What can I do to regain trust in my husband? He has been addicted to pornography for most of our 44 years of marriage. He has worked hard to overcome his addiction and I think he has been successful for the last three or four years. He seems to have replaced one addiction with another though. He has become increasingly flirtatious with other women. This last three months he has had an “affair of the heart” with an attractive single lady. He says that it’s over but I’m having a hard time getting past the hurt and feelings of betrayal. He says I have to trust him and forgive him. I’m really trying and I think I’ve forgiven him but I don’t trust him. This is a wretched way to live.
Forgiveness and trust are two very different things. Forgiving your husband can happen as soon as you’re ready to forgive him. Forgiveness allows you to surrender the anger, fear, and resentment you carry as a result of his choices. Forgiveness frees you from playing God and exacting some kind of price from his misdeeds. It’s not easy to forgive, and it often takes time. However, forgiving your husband doesn’t depend on his behavior. Refusing to forgive another person is, as Malachy McCourt put it, like “drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”[i]
I love the way Wendy Ulrich explains forgiveness. She writes:
Forgiving others their debts is not simply pretending nobody owes us, which would not be just. It is rather a process of turning to Christ for the things we have lost, rather than turning to those who cannot restore our losses anyway. It is a willingness to acknowledge that if Christ is willing to pay us back, then no one else owes anything.[ii]
Trust, on the other hand, completely depends on his behavior. If you are going to stay in a close relationship with him and he wants to have you put your life and love back in his hands, he needs to learn how to be faithful to only you. Even though you’ve stayed with him these 44 years, my guess is that you haven’t trusted him to have all of you. That isn’t something you’re doing wrong. You’ve observed he’s had a competing relationship with pornography and, now, other women, so you keep your distance.
Stopping one problematic behavior is certainly worth celebrating. However, if it’s immediately replaced with another betrayal, then clearly the root of the problem hasn’t been addressed. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. If he’s not turning toward you completely with his full attention and commitment, then he’s not fully healing his addiction.
Your question should be, “what can my husband do to regain my trust?” The burden of restoring trust is on him, not you. Your job is to watch for and identify trustworthy, or non-trustworthy, behaviors. If you don’t trust him, there’s most likely a good reason for that. Trust your feelings, especially as you peacefully seek the promptings of the Spirit who will reveal “things as they really are.”[iii]
If you choose to stay with him and continue forward as a married couple, then you will eventually need to open yourself up in response to his efforts at being more trustworthy. My observation over the years is that a spouse who is committed to earning trust back after betrayal can make that process much easier on the injured spouse if they don’t demand trust, stay consistent in their behaviors, and do everything they can to create safe conditions.
I can tell you want to trust, but you’re living with a man who isn’t trustworthy. Yes, he’s had some recent success in eliminating one addictive behavior. However, that’s just the beginning of him now having the freedom to look deeper to better understand how this addiction has affected him and his relationships. If he simply moves over to a new acting out behavior, then he’s no wiser and safer than he was when he was consumed with looking at pornography. As a result, you’re going to naturally keep your distance.
Elder David A. Bednar taught that repenting from sexual sins needs to be a thorough process and that “the extent and intensity of your repentance must match the nature and severity of your sins—especially for Latter-day Saints who are under sacred covenant. Serious spiritual wounds require sustained treatment and time to heal completely and fully.”[iv]
Help him understand that forgiving him will happen regardless of how he behaves, as you need to release yourself from the storm of emotions and pain you’re suffering. Let him know that trust is his responsibility and that it’s not something he can demand from you. It he wants to be trusted, then he needs to act trustworthy every single day and in every single situation. If he breaks that trust, then he works to repair it. This process is repeated over and over until he becomes a trustworthy person. There is no other way to do this. There are no shortcuts to rebuilding trust.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
You can connect with him at:
[ii] Ulrich, Wendy. “The Temple Experience.” CFI, An Imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 2012
[iii] Jacob 4:13