In this series of posts, we’ve sought to give needed context to people who provide help and counsel to men and women who walk through sexual brokenness situations. This work is grueling. It isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re involved in this kind of work, God bless you. Our desire is to help you feel a greater sense of confidence that you’re noticing and remembering important factors in play.
So far, we’ve talked about two very important principles:
What presents on the surface isn’t the whole story.
Trauma is an incredibly powerful influence in people’s sexual brokenness.
In this post, we want to talk about a third principle:
Helping both the “offender” AND the “offended” can be a mine field, but it’s worth it.
If you are a pastor or caring/helping professional, it’s likely you’ve experienced situations where there’s a couple like the one from our previous posts. Remember the couple? The wife has caught her husband multiple times looking at porn; he’s defensive and denies the gravity of the problem, even though it has escalated to addictive porn use and affairs.
Trying to determine the help EACH spouse needs is difficult. Trying to provide the help EACH spouse needs is more difficult. Trying to provide that help while working with BOTH spouses can feel pretty near impossible! So how can it work? CAN it work?
I believe it is possible to help both parties, even when one fits more in the “offender” role while the other fits more as having been “offended.” So what would it take to make this a reality? First…
1. A lot of the work needs to be done separately (at least initially).
Each spouse has their own specific needs. Sometimes they need the same things, but it is difficult to focus on one’s need while the other is sitting in the room. It’s very difficult to make much headway empathizing with the life events that contributed to a husband’s sexual addiction and betrayal when the person most wounded by his behavior is sitting in the next chair. Your compassion and empathy for him can seem like all new trauma to her. “How could you be nice to him?! Why don’t you nail him to the wall for what he did to me?”
It makes a lot of sense for you to work with each spouse separately, or to determine which one you can more effectively work with and then connect the other to another helper you trust. It doesn’t change their needs, but it allows a more undistracted and a less confusing environment for them to do the necessary work to heal (and hopefully begin to move toward each other in a healthy way). Another necessary step in working with both spouses is…
2. Build a team to support the different needs of both people.
The old phrase most of us know is “It takes a village to raise a child.” This principle holds true when working with complex hurt/sin/trauma situations. There are few (maybe none) of these that you are equipped to handle completely on your own. This is not a reflection on you…no one can bear the full burden for complex and complicated situations like this.
The key need is to build a connected team in which you identify the relational needs of each spouse, and make sure there are people in place who understand their specific role. Many churches have built care teams for situations like this. In the case of a husband and wife with sexual brokenness struggles, there will be a primary counselor for each spouse, an ally/peer for each spouse, and a pastor/elder to oversee communication and the process. No one gets overwhelmed. Each helper has been given appropriate permission to interact with one another for the shared goal of providing great care for both hurting people. (*Note: If such a process does not yet exist in your church/ministry, Awaken can help you. Click here to connect with us to find out how.) One more really important thing to remember when trying to help both parties is…
3. Expect criticism when showing grace to an offender.
The sad truth is that there are people who don’t respond to sexual brokenness…they react. When they hear of a person’s betrayal of their spouse, the reaction is a call for the swift hammer of justice to fall. If you take a posture of empathy, curiosity, and compassion for the “offender,” there is a good chance that some people (beginning with the spouse) aren’t going to like it. You very well may be criticized or even attacked for this approach. I’ve seen it many times.
While this is an understandable emotion (wanting someone to pay, who has hurt someone deeply), this is not the Gospel. Christ’s heart for us, when we continue to betray him even after coming into his family, is not to kick us out of the family or even to punish us. Christ remembers that every sin committed by every one of his children has already been punished. He remembers this because he’s the one who took the punishment. God cannot punish the same sin twice. If he did, he would not be just, and would not be God.
Although in some cases you may find yourself in a position where loving, restorative discipline becomes necessary, it ought never resemble punishment. The goal of discipline is healing, building, restoring, calling a person back to his/her true self and to the abundant life offered. Discipline ought to wind up being an attractive process. If it comes to that, I pray you lead through it with the heart of Christ. In the meantime, accept criticism you may receive for being gracious as a badge of honor that reminds you that you follow Christ, not the approval of men.
So, helping and caring friend, as you seek to do whatever you can to help people who have been caught up in sin and brokenness, we are for you. We want to help if we can. Reach out to us to find out what that can look like. God bless you as you shepherd your people well.
Greg Oliver is the Executive Director of Awaken, a faith-based recovery ministry that provides Gospel-based and therapeutically sound help for individuals, couples, and ministry leaders who have been impacted by sexual brokenness. Awaken offers in-person and online recovery meetings for men & women who struggle, and for women whose partners struggle. We also offer 1-on-1 and couple’s coaching, recovery intensives/ workshops, and training/equipping for church leaders. For more info on any of our resources, check out the rest of our site or CLICK HERE.