It happened again. I met with a wife of a sexual struggler who shared a story that is becoming all too familiar.  After discovering her husband had been viewing pornography, she went to her pastor seeking counsel.  But what she received instead was an uncomfortable lesson on testosterone levels and her responsibilities as a wife.  The pastor promised to talk to her husband and reminded her that she needs to be forgiving as Christ has forgiven her.  She left confused. Her broken heart once again shattered, first by her husband and then by her shepherd leader.

Many pastors are successfully counseling hurting wives with the compassion and skill they desperately need.  However, an alarming number of ministers seem ill prepared to deal with the growing number of couples battling pornography in the home. It is estimated that somewhere around 47% of marriages in church pews are struggling with pornography (Family Safe Media, 2003).   Because that number is expected to grow as the channels to pornography become more intrusive (think Smartphone, tablet, video consoles) ministers have to prepare themselves for the day when a church member’s spouse shares she found pornography on her husband’s computer.  What will you say? What resources will you give her?  Will you be prepared?

Here are a few tips to help get you started:

DO – Give Her the Benefit of the Doubt
I am shocked by how many pastors’ first response is to dismiss a wife’s concerns about her husband’s use of pornography:  “Are you sure about this? It just doesn’t sound like the man I know. ” Sexual strugglers are masters of deception.  They may be leaders in their companies, their community and in your church, but nobody knows them as well as their spouse.

Your first words should be along the lines of “that breaks God’s heart and it breaks my heart” or “I can understand why you are so hurt.”  If it is your policy to always confirm allegations, let the spouse know that at some point during your conversation and share how you plan to go about it.   But acknowledge her hurt and show compassion for her brokenness.

DON’T – Give Her Excuses
A male clergy member might feel compelled to help a wife understand why pornography is such a struggle for men.  Please understand that to a hurting wife this comes across as defending his actions.  At a later time the wife will be in a place to better understand why her husband struggles.  Consider your office as an emergency room and you are the triage doctor on call.  Rather than explain why she got hurt, focus on the fact that she is hurting (empathy) and the steps and resources available that will lead to healing (ministry).

DON’T – Say These Words to the Wife (Ever)

  • At least it is not adultery.
  • At least he wasn’t looking at child pornography.
  • At least you found out now.
  • How often are you intimate?

These comments belittle a hurting spouse.  One spouse shared, “It’s like getting hit by a truck and then getting up and then getting hit again.”

DON’T – Offer Quick Fixes or False Hope
The road to recovery is difficult and requires hard work by both spouses.  Your assurance that everything is going to be fine, while meaningful, is not always how things end up.  Husbands don’t always repent.  Wives don’t always stick around for the long haul.  Likewise, a sincere prayer of deliverance for the spouse in bondage seems like the right spiritual answer, but can end up creating a great deal of confusion. While I believe there are occasions when God delivers individuals all at once, most couples I meet have journeyed with God day-by-day on an arduous road of recovery.

DO – Ensure Confidentiality
Do not share a couple’s struggle with others without their permission, including your own spouse.  Sadly, I’ve heard of several situations in which church discipline has been set in motion and as a result confidentiality has been thrown out the door.

DO – Offer Resources
Have a list ready of local resources available for spouses of sexual strugglers.  If you are not sure what is available in your area, contact a local Christian counselor for their suggestions.  Are there Christian counselors who specialize in this area?  What about spouse support groups?  What books or websites do they recommend for wives?

Here are resources I often point wives toward:

Shattered Vows – Debra Laaser
Every Heart Restored – Fred and Brenda Stoeker
Rebuilding Your Broken World – Gordon McDonald
After the Affair – Janis Abrahms Spring
Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken – Cindy Beall
When Sinners Say “I Do” – Dave Harvey

Are you interested in going the extra mile for sexual strugglers and their spouses in your church?  If so, start working towards creating a safe, authentic atmosphere among your congregation where people can share their sexual sin within small groups.  Such a congregation understands that the church is a hospital for redeemed sinners, not a holy huddle for saints.  Then consider starting integrity groups, Celebrate Recovery groups, spouses groups and other types of recovery groups where people can seek healing from the only Physician who is capable of redeeming a broken spirit.