The following copyrighted excerpt is reprinted with permission from the author, Ezra Snyder, Becoming Unbound: From Pornography to Freedom, © 2011.
This is a letter written by my wife, Heather, to any woman who has just learned that her man is struggling or has struggled with pornography or other area of sexual purity.
If you are reading this, your man has just made a confession that has broken your heart. There is a hole in your chest that wasn’t there before and things feel like they may never be the same again. And it’s possible this isn’t the first time. I am so sorry. I don’t know the exact details of your story, but I do know your pain. I am truly sorry that you have found yourself in this place. This is not how things were meant to be. You were created for something far greater, and so was your man. You were both designed to live in perfect freedom – from pain, from heartache, and from the effects of pornography. That freedom may seem far away as you read this letter. I understand. But there is hope.
When Ezra first told me that he struggled with pornography I felt like I was going to throw up. It was literally revolting to me and I could hardly even look at him – except perhaps to check my aim before I tried to kick him. We had been married less than a year and I could hardly believe this was happening. Instead of hearing my husband sharing a struggle with me, I heard all sorts of other things: You cannot trust your husband. He is weak. He has betrayed you. This is your fault. If you were a better wife, he wouldn’t have turned to porn. You will never be enough for him. He may as well have handed me a report card on my performance as a wife with a big, old, fatty “F” marked across the top. How could I have failed so completely as a wife? As a woman?
Over the next eight years those lies wove their way into the daily world of our marriage. Every time Ezra would tell me that he had screwed up and looked at porn again, the lies were reinforced. He confessed three or four times after the first night. In my mind, he became weaker and weaker and less and less worthy of my respect. I felt that my failure as a wife and a woman was confirmed time and time again. Despite this, each time he confessed and asked for forgiveness, I believed it was definitely the last time. Out of blind hope and ignorance, I did my best to move on as if the problem were solved. I became “Heather the ostrich” with my head firmly entrenched in the sand. Maybe you can relate to this method of dealing with difficult situations. In truth, nothing had been solved. I had no understanding of what was really going on with Ezra. Or just how pervasive a man’s struggle with pornography can be.
During the early years of our marriage, I had no idea that – depending on which study you choose to believe – 75% to 80% of married, Christian men struggle with some kind of pornography at least once per week. I thought it was an issue that only really creepy guys had to deal with. Some part of me knew that men were visually oriented, but it never occurred to me that a man’s battle with pornography would last from very early in life until he’s pushing up daisies. I am not sharing this to excuse your man’s actions. They were wrong and almost certainly sinful and they have deeply hurt you. I am sharing this because maybe you are like I was – unaware of how big this issue really is.
Ezra finally experienced true freedom from his addiction to pornography on July 22, 2005. As he shared with me a few days later, I could clearly see that it was a different man who sat me down to share exactly what his struggle had looked like through his life and our marriage. He spoke with an honesty and a humility that I hadn’t seen before. He didn’t make empty promises. He told me he knew I’d need some time to process this, that he expected me to be angry and that was okay. It took incredible courage for him to do this. I’m guessing it felt a little bit like standing in front of an angry bull with a red shirt on. It took great courage for your man to tell you of his struggle with pornography as well.
I have to tell you that I was pretty pissed off after he told me. Ah, were you expecting me to say I was happy that he was finally free? But, you see, I had no idea that Ezra’s struggles were as extensive as they had been. It felt like a bomb being dropped on me. I was ANGRY that he had kept such a pervasive issue from me. And, honestly, the most difficult part was that he was sharing from a place of healing – he had been freed. Freed from something I hadn’t realized had been binding him so completely. But that left me in the dust. I wanted to rant at the man who had brought this garbage into our marriage, but part of me knew that guy no longer existed. It was like he took my ammo away and that really ticked me off.
I don’t want to kid you – working through my feelings and our relationship was a long process and it was no cakewalk. It was a full year before I began to trust Ezra fully again, after what felt like a sustained betrayal over the past nine years of marriage. It was closer to two years before I began to learn how to respect him. Very slowly, my picture of my husband began to change from a weak, sex-obsessed man to a strong, trustworthy man of God whose heart toward me was good. Ezra kept pursuing me during these years. Every few weeks he would ask me where I was at with our conversation, how I was feeling about his past struggles with porn, how I was feeling about him and our marriage. Even though I sometimes had trouble articulating my feelings, I loved that he kept pursuing me. He was committed to working through this thing with me. Part of me hated that he kept bringing it up, but he was probably just remembering my ostrich tendencies.
One of the most difficult things to work through was the lie that Ezra looking at porn was my fault. That I somehow wasn’t enough to satisfy him, so he turned elsewhere. But let me tell you in no uncertain terms – IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I understand how it may feel like your fault, but it is not. In fact, your man’s struggle has nothing to do with you, dear sister. I understand this may be hard for you to hear right now. This book is about all the reasons men struggle with porn. If you want more insight into your man, read Part II of this book, starting with Chapter Seven. It took me a while, but I finally arrived at a place where I understood that Ezra’s struggles with pornography were because of his issues.
Something that also helped me during this time is that Ezra was open with me about his struggles. If he was tempted to look at porn, he shared that struggle with me. This openness took some getting used to. At first, I often felt instant terror: Did he do it again? But I chose to listen to Ezra and not my fear. This was crucial in my coming to trust him again. That kind of open dialogue helped rebuild the trust that had been broken during the early years of our marriage.
There is a lot more to this story than I am able to share with you here. The bigger picture involves what I learned about the heart of a woman and the heart of a man – how we were each designed and how our designs played into Ezra’s and my life together. There are more resources available to you. I would recommend to you the book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge if you are interested in understanding your own heart and how God designed you. A book that will give you insight into your man is Wild at Heart, also by John Eldredge. And for specific understanding about men and pornography, read this book, Becoming Unbound.
I know you have probably just found out that your man struggles with porn and you are dealing with a lot of emotions right now. You may feel like you marriage is over, and it could be if you choose that. You could choose not to forgive him for his sins against you. But I would like to offer you a different option – an option richer and infinitely more rewarding. You can choose to press in. Fight for your man. Whether you realize it yet or not, you have great power to speak life into your husband. At this moment, what I’m offering you may seem difficult or even impossible, but I have found in my own marriage that being on Ezra’s side has been absolutely worth it. If you choose to fight for your man and for your marriage, here are the most powerful tools I know of to keep in your handbag.
Believe in him. The number one thing you can do for your man is to believe in him. That’s right. Believe in him at this moment after he has betrayed your trust. Believe in him even if he screws up. It sounds difficult, right? But one of the core things a man needs is respect. The heart of respect is your believing that he has what it takes, that he can do it. That in the clutch, he can come through. And you can’t fake this. He can sniff out a fake sentiment in a heartbeat. Do you think he can remember to buy milk without a reminder? Do you think he can find his way without stopping for directions? Do you believe that he can be free from pornography? If you don’t, he’ll know it. He’ll feel like a failure, a loser who has let you down again. But if you do believe in him he’ll see it in your face and hear it in your words. Then he’ll go out and conquer the world.
I actually had to ask Ezra to tell me when he felt I was being disrespectful to him – with some caveats on how to tell me in a way I could receive, of course! I was honestly not aware of that my actions were disrespectful a lot of the time. Perhaps you aren’t either. Often it did not make any sense to me what he saw as disrespectful – my girl brain just doesn’t work the same way. But, it doesn’t have to. The only thing that needs to make sense is your decision to believe in your man.
Don’t try to manage him. You may be tempted to manage your man by trying to control his situation. Perhaps you secretly check up on his computer activity or install a filter behind his back or call him to “innocently” check-in a bit more often. This is absolutely the worst possible thing you can do. Let me ask you a question. How do you feel when someone is trying to manage you? Now, perhaps you are nicer than I am, but I start kicking and screaming (literally and figuratively) pretty quickly. Magnify that by about four million, and you have the average man’s reaction. Being managed goes against a man’s design. His wild heart is meant to lead. Any attempt to control or manage my man always backfires in a hurry.
Don’t withhold sex. Another thing you may be tempted to do is to withhold yourself sexually from your husband. Believe me, I tried it and it backfired. Keeping sex as a tool to punish your husband is a sin according to 1 Corinthians 7:5 (NIV). It is also not helpful in any way and will only serve to worsen your marriage. Men receive love two ways – through respect and sex. Keeping sex from your husband will not punish him or teach him not to look at porn, it will only make him feel deeply rejected and unloved. Do not hear me say that you need to go have sex with your husband tonight. There may be some serious consequences of his poor decisions. It’s possible he’s been unfaithful in a way that needs medical intervention, testing, or health care before you are intimate with him again. Again, I’m not talking (necessarily) about tonight. I’m talking about the next part of your journey toward a deeper relationship and a better marriage.
Learn about what he’s dealing with. If you want to know what it’s like to be a man who struggles with pornography, if you want to understand your man better, learn about what he’s dealing with. Read this book. Part I is the story of Ezra’s personal struggle, told in as frank a way as possible. Part II details Ezra’s journey toward freedom. These chapters will shine a light on what your man has been dealing with and the freedom that is available to him (and you).
Walk with him in it. Be his partner in his struggle with pornography. That looks like listening to him when he wants to talk about how he’s feeling and how things are going for him. In the beginning I had a difficult time listening to Ezra without getting upset and hearing unintended blame in his words. This was a journey for me, but today we can talk openly about how things are going for him. And that’s crucial for him because it means that I understand that the journey has ups and downs. Our men may screw up, they may have some difficult habits to break, but with our help the battle will be easier.
Your man’s struggle with pornography is a difficult and painful thing. But you have already taken the first step in the journey to fight for him. You chose to read this letter instead of throwing the book at him. Good work. After five years of fighting for Ezra, my marriage is better than it ever has been. Ezra and I are far from perfect, but we are definitely in this together. You will have to take your own journey and no doubt it will look different than mine. One thing I know is that if you choose to fight for your man and seek God together, you will find your way to a stronger marriage and a greater love for your God and your man.
You can do this. I believe in you. My heart is for you and I will be fighting alongside you through prayer.
Heather Snyder, August 2010