by Rachel Blackston, M.A., M. Ed.
Several years ago, a client came to me for counseling. Laura*, a mother of two children, had been married for 6 years. One day while paying bills online, she stumbled upon a sexually explicit email between her husband Allen and one of his coworkers. This soon led to the shocking discovery that Allen was involved in a sexual relationship with a woman from work and had been looking at pornography since the first year of their marriage. I will never forget the look on Laura’s face as she described these events to me in detail. It was a look of horror and fear.
Unfortunately, I have heard countless heart-wrenching accounts of women–like Laura–who have endured the pain of sexual betrayal. A recent statistic reports 1 in 4 marriages will be impacted by infidelity. Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful can feel like you have been hit head-on by a drunk driver. Feelings of shock, panic, and anger rise up in the initial hours as your marriage feels like a pile of wrangled sheet metal surrounded by shards of glass, but it may take months, even years, to feel the full weight of the damage to your heart and soul. Not only do you feel the agony of being deceived, but you may also begin to blame yourself. If only I was prettier or sexier then my husband wouldn’t have done this. The betrayal feels incredibly personal when you are hurt by the one who has been called to love, cherish and protect your heart–despite the fact most men report their sexual addiction is more related to their own feelings of inadequacy, anger, or powerlessness. Tragically, the woman feels an incredible amount of shame and may be tempted to keep the situation a secret from close friends and family.
When I meet with women who have been through this heartbreak, I encourage them to let their hearts be vulnerable to the pain and allow themselves to feel the full weight of the betrayal. They must not do this alone. Having a trusted support system is essential—whether a reliable friend, an experienced therapist, or a support group of other women who have experienced infidelity or who are married to sex addicts. These relationships can offer much needed support and hope.
Many women respond to their feelings of anger, hurt and powerlessness by trying to grasp for some sort of control. They may want to hire a private investigator, install hidden cameras, or research inpatient programs for sexual addiction for their spouse. While these options may be valid, they may also keep the betrayed spouse from facing her emotional pain. The betrayed spouse must come to the realization that, in order for true healing to occur, the offending spouse must take ownership over his own healing process. Whether or not your husband seeks healing is beyond your control, but allowing your heart to be vulnerable before God and other safe people is a crucial step in the recovery process.
On the other hand, some women may want to skip over the healing process by moving too quickly to forgiveness in order to resume the life they once knew. Women in this situation must surrender to what they thought their marriage was before having the hope of reconciliation. Short cutting the healing process does not benefit anyone. In fact, research shows this can increase the likelihood that the situation will reoccur. The offending spouse must acknowledge and empathize with the other’s pain. One of the greatest gifts a woman can give her spouse is her honest emotions. A man who struggled with sexual addiction once told me after hearing his wife’s hurt and tears, “I didn’t know how much my actions impacted her and how much I mattered to her.”
If you are a woman who has experienced a betrayal, take comfort in knowing God invites you to bring the pain of your heart to him. The psalmist says, “I am worn out from my groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” No one knows the pain of betrayal more closely than Jesus who was deceived by those closest to him. Your broken heart is very dear to the God who loves you. As David says in Psalm 34, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed.” While it may be tempting to try to take control of the situation or avoid the pain by offering a quick forgiveness, it takes a brave woman to enter the pain of this betrayal and bring your honest emotions to God and trust that He will bring beauty out of the broken pieces. A compassionate response to sexual addiction does not mean shortcutting the recovery process for either spouse. Hope and healing are available to couples impacted by these issues.
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*Names and details have been altered to protect confidentiality. While this article addresses women as the betrayed spouse, sexual addiction is not exclusive to men. Many women struggle in this area as well.