Roughly 60-70% of men in the Church are living like addicts when it comes to the way they complacently use pornography and feed a lustful mindset. Scan the brain of a man like that and the functional image reveals that it looks like that of a heroine addict's—full of holes. Like Swiss cheese! What began as a sin problem quickly becomes a physiological brain problem.
The way a man lives when his brain is damaged impacts his wife's brain. She may experience confusion and feel crazy. But she also may have physical symptoms of what is now understood to be betrayal trauma. (You can learn more about that by reading chapter 3 in my newest book Happily Even After: Let God Redeem Your Marriage. To get a free download of that chapter, visit this page and scroll down to where you see the image above!)
Well, recently I have been doing podcast and radio interviews to share what God has taught me in fighting FOR (not WITH) my husband as he overcomes his own battles with lust and pornography. And I've been talking about our broken brains. My! How the letters are flowing in. This morning a particularly difficult one got passed on to me from my team. Here's part of it:
"Here’s a big question for you Dannah. . . . I heard you [on Janet Parshall's podcast talking about your husband's battle with lust and pornography].
My sister and I have discovered in many ways our lives are parallel. We are both in pain at different levels. We grew up with an unhealthy view of ourselves as females. Dad was into porn. Our parents never built relationships with us. And our now-husbands took advantage of us as teenagers and stole from us the gift we had for our marriage night. Then our husbands committed adultery – porn as well as real women.
So here’s the million dollar question: here we are at ages 66 and 68 – is it possible to actually discover and enjoy true intimacy with our husbands when their brains are “Swiss cheese” and full of all the IMAGES from a life time of [sin]?
Neither husband wants a relationship with our Lord Yeshua the Christ. We do practice our faith as best we can being unequally yoked. To be honest, marriage seems false. Oh the mess sin makes. Just thought I would pop that million dollar question. We feel hopeless and wonder if the rest of our years are going to be empty."
Since this question is coming in a lot, I thought I'd share with you what I wrote back to her. Here's that:
Oh, dear sister. My heart aches to tell you what you want to hear. I cannot. It takes two people to pursue a healthy relationship. (This is why Scripture instructs us, as you mentioned, not to be unequally yoked but to take care that our most intimate relationships share a love for Christ.) But, alas, many of us would like the opportunity to go back to our younger lives and make decisions differently! Yet, here you are passionately in love with Jesus but experiencing a bit of loneliness in your marriage. Can you enjoy intimacy with your husband?
As I received your letter this morning, I had just emerged from my quiet time with the Lord. And I immediately sensed that what I'd studied contained an answer for your hurting heart. Only you can know for sure, but let me show you what God taught me.
Here's the passage of Scripture that I read:
And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. —Deuteronomy 34:4,5
This is a tough passage. Moses got to see the Promised Land, but did not get to go in. This was a painful consequence for striking the rock at Meribah rather than just speaking to it as God had instructed. But I think there's more here for us to see!
Moses was 120 years old when he climbed a mountain in Moab to see the Promised Land he would never walk into. (Side note: the man was still climbing mountains at that old age!) Knowing Moses pattern of having frank conversations with God, we might expect him to argue with His Maker. "Come on, Lord! Let me just put one sandal on that ground!"
He doesn't do that!
Is it possible that everything Moses had gone through—the loneliness of leadership, the disappointments in the past—had prepared him for this moment in a way we cannot understand until we get to one of our own just like it? Is it possible that he'd been relieved of his ache for an earthly home and had begun to be more eager to live in the presence of God in his heavenly home? Could it be that when we read about this moment we are witness to a man who simply wants nothing to stand between him and the Lover of His Soul?
I think there is a hidden sweetness to what we read in this passage. Moses had become so satisfied in God that it was enough to take a quiet walk with Him up a rocky mountain to see the Promised Land he would never step foot into. And I think there is a hint at an awareness that this was no longer the land He yearned to dwell in. He wanted heaven.
Do you see where I am going? The difficult truth is that sometimes here on earth we do not step into the places we yearn for and pray to live in. But God can give us incredible contentment and heavenly appetites for something more precious.
It takes two people to make a marriage sweet and intimate. I'm sorry that you have not experienced that YET. (See below.) It is so important to keep in mind that the freedom to experience contentment in life is available to you whether or not the outcome for your marriage is what you desire.
But don't stop asking for it! Don't stop praying for your husband's healing!
Treasure and live out these words (which I write about in depth in Happily Even After):
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle [praus] and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. —1 Peter 3:1–4
I realize this passage can be off-putting, to say the least. But I refuse to use a razor blade to cut pieces of my Bible out when they become particularly difficult to understand or apply. This passage was specifically written for Christian wives whose Christian husbands have not been playing inside the fence of God’s rules. You cannot ignore it!
These verses are actually pretty applicable, if you ask me. For example, “Do not let your adorning be external.” Could it be that God knows our go-to strategy is to make ourselves more attractive to hold our husband’s attention?
He also knows that doesn’t work. Changing you—especially your outside— is never going to be what changes him.
Conduct flooded with meekness—gentle strength—is what will most effectively influence your husband.
I imagine you may be stuck on the words, “be subject to your own husbands.” Some versions translate this as “submit yourselves" (niv), and that really sets some people off. But a Greek lesson might be useful here.
The Greek word used here for “be subject” is a form of the verb hupotasso. And “its primary meaning is to arrange oneself or to order oneself in such a way that you are helpful to the team. It is a word used in military terms to refer to a formation of soldiers. Hupotasso meant to stay in your position in the formation so that everyone can support each other.”
God’s kingdom is just that—a kingdom, not a democracy. There are positions assigned in the hierarchy. And within the marriage relationship, the husband is designated as head of the household (Ephesians 5:22–24). You and I are called by God to affirm male leadership in our homes and to embrace the position he’s assigned to us. To position ourselves so that we are responsive to that leadership and thus helpful to the team.
For a beautiful understanding of what your submission should look like, let’s go back to Genesis, where God describes Eve as Adam’s helper. The original Hebrew Scriptures used the words ezer kenedgo to describe that function of womanhood. The word ezer means “helper,” and the word kenedgo means “to accompany.” The Bible only uses this kind of language twice to point to a woman’s ability to serve and support her husband. The other times these words are used, they point to Someone else in that role: God himself.1
Right now the Holy Spirit is serving you as your Helper. This places submission in the light of incredible power and strength—chosen humility and meekness, not weakness.
How does that operate when you are married to a man whose brain is like Swiss cheese? Unless you have been there, you can hardly understand how impractical the call to hupotasso can seem. But here’s a word picture that has really helped me.
I’ve heard submission in marriage likened to dancing. Both partners utilize their talents and strengths in the dance of marriage, with men leading in sacrificial love and women responding in submission. Well, it’s hard to dance with a man whose leadership legs are crippled by sin. It just doesn’t work.
When your husband doesn’t lead in the dance of life, there’s not much to respond to. The dance falls apart.
Here’s where it’s important to remember that Christian marriage is only a symbol of a greater dance. Let Jesus cut in, my friend. You can safely submit to and respond to Him. Imagine your husband temporarily slinking into a wheelchair between you and Jesus as you continue the dance of headship. Respond to Christ’s leadership in the absence of your husband’s. Stay in your position.
As a side note, hopefully your husband understands that he while he remains crippled by sexual sin, he is not in a condition to lead others spiritually. He may need to resign from any spiritual leadership positions he has, at least for a time.
My husband actually pursued this on his own. He verbalized to me that he was not capable of leading because he’d fallen below the bar of integrity, and he resigned from ministry leadership. The fact that he so willingly submitted to stepping down was a significant gift to me in the middle of a whole lot of pain. It demonstrated to me that he understood the kingdom hierarchy and the fact that because of his sexual sin he was making it messy.
Then one day deep into our marriage work, Bob came to me in humility and asked, “I wonder if you’d begin to let me pray over you every night?”
Tears of joy flooded my eyes, and I imagined Jesus nodding proudly as Bob cut in to dance with me once again.
The man I prayed for became the man I pray with.
Don't for a second think I was not strong during this. I set reasonable expectations for my husband to respect me and our marriage vows in every way shape and form. My own experience is that boundaries presented in meekness helped me remain in position with the hope that Bob’s once-wonderful leadership legs would heal. Setting special boundaries played a significant role in healing my marriage.
Meanwhile, I was able to find other ways to support my husband and give him the respect he needed. For example, while I could not trust my husband to be a spiritual leader when he was struggling with his sexual sin, there were other areas where I could depend on his brain to function well. Business, for example. Bob’s a brilliant businessman and a marketing genius. Consulting him as I made decisions for my ministry was one way I could demonstrate and maintain respect for him. Listening and responding to his opinions when we made decisions about our counseling plans was a simple way to remain respectfully engaged.
And the dance went on. As I kept my eyes focused on Jesus as my dance partner, He gave me a general sense of objectivity about Bob’s condition (again, healthy detachment). And I think the gentler, less emotional approach to our issues had more power than my previously reactive responses.
Bob’s interactions with me became healthier too. Rather than being threatened by my boundaries or feeling rejected, he began to see them for what they were: a form of love.
You may not see this outcome in your own marriage. But never stop praying for it.
And if you do not see the Promised Land you desire in your love life with your husband . . . Remember, you can experience satisfaction in your love with Jesus.
This second half of my response to this dear woman of God is an excerpt from a chapter in Happily Even After: Let God Redeem Your Marriage.