Marsha Fisher of Porn to Purity shares her thoughts on slips, setbacks and potential relapses on the recovery journey. She also offers tips on how to write a Spouse’s Plan.
In my last blog, I shared one of the most difficult realities of marriage recovery…slips do happen. I have heard of some men who were in bondange to porn for decades and then in an instant were set free, never to return to their old patterns of sexual sin. But for the majority of strugglers, the process of “renewing the mind” has happened over a period of time, often felt like an intense spiritual battle and, sadly, involved setbacks along the way.
This is the last thing a wife wants to hear. It is difficult enough to accept that your husband’s eyes have feasted on the body of another woman. But to know that if you choose to walk forward in recovery with him, it might happen again seems like way too much to expect of anyone, much less someone who struggles with her own body image and self-worth.
I think it is cruel to tell a wife that if her husband is serious about recovery, he will not experience slips. Many wives, seeking to put their life back to normal after the initial disclosure, will put all of their hope on that one promise…and if it is broken, she may break as well.
A better way might be to warn a wife that many men in recovery experience setbacks and her husband may as well. But both the husband and wife can be equipped to navigate those difficult times and their marriage can be strengthened in the process.
Many times, men in recovery are encouraged to put together a Relapse Plan. This plan includes a series of action points that they will take if they find themselves no longer pursuing sexual integrity. It may include meeting with a counselor, talking daily with an accountability partner or increasing the number of times they meet with a group each week.
Wives should also put together a plan to address how they will respond when a slip happens or if a relapse occurs. This plan should be in writing and shared with a husband prior to not after a slip or relapse. While some husbands may perceive their spouse’s plan to be a threat to keep them in line, it is not meant to be punitive. Spouses who stick around for the recovery journey have to set boundaries and consequences in place in order to make it to the finish line. Otherwise, they spend the rest of their married life in a yo-yo state, reacting emotionally to their spouse’s setbacks or relapses with no steering wheel of their own.
Consider this: When a setback or relapse happens, a spouse often feels like the carpet once again has been pulled out from under her. For some spouses, it emotionally takes them back to the moment of first disclosure, when they realized the stability of their marriage was a lie.
Even though a setback is just a small step backwards, it feels like you are going all the way back to square one. In light of this, it is very helpful to give the spouse some sense of control. The Spouse’s Plan is designed to give a wife that sense of stability, power and control she needs in the midst of her confusion and chaos. It doesn’t negate the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate source of our peace and stability in this recovery journey. If anything, the Spouse’s Plan will move us closer to Christ as we heal.
- Bottom Lines
- Confession Guidelines
The plan should include an understanding of what the wife’s bottom lines are. Not only should the plan include the husband’s bottom lines for his own recovery, but what the wife consider off-limits as well. For example, one husband’s bottom line is to not channel surf for explicit shows. His wife may ask him, in addition, to avoid a specific channel completely.
Once these bottom lines are in place, they are no longer the wife’s bottom lines and the husband’s bottom lines – they become the bottom lines for this marriage. Just as the spouse is taking on her husband’s recovery, so too will the husband in recovery agree to take on these additional bottom lines in an effort to help his wife along the journey.
The plan should include what the husband should do if he crosses a bottom line. This should include details regarding who should the husband confess to, by when and how? Is emailing a confession acceptable or is face-to-face important. Jeff and I have a 24-hour rule in place which means he has 24-hours from the time of a slip to confess. My preference is that he confesses to me face-to-face unless he is out of town.
Finally, the plan also includes how the wife will respond to specific slips or if a full-blown relapse occurs. Again, this is not designed to punish the husband, but rather give the wife a steady platform to come to whenever there is a slip on the recovery journey. Otherwise, marriage recovery becomes a never ending roller coaster completely based on the husband’s choices.
The wife’s response can take the form of “if/then” statements, but I think it is also helpful for the wife to explain why she included them in her plan. It may be stated like this: “if you choose to masturbate then I plan to sleep on the couch for two nights. This particular slip reminds me of all the times I offered myself to you after our son was born and you rejected me, only to satisfy yourself later when you thought I was sleeping. We have made so much progress; it hurts me that you would still do that. I just need to give myself time and space to grieve.”
Another if/then statement might be: If you use your smart phone to view porn, then I will need you to give up your smart phone indefinitely. I am working very hard to trust you and not question what you are doing when I am not watching. If you slip in this way, I don’t want to be distracted by thinking about your phone.
It would be great if all “if/then” statements could be this cut and dry. They are complicated and point to how destructive sexual sin is to marriage. Your plan may have pages of “if/then” statements based on your marriages history. Some statements may involve a period of in-home or traditional separation.
Finally, there are the non-negotiables. These are if/then statements that say if you cross this line then I’m stepping away from participating in the recovery process with you as your wife. Obviously, this is very serious territory. If everything is a non-negotiable, marriage recovery will be a tense journey at best.
It is important to remember that “if/then” statements should be healthy, biblical and geared towards marriage recovery. Consider this statement: ”If you do “x” then I am going on a $1,000 shopping spree.” While that may be a deterrent, it does nothing to repair the marriage. Or if you do “y” then I’m going to have an affair. Clearly, this is not only destructive to the marriage but it is counter to the Bible’s teachings.
In my next blog, I’ll offer some thoughts on how to share your plan with your husband.
“I Understand, I Appreciate, I Feel” – additional help for talking to your spouse
“A Recovery Plan For Spouses” PDF – Click HERE to download a free guide to walk you through writing your plan
She offers help to spouses of sexual strugglers through phone coaching and online spouses’ support groups.
Check out our site: www.puritycoaching.com