I lied to her almost every night for four straight years. I did a quick estimate and figured that I lied at least 1,000 times to her face in those four years. I know how to destroy trust in a relationship.
Thankfully, I learned how to rebuild that trust.
It wasn’t easy.
It was the single hardest, worst, and most challenging thing I’ve ever done–and I have run a marathon.
But, I did it. And here is the really important thing: rebuilding trust is worth it.
While your relationship will never be the same as it was, it could actually be even better.
You will heal the person you betrayed.
You can look yourself in the mirror again, knowing you are an upstanding person.
Your relationship will be stronger and more satisfying for both of you.
For quite some time, I didn’t fully understand the damage I had done to my relationship with my spouse.
Foolishly, I thought that just telling the truth would fix things. My thought was, “If I quit lying, everything will be OK. I just have to be honest when she asks me questions. She should trust me again in two or three weeks.”
This didn’t work. There is little ground for telling the truth when you have already been lying for so long. There isn’t a way to verify what the heck is going on. Even after I stopped lying, my wife still didn’t feel safe, and she certainly didn’t trust me. Stepping forward with the truth wasn’t enough to turn our relationship around.
I had to become radical in my honesty. I had to put more energy into the relationship than I had previously. I had to grow. I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Like I said, rebuilding trust challenged me more than anything I have ever done.
Can You Rebuild Trust?
My very firm answer on this is, well, “maybe.”
Not everyone chooses a relationship over their own comfort. Not everyone wants to humble themselves in front of the person they betrayed. Sometimes the cost to the betrayed person exceeds the time needed to rebuild.
However, I rebuilt trust, so it can be done. I actually help other guys and they have rebuilt trust in their marriages as well.
There is hope for you, if you are willing to do the work.
Are you willing to do it? Because if you aren’t, tell the other person right now. Rip off the bandage and tell them you don’t want the relationship any longer. Walk out the front door.
Okay, if you are still with me, then there is a chance for you to rebuild trust in a relationship wrecked with lies, deception, or sneakiness.
To rebuild trust, I needed to take a different approach than I had in the past. My normal behaviors and attitudes led me to me where I was, but they would not guide me to where I ultimately wanted to be.
In simple terms, I had to “grow up”; I lived in an immature and uneducated state of mind. Growth is painful – ask anyone trying to get into shape. Using new muscles and developing new habits takes effort, focus, and a degree of suffering.
Just telling you to “grow up” isn’t terribly helpful and probably feels a little insulting. I am okay with the insulting part: if you need to rebuild trust, then you didn’t get here through honorable behavior.
Here are seven relationship-saving principles to integrate into every interaction with the person you betrayed. You will need to work on and use each of these principles constantly in the rebuilding process.
This principle is the building block for all of the others that will follow. Repairing your relationship should be a humbling experience.
In my personal definition, humility is knowing the truth of who you are and accepting it. For me, I frequently chose self-loathing over of humility. Self-loathing causes problems because we want to see ourselves in a better light and might resist accepting the truth of our actions.
Humility also means letting your hurting spouse share their own pain without fear of judgment or being fixed. They need you to feel their pain, because only you can heal it effectively.
To rebuild trust, I had to be consistent. Anything I committed to do, I had to see it through. My wife lived in fear of the uncertain ground I created by lying. When I would start something good, only to fall quickly back into past behavior, this just reminded her of how little she could count on me.
So, if you start something, stick to it.
There are some pitfalls to consistency, but you need to stay consistent or the person you betrayed will see this as playing with their trust (and heart).
Stay consistent, or your efforts are a waste.
To be honest, this word annoyed me for a long time. Both my therapist and my wife kept telling me to “be proactive.”
I didn’t get it. “I think I know what the word means, but not what it means mechanically. What am I supposed to do proactively?”
The answer is: take action on your own initiative. Don’t wait for the person you betrayed to tell you what they need. Go ask them.
Once they tell you what they need, go do it.
4. Meeting Needs
The person you broke trust with has specific needs. Find out what they are.
Now, go back to step three and start meeting these needs proactively.
This is the growth process I mentioned earlier. You will have to set your own needs aside to meet the needs of the other person. Considering the possible alternatives, this is a small price to pay.
Openness and honesty are two sides of the same coin. Honesty means that if I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. Openness means that you tell me the truth without me having to ask the “right” question, especially in areas where trust is broken.
Rebuilding trust requires a new level of communication with the person you betrayed.
You must talk to them about what you are doing, plain and simple.
I am not saying, “Hey, this is a good idea!” I am telling you that openness is a requirement. If you aren’t willing to give the other person this much access to your life, you may never rebuild trust.
Giving full access to the person you betrayed will help them see your commitment to do whatever it takes to make things right.
So, if you betrayed them through money, give them access to the bank accounts. If you cheated in the relationship, give them the passwords to your phone, computer, social media, and anything else you can think of so they can determine and verify what you are up to.
When it comes to the scariest words in the English language, vulnerability is probably near the top; at least it was for me.
Vulnerability is the very reason I lied to my wife. The truth makes me vulnerable to her judgment, rejection, or anger, all of which were justified from my behavior.
I regularly tell the guys I work with, “The relationship you want with your wife will be purchased through your vulnerability.”
I really think of vulnerability as taking off the armor that I previously used to protect myself.
For me, anger was my armor. When my wife would ask uncomfortable questions, I instantly put up a shield of anger. This is an effective way of telling another person to shut up, but it’s far from helpful or healthy. Anger is one way to stop the conversation, or you might run away and shut down.
The other person really needs you to listen to them, even though it feels purely miserable to discuss the topic they brought up.
They also need you to connect with the emotions of what they are going through, specifically how bad it feels for them. This is difficult because it requires us to double-down on how rotten it feels to hear how our unhealthy behavior impacts someone close to us.
Take responsibility for your actions and the impact those actions had on the other person.
Then, keep taking responsibility for those actions, especially when it feels uncomfortable.
I say that because I like to minimize responsibility for my actions. I nearly ended my marriage trying to salvage my image with the very person I lied to.
So, when my wife would say, “Remember those times you lied about using porn at work?”, I responded with something like, “I didn’t say that. I said I only looked at YouTube videos at work.” And then she would say, “That is not what you said…”, and the breakdown would continue until I finally confessed or re-owned my actions.
This kind of behavior makes people crazy.
8. Blind Spots
Believe it or not, I am not clear on all of my behaviors and how they impact the person I betrayed. This means that I have blind spots – areas of my personality that I am completely unaware of and need help to see.
Ask the person you betrayed for help with this. This requires humility, a teachable spirit, and a willingness to learn.
Once you discover these blind spots, start working on them, or at least own their existence. Because these could be the very things holding you back in the relationship.
Give Them Time
These are the basics, and you need to practice them. While you are doing this, the other person will need time to heal and ultimately decide if it is worth staying.
I lied for four years in the last go-round; I shouldn’t be shocked that it took almost four years to fix things, especially since I dragged my feet on these topics and made them much more difficult than they needed to be.
“Yeah, I would say Kevin is making good progress with his pornography addiction,” Carol told me during a couple’s session when I asked if she thought her husband was on the right path of recovery. “But there’s still something wrong. He doesn’t talk, except to give one-word answers, and I never know what he’s feeling. I’m living in a one-sided relationship when it comes to being an intimate couple.”
Carol’s complaint about her husband is far from unusual for couples dealing with the aftermath of sexual addiction. In fact, I estimate nine out of ten men who I work with in my private practice have extremely low emotional intelligence (EQ).
What is an emotional intelligence and what does it have to do with pornography addiction? Good questions. Let’s explore this important personality trait.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
An individual who possesses a strong EQ can identify and share their own emotions, while also being able to handle the emotions of others in a healthy way. A person who has a low EQ will find it difficult to process and express feelings for both themselves and others. These individuals become exasperated and anxious when placed in environments that require them to give or accept emotional intimacy. It is simply too overwhelming.
People with low EQ find it difficult to engage in in-depth conversations. They tend to avoid being vulnerable and sharing their struggles. In fact, they have a better chance of hitting the lottery before they break down and share intimate details of their lives. But that’s what happens when no one takes the time to show a child how to be emotionally vulnerable and expressive.
Do You Have a Low EQ?
Here are some key characteristics of those who have low emotional intelligence.
They cannot identify what they “truly” feel.
Sure, they can tell you when they’re angry, sad, fearful, or happy. But those are emotions everyone can identify and are used to avoid confronting more vulnerable emotions.
They find it difficult to process and describe more robust feelings. For example, a person who is angry may be feeling dismissed or cheated. But instead of recognizing the real emotion and expressing the hurt associated with it, they react in anger.
They have a difficult time expressing emotions.
Even if they can understand their real emotions, they have a hard time sharing them. People with low EQ were never taught how to process and communicate their feelings appropriately. Therefore, they learned to keep their emotions to themselves.
Somewhere down the road, they received the message that sharing their feelings results in trouble, so just shut down and move on.
They are unable to recognize and effectively deal with their partner’s emotions.
They cannot read the emotional cues people give off, especially non-verbal cues. They also lack the ability to be empathetic listeners, and instead, try to shut down conversations by offering solutions. They will often find themselves in conflict with their partners who feel unheard. We usually refer to these individuals as being emotionally tone-deaf.
They tend to shift emotional conversations toward themselves.
For example, a man’s wife may say, “It was a crazy day, and my head is spinning.” Instead of asking her what occurred, he responds, “I know what you’re feeling. I also had an insane day.”
He doesn’t understand that she is trying to be vulnerable and hoping to get a sympathetic ear. His inability to do this will send her the indirect message, “I really don’t care about your day,” which is not what he means to do.
They find it very difficult to make and maintain authentic friendships.
Part of the reason for this is a constant desire for solitude. A person who must engage with people throughout the workday will become very drained, with little energy leftover for family, much less for friends. They give off the impression of being aloof, even though that is not their intent.
In some cases, they may have friends, but these relationships are kept at a 10,000 foot level. Rarely, if ever, do these friendships result in emotionally meaningful conversations.
Porn Is Pseudo Self-Soothing
So, what does all of this have to do with pornography addiction? There is a strong correlation between the lack of emotional connection and addictive behaviors.
Whether we know it or not, our natural desire is to engage in intimate relationships with others. Relationships are the foundation of life that provide comfort. Therefore, those who struggle to engage in healthy relationships will run toward other self-soothing behaviors.
Most people struggling with a pornography addiction were never given the skills to learn to self-sooth when faced with difficult situations. Instead, somewhere along the line, they stumbled across sex and found that it served as a tremendous source of emotional comfort. You see, pornography is used as a substitute to keep difficult emotions at bay.
To sum it up, we have learned to become runners. We run away from emotions that cause anxiousness, and it leads us down the path to pornography that brings pseudo self-soothing.
So, have you recognized yourself? I bet your partner has. But do not fear; all is not lost. There are ways to improve your EQ that will allow you to live life to the fullest.
Understand what you’re feeling.
As I mentioned before, those with a low EQ have a difficult time drilling deeper to identify and share their true emotions. Instead, they hide in the back of the room playing it safe and sharing only the bare requirements to sustain a relationship.
Use Google to find a list of “feeling words,” and spend time reviewing three or four daily. As you review an emotional word, see if you can recall a time when you felt that way. When you do, pay close attention to the signals your body communicates, such as a racing pulse, tightening muscles, dry mouth, etc. As you become more aware of these signs, you will be able to more quickly recognize your true emotions when a negative event occurs.
Many men I work with lack the drive to engage in self-reflection and learn more about how we are hardwired. No one taught us how to live and what it means to be curious. Therefore, we run through life with our heads down, missing out on many amazing and wonderful experiences along the way.
To become people of integrity, we need to learn to do things differently. This requires us to lift up our heads and be observant of our environment, including the needs and desires of those around us. It requires us to engage in regular self-reflection on our journey to continue to strengthen our character.
Never stop trying to understand why you do the things you do. This process is the cornerstone of true maturity.
Understand that being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak.
This is a tragic message delivered to far too many young boys, and it’s a lie. Not engaging emotionally with others doesn’t make us strong; instead, it makes us dead inside.
It is time to start living and see what we’ve been missing out on all these years. This starts by putting our fears aside and allowing others to see the real us–warts and all. I know, I didn’t say it was an easy process, but it certainly is very rewarding and freeing. Let go of the fear of being rejected and take steps to become vulnerable.
Escaping the clutches of a pornography addiction requires a commitment to scrutinize the many aspects of our lives that must be changed. Part of this process is learning to increase our emotional intelligence. By learning to identify and share our feelings, as well as accept the emotions of others in a healthy way, we will discover a life that is robust and fulfilling. As one of my clients who went through this process said to me recently, “Everything seems greener this spring.”
Ah, the benefits of strong emotional intelligence.
My name is Calum, and this is my story of overcoming pornography and lust.
A little less than nine years ago I was working on a slideshow for a project in choir. Innocently scrolling to find just the right photo for each part of the song, I stumbled across some images of very scantily clad women, which was something my 11-year-old eyes had never seen.
Brought up in a Christian home and even attending a Christian school through middle school, I knew in my heart what I saw that day was wrong because I knew I had to hide it from my parents. Despite knowing this, every time I did schoolwork from then on, I had an extra tab open that I would use to search for progressively less and less innocent images. In no time at all this was a daily habit, regardless of whether I had schoolwork or not. And already by 6th grade, I began living a double life.
As time went on, I continued my daily ritual. Just like with all drugs, I needed more of it, and since porn is an arousal addiction, different types of it and more extreme versions of it.
How Porn Affected My Life
My addiction got me into all sorts of trouble. With my parents, I was disciplined to no avail. Once I was grounded for an entire summer. With my siblings, I had multiple close calls where I almost crushed my relationship with them as they nearly walked in on my sin. With my friends, there were times when I chose numbing myself to a phone screen instead of spending time with them.
Some days I would be so late to work from staying up all night that I was nearly fired. My grades slipped at school, and I often chose pornography to cope with my stress rather than facing and accomplishing assignments.
With confidence and who I am as a person, I knew in my heart that I was compromising my own words and beliefs each time I went back to porn.
I subconsciously objectified women without even knowing it. I clung to the short romantic relationships I did have so violently that it pushed them away. Looking back I was merely substituting where I was getting my “hit” from, and if I couldn’t get my “hit” from her, then she was no interest to me. Physical beauty became the only measuring stick for attraction. My love was hardly love at all, it was lust.
Worst of all, porn affected my relationship with God. He never stopped loving me, but whenever I wanted to give in to temptation, I just stopped listening. When I needed Him most, I ignored Him.
My Journey Toward Freedom
Around junior year of high school, a little while after my second failed relationship, I realized the deep mess I was in. I began taking steps to implement accountability in my life with a buddy of mine. Unfortunately our efforts were half-hearted. We relied on our own strength, and our addicted brains wanted to stay addicted.
A year passed with small victories, but no lasting change. By senior year I made the decision I wanted to be baptized because I assumed that the act of baptism would magically cure me. Long story short, it didn’t.
The two years following have been a progressive victory over not just porn, but also lust, shame, guilt, unworthiness, secrecy, ego, hurt, condemnation, and loneliness. Reading many stories like this myself, I’ve become numb to that disgusting four letter word, “porn.” But all that other stuff reminds me of my brokenness and the much bigger problem at stake.
As Steven Furtick says, “I was so busy asking God to get me out that I missed the fact that God was trying to get in.” The harder I tried in my own strength, the more I condemned myself for my own failures.
So, I got to work. I made a list of standards I lived my life by, and I did push ups if I missed a standard. I journaled. I got Covenant Eyes. I invested in a recovery app. I went to anonymous meetings. I made phone calls. I made a YouTube channel documenting my journey. I did devotions. I told my parents, my friends, my mentors about my problem, and I tried so hard!
I built up one month and two month streaks and then would fail hard, spiraling into an abyss of pain and tears and hopelessness before finding new motivation. Since all that wasn’t working, I figured there must still be a missing piece.
Finally I realized, the one thing I was missing: a genuine relationship with God. And the one thing I wasn’t doing: surrender.
As counterintuitive as it sounded, surrendering this addiction to Him was the only way out, for He was the only one bigger than all my problems and addictions who could bring lasting change.
So, I bagged all the habits and just gave it to God. Once again, I failed.
First I had good deeds, then I had faith, but I never put them together and one without the other proved fruitless. “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)
Finally, we arrive in the present. I am far from perfect as I don’t believe anyone ever “arrives” on this half of eternity, but I am thousands of miles from where I started. My dark past doesn’t define me. I am more hopeful than I ever have been, and it’s all thanks to God.
Things That Helped Me Along the Way
Here’s some bullet-point wisdom that I hope can benefit others fighting their own battles:
Surrender – You don’t have to be the strongest person in your life. God is your Heavenly Father who is infinitely bigger than anything you’re dealing with. Surrender your weakness to His strength.
Focus – On where you’re going to not what you’re going through. There will be ups and downs. Stay close with God and your allies in recovery daily.
Pray – Genuine prayer is a game changer. And you can take it or leave it, but I’ve quadrupled my prayer time and I feel like my personal growth has exploded.
Self-Worth – ‘Your value does not increase or decrease based on what you or others might say or think about you. Your value comes from the ingredients God used to make and save you.’ (This is a daily reminder on my phone)
Community – Finding a community to talk about this with is huge (and I’m not talking about some subreddit). Some options I would recommend if you don’t know anyone personally who’s serious about this are:
An anonymous meeting specifically for sex addictions.
A mobile app community that is supportive and encouraging.
Boiled down to the basics, beating this addiction requires three fundamentals:
Surrender – Admit you can’t handle it alone, give it to God
Communication – With God and others. You aren’t alone.
God – He doesn’t need any explanation. The more time you spend with Him, the more you want to sprint from pornography and lust to pursue the adventure he’s set before you.
Let’s Get Back to the Start
Nine years ago, the project I was working on when I first stumbled across this mess was a slideshow to go along with the song “Last Train Home” by FM Static. Nine years later I am stunned to realize how much the chorus speaks to this issue:
We’ve fallen apart Somewhere back at the start When we thought that we could fix each other By ourselves Let’s get back to the part When things weren’t like they are And we were laughing On the last train home
I’ve given up trying to fix myself by myself because that’s the exact reason I failed. I’m getting back “to the part when things weren’t like they are,” and rejoicing in every moment along the way.
To everyone reading this, you are a child of God, endowed with the seeds of greatness, a walking miracle. And don’t forget: keep your foot on the gas pedal and give God the wheel!
I’m a free man! The joy of saying those words far surpasses any momentary pleasure that porn can give.
The chains that once bound me have been shattered into pieces. The joy that I have from this freedom is only surpassed by the joy I receive from helping others who struggle.
Today, I help men who struggle with porn and sex addiction as a BraveHearts Certified Sex Addiction Mentor. I also serve the Church through my ministry, Strengthen Your Brothers, where I lead small faith-based recovery groups, help organize an annual men’s retreat for purity, and share my story at local churches to raise awareness of the problem of pornography in the Church.
I have been given this beautiful mission by God after destroying my own life, losing my reputation as a believer and my ministry as a local youth pastor through my addiction. When I thought all was lost, hopeless, and no future remained, God had other plans.
When My Troubles Started
It all began like most of the guys that I work with: the same story, only different names. I was only seven years old when a neighborhood friend passed the first adult magazine into my hands. At first, this magazine seemed very wrong and even nasty to me. However, the excitement and allure of it was very real and powerful.
It didn’t take long for me to “discover myself.” By the age of ten, I was already in the beginning stages of developing a future sex and porn addiction.
I still remember my family getting our first home computer back in 1997. I was 15 years old and had already been sexually promiscuous for years. This new computer with internet access might as well have been a heroin dealer moving in. I soon discovered internet pornography and my developing addiction took on a whole new level.
I was truly living and acting like a junkie. I became a slave to this sin of isolation and shame. As I frequented internet porn more and more, I sank deeper and deeper into that dark abyss they call “addiction.” I would sometimes stay up all night viewing it and wouldn’t be able to go to school or work the next day.
Around this time, I had a truly life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. I began to immerse myself in the Bible, pray, and attend church services. I felt like a totally new person in every way except one: sexual immorality.
I thought somehow that this shouldn’t be! How was I so strong now in so many areas of my life, but still in complete bondage to sexual sin? I was still doing the very things that I hated! Was it me, or was it something else inside of me that had the control? My heart grew sad, confused, and desperate.
I did not understand what was going on inside. I only knew that I was out of control.
Out of shame and embarrassment, I kept my struggles mostly to myself. My porn and sex addiction were under the radar, while my public life was soaring ever higher. I went to a Bible college/school of ministry and soon became a very respected local youth pastor. In public, I was teaching, preaching, and praying for the youth. Behind closed doors, I was a regular junkie sneaking off to get his fix. I lived in a constant state of contradiction, which even confused myself! How could this be? I loved the Lord and his people!
At my lowest point, I had a very public fall and my sexual sin was exposed to the world. This was the best thing that could have ever happened to me! Sometimes it takes people hitting rock bottom before they will ever look up.
This began the crisis and shock stage of my recovery from addiction. This very huge and public fall was just what I needed to get my attention and for me to start looking up. This problem had to be dealt with!
After losing my ministry, friends, and reputation, I felt defeated. I was in the most depressed state of my entire life. It took a while, but I slowly began to climb out of the dark pit of destruction.
The only problem was that I didn’t know where to go for help. I tried for a few years simply to pray harder, stay away from women completely, read books on the subject, and “white-knuckle it.” This gave me a little relief, but no lasting healing or real sobriety.
I still remember almost sinking into a state of numbness, where I resigned to the fact that I would just always be like this. I really felt that this was just something that I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Thank God I was wrong!
The Lord eventually led me to a faith-based recovery group that got me out of isolation and gave me hope and connection with others like myself. They taught me recovery principles and gave me accountability. This is also where I learned about Covenant Eyes, which played a huge role in my recovery journey and still does to this day.
Finally, I was able to start seeing real results in my recovery and healing began to take place in my relationships. With the help of God, the recovery group, Covenant Eyes, and a good guide, I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Fast forward five years and a new man has emerged from the ashes. A broken and recreated man that is truly grateful to God and so many others that helped along the way. God has redeemed my life, forgiven me for my past mistakes, and given me a hope and a future. He can do the same for you!
Gary LeBlanc • Gary lives in the New Orleans area with his beautiful wife and three children. Gary works with men who struggle with sex and pornography addiction as a professional Certified Sex Addiction Mentor. You can connect with him at Strengthen Your Brothers.
Each year as the 4th of July approaches, I find myself reflecting on a question I get asked often as a former sex addict and now sex addiction recovery mentor:
“Can you really be free from porn?”
It’s a valid question. After all, it seems that there are far more people these days who struggle with porn and habitual sexual sin than there are former addicts like myself who are living in freedom. That should be no surprise to anyone given the sex-saturated culture we live in today, right?
So what’s the answer? Is lasting freedom really possible, or is it just a pipe dream?
Absolutely! In fact, as Christ followers, freedom is our destiny.
Scripture tells us that it’s for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). But that same passage also goes on to warn us to stand firm and don’t submit yourself again to a yoke of slavery. After all, we are prone to wander.
So there are some things you need to know before starting out or continuing on your journey to freedom. To help illustrate these key points, I’d first like to share my story with you.
A False Sense of Freedom
For most of my life, I never thought of myself as a person living in bondage. From the time I was first exposed to porn at age 11, I spent more time pursuing porn and sex than I did avoiding it.
While it started off as a “shiny new object” that grabbed my attention, my relationship with pornography and all things sexual changed often over time. It reshaped my core beliefs and objectified my view of myself and others along the way.
As for my relationship with God, I decided not to involve Him in that part of my life. As far as I was concerned, I was already living in freedom–sexual freedom–and on my own terms.
Even as a husband and father living a double-life, I was convinced I was winning and didn’t need the services of a savior. After all, I reasoned, Jesus played His part in my life long ago, giving me eternal salvation when I trusted him with my life and invited Him into my heart.
Trouble in Paradise
The wheels started coming off of the cart for me in the early 90’s when the tech company I worked for introduced us to the internet. Not long after that, I discovered Internet Porn 1.0 and my carefully orchestrated life started to come undone.
This very adult version of a “shiny new object” was just too hard for me to resist. So I didn’t. I surrendered my life to it and let it take me wherever the wind blew. Voyeurism. Exhibitionism. Group sex. Every category imaginable, and many I couldn’t even imagine, right there at my fingertips.
That’s when the real problems started to surface. Withdrawal and isolation from my family and friends. Declining performance at work. Obsessive, compulsive pursuit of all things sexual. Before I knew it, I lost my freedom and became an addict.
Pretty soon, just looking at porn didn’t do it for me like it once did. The edge was gone. I needed more. So I started pursuing porn with skin on, and before I knew it, I got myself involved in an extramarital affair.
Hitting Rock Bottom
It wasn’t until two years after I lost my family and marriage of 15 years, most of my close friends, and even my job, that I finally hit rock bottom.
I felt hopeless and depressed and had been having suicidal thoughts when I took it one step further and started planning out the act that would end my pain forever, or so I thought.
As I started thinking about what to write on a suicide note to my boys, I collapsed in the middle of my apartment’s living room, overcome with grief and fear and shock and shame all at once.
That’s when I cried out “God, help me!” And much to my surprise, God answered me. Not in an audible voice per se, but with words He imprinted on my heart:
“Michael, I’m right here. I never left you. You left me.”
6 Steps I Took on the Way to Lasting Freedom
From that point forward, I started pursuing freedom from my unwanted sexual behaviors by surrendering my entire life to God. No more secrets, no more lies.
Some of the key steps I took at this point in my journey included:
Seeking help from a licensed Christian counselor who was trained as a sex addiction specialist and was also a recovering sex addict himself
Meeting weekly with a sexual addiction recovery group who used recovery curriculum
Attending a local church service every Sunday (I had stopped going years earlier)
Reading and studying the Bible regularly
Praying and pursuing a connection with God every day
Ever since I started taking my recovery seriously (I spent two years “faking” my recovery and it cost me my marriage and family, and almost my life), my life and my relationships started to improve.
Over time, others close to me–including my ex-wife and two boys–began noticing and commenting on how much I’d changed for the better. Of course, I never took credit for that, and still don’t. The credit and all of the glory deservedly go to God.
He’s the one who led me to freedom, usually through the work of other leaders and mentors He brought into my life at different critical times. And He’s still at work sifting me and refining me into the likeness and character of Christ.
I married a wonderful woman named Christine. This December, we will be celebrating our 12th year of marriage. We serve together in BraveHearts, where I’m in my 18th year of full-time ministry leading people to freedom in Christ from habitual sexual sin. Together, we’re living a redemptive life and love teaching others how to use their redemption story for God’s glory.
7 Key Lessons I Learned on the Road from Recovery to Redemption
I’ve been on this journey from recovery to living a redemptive life for 22 years now. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about living in freedom and leading others:
Only the Truth (found in the person of Jesus Christ) can make you free.
Most people don’t want to face the truth about themselves. It requires courage and humility. For that reason, don’t be surprised when you face opposition from some friends and family.
You can’t lead others to freedom if you’re not free yourself. This is why former sex addicts and partners who’ve experienced significant recovery and healing make great mentors. It’s also why most peer-based accountability and support groups remain stuck.
Freedom is never free, doesn’t come easily, and requires hard work to maintain.
The journey to freedom requires motivation, endurance, and self-discipline. It also requires patience and commitment. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The journey to freedom also requires resilience and a willingness to change and adjust course when necessary. The pathway is dynamic and can change at any time.
The journey to freedom is a team sport. It’s never wise to try to go it alone. At the very least, you will need an experienced guide to lead the way (mentor). Peer-level support helps, too.
Need a roadmap? Attend our free workshop, From Recovery to Redemption.
It took my husband about ten years to finally be fully free from the grips of porn addiction. As such, I found plenty of methods and tactics that did nothing to help and did much to hinder my husband’s progress towards kicking his addiction.
Before I tell you all the things I did wrong, I want you to know there is so much grace. When your spouse suffers and struggles though any addiction, it makes life hard. There will be times when you know that the very words you are hearing yourself say should not, in fact, be said, but you find yourself saying them anyway. There will be other times when you will be tempted to control, demean, and rage and you find yourself giving into all of them at various times. Why? Because you, my friend, are just as human as your porn-addicted spouse.
If you see yourself in the methods described below, take them in not with shame, but with awareness. I was guilty of engaging with almost all of these, but with a lot of grace, love, and conversation with Craig, we made it through to the other side. Freedom awaits.
The “I’m going to control your every move” Method
For so long in our marriage, I thought that if I could just remove all the possible temptations, porn would no longer be an issue for Craig. I set up strict rules by which he promised to abide. For example:
The door to the study where the computer lived could never be closed.
He was not allowed to delete the history for the web browser.
He couldn’t use programs that would allow you to download pirated material (a.k.a. “Napster).
Some of you don’t even know what Napster is and that’s the point: If controlling Craig’s behavior by eliminating temptation was impossible seventeen years ago, how much more impossible is it now in the age of smartphones, the ever-expanding dark web, and streaming?
But this is only one reason why this method doesn’t work. Let’s unpack some others.
1. The only person you can truly control is yourself.
2. Most people who know they’re trying to be controlled become more secretive and withdraw from the relationship, which is exactly the opposite of what you want from someone who’s struggling with addiction.
3. Your spouse doesn’t need another parental figure. What s/he needs is a partner.
Many of us who have been betrayed so desperately want freedom for our spouses that we grab onto whatever we think will bring about the fastest results. We don’t want to have to continually reel from the pain this addiction inflicts on us, so we try to tamp it down with whatever tools we have out our disposal.
But quick fixes like trying to control external behaviors only seek to drive more wedges into your relationship and do not help one iota with the heart matters that have led to their addiction.
The “I’m going to be sexier than any porn star” Method
1. Really, who has the time?
2. Really, who has the money?
3. It’s not about how you look anyway.
Porn is about pursuing fantasy and escaping from reality. Does their addiction impact how they see the real world? Given enough exposure and interaction with porn, definitely. But the point is not to make their fantasy a reality. Their need for continual escape signifies a deeper problem.
Rearranging your priorities and lifestyle to compete with porn only serves to enable the addicted. You don’t want your relationship or even just your sex life to look like a porn film. Sex between two people in a married relationship is more than the release of hormones and sexual pleasure. It’s a physical manifestation of your emotional and spiritual connection. It’s a reaffirmation of how God has joined two people into one.
The “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” Method
Deciding to engage with pornography with your spouse is dangerous for your relationship and your very own brain. The first reason this method doesn’t work mirrors the reasoning behind method #2—using porn to get physically “primed” for sex does absolutely nothing for your emotional and spiritual connection.
The second reason is blatantly obvious, but worth stating: Porn is addicting. Whenever we engage with an addictive substance, we run the risk of becoming addicted ourselves.
Thirdly, when we have sex with our partners, the point is to focus on each other. If you’re watching porn, your focus isn’t on him/her. It’s most likely focused on the porn and your own level of sexual satisfaction. Using porn is inherently selfish. You’re using something/somebody else to please yourself. This is the opposite of how God calls us to love each other.
The “I’m pretending this isn’t happening” Method
Denial is a powerful tool that only delays the inevitable and causes more damage than it prevents. If we keep our heads in the sand, there is the possibility for several things to happen.
1. We will become bitter and resentful. Just because you pretend in your mind that something isn’t happening, your heart is still very much aware.
2. We send the message to our partner that we don’t really care what s/he is doing. It’s a very real possibility that they will take the denial as permission to continue to engage in their addictive behavior.
3. You both miss out on the help available to you. As with any addiction, the sooner you can start the process of freedom and healing, the less the addiction will ultimately have a hold on your life.
Remember, even if you see yourself in these methods, there is nothing stopping you from breaking out of these habits. Years ago, when Craig and I hit bottom in our relationship, I cried out to God (after using a few choice words about why He ever thought this was something I was willing to deal with in my marriage). I carefully explained all that I had done to try to help Craig get over this addiction. After He listened to me, He asked me one simple question:
“Do you want try things My way?”
God truly does have a plan and it’s far better than anything of which you and I could dream. His way is the best way, but we often have to get still and listen to what that is for us and for our spouse.
When you look at pornography, what you end up seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years, you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.
I do a lot of work with guys who, in their past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the greatest tragedies caused by porn.
Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video, a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the same conditioned response: women are bodies.
We know this message isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.
A Hyperbolic Example
Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring sex, or posing seductively.
Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts with every day?
That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a woman is.
I say some of this because I’m still shocked at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of women in the real world.
But I also say it to set the table for the real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past, but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of consumption and gratification.
Can this conditioned response be stopped?
The good news is, it can be. But not without some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.
The Problem with the Porn Mindset
The foundation of this rewiring process begins with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography, you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.
The problem with the porn mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts. We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings. Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors, anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes that separate humans from the animals.
God’s design for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.
When tempted to lust, the only way to get beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to this that I can’t put into words.
If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true for every woman on the planet.
Let the Rewiring Begin
Porn has taught you to see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she, not a that. She’s not an object to be consumed.
Body parts separated from the person are only things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational calling of all Christians.
We live on a planet full of human beings. Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume them for our selfish gratification.
The path of rewiring means taking the truths of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the lies porn has taught us.
Every woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity, honor, and complexity.
Every woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself (Psalm 139:13-16).
Every woman has a soul.
Every woman is God’s.
Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout your day.
The next time your eyes want to go toward a woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.
We can ask this question as an expression of humility or fear. Before we examine factors that indicate that your friend may need additional help (more than you as an ally), let’s consider each potential motive for asking this question.
Why We Might Think We’re in Over Our Head
First, there is humility in this question. In effect, this questions says, “I am willing to be your friend and I won’t allow the awkwardness of talking about pornography to interfere with our friendship. But if you need more than my friendship in the pursuit of purity, I won’t be offended and personalize that as if I failed.” That demeanor is an essential quality in a good ally.
Second, there can be fear in this question. Too often this question can say, “If more than my friendship is needed, then I’m not sure I want to be involved. This sounds complicated.” This is a disposition that magnifies the sense of stigma and shame that are already very prevalent with sexual sin.
From these first two points, we want to (a) learn to ask a good question for the right reason, and (b) implement a wise answer to a good question.
4 Signs Your Friend Needs a Larger Care Team
In the remainder of this article, we want to consider four questions, each of which would point towards a different type of person who should be added to your friend’s care team. If multiple questions get a “yes” answer, then it would be advisable to add multiple people to your friend’s care team.
Is the sexual sin illegal?
All sin is immoral. Some sin is illegal. Illegal sin does not require a double dose of redemption to be forgiven. But when sin is illegal it does mean that a second jurisdiction should be involved. When sin is illegal, the redemptive community of the church should be involved AND the God-appointed (Romans 13:1-6) civil authorities should also be involved.
If you want additional guidance on when and how to involve the civil authorities, I would highly recommend the “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” curriculum at churchcares.com.
Am I being asked to keep harmful secrets?
Here, we are specifically speaking to situations where your friend is married and whether what your friend is confiding to you should also be known by his/her spouse. This would include actions that mean your friend’s spouse is beginning to build a false sense of trust (i.e., trust that is not warranted by your friend’s level of purity). This might include infidelity, spending family income without his/her spouse’s awareness, or repeated failure with pornography.
If your friend is married, an early conversation when you agree to be an ally should be, “What frequency or depth of relapse does your spouse want to be informed about?” Your friend’s spouse is trusting you to serve as a filter of information for them. You need to know the spouse’s answer to this question to honor that trust. Possible answers to this question might be:
The spouse wants to know about every lapse.
The spouse wants to know about any lapse that is not voluntarily confided and responded to appropriately.
The spouse wants to know about any lapse that crosses a particular threshold.
The “right” answer to this question is the answer that your friend’s spouse believes best helps them at this level of marital restoration.
Is the frequency, duration, and depth of my friend’s sexual activity getting worse?
This is the question that helps us identify if we are contributing to a remedy or enabling the problem. When your role in your friend’s life is not resulting in the frequency, duration, or depth of your friends sexual sin decreasing that is a sign that he/she needs more than a friend.
Your friendship is still a vital part of the solution. But increases in these three dimensions mean that a counselor should also be involved. In these instances, you might say something like this:
“You trusted me enough to ask me to be an ally. That took courage. As I’ve served in that role, things have gotten worse. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means additional help is needed. I’m asking that you reach out to a counselor, so that my role as your ally can be more effective.”
Is my friend growing indifferent towards their sin?
This is where we begin to discuss church discipline. Church discipline is not primarily about the size of a sin, but one’s attitude toward their sin. When your friend said they wanted help that was an indicator that he/she was repentant. However, if your friend is beginning to grow indifferent towards his/her sin, then the church has a warning role to play.
Church discipline is not about kicking people out of the church any more than parental discipline is about disowning a child. It is about restoring and shaping character. If your church needs guidance on how to conduct church discipline in a restorative and holistic manner, here is guidance.
In summary, it is good to be humble enough to realize that your friend may need more than an ally. This article gives you four questions to ask as you serve as an ally in order to determine who else may need to be involved in your friend’s pursuit of purity.
Due to our sexualized culture, it’s easy to think that arguments for healthy intimacy and against pornography are only made by religious organizations. For instance, when talking about the sex addiction movement, psychologist Dr. David Ley says:
“Most of the leaders of the sex addiction movement are themselves recovering supposed sex addicts and religious folks. That’s fine, it’s fine for them to be advocating, but what they’re advocating for is a moral system, not a medical one.” (This quote from Tracy Clark-Flory’s article “Don’t Believe the Sex Addiction Hype” appears in The Porn Myth by Matt Fradd.)
Is what Dr. Ley said true? Are Christians and other religions with strong sexual and moral systems the only ones fighting against pornographic harm?
Let’s find out.
3 Secular Organizations Fighting Against Porn
The following are just three of many secular organizations that exist to fight pornography because of its relational harm and sexual exploitation.
In fact, NCOSE’s Dirty Dozen List is the reason Walmart no longer sells Cosmo Magazine–a magazine endeavoring to teach their readers about casual, fun sex–in their checkout lines. NCOSE confronts companies like Google and Netflix by challenging their content and platform filters.
2. Enough Is Enough
Enough Is Enough is a secular activist organization whose first goal is to combat internet pornography. Thanks to this organization, companies like Starbucks and McDonalds no longer allow the use of pornography on their WIFI networks. This has gone a long way in helping to protect our kids from explicit content and from guarding against public internet abuse.
Fight the New Drug (FTND) is another organization committed to fighting pornography—porn being the new cultural drug. FTND has nearly four million social media followers. They create awareness apparel and publish news articles, interviews, and research about pornography and its immeasurable damage to individuals and society.
When it comes to social awareness, Fight the New Drug is leading the way in educating the world about the harm caused by porn.
The Fight Against Porn Crosses Religious Affiliation
Pornography rips husbands and wives apart from each other, it tears mothers and fathers from their children, and it stunts relational growth between individuals. Across the board, pornography has been shown to be deeply harmful. Organizations like the ones mentioned above are responding to the research and are working to create a healthy sexual ethic built on safe intimacy and healthy families.
These organizations and so many others help us to see the detriment of porn and that the fight against porn is not merely a religious battle. Organizations all over the world exist to fight pornography because of the direct links between pornography and sex trafficking, relational abuse and exploitation, as well as pornography’s damage upon personal health.
The Call to Partnership
Jesus made the statement, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus calls us to partner with those who fight for the dignity of others. In this fight for human dignity, Christians are not alone and the fight for human dignity is not simply a religious one. On the flip-side, secular organizations are not alone as they fight for what research and intuition continues to show us: human beings are made for safe intimacy.
The natural revelations of science, relationships, and conscience bear witness to the special revelation of Scripture that sex is intimate and powerful. When used rightly, sex carries the ability to create life, and when used incorrectly, it can enslave an entire culture.
Your fight against pornography, toward a beautiful sexual ethic, is a fight being fought across generational, cultural, and religious boundaries. You are not alone and your purity matters.
Shane O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries, a non-profit, sexual integrity organization that partners with individuals, churches, and organizations to see men, women, and families discover Jesus’ freedom. Shane is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.
If you are the one who has wounded your spouse with your sexual acting out and you’ve read beyond the title of this article, I’ll assume you have at least some level of interest in helping her heal. There is a fast-growing number of women struggling with pornography and sexually compulsive behaviors so the wounded spouse could be the husband. In this piece I’ll refer to the wounded spouse as she, though many of these tips could be beneficial for helping the husband who has been sexually betrayed.
Before I give you a list of ways to help your spouse heal, I must first say that if you have not fully embraced recovery for yourself and you aren’t doing the work that requires, don’t bother with these items. What your wife needs most from you is to see you consistently working a recovery program.
For those of you still on board, there are things you can do to help your wife heal and there are things best avoided to achieve that same goal. Here are ten such things.
1. Do a therapeutic disclosure.
It is not a good idea to dump the truth of all your acting out behaviors on her while she is unprepared and does not have adequate support to help her process the information. It can be even more damaging to trickle out the truth. To her each new revelation will feel like being stabbed again.
Work with a CSAT to do a clinical disclosure. This will give you both the best foundation for solid recovery.
Avoid saying things like, “It was only pornography,” or “At least I didn’t (Fill in the blank).” Your wife is experiencing trauma. When you try to downplay what you’ve done, what she hears is that you don’t think her feelings are valid. She hears you say that what you’ve done is not a big deal. She needs you to recognize the severity of her pain.
3. Don’t try to justify what you have done.
Neither a traumatic childhood, a stressful job, the sickness of a child, an inattentive wife, nor anything else can justify sexual betrayal. While there may be factors that contributed to your susceptibility, you still made the choice. Own it.
4. Don’t bring up her issues.
Now is not the time to address any of her faults or struggles. To bring up her lack of organization, her issue with gossip, her struggle with her weight, her propensity to nag, or anything else, to her sounds like you justifying your actions. Refer back to number three.
5. Take responsibility for your own recovery.
Find a CSAT and make an appointment. Research 12-step groups in your area and attend one. Order recovery materials and read them. Sign up with Covenant Eyes and get an ally for your recovery journey. Don’t wait for her to ask, beg, nag, or demand and don’t expect her to do these things for you. Doing these things demonstrates your commitment to recovery and to the marriage.
6. Volunteer transparency.
Give her free access to your phone, computer, iPad, briefcase, wallet, car, and such. Give her any passcodes you have. Don’t wait for her to ask. Be accountable to her with your time and money.
You forfeited your right to freedom in these areas when you chose to take the sacred sexual relationship outside of your marriage. And let’s be honest, if you don’t have anything to hide, and it will help your wife heal, why wouldn’t you want to do these things?
If she temporarily needs you to find another place to stay, sleep in another room, or refrain from talking to her, do it. Offer to take care of the children so she can go to counseling, attend a support group, get a massage, or anything else she needs for her healing.
Don’t pressure her. For anything. Period.
When she’s angry, triggered, sad, or just having a bad day and she goes off on you, just listen. Hear her heart. Don’t pick apart her words. Don’t be defensive. Don’t try to correct inaccuracies. Don’t try to fix it. Acknowledge her pain and her right to it. Try a response such as, “I can see you are upset and I know what I’ve done has put you in this position. What do you need from me right now?” If her request is feasible, do it.
9. Don’t expect kind words, gifts, or flowers to fix this.
You didn’t just forget your wedding anniversary or her birthday. In effect, you’ve ripped her heart out and stomped on it and she stands before you with a gaping hole in her chest.
A comment like, “You sure look nice today,” a thoughtful card, or beautiful flowers, no matter how well intentioned, may actually elicit an angry response. From her standpoint, she is hemorrhaging profusely and you just handed her a Band-Aid and expect her to be appreciative. The greatest gift you can give her is your own recovery.
10. Don’t expect her to celebrate your sobriety.
Recovery work will likely be one of the most difficult things you will ever do, especially if you’ve had a long-term porn or sex addiction. When you get a chip for 90 days of sobriety, you may feel like it is the greatest accomplishment you’ve ever achieved. By all means mention it to your wife in your weekly check-in. But don’t be disappointed when she doesn’t share your enthusiasm. She may not say it, but she will likely be thinking something along the lines of, “Great! You’re finally honoring the vows you made fifteen years ago. I have about 5,500 days of sobriety. Where’s my reward?” Call your sponsor or ally in recovery. They will certainly celebrate with you.
This list is by no means exhaustive and each person may have unique things she needs to help her heal. Discuss this list with your wife. Ask her what she needs from you to promote healing in her heart and in the marriage. Follow through on these things and your commitment to recovery. Remember, this is not a quick fix. You are embarking on a lifelong journey of authentic intimacy in a healthy marriage.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Stay at it. Recovery may seem impossible and your marriage may appear irreparable but with God there’s still hope.