The Unfair Burden of Your Silence

So, you told your wife that you don’t want her to feel alone. That you want her to talk to someone so that she can get advice to help her heal. Great! I did the same thing with Britt. I felt like I was being pretty generous. I wasn’t asking her to keep my dirty little secret. I certainly didn’t want to stand in the way of her getting help. I only had one stipulation. “I think you need to talk to someone. Just, ya know… I don’t really want you to spread it around just anywhere.” Be careful who you tell. Sound familiar?

Here’s what happened. Britt did talk to someone. She prayed for months before deciding who to talk to (and in the meantime felt completely alone). She very carefully chose a couple she trusted to give godly advice. And, lo and behold, they gave some of the absolute best advice you can give the wife of a porn addict: Bring it to the light.

That… wasn’t what they were supposed to tell her.

Second thing they told her: He doesn’t get to make the rules.

That DEFINITELY wasn’t what they were supposed to tell her.

I remember Britt telling me one day, “I’d like you to talk to so-and-so.”

I shrugged her off. “I don’t really know him. I’d rather talk to someone I know better.”

For the first time in our marriage, she looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not asking. You’re talking to him this afternoon.”

I was MAD. You gotta be kidding me! Here I’d been so generous as to tell her she could talk to whoever she wanted and she chose the ONE couple who would give her the stupidest advice?! They’re not even real counselors! (Turns out, they had experienced advice that ended up saving our marriage, but I certainly didn’t see it that way at the time.)

Through conversations with that mentor, I slowly came to understand what I was doing by asking my wife to “be careful who you tell.” I was still pridefully trying to protect my own image and I was placing an unfair burden on Britt to help me do so.

When you tell your wife that she can talk to anyone and yet you are not open about your own sin, you are adding extra pressure to your already burdened wife. If you are married to a godly woman, she is going to be extremely hesitant to talk about your sin even if you tell her she can, unless you talk about it first. Your wife loves you. She wants to protect you from criticism and gossip. If you’re a preacher, she has insecurities about you losing your job if she happens to tell the wrong person. She does not want to be the one to bring it up! It’s embarrassing for her to talk about in the first place, and more so because she knows that you don’t really want her to talk about it. Sure, you know she needs to talk to someone and you’re going to “let” her, but she also knows that you are not comfortable with other people knowing. So, she probably won’t tell anyone the whole story and won’t get the real help she needs. You may think you are freeing her, but you are isolating her and removing her from the strength of her Christian family as a whole. You are emphasizing that she must keep up the facade in front of everyone except one or two women. That limitation on who she can tell will eventually lead to resentment and harm your relationship further.

When you’re open about your struggles, often people will come to you and say, “We struggled with the same thing in our marriage. We made it through. If you ever want to talk, we’re here.” But when you are trying to keep it quiet, how is your wife supposed to find the people who have been there without letting people know what’s going on? Is she supposed to just go through the church asking, “Just curious, has your husband ever struggled with porn? Just asking. No reason.”?

Your wife needs to talk with women who can empathize. But it’s hard to find those women if we’re a secretive church that won’t share our struggles.

If you want your wife to find a select few people who will give her the best advice, I’ve got news for you: You’re not going to be happy about what they tell her. If the person she chooses to tell really understands addiction, they’re going to tell her the same things this couple told Britt. “He doesn’t get to make the rules, and he needs to bring it out into the open.”

God says the same thing. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

Listen. You cannot get out of addiction on your own terms. It’s going to take exposure and surrender, and that includes surrendering your image. Let it go. Don’t make your wife cover for you. Don’t make her carry this secret burden. (And, YES, as long as she’s only allowed to tell certain people, it is still secret sin!) You’re making her walk around with this awkward lie about who you are and how she is doing. It might be convenient for you, but it’s crushing her.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your wife is to lift the burden of secrecy from her shoulders. It’s not fair to ask your wife to be the one to reveal your sin. YOU talk to people. YOU make it public. YOU stop making your wife feel like she has to hold everything together on her own. Stop making her sit in the church pew acting like nothing is wrong. Stop making her be the one to reveal your sin. Stop trying to maintain control. Build her trust back by being open not just with her but with other people.

Your wife is not going to feel free to talk just because you told her she can. She’s going to feel free to talk when you talk freely.

Stay on the beaten road,

Joshua Richardson

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