Walking into the sanctuary, Susi’s pulse soared, her throat constricted. Scanning the rows ahead, she quickly moved toward an empty one, her husband trailing behind. Settling in, she tucked her phone in her pocket, then retrieved it.
Anything to look busy, appear normal.
“Whatever that is,” she muttered as the worship team walked onto the platform. Folding and unfolding her clenched hands, Susi swallowed. Hard. A quick, sideways glance toward her husband confirmed what she already knew.
“Hijacked brain,” she whispered to no one but Him who hears our slightest whimper.
“Wherever pretty ones are.”
“Here. At the store. The restaurant.”
“Or … on his laptop. Phone.”
Fighting the urge to flee, Susi fought back tears as the pastor prayed and the worship team began singing.
Once again Susi endured a church service. Trying to remember to breathe. Feeling isolated. Something was different this time, though. She made a decision.
“I can’t stay here any longer.”
In the first post of a series describing ADOH Peer Facilitator training, I introduced the “why” behind it: Women who are partners of sexual addicts experience a number of barriers to moving forward in their healing:
They (and others) lack understanding about sexual addiction as well as its impact on partners.
A lack of emotional and spiritual empathy from those previously relied upon for support
Limited finances along with increased need for practical assistance
Limited access to partner-sensitive therapeutic/pastoral care providers.
Responses from a survey of the ADOH peer facilitator community (excerpts below) support anecdotal comments heard from women across the Christian community.
After discovery or disclosure did you turn to your church for support
Yes: 80.95% No: 19.05%
Did the pastor/minister or church leader demonstrate a basic understanding of sexual addiction/compulsive sexual behaviors?
Yes: 21.05% No: 76.95%
Did the pastor/minister or church leader inform you of appropriate resources in your community or elsewhere?
Yes: 10.53% No: 89.47%
Does attending your local church help you feel emotionally and spiritually safe? Yes: 42.06 No: 57.14%
Please read those responses again. Eighty percent turned to their church for support. Yet, 77% said their pastor/leader did not have a basic understanding of sexual addiction. And, according to question three responses, less than 11 percent could suggest helpful resources.
Sadly, although fictitious, 'Susi’s'' choice isn't surprising. Feeling invisible, misunderstood and alone many women simply leave the church. A recent email promoting a DVD/study guide series for men may help us understand why.
“Men are in the Battle of Their Lives...This is How You Can Help”
"The latest statistics on pornography show that your church members may have a dirty little secret that is not so little. Chances are, on any given Sunday morning, 68% of men attending church will be struggling with pornography. The church is currently ill-equipped to deal with this epidemic. Only 7% of Pastors say that they have a program at their church to help those struggling with pornography. Are you at one of the 93% of churches that do not have a program for men? The ____________can help your church overcome the devastating effects of pornography and lead your men to victory.”
Those statistics came from a joint JoshMcDowell/Barna survey released in 2016. The quote describing the discrepancy between leadership awareness (93%) in contrast to the percentage of programs offered (7%) is troubling, right?
Another troubling statistic? If 68% of men sitting in church struggle with pornography with only minimum programs, what is available for women in the church?
How might the church come alongside partners?
Start by recognizing partners already attend your church. And like Susi, they feel invisible. Listen to their stories. Seek ways your community can walk alongside them, becoming more than just a safe place, but a people who collectively help reduce the barriers.
And then listen, look for and equip women who are already moving ahead in their recovery. They exude passion for becoming wounded healers.
Helpers. A well-known quote from Fred Rogers (from the Mister Rogers Neighborhood television series) can point the way. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
The discovery of a husband's sex addiction is very scary. Yet stories I hear from partners doing the hard work of recovery, often through support groups, not only demonstrates resilience but the value of informed, equipped facilitators.
Church leader? Want to be a helper? You can start here
If that's you, and you’d like to know how to help partners: 5 Common Mistakes When Helping Wives of Porn Addicts in Our Churches Author: Catherine Etherington from the UK