Marriage in recovery

Confession: I’ve been putting off talking about my marriage and the progress (or not) that we are making in healing from his pornography and my resulting betrayal trauma. I guess I keep hoping that I will have something insightful to share.

We are different people than we used to be. That much is clear.

We are thankful for many things in our story. I am thankful that my husband came clean on his own twelve or thirteen months ago, and voluntarily confessed to me and to other good people in our lives. I am thankful that he is celebrating month after month clean and sober, and has found ways to plug into accountability, support, and relationship in ways he never has before. I’m thankful that I am finding a path forward in living with him, though not always in peace, and that he is finding it possible to live with me and give me grace.

Marriage has not been our only battlefield. Our story intersects with the story of our extended families, our friendships, and our church – and our hearts have wrestled hard. At times, those pieces have been more painful and awkward (both to those groups of loved ones and to us) than the marriage part has been. But those relationships and histories are not the point of this post, and I don’t have words for them yet. I do know this: that whenever we confuse the loved ones in our lives with the Enemy whom we’re supposed to be fighting, we are in trouble. It’s important to understand that we are battling on the same team.

One of my biggest struggles at this exact moment in my marriage is to allow my husband to make small mistakes unrelated to purity, simply because he is human and imperfect, without tying them in my mind to all the things he’s done that hurt me in the past. Maybe he handles a conversation clumsily, or misjudges my state of mind, or delays completion of a project, or uses our vehicle when I want it. Sometimes we are caught off guard by the fury that boils up inside me over the silliest things, because I am still trying to come to terms with what I lost and what he did.

This is not okay in ongoing ways, and I am chasing greater healing.

Forgiveness is a hard thing to get hold of.

Also hard is the delicate balance of mutual submission and individual autonomy. We are each our own persons, but we want our relationship to work and we want to be husband and wife in the way God designed. This is harder than it sounds, and deeper than I can unpack here.

In between the tumultuous times, there are many days of peace and goodness between my husband and I. Not of ignoring our history, but of accepting it, I think, and finding our path a step at a time. We are more open with each other, though perhaps also more able to be wounded.

Trust broke hard last year. It’s a difficult and tricky thing to rebuild. You walk a line between great reward on the one hand and great stupidity on the other. The one thing I have never wanted to be is stupid. I am beginning to trust that my husband will be pure, though always in the back of my mind I know that I might be deceived in him, and sometimes my own growing trust frightens or frustrates me.

But there are a hundred other aspects of marriage that require trust, from his dealings with the greater community to his use of time and money to the leadership he offers our family to whether he will be there to shelter me when I need it. Despite liking him a lot, I often find lines I feel unable to cross, pockets of distrust that I must cope with in some form.

Trust has been my greatest struggle in the past year, and when I say struggle I mean failure for the most part: a desperate holding onto cynicism (to protect me), silence (to avoid the issues entirely), control (to wrestle the world into what I perceive may be its proper shape), or anger (at myself for being such a ditz head as to try again).

Because also, there are many other situations and many other men who request my trust in some form, and to be honest, I have badly struggled in my attempts to give it. Trusting men to lead well, trusting God to plan good paths for me, and in general, submitting myself to the will of others, has become an enormous hurdle for me. This too is not okay in ongoing ways… And now I just crafted and deleted a good five or six paragraphs on this topic, that don’t belong here…

I hope you know that my husband is a really good guy. And also a complete booger. And also a really good guy.

(He says the two are not mutually exclusive.)

(And just FYI, I’m an even bigger booger, and I have never been accused of being a really good guy to balance it out. So there’s that.)

If you ever get a chance to hear Shannon Popkin speak on CONTROL, go listen. Please. She wrote a book called Control Girl, which I definitely recommend, but her in-person speaking on the topic is brilliant and life-changing. I’ve never thought of myself as a controlling person (who does?) but the scales are falling from my eyes, and it hurts.

Anyway I’m wandering. But regarding control, I have learned that my husband would rather I talk to him in almost any way I need to, rather than be silent and make him tiptoe. He doesn’t like silence. But I’ve also learned that his heart in recovery is more tender than it used to be, and the words cut deeper. I’ve said a lot of things I regret, and he receives them, and thanks me for trusting him with what I think and feel. When I am soft again, I apologize for beating up on him, and he says he’s the only man who keeps coming back for more.

I guess he’s right. And I guess that makes him a keeper.

Other things that have helped us so far, besides honesty with each other, are –

One-on-one counseling with experienced caregivers

Books and podcasts, for example


Not trying to be high and holy here. Just enjoying the beautiful truth, and how the Holy Spirit can bring it so tailored to what we need to hear.

Support groups

His is a group of four men who hold each other to trust and accountability. I’m not there, so I can’t comment, but it’s doing great things and he loves those brothers.

Mine is called Celebrate Recovery. It’s hosted at a church six minutes from my house. Celebrate Recovery was crafted by evangelical pastor John Baker – it takes the twelve steps of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and adapts them to explicit faith, with Jesus at the center as the true Higher Power. It’s a non-specific recovery group for “all of life’s hurts, hang-ups, and habits,” like depression, anxiety, chemical addiction, grief, sexual issues, food addiction, relational troubles, you name it. Every week, we meet on Wednesdays at six pm to worship together, listen to a lesson or testimony, and then split into gender-specific small groups to share personally. It’s anonymous, confidential, and very structured. Nobody fixes you, they just listen, and you do the personal work yourself.

If you are struggling in ongoing ways with any personal issue, please do yourself a favor and Google “Celebrate Recovery near me.” I’m guessing there’s one close by. And if you live locally to me and want a ride some Wednesday, please ask. I’d love to take you.

Now I got off track again. Where was I?

I’ve learned that when there’s a day where something just BURNS me – something that wells up all the emotions, or pops up ironic and incongruous memories that throw the universe and all God’s systems into dissonance – it will not always feel this way. Sometimes the part that is hardest is to let stuff be broken and let myself be too young to have known it at the time, or too weak to figure it out right now, how this is all supposed to work. I don’t get it. But not getting it is a normal part of walking with God and other people. Stopping in the middle of a bad day to acknowledge that truth does not, unfortunately, turn me into a sweet wifely angel on the spot, but it does remind me that I’m not seeing the full picture. I’ll see more clearly hereafter.

I have learned by experience that I am an equally flawed partner in this relationship. What I lack in a history of sexual sin I make up for in a thousand other ways, as named above. My rebellion against what God has allowed in my life is the most dangerous posture I can pick. I’ve learned that my deeply rooted need to distrust (that is, my promise to take care of myself and evaluate which of God’s ways to me are “good”) is a controlling, subversive path that leads to nothing but disaster and despair.

I am greatly in need of my husband’s forgiveness and the grace of Jesus to me, and (a good forty percent of the time) this keeps me from playing the martyr card too lavishly. In many ways, his heart is more open than mine. I learn from him every week. And I am doing some big repenting these days. I am learning that one of the best ways to work on my marriage is to work on me.

Some parts get easier with time, and some harder. Maybe the getting harder is the part of the survival numbness wearing off, and the need to form habits and lifestyles that move forward. Pushing back to a place of functionality, reunification, and thriving. What we have together is precious. I know this even on the days when it doesn’t feel like it’s going well – that shutting each other out would slash all the best parts from our lives. And so we (each and both) walk toward wholeness,

a journey that we expect to take
one lifetime

I do not feel able to say these things in any way that feels cohesive or comprehensive. This is me trying. I also don’t know where you’re at, and it hurts me to remember that some of you are also walking this path. Is there a piece of your story you’d like to share with me?

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Fellow Warrior
2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!!! Trust lost is very hard to gain, esp when communication is lost, the only time he comes clean is when caught and he denies it first. And then to think he’s coming clean but never knowing. It’s very hard!! I’m praying for miracles this year! One is for my hubs to come clean on his own and relationships and communication to be restored. It’s been ages upon ages that I was even allowed to touch his phone. So I continue giving him to God and praying to find my place. To become the woman after God’s own heart and to radiate Him to my family.

Praying for you as you continue to grow in Jesus and relationship. It’s so not easy!!!

Mrs. S
2 years ago

What I most related to in this post…“You walk a line between great reward on the one hand and great stupidity on the other. The one thing I have never wanted to be is stupid. I am beginning to trust that my husband will be pure, though always in the back of my mind I know that I might be deceived in him, and sometimes my own growing trust frightens or frustrates me.”
Yes. For sure. Even 20 years post repentance by my husband, this can be me. Yet like you said, my own bucket of “other sins” needs tender fierce redemption.

2 years ago

Hugs sister! Love your heart & your willingness to share. I’m sure it’s not easy. We love and admire you both! ♥️

2 years ago

“I guess I keep hoping that I will have something insightful to share.” What is it about betrayal that can render typically articulate people speechless? I know this feeling, but you delivered.

The story of us is not a public one [yet] [?], and although trust is growing back and God is abundantly faithful, I want to say this: you have a gift in your outside support and accountability. I have wondered about reaching out for support and direction in my own healing, but at this point my husband would see it as a different kind of betrayal, so I have not. His heart in recovery is also more tender than it used to be. God’s timing is perfect, and I can wait when I see that we are making real progress. I will pray for you.

“Flourish” by Dorcas Showalter has been a helpful book for me.

2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your heart and speaking Truth. No matter how much I would want to blame someone else, there is always me and my actions/reaction to consider too. (But that’s not at all saying that what initially happened did not hurt, etc.) I praise God for the amazing redemption/healing that He can give (is found in Him) to any painful situation.
I care about ya’ll. Blessings!!!

2 years ago

You are brave like crazy.

2 years ago
Reply to  Not the Boss

You both are.

Mrs. G
2 years ago
Reply to  janelle


Regina Shea
2 years ago
Reply to  Not the Boss

I agree with Janelle in that you both are very brave.

2 years ago
Reply to  Not the Boss

You are both incredibly brave. Like Old Testament brave! ????

Kim Z
2 years ago

This. Is. Gold! So good Shari! You really have a way with words. We love you both! ❤️

2 years ago

Shari, your story put into words, shows us the way. Now, excuse me while I go listen to the author of Control Girl…..

2 years ago

I read these words and bawl like a baby! Your words express my own heart and its struggles so well. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to lay out your pain as well as your joys for the benefit of all of your readers. You are a blessing!!

Wanna B. Writer
2 years ago

I don’t have the courage or discipline that you displayed here to find and share words for all that’s going on in my mind right now. I have not personally walked where you are walking, and I’m not going to make false claims to understand your exact journey.
However, trust has broken at a different place and with different people recently and your words brought clarity to a muddle of emotions I couldn’t get untangled. Cynicism, silence, control, anger… O but are they ever giants to fight against! The viral-ness of broken trust -the “incongruous memories”, the unreasonable fury, the feeling of “all God’s systems in dissonance” are all things that have caught me off guard.
The words that cut in a purifying way are the ones about not confusing loved ones for the enemy. For me that’s our church family. As disastrous as I may sometimes think the institution of church is, the far greater disaster would be me trying to live the abundant life on my own.
God is creating beauty from your ashes through your humble, brave willingness to share what you’re learning.

2 years ago

Thank you for sharing. I identify with a lot of what you said. I heartily agree with needing to chase after one’s own healing, confessing one’s own sin. I also identify so much with tying in small failings and annoyances with the big sin/the big hurt and getting things all blown out of proportion. I really appreciate that both of you are actively seeking help and healing, and not just keeping it secret between you and God. Prayers for the women who wish they could seek support, but cannot because their man isn’t there yet. Pray so hard for wisdom!! And for his soul!!

Audrey R
2 years ago

What you said about Celebrate Recovery is interesting. Our church actually hosts it, but I have perhaps been too proud and think that it’s mostly for people dealing with substance abuse. Which is probably crazy, because right across campus is where AA meets. But yes, the tagline is “hurts, habits, and hangups,” and I have all three. I need to get the courage to just go.

Regina Shea
2 years ago

There is a church in the city we pass when we venture out of our little rural town that hosts a Celebrate Recovery ministry. I didn’t realize it is a national ministry. I want to thank you for sharing. I wish I lived closer to you. I need such a meeting. I never really dealt with my husband’s betrayal. I used to check the history on our computer which user to be connected to his phone but that’s no longer the case.
I think we both could benefit from Celebrate Recovery.

Wendy W
2 years ago

I love what you write on this, and I bless you. I have a different very hard time in my life right now, but a lot of truths that you said ministered to me…

been through it too
2 years ago

I know it feels all jumbled and incoherent but that is what the journey is. It’s hard. It’s worth it to rebuild but it takes a lot. But worth it. I think one thing that feels hard is the honesty and brutality of the recovering journey without fearing others will fear that so much they won’t want to come clean and walk the journey towards repentance. (not sure how much sense that makes…but it is a brutal walk to rebuild but worth it. But i know some fear the brutal walk and would rather not make that leap even if the pain happening is so great.)…just some rambled thoughts.

in our story the repentance and admittance came from his own admission and desire to repent and come clean. So I know that makes our journey different. He has taken it on his own to build in accountability groups and men to talk too. I don’t have to carry that. But the hard part is I had very little support (few friends or mentors) then and very little support (no friends that ask or check in) since and that is very difficult. And as the years pass I realize how hard that is and how needed it is.

also struggling
2 years ago

I was hesitant to use AA terminology at first but progress was made when we did, and I learned that it truly is like alcoholism because a person is typically never “cured”, and the vigilance on the recovering person’s part will probably always include boundaries and accountability and barriers. I realized how much of my own sin is the same. I used to think it was willpower and 180 degree repentance or nothing.

Anonymous too
2 years ago

“Sometimes we are caught off guard by the fury that boils up inside me over the silliest things, because I am still trying to come to terms with what I lost and what he did.” This!! Thank you for sharing your painful yet filled with hope story. ❤

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