by Janice Stevens, Ed.D., LPC, CCPS, CCSAS
For those who are living with or have lived with someone who is addicted to pornography or other forms of sexual acting out behaviors, the healing process can be long, lonely, and filled with self-doubt. One of the tendencies that can be the most counter-productive to healing is the tendency to isolate oneself from others.
As I have worked with dozens of partners of sex addicts, I find that there is often a component of religion that may have had a negative influence on women feeling safe enough to reach out for help. In many cases, if a woman reaches out to a pastor or other leader in her church, she may have been told to re-examine her role in the marriage: is she sufficiently submissive to her husband; is she adequately honoring her husband as the head of their household; is she doing all that is possible to make sure her husband is being sexually satisfied at home? When a woman is faced with this kind of implied or open criticism and finger-pointing, it’s easy to understand her reluctance to further reach out for help.
When the spouse of a sex addict is actually married to the pastor or other church leader, there can be the double jeopardy of reaching out for help. Not only is there the concern on her part that she may be labeled as the guilty party; there is also the concern that if her husband’s behaviors become known to his supervisors within their church, it could jeopardize his job and therefore the family’s income and well-being.
As a partner of a sex addict reminded me in a group session recently, “Healing begins the moment you feel heard.” Another statement that I often quote is, “Healing takes place in community” (Blankenship, 2010). It is absolutely vital that a person be able to break the chains of isolation in order to begin the journey of healing and recovery from the betrayal that one has endured in the marriage.
So, what can be done to provide support and help for both the sex addict and the spouse within our churches today? Clearly, there must be an effort to educate those in church leadership roles on the subject of sex addiction. Rather than giving swift platitudes to either the addict or the spouse, imagine how much better our church members would be if they could be pointed in the right direction to receive understanding and help by professionals who are trained to counsel sex addicts and their spouses. It is important for all to know that help is truly available; and in the current age of technology, both addicts and their spouses can obtain this specialized help from trained therapists via Skype and other secure online methods, if this is necessary due to geographical locations.
As a therapist who is certified in assisting partners of sex addicts, I encourage these partners to lean on their faith as one of the many healthy practices in their journey of healing. I know personally and from many others’ accounts just how meaningful it can be to use spiritual practices (i.e., prayer, reading scripture, corporate worship, personal devotionals, etc.) to aid in one’s own healing. Therefore, let’s all work together to encourage support from the faith community that will embody the compassion and understanding that we see from Jesus’ own example in the New Testament.
Blankenship, Richard (2010). Spouses of Sex Addicts: Hope for the Journey. Xulon Press: Author.