- As soon as you possibly can, get someplace, out of town, away by yourself, with your children but not with your husband or with your parents. No, really. You need to get away where you can hear from God and not from all the voices around you. You aren’t leaving him. You are taking time to pray. It may just be a couple of days, or it may be longer. You may need to do this more than once. It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for needing this. If Josh is truly on the track to repentance, he won’t have a problem with it. If he does, it shows he isn’t even close. Find a hotel, a B&B, something. Take someone along to watch the kids if you can. The sooner the better. I know he will say you need to pray together and heal together. That's for later. Do it alone first.
- And then you need to cry. And let yourself get angry. It is normal to be angry when you have been betrayed. That kind of anger isn’t a sin. Even God had that kind of anger when Israel was unfaithful to him. God gets angry at sin. It is a righteous anger. You don’t need to feel guilty for feeling righteously angry about the sin your husband has committed against you and against God.
- Journal your feelings. Be honest, let it all out. And keep that journal private.
- Pray. Like never before you are going to need to strengthen your own relationship with Jesus. You know you can trust Him to give you good advice. But you need to think of yourself in a different way now- not as part of your parent’s family, not as part of your husband’s family. Just you as an individual directly talking to Jesus and getting direction in a way you never have before for you and for your children. You must do this. Take responsibility to hear from God directly for you and your family. You are the moral head of the household now.
- Start reading and learning about sexual addiction. Online and in books. Pray for God to lead you to the right sources, the information you need in particular. Go to Amazon and type in “wives of sexual addicts,” and “sexual addiction.” Google “resources for wives of sexual addicts.” There are so many more good websites, articles and books than there were when I went looking- because this problem is becoming bigger and bigger and people are dealing with it more openly. You aren’t alone Anna, many other Christian women and couples have been down this path, and they have wisdom to give you. The first one I read when I was reeling from the pain was “Love Must be Tough” by James Dobson. It’s not about sexual addiction specifically, but there are some things in there you need to know. The sexual addiction book I read that helped me understand what my husband was struggling with was “An Affair of the Mind” by Laurie Hall. More recently written: “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners can Cope and Heal” by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means. Also, get the book and the accompanying workbook, “The Healing Choice: How to Move Beyond Betrayal” by Brenda Stoeker and start working through it. The other one you may want to get is “Restoring the Fallen- A Team approach to Caring, Confronting and Reconciling” by Earl and Sandy Wilson. And finally, please be sure to read “Boundaries in Marriage.” You may find things you don’t agree with in all these books. That’s okay. I did too. But I also found nuggets of information that the Holy Spirit used in all of them as well when I was desperately trying to understand what had happened to me and what I needed to do next. Order them all. Jump around, pick and choose, ask God to help you discern what applies to you and to Josh. Anna, I know these aren’t the kinds of books on your shelf. I know you may believe that they are too worldly, or not Biblical. I believed that too. Here’s the thing. None of the books on your shelf cover your situation. Not much in your world prepared you to handle the awful situation, because you thought it would never happen to you. I didn’t either. It wasn’t supposed to happen to girls like us who did things right- who homeschooled, stayed pure, saved ourselves for marriage, didn’t date, and married a Christian. But it has. So now you are going to have to go beyond your world, and what you have learned up until now about marriage and relationships to cope with this terrible thing. I know that’s scary, to look for answers in new places, and it feels wrong. And people may even tell you it’s wrong. But here’s the deal- it was your husband who did wrong, and now you are trying to cope with it. Looking for resources to help you cope and survive and heal is not wrong. A word of caution. In an addiction situation, where your husband has lied about multiple affairs and pornography, pretty much everything the regular Christian marriage books tell you won’t work. They only work when you have two people on the same page. Josh is in a completely different book now.
- Okay, this is going to be hard. I know you aren’t going to want to face this, or do this. But, you have to. You have to get tested for STDs. You don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood. You can do it anonymously. (Google it.) But the fact is, you’ve been exposed. No matter what Josh said about how he always used a condom (did you ask?), or was careful, you can’t know for sure, (and anyway, condoms aren’t 100%). So make sure you get tested for HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Hepatitis A B and C, Oral and Genital Herpes. You don’t have to go to a doctor and have a long embarrassing exam, nor do you have to go to a sleazy free clinic. You can fill out paperwork online and then slip in and out of a lab close to where you live, and get the results by mail or phone.
- Next. Your husband needs to get tested for STDs too. Insist on it. Don’t have sex with him until he tests and you test and they all come back negative, as I pray they do. If he won’t agree to test, or gets angry when you ask, it is an indicator of lack of repentance, and possibly that he hasn’t given up his addiction. If he is repentant he will understand and agree that is what he needs to do and be willing to do it. Anybody you are counseling with should have mentioned STD testing for you both first thing. If they didn’t, they aren’t on the right track.
- So speaking of counseling-You need to find a good counselor. Not a church based staff counselor at your church. Not a trusted pastor, not an elder with a counseling certificate on his office wall. Not an older woman or couple that you look up to that does marriage counseling in their home. And above all, not anyone who is related to either one of you. A real honest-to-goodness licensed professional counselor with a degree in psychology (PhD or PhyD) who specializes in sexual addictions and will keep everything you tell them absolutely confidential (as long as you don’t talk about harming yourself or others or report the molestation of a minor). Pray that God will lead you to the right one. I know this may be way, way out there, and that you have been told and believed that all counseling should come from church leaders and your spiritual authority, not someone with a secular education. Please, I beg you, for your own sake, skip the church based counseling with pastors. It set us back years and did great damage. Pastors and church leaders can definitely be a part of the healing and accountability process, and God can use them to bring wisdom, but when it comes to sexual addiction you need a specialist. Just like you wouldn’t go to a doctor who is general practitioner if you needed heart surgery, you can’t go to your pastor and get the kind of help you need right now for your very intense specific need for help with sexual addiction and betrayal on the level it is present in your marriage. This professional counselor can still be a Christian, and in fact should be. This isn’t for you and Josh to do together, by the way. This is for you. If you want to help him, if you want to be strong for him and for your children, if you want your marriage to have a chance, you have to help yourself first. Alone. I remember when I finally got up the nerve to go with great fear and trembling I told my first counselor “I have three months to get my issues dealt with,” and he just smiled. It took a couple of years. That’s much more realistic. Seriously, a real counselor can’t even legally tell people you are coming to see him or her. It’s a safe place to talk and get perspective. They won’t lead you astray. You are too well grounded for that. But you do need help and this is the kind of person who can potentially offer that. It’s normal for their quoted price to be $100-$150 per hour. Don’t let that stop you from going. You are worth it, and your marriage is worth it. Most of them offer a sliding scale to pay, and are very willing to work with you without a lot of financial paperwork. Tell them what you can afford. Josh should be absolutely willing for it to come out of your family finances. It’s no different than paying a doctor bill for you after a family car accident left you with fatal injuries. If he doesn’t want you to go without him, it indicates a problem in his heart, not an indicator that you are doing something wrong or want to leave him. Remember, you didn’t break his trust, he broke your trust. You have many options open to you that I did not- counseling by phone or Skype, for example. I am not recommending these sites or organizations specifically, but here are a couple for you to check out. Click around, read their articles and information, call, ask questions, learn what your options are: www.comfortchristiancounseling.com and www. drbarbarasteffens.com/safe-passages. These both offer phone or Skype counseling/coaching sessions and/or support group that supports the trauma model and do not label you a co-sex addict. The first one offers an online wives support group. I joined one of those that helped me immensely as well as attending one in person. They do not tell you to leave your husband. I know. I was afraid of that too.
- You can also do professional marriage counseling, and will definitely need that as well. Follow the same guidelines in finding a joint counselor. Consider not going to friends or people in authority you both already know. You need objective help that is professional and effective and unbiased. You are allowed to decline to talk to someone you don’t feel comfortable with. You are allowed to help decide who you and Josh will go see together. Find someone who will back you up if you need help talking to Josh about this. If he refuses to get professional counseling, then you carry on and go on seeing someone for yourself individually until Josh is ready. By the way, that would be a strong indicator he isn’t repentant and ready to be fully honest.
- Don’t listen to any time frames people are giving you for “healing your marriage”, especially Josh. The truth is, it’s going to take many years and it depends on Josh’s choices what that looks like. Don’t let anyone pressure you (and don't pressure yourself either) into making promises or commitments you aren’t ready to make. Anything or anyone that pressures you or makes you feel guilty right now is wrong. You shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for hurting, for talking about your feelings, for reaching out for help, for being angry. You are the one who has been wronged. You are not the one who caused this wrong. (Yes, I know you aren’t 100% right all the time. I’m not saying that.)
- Find things that help keep you stable and keep them close. That can be constantly playing your favorite hymns and praise and worship music, or audio Bible - especially at night. It can be favorite movies you watch over and over. It can be a place you stop in every day for a cup of coffee. It can be a walk you take. It can be a trusted friend or friends you call to pray with you day or night. It can be taking a really high potency B-Complex vitamin daily and keeping some Bach Flower Rescue Remedy (all natural fast acting anxiety supplement) in your purse. It can be getting a massage or a pedicure without the kids once a week. Nothing is “too much”. Do whatever it takes not to go crazy. You are investing in healing the most devastating of wounds. It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty for not being the most attentive mother right now. Get help with the kids. As long as your children are safe and fed it is okay that you are just maintaining and not 100% on top of everything. Don’t worry about doing school work with them. Videos are fine.
- Don’t let people pressure you into forgiving your husband. Of course you have to forgive him. But forgiving doesn’t mean instant trust restoration and everything okay, or everything okay in a few months. He can be forgiven, but he has to earn back trust by years of accountability and faithful loving humble behavior, in private as well as in public. If he gets resentful when you need time and patience from him in this area, it indicates he isn’t really repentant, and maybe hasn’t given up his addiction. If people pressure you about what you are “supposed to do” right now, they aren’t on the right track either. You need support, not pressure, and that’s what healthy people truly hearing from God will give you. Support for you, accountability and boundaries for Josh. No one should rush you. And don't rush yourself either.
Just like you doing the right things up until now didn't keep this from happening, doing the right things from now on can't give you a guaranteed outcome, only the best opportunity for it to happen.
Josh getting caught isn’t the same as him giving up his sin. Please, please hear me. I thought once everything hit the fan and became public it meant my husband would of course not continue seeing other women or looking at pornography- it seemed like such a no-brainer to me that once he had been exposed he would never do any of that again. And of course that is what he told me as well- that now it had all come out he was glad and ready to move on. But getting caught doesn’t set you free. It can be the first step. But it isn’t automatic. (I went through a lot of pain to learn that that truth.)
PS It's going to be okay. I don't know what "okay" will look like for you in the future, but I know God is faithful and He will never leave you or forsake you. That's my ultimate definition of "okay".