|Purpose Beyond the Pain A Pastor's Wife Shares|
This letter is written by a pastor's wife whose husband had a secret porn addiction for several years. It is our prayer at The Hope of Survivors that this will bring encouragement and hope to other pastors’ wives who have lived with pornography and sexual immorality—even sexual abuse—within their own marriages.
May I share my wish that none of you would ever have to experience the agony and the loss that our family and our little congregation have endured; but sadly, given the evil of this world, I know that some of you will. And when you do, I hope and pray that my words from now may hearten and encourage you then—in understanding that you are not alone in your feelings; and especially in perceiving our Father’s comforting and constant presence as you grieve and go forward in service to our Ever-Faithful Husband, Jesus Christ, and to other brothers and sisters within the Body.
For those of you who are blessed with a faithful spouse in this life, I hope and pray that my words may add to your array of insights for comforting and encouraging an affected colleague(s) and/or women and children in your congregations who are now suffering, or who will suffer as I and my family have suffered.
While there is much more that could be shared, I have tried to include those details that might be most helpful to you in these contexts.
Here then, is my story:
Several years ago, I was a doting mother, family caregiver, community servant, and affectionate wife of a respected lay pastor of a small Sabbath-keeping fellowship. I felt confident in my understanding of my God-intended role and deeply appreciative of the opportunity to have a part in modeling a happy and thriving Christian family...that is, until one catalytic conversation would cruelly shatter the illusion and compel me to reinvent much of what I imagined was my identity.
It was on a Sabbath eve, just a few days prior to our annual Lord’s Supper observance. A friend had confided in me that her husband was struggling with pornography, yet he was reluctant to talk to anyone about it. I assured her that my husband would be glad to try to help him. Then later that evening, while keeping her confidence, I asked my husband the fateful question: “Have you ever looked at pornography?”
Within the next few minutes, I experienced the numbing shock and excruciating anguish of hearing that my own husband had been addicted to pornography for approximately two years; that during that time, in our home, with almost no feelings of guilt, he had viewed multiple thousands of pornographic images, including sex acts, many (as is apparently common in pornography) depicting female homosexuality. He also confessed that throughout our decades of marriage he had routinely looked at other women lustfully, (although I had observed him ogling another woman on only one occasion up to that point).
Multiplying my pain and my sense of betrayal was the fact that during his covert addiction, I had been privately grieving the accompanying loss of our intimate relationship. During those two years, there were no more than a handful of instances when he had shown any interest in sexual relations, and on none of those occasions had he proved capable of its completion. I naively assumed that he had become afflicted with age-related impotence. Out of love for him, I had suffered the loss of intimacy alone with the Lord in supportive silence, entreating God for a reduction of my own drives, so as not to demean my husband’s manhood.
With no available lay pastor to replace my husband, our small congregation was hastily disbanded, leaving the demoralized congregants to scatter in shock and disbelief. I immediately perceived God’s merciful hand in numerous aspects of bringing the horrifying reality to light; nevertheless, among my overwhelming jumble of indecipherable feelings, above all else I felt like someone had died—me.
My husband promised repentance, although he initially refused to seek other counsel. Despite my predominating sensation of emotional death, for the sake of my husband’s eternal life, and for the protection of my family, I responded with desperately urgent prayers for discernment in the situation. I was plagued by uncertainty, shaken by the knowledge that I had been deceived to some degree throughout the decades of my marriage. With so much at stake, our family could ill afford lingering deception. I anguished, trying to navigate between my commitment to mercy (we are all sinners) and my firm resolve not to enable unending perversion.
Interpersonally, I could not bear for my husband to touch me, nor to sleep in the same room with me. At the same time, my emotional pain at being bereft of regular human touch was extreme. Oddly, I discovered that occasionally crossing my arms in front of me and “hugging” my own shoulders helped to soothe the intensity of that ache.
Also, I found myself severely confounded by the cognitive and spiritual dissonance of looking at the face and person I had loved for over 30 years, while realizing the man I loved simply did not exist. The cherished facade was covering a heart that was different than anything I had ever imagined. Even more dissonant, how do I eat meals with and carry on normal everyday conversations in my home with someone whose behavior is so creepy and perverse, I don’t even want to think about it? These shared activities felt contaminating—like sidling up to evil. At times, I would catch myself curbing a normal comment against sexual sin in his presence, and with that, I would fear the long-term deterioration of my own spirit. And this sick stranger is my husband?
After a few months of ongoing evidence of my husband’s failure to repent, I felt compelled to issue an ultimatum. Either he must immediately seek help, or move out. Only then did he reach out for pastoral counseling, which he would continue with little effect for perhaps three years.
Although I had been a consistently joyous participant in marital sexual intimacy, I had always intentionally avoided conversing about sexual matters in mixed company. Consequently, and intensified by some insufficiencies of the male pastors involved, I experienced my necessary (albeit, limited) participation in the counseling process as excruciatingly humiliating, degrading, and violating. Why should I need to remind a seasoned pastor that God does not allow men—or any of us, for that matter—to be tempted beyond what we are able? Why would a younger pastor, sitting at his desk, “assure me” in my broken state, that he could be looking at pornography on his open laptop right at that moment, without my ever knowing? Why would a third pastor repeatedly suggest to me that my husband’s pornography habit wasn’t really any worse than women reading romance novels? Perplexed, I could only assume the pastor was not referring to Biblically appropriate romance. What then, did his statement have to do with me? Did he presume that all women choose to read lust-inciting content? With my trust in males at an all-time low, I would have given just about anything to have a female “pastoral” confidante. However, the nature of the situation, coupled with my shattered trust, rendered me unready to openly confide in anyone apart from a binding expectation of confidentiality. I searched regionally within the Adventist community for a female counselor, but found no one.
Adding to my sense of isolation was the general pastoral (and otherwise common) perception that I should be grateful that my husband was not involved in “actual” adultery, which would be “so much worse.” Yet I needed to be surrounded by those who fully and completely accepted the reality of Jesus words: “Every one that looks on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I needed the situation to be recognized as the devastating infidelity that Jesus proclaims it to be. I also needed my support network to comprehend that having literally thousands of instantly available, artificially enhanced, pictorial enemies to one’s marriage, to the point that the husband’s self-control becomes so compromised that he openly ogles almost every adult female within sight (by then, even in my presence!), hardly seems “better” than having one individual flesh and blood “other woman” threatening the marital relationship. Please understand that I am not at all suggesting that pornography addiction is “worse” than interpersonal adultery. The injuries of interpersonal adultery will naturally be intense in certain ways that are beyond, and different from, the injuries of pornography addiction. Yet I am not sure that it becomes valid to suggest that the adverse effects of either outweighs the adverse effects of the other. Both situations are adulterous; both are agonizing for the injured spouse; both are highly destructive to the relationship. While the two situations are distinct, they share many strong similarities.
The year that followed was like being on a roller coaster. Again, and again, my husband would profess repentance, then a few weeks later, it would become obvious that he was still persisting in sinfulness. Eventually I cried out to God with my whole being, begging Him for His clarity as to what I should do. Within the next two weeks, through a rapid series of “unlikely” events, God mercifully exposed the unhappy reality. With that clarity and the support and particularly helpful counsel of a local Adventist pastor, I asked my husband to leave our home, with no allowance for his return sooner than one year of his sustained repentance. As horrible as it all was, I was so thankful for God’s miraculous answer to my earnest prayer, so that I could be confident in the decision.
At a meeting including all of our local family, my husband verbally took full responsibility for our impending separation, and solemnly pledged to use the time apart in productive repentance, and to be back with us at the end of the specified year. Unutterably sad, we nevertheless remained hopeful.
God’s presence continued consistently and unwaveringly with me, evident in countless ways. However, as that year passed with none of the hoped-for change, and also experiencing other grief events in my life, I began to struggle with despair. Our dog had died during that period and I thought about getting a puppy, but I discovered that my emotions were so dead, that I couldn’t feel the faintest stirrings of affection around the cutest of little puppies. I even struggled to connect with my newborn grandchildren. I was accustomed to God responding to my prayers, and it tormented me that I was humiliated and alone after having specifically prayed for a husband who would always follow Him. Why had God allowed this? I felt purposeless and stripped of identity. Although I didn’t contemplate suicide, I began to actively wish and pray for God to take my life. Those feelings persisted for several months, followed by a somewhat begrudging acceptance of my obligation to live.
Yet with awesome tenderness, mercy and compassion, our good Lord responded gently to my confusion and my pain. In addition to providing me new opportunities for service in the local congregation I was now attending, Jesus would lovingly and powerfully turn my heart around in His own wondrous way:
Historically, our family had enjoyed road trips, and anticipating that I might not have adequate resources in the future, I decided to host one last road trip for those of my family members available to travel. Among the participants on the 12-day journey was one of my teenage grandchildren, who had expressed a great deal of excitement about the trip and its activities, several of which were chosen specifically with that young teen’s preferences in mind. The crucial knowledge I lacked, as we headed out that summer morning, was that my grandchild had experienced intense last-minute reluctance to be away from home for so many days, and had joined us only upon firm parental insistence (which was innocently based on the erroneous assumption that the youth’s reluctance would quickly subside).
We were less than two hours on our journey when the grumbling, complaining and rudeness began. No food choices were pleasing. No sights were interesting. Severe sickness was threatened. No adjustment, short of returning home, was considered by my grandchild to be a satisfactory resolution. After a day or so of those behaviors, there was nothing I wanted more than to put my grumpy grandkid on the next plane home, so the rest of us could enjoy a pleasant adventure! However, having learned of the parental insistence requiring the teen’s presence with us, I understood that the worst choice I could possibly make for the long-term well-being of my grandchild would be to undermine parental authority by sending the young teen home.
Needless to say, “delightful adventure” would not be my first choice of terms to describe most of what followed. However, the rest of us did our best to remain positive and to enjoy our precious time together and the glorious beauty of God’s creation as we travelled, in spite of my grandchild’s painfully persisting negativity. Yet privately, I was feeling very hurt and distressed over the effective scorning of my gift—my generosity of time, effort, and expense on my grandchild’s behalf. Nearing the end of our travels, I cried out in anguish to God, “Why?” “Why, when I have given so much, is it all just being thrown back in my face, begrudged instead of appreciated?” “Why God, why?”
By the power of His Holy Spirit, I experienced a rush of awareness. In an instant, I saw. Our Lord and Savior had allowed my grandchild’s ungrateful response to my gift, to reflect back at me for my benefit, my own lack of gratitude to God for His gift of allotted productive time in this physical life. My begrudging God’s gift of ongoing life was a mirror image of my grandchild’s begrudging my gift of a road trip. I tearfully repented before our God, calling upon His forgiveness and gratefully recommitting to appreciating and seeking His purpose(s) in each remaining day of my life.
Unsurprisingly, that very evening, my grandchild’s heart also turned around toward appreciation and enjoyment of the final few days of our road trip!
There are ways in which I still grieve; there are times, such as the writing this testimony for you, when I still cry; there is pain and loneliness that I still feel. Weddings and new relationships of any sort remain difficult for me. Yet that God-given epiphany became a priceless turning point in my journey. From that pivotal moment, one of my closest connections to the Lord has been in His role as “Lord of armies,” as over and over again, I see Him majestically fighting my battles for me. More recently, He has also begun providing opportunities for me to turn my own tragic experience into a positive mechanism for helping others, particularly through the written word. Your prayers for Jesus’ inspiration and guiding Hand on me in this endeavor, will be a treasured contribution as I go forward in seeking to beneficially serve His precious Body.
[END OF STORY]
If your pastor husband has been unfaithful (including through porn!) and/or otherwise abusive or ensnared by sin, we would be grateful to hear your story and possibly make it available on this website for others to read and renew their hope. We recommend that stories be under a pseudonym or anonymous, and constructed to avoid openly identifying any specific pastor/pastor family. You may rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.
Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the pastors’ wives’ stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.