I regularly meet with men who tell me they have given up pornography and sexual acting for good and have no intentions of going back. They share how they’ve moved from darkness to light. They talk about the mighty change in their heart. I have no doubt they’re experiencing changes in their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
However, their wives are full of doubt.
One minute he admits to having a secret life filled with sexual behaviors and the next minute he tells her he’s healed and never going back to that life. She’s wondering what happened in-between those two very distant points on the continuum.
This scenario reminds me of when I was in school doing math problems and trying convince my math teacher that I really did know the answer to the math problem, even though I wasn’t showing my work on paper. For all she knew, I was looking up the answer in the back of the book or using a calculator. No matter how hard I tried to convince her I knew how to do algebra, she wanted to see my work.
A betrayed wife needs to know how her husband moved from a life of secrets and addiction to a life of integrity. She wants to see evidence of his journey. This is critical so she can trust what she sees in front of her.
Not only does she need to see his work, but he also needs to know he can do the work. I believe in miracles and I believe that the change of heart is the first miracle that gives a man the power to face his story and make the necessary physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, and relational changes necessary for long-term recovery. However, I don’t believe that one change of heart is enough to sustain any man in long-term recovery without him doing additional work.
Since there are no shortcuts with true recovery, showing how he went from addiction to recovery shouldn’t be difficult if he’s really doing the work. If he can’t show his work, then he’s not doing the work.
He can show his work by reaching out and opening up about his process. He can talk about what he’s learning in therapy, group therapy, 12-step meetings, his readings, and meetings with his church leader. He can show his work by interacting differently with his wife, children, and family members. His priorities will change as he spends less time in front of the TV or computer and more time in healthy living. If things look and feel the same as they did when he was active in his addiction, even though he says he’s changed, he’s not going to convince anyone until he can show his work.
Like a good math teacher, a good recovery program will help a man break down his recovery into manageable steps so he can know what he’s doing, how he’s doing it, and how to maintain it for life. He’ll also learn how to reach out to his wife and other supports to show his work. Recovery is not a mystery. It’s possible because of measurable steps taken every day to build a life of integrity and connection.