We left our sister, Rebecca, yesterday having her husband return on emergency leave after she made a deeply shattering discovery about his pornography addiction and infidelity.
Rebecca, a longstanding believer in an able God, remarked of Christians naïve responses to marriages in crisis: Christians say the worst things in response to marriages facing sexual addiction and infidelity. You might see lists of things wives can do to “prevent” this – like wear make up every day – as if somehow that’s going to keep your husband from cheating. The way to stay away from cheating is NOT to cheat. You commit yourself to marriage because that’s what God says to do.
Certain friends were incapable of providing support. Rebecca had a dear friend reflexively say that God would take care of these things over an abbreviated lunch and then leave. “She couldn’t spare more than an hour when I was in crisis,” Rebecca shared.
After Ben’s emergency return for Rebecca’s surgery in June, she decided she would try. By the first of August, she told him she would move back to their home when he returned from his deployment. Ben committed that they would actively participate in Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step program for addicts and their families.
“We acknowledged it was going to be a bumpy road,” Rebecca told me. “We didn’t pretend that it was all fixed. I wasn’t going to pull out the divorce card, but it was going to be hard. I wouldn’t commit to a year or forever but that we would live under the same room today.”
There were hard intimate challenges. They had to hash out the logistics of sex. Part of his addiction was a fear of rejection and Ben had to learn that it was okay to receive a “no” in response to initiating sex sometimes. Rebecca told him, “This isn’t a porn video. You have to initiate it.”
Ben told Rebecca that the fact that she stayed with him gave him the motivation to tackle the addiction. Rebecca believes, had she left, Ben would have continued down a vicious spiral of sexual addiction.
Rebecca said that she didn’t know at the outset that God would free Ben of his addictive cycle or that their marriage would be restored. She shared, “I just knew that the bottom had dropped out of my whole world, and my only option was to cling to Christ at all cost; John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
She took one day at a time. She didn’t actively try to change Ben – knowing she couldn’t. She took the advice of wise counsel: finding a Christian counselor who specialized in sexual addiction (who offered the sessions free to military families); telling a few friends who rallied to her side so she didn’t have to walk the journey alone, and while everyone wasn’t able to support her, she had tremendous support from far flung corners; and, she talked to God, even when there were more tears than words. “Even my deepest questions were directed TO God, not ABOUT God to someone else.”
These are Rebecca’s words about this journey:
I often wondered if I would be able to forgive Ben. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that it’s not enough to forgive up to seven times, but seventy times seven! During this time, those verses took on new meaning. I would forgive my husband for some past transgression one day and wake up the next morning hurt all over about the very same thing. I had to choose day after day to forgive him for the same act. It wasn’t easy, but over time, the pain would pop up less often…and when it did, it wouldn’t sting quite as much.
As the one year mark approached, I realized I had forgiven him. I didn’t know when or how it had happened, but it happened! Forgiveness… complete forgiveness! I enjoyed being around my husband again. And we were enjoying our new marriage. All the will power in the world can’t make my husband stay abstinent, and it can’t make me forgive. But as we say in Celebrate Recovery, “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” We just have to believe that He can do it.
It’s okay to feel like you’re never going to get “there.” And it’s still a risk. You don’t know. You take the step of faith and you don’t know that your husband’s not going to betray you again. That’s scary. But it’s so worth trying. You can’t promise your marriage will be safe. During this period, I felt like Moses asking God who he was to be God’s spokesperson and asks Him for a sign to which God replies, “you’ll have one after it’s all over.”
Forgiving here has been the model for me elsewhere. We let ourselves hold on to tiny resentments and leave forgiveness for the big things. I had to choose to forgive. Going through that process increased my capacity to forgive everywhere. If I forgave my husband for cheating on me, then I let the guy who cut me off in traffic off the hook. Everything is little after this.
It’s 6 ½ years later and we are very much in love and have been blessed with a third child. Even now as I reflect on what we’ve been through, I still can’t believe how far we’ve come. I’m grateful for my current relationship with my husband, but the status of our marriage is not the miracle…it’s the status of our hearts. Do I wish there had been another way to teach me this lesson of forgiveness? Yes. But my loving Savior has given me a small glimpse of what it was like to forgive me.