always felt the shame and guilt.
But you know what? In my flesh, because I was walking in the flesh and not the Spirit, I was justifying it, saying: “What else am I going to do? I can’t get it from my wife,” and “I’m not going to cheat on her. I’m not going to…”—that’s what I thought. It’s twisted when we walk in unrepentant sin/when we walk in things that sear our conscience over time. It starts small. You see people that go, “How could they have done that?” Well, it didn’t start that way; it starts small. You take steps away from God; and you tell yourself, “This is okay,”—you find other reasons to justify. I used my wife to justify.
Ann: Jennifer, were you aware of any of this?
Jennifer: I was. He was actually really transparent with me about his struggle, even before marriage. It was just an uncomfortable place for me to understand what he was dealing with; so as much as I could, I avoided that conversation or made it small.
Jennifer: It was just uncomfortable for me to think about what he was doing. It made me insecure—as a woman and as his significant other—to think that I wasn’t good enough. There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to avoid it or pretend it didn’t exist.
Bob: Were you—like did you walk in on him? Did you—
Jennifer: No; it was always after the fact that he came to me and confessed his sin. I believe he, truly, had a heart to not want that anymore; but it was definitely a struggle that had a stronghold in his life.
Bob: And as a wife—who is aware of that fact that intercourse if painful/this can’t be a part of your marriage—there had to a part of you, going: “Well, I feel sorry that you’re in the situation you’re in. Maybe I just need to look the other way and say, ‘If that’s what you need, go for it.’”
Jennifer: There was a part of me that gave him a pass on it; but then, there were other times that I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I would cry or be angry when he told me. I didn’t have control over my emotions like I should have in those times—not every time. I think, as we continued on in our marriage, we both matured in this area—of him not doing it anymore and me learning how to have self-control in my emotions, as a wife.
Aaron: And, also, you’re perspective on what it was you were doing in coming to me. We talk about, in the book, the things that [harm] our effectiveness as believers. The reason we phrase it that way is because there is an effectiveness that we can have in this world—the Bible calls us salt/calls us light. Even in that parable of the salt, it says, “What good is salt if it looses it’s saltiness?”
Jennifer: Sometimes, I think the enemy knows our effectiveness for God’s kingdom more than we even know it.
Aaron: Oh yes!In those seasons you, Jennifer—being hurt, seeing it as a personal attack on you, which—she is my wife, so it was. But me, seeing my sin as something I’m justified in. There was no way, in that season, we could be effective for God—where the sin, and the lies, and the inward/the selfishness—kept us from being able to walk in the things that God prepared for us to do before the foundation of the earth—the good works that He has prepared for us to do—we couldn’t; we were just in our place.
That’s one of the reasons why we wrote this book. The main reason is we want to invite other married couples to recognize what God’s purpose is for them. It’s not just to have a happy healthy marriage—that’s a product after choosing after God; it’s also fruit after choosing after God; and it’s also the thing that validates our message: “Look at our life—it’s not perfect—but we love God. We’re chasing after Him with everything, and this is what we look like.”
Jennifer: We can express joy, even amidst hardships, if those are there.
Dave: How did you get out of that dark sort of cycle you were in, where you—you’re trying to find your sexual needs met in a sinful way. You guys are talking about it; but at some point, you had to—you start winning.
Jennifer: One of the first things that comes to my mind is—earlier, you shared how God humbled you; and shortly thereafter that situation, I remember God also working in my heart, as his wife, to not just explode with emotion when he confessed his sin to me but to really understand it myself: “What is he going through?” and “What’s my role in this?”
I remember we had just had our son, Elliot—he was just a couple months old. I was rocking him in the corner of our bedroom, and Aaron had confessed to me that he had “messed up.”
Aaron: That was our term.
Jennifer: I just went straight to Scripture. I reminded him what Jesus said about lust being adultery. I said to him: “You are committing adultery, and you are leaving a legacy for our children of this. What do you want Elliot, your son, to have an example of when he grows up?” This is our first experience of being parents and understanding that we are leaving a legacy. I think that was an impactful, pivotal moment in our marriage.
Aaron: It was the first time you ever addressed me more as a brother in Christ instead of just a husband, who has hurt you.
Ann: Did that make a difference?
Aaron: What made the difference was that she told me the truth about what I was doing, because the truth is—is that I was committing adultery. I wanted to go back to me looking for my sexual needs to be met. That’s a lie, also, that I believed—is that I had these sexual need that had to be met: “I’m going to find them elsewhere,”—actually, I have a sexuality that was designed for marriage. When we have all of these perspectives—that are fleshly perspectives, not spiritual perspectives—then we think they can be met other ways, and they can’t. That’s how I thought.
This journey began very shortly after me humbling myself and saying: “Lord, I’m going—this marriage is Yours. I’m going to serve You.” It began the process of me walking toward freedom that I already had. This was the truth that I didn’t understand—is recognizing the truth of what it was I was doing, and it came out of my wife’s mouth.
It started with my wife telling me the truth. It should have been people, long/long ago, that knew of the things that I was doing—as a teenager, high schooler, college student—and they never told me the truth from the Bible. They never told me what it was I was doing. It was all: “We’re kind of on the same page,” “No one ever really walks in perfect purity,”—they’re lies!!
It started this journey with Jennifer coming to me, humbly. She was hurt; she has a right to be hurt, but she told me—she’s like, “You’re not just committing adultery against me/you’re not just preparing something that our son’s probably going to walk in if you keep doing this, but you’re also sinning against God.” I started weeping, because she was right! What I was doing was that!—not just hurting her—I was walking out of fellowship/out of sync with the Father.
Then, years later, I was walking in, less and less, repenting every time to my wife. I thought I was repenting—I’ll get to that in a second. Then, finally, I’m sitting in the car with a mentor of ours. He asks me, “Hey, you walking in purity?” I‘m like, “Uhhhh, no—like last week—it’s been getting less and less,”—kind of like going through the motions with my addiction of pornography; right?—minimizing it. I was just, “Uh, this little thing. I stopped, and I repented—I told you, upfront.”
He’s like, “You know why you keep doing this; right?” I’m like, “Why?” And he’s like, “Because you love your sin.” I was like, “What?!” “You love it.” “I don’t love it; I hate it! I want to…” He’s like, “Oh, you do? Do actions speak louder than words?” I go, “Yes.” He’s like, “Your actions are telling the truth, and your words are lying!”
I said, “I didn’t love it.” I said, “I hated it.” I said, “I want…” I said I was repentant. The thing I was repenting of was the shame I felt; the thing I was confessing was the guilt I felt. The thing I was sorry for was hurting my wife. I was not repentant of my love of my sin. I had to get to that point. He’s like: “You can’t repent until you repent of the thing that you are doing!—you love your sin!”
That was: “Why have I never heard that before? Why has no pastor/mentor of mine ever said that to me and made me look so deep?— that I’m not just repentant of the feelings, or the shame, or the guilt, or who I hurt. I’m actually repentant that I’m sinning against God, and I love it!” I had to like—I was like, “You’re right!” Immediately, the Holy Spirit showing me all these—the actions I take—and He’s like, “You do love.”
Finally, I was able to truly repent and say: “I’m—Lord, forgive me! I have loved pornography more than You. I have chased this and practiced this, and I want to be forgiven for that.” You know what?—He has already forgiven me. You know what?—I wasn’t a slave to it. The thing he told me: “You think you’re still a slave to this sin in your life, but Jesus Christ died to set you free from sin and death. So either He did or He didn’t.”
I’m sitting here—in a jail cell, with the door open, and the fetters on the floor—and I’m asking God to free me. He’s like, “No, no; you need now to walk in the freedom that was freely given to you on the cross when you confessed with your mouth and believed in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that He was raised from the dead.” It was in that moment that I finally understood the gospel. Because as Paul says, the gospel is the power unto salvation. I was literally sitting there; and I finally confessed, for the first time in my life, of the actual sin of loving pornography. I finally believed that I was already free.
Ann: Jennifer, will you talk to the women—that their husbands are struggling with this/ maybe, they’ve caught their husbands. It is a cycle; it’s on-going; it’s not stopping, and their husbands aren’t repentant. What would you say to them?
Jennifer: First thing I would say: “Keep praying. You are the closest person in proximity to them—keep praying. You know the intimate details of what they’re walking—pray for them. You have to see them as a brother in Christ.” Like Aaron said earlier—I had to come to that place, where I realized his salvation is more important than him being a good husband—just to encourage them to just persevere with that.
Bob: What you modeled was—you shifted from being on the other side of the issue from him—being hurt and being victimized by it, and that’s all legitimate—but all of a sudden, you said: “Wait; I can be his ally. I can be his helper in this.”
The woundedness and the offense—that’s all real; I’m not saying you ignore that—but when a wife can shift and say: “I want to be your helper here. I want to be your ally. I want to be a part of the team that sees the breakthrough in your life. This isn’t about me and how I’m hurt, this is about ‘How do I help you with this struggle?’” That’s an amazing turning point in your marriage.
Ann: And it’s a hard one to go to.
Dave: Yes; I was going to ask; because I’m sitting here, looking at two women. My wife has gone through the same thing—sounds very similar in terms of her response, initially, when I first confessed—it really hurt.
Ann: The enemy steps in, and he is the accuser at that point. He’s accusing me, saying: “You’re not good enough. You’re not meeting his needs. If you were better, he wouldn’t have this struggle.” The enemy is accusing you, too—and you, as well, Aaron: “Look at you…”—kind of that shame/guilt—all of that.
Dave: Here’s my question: “How did you get to a point, when you saw your husband as a brother in Christ—that you are going to get over the hurt because it feels personal—and get to a point like: ‘I’m a sister in Christ, as well; and I want to help’? How’d you make that turn?”
Jennifer: I think, for me, it was the testimony of another married couple—what they walked—opening my eyes up to see that model set before me. There was a story of a husband, who was unfaithful to his wife. It started with pornography and got—
Aaron: —way worse!
Jennifer: —way worse! They stood on the stage at our church and, then, she got to tell her side. She said those words, “I had to see him as a brother in Christ and ‘What was my role in his life at that point?’” For me, it was that I could do that for Aaron. That’s our hope in why we share online/why we wrote Marriage After God—is to, hopefully, show what this looks like and how other couples can partake in it and do it.
Dave: It’s interesting—you pick up a book like Marriage After God; and you’re first thought is: “Oh! They don’t have any problems. They’ve got God—your marriage is after God/it’s built on God. We’re not going to hear about this kind of struggle.” Yet, even when God is the foundation, there’s real struggle.
Bob: We are back where we started.
Bob: There’s an enemy who wants to take you out and will throw everything he’s got at your marriage to try to cripple it, wound it, take you out of the playing field. This is where you’ve got to—it’s what we say at the Weekend to Remember® getaway: “There is an enemy; it’s not your spouse. If you think your spouse is the enemy, that’s what the real enemy wants you to think.” But when you both look and say: “Oh! We are allies against a real enemy, who wants to take us out; so let’s be united on our attack on him rather than our attacks on one another.”
Ann: That’s what I was going to say, Bob. We need to look at ourselves as a team. I think that’s where Dave and I got into trouble. I thought, “This is your problem”; I didn’t see it as our problem.
I remember thinking—because this was, for us, over 30 years ago—and not very many people were talking about it, at that point, to even get help. But I do remember, one day, realizing, “Your husband is telling you the most intimate, sordid, deepest things that’s he is struggling with.” I remember wondering to myself, “Would you rather have him be in the dark with that, or would you rather have him come to you?”
I thought: “I want to know everything about my husband; I want to know everything about Dave Wilson—what his struggles are—because we’re a team. As team members, we need to be on the same page, fighting the battle together, not fighting each other.
I remember—even some women have come up to me to say, “I don’t want to know if my husband struggles, because it’s going to affect me so much I won’t like him.” But I remember saying to this one young wife—I said: “But don’t you want to know him and help him in the battle?—because he’s going to help you in a lot of your battles. So to be one and know everything about each other, then, you can face the enemy together; because more than anything, he wants you both to live in isolation.”
Jennifer: That’s true.
Bob: I’ve been thinking about as—Aaron, you were telling your story—I don’t know why this has not connected with me for years; but I thought, “Pornography is Turkish Delight.” We all know Turkish Delight is what the witch gave Edmund.
Ann: —in Narnia! [from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.]
Bob: He tasted it; and he said, “This is good”; and then he was hooked; and then he was enslaved because what tasted sweet, the first time, soon became that addiction. We can pick any number of sins or idols in our lives and say, “That is Turkish Delight.” Until somebody comes along—and does what your mentor did—breaks the spell and says: “This is not food; this is destroying you. This is an offense against God.” That is what it takes—is that kind of recognition that pornography is, in fact, an offense before a Holy God. It is a tool of the enemy to destroy you and your marriage; and then, to go, “I don’t want that.”
Dave: I would just add that what you modeled for us/what you wrote in your book is: “As long as that sin—or any sin/any temptation—is in the dark, it wins.
Bob: It lives in the dark; it dies in the light.
Dave: The enemy wants you to do—keep it there: “You can beat this. It’s a one time; you won’t do it again.” The second it’s brought into the light—to your spouse/to another guy—and this isn’t just a guy problem—we know that. But as long as it’s in the dark, that sin ends up winning and destroys marriages. When it comes in the light, everything changes.
Bob: We’ve been mentioning your book, Marriage After God, which we are making available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners, who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We are listener-supported. The funds we need to produce and syndicate this program—make it available to, literally, hundreds of thousands of listeners every day—those funds come from listeners, like you, who say: “This is important for our family,” “This is important for our community. We want this on our local radio station.”
We want people, all around the world, to be able to access this kind of practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family online, on the FamilyLife Today app, or using their Amazon Alexa devices. You make that possible when you donate to support this ministry. If you can help us today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you Aaron and Jennifer’s book, Marriage After God. The subtitle is Chasing Boldly After God’s Purpose for Your Life Together. Request the book when you donate at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
By the way, Aaron and Jennifer are blogging and have a podcast. We’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to what you guys are doing. Let me encourage our listeners—find out more about [their] ministry: go to FamilyLifeToday.com and the information is all available right there.
I was reminded, in our conversation today, that we can’t forget that there is a real enemy. David Robbins, the President of FamilyLife®, is here with us. When we lose sight of the fact that there’s a real enemy out to get our marriage, that’s when we start to lose the battle.
David: Yes; this is one of those concepts in FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember that really, I think, a lot of people come away with as their main take-away. There’s this line that most speakers say, “My spouse is not my enemy,”—that is what ends up getting quoted on Twitter® and put on Instagram®. That is just—we need that reminder!
Bob: That’s a big idea!
David: Splash water on our face and go: “I am viewing my marriage wrong! Satan is our real enemy.” He would love to divide our marriages through suspicion, or jealousy, or disrespect, or resentment. We must be aware of him and his spouse-splitting schemes and attempts to lure us to hide our sin in the shadows and not bring things into the light. As long as you are seeing each other as an enemy, the real enemy is gaining ground in our marriages.
Bob: Yes; great reminder! Thank you, David.
By the way, you’ll want to listen tomorrow; because we’re going to be talking with Aaron and Jennifer about something I know you’re [David] passionate about; and that is, couples being in ministry together. Whether you know it or not—if you’re married, and you’re in Christ—you’re in ministry together. We’re going to talk more about that tomorrow with Aaron and Jennifer Smith. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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