In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What should I do if my husband or wife is caught in a pattern of sexual sin? by David White

There is probably nothing more painful in marriage than the revelation of your spouse’s sexual sin. It’s like having your heart ripped out and thrown into oncoming traffic. You are confronted with a life and relationship that was, in many respects, a mirage. You suddenly realize you’re married to someone you don’t really know. It is no surprise that when spouses are confronted with sexual sin in marriage, they often respond with symptoms akin to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder! The house of cards has tumbled down. The life you thought you had was a lie. It is a brutal place to be.

First, it’s not your fault! Sexual strugglers always make excuses and try to shift the blame for their sin. You likely have received messages – directly or subtly – that the problem wouldn’t exist if only you were prettier, in better shape, more exciting, more emotionally engaged, more masculine, more successful, etc. Every spouse dealing with sexual sin in their marriage believes it is his or her fault on some level. Strugglers often fuel their spouse’s insecurity with sinful accusations and cruel criticism. In one particularly painful situation, a wife shared that her husband referred to her as “plain vanilla.” People struggling with sexual sin have made it their god. When we do this, our desires become insatiable – no single individual will ever be able to satisfy idolatrous sexual cravings. The irony of sexual sin is that contentment always eludes us (see Ephesians 4:19). Don’t listen to the lies and accusations – even if your struggling spouse is challenging you on legitimate sin issues in your life (and you do need to address those), your sin is no excuse for his or her response of acting out sexually in whatever manifestation. Their sin is not your fault.

Secondly, be wary of your “knee jerk” responses. Given the sinfulness of our hearts, we almost always do the exact opposite of wisdom when confronted with painful situations. Some spouses will be ready to immediately divorce. Others will be ruthlessly committed to staying in the marriage at all costs, even when their spouse is deeply hardened and unwilling to turn from his or her behavior, wreaking havoc in their home. As with all forms of grief, you need to take time before making any major life decisions.

Further, you need great wisdom in your interactions with your spouse. Some spouses respond by making their husband or wife sit with them while they view each porn site in the Internet history or read aloud the all the chats, texts, emails, etc. This is not helpful for either of you! Others respond by trying to become the sex god(dess) they believe their spouse “needs.” There are a number of problems here: 1) the previous noun was intentional – this is an idol! You’ll never be able to satisfy their desires. 2) This twists God’s design for sexuality and doesn’t help the struggler to grow in his or her understanding that sex is designed to be an act of selfless service. If your spouse is utterly selfish in this area, allowing yourself to be exploited won’t change that. 3) Exploiting your own sexuality in this way will likely result in bitter resentment toward your spouse and sex. Sex should be a celebration of intimacy within marriage, not oppression. At the risk of sounding like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth, some spouses use sex as a weapon and go in the exact opposite direction, cutting off the struggler sexually even in the face of repentance and sincere work in the marriage. Great wisdom is required to know when to re-engage the sexual relationship, but when the struggler is demonstrating fruit of repentance, the couple should seek counsel about entering that level of intimacy again.

This ties in to the next crucial step – you must have help from others in the Body of Christ! Biblically speaking, a husband and wife are “one flesh.” That means together they are still just one “body part.” They need the rest of the Body to come alongside them to help them wisely move forward. We can’t do the Christian life alone. A husband and wife were never intended to process the challenges of life and their sin against one another in isolation from brothers and sisters in the Church. We desperately need each other (1 Corinthians 12:14-26). The Body only reaches maturity as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:15-16). It is paramount that couples face the shame and invite others into the mess. A word for wives: submission to your husband does NOT mean keeping silent about his sin! That is exploitation and an utter violation of his calling as your head. You need to go to your pastor and elders as a “covering” until your husband is walking in repentance and personally submissive to those in authority over him.

Finally, you need to cling to Jesus. He is your ultimate spouse whose name is “Faithful and True.” He understands poignantly what you experience as our sin and idolatry is repeatedly described throughout the Scriptures as adultery. Your pain is one he deeply experiences. Please know this is a place he wants to meet you. He is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Through this trial, you are entering into the sufferings of Christ in a unique way and have the opportunity to encounter Him and the power of His grace afresh. He promises to give you the grace to stand through this trial and to emerge on the other side more fully formed in his image. In his economy, your pain will not be wasted. The one who collects your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8) will ultimately turn this around for your good and his glory!

For a fuller discussion on this important topic see:

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