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Is "online adultery" considered a case for divorce?

If my husband goes to a website and satisfies himself with that, can it be considered a case for divorce, since he is committing adultery with images of other women? 

Robin's Response
I know how painful it is to have your husband using pornography online. I’ve been there and know firsthand how much insecurity and fear it can create in a marriage.  You are not alone—with pornography so rampant and easy to obtain, more and more Christian men (and women) have found themselves in this battle.  As a partner of a man who has this struggle, it can be downright bewildering.

It’s important to understand that looking at pornography is different from a live experience with another woman.  Men use pornography to escape pain, much like any other medication.  Pornography provides a false high, what we call false intimacy.  

It’s like when a woman reads a romance novel.  Now we know in our heads that the romantic story is all made up—that we aren’t entering a real relationship with the man in the book.  Yet reading a romantic story (or watching a romantic movie) gives a kind of false satisfaction, as if that fantasy could make us less lonely, more beautiful, more desirable.

Pornography has a similar effect.  The woman in the pages of the magazine appears to offer everything, but requires nothing in return. She is a fantasy, an escape from the pain of real intimacy.

Pornography is addictive in that for a very short time it medicates the pain of real life.  It is sinful in that is a self-centered demand for relief from the pain of life (just as romance can be for many a woman).  Masturbation has a similar self-medicating effect, but leaves him (or her—many women also struggle with pornography and/or masturbation) emptier afterwards.

That’s why the Bible warns us to put up healthy boundaries.  Solomon says in Proverbs 5:8, to stay far from the door of the adulterer.  In recovery, we learn to set these boundaries and receive accountability.  We also learn how to express their emotional pain, rather than disconnecting from real life and medicating it.

Pornography and Divorce

So, going back to your question, does Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:28) mean that lust  (in the form of pornography) is grounds for a divorce?   After all, Jesus called it adultery.  And, I can say from my own personal experience that your spouse’s repeated use of pornography can feel like a type of adultery.

But was that what Jesus was suggesting? Who was Jesus talking to? Was he suggesting that a woman could divorce a man that looks at a woman lustfully?

When I read the whole passage, I find that Jesus was challenging a Jewish audience who believed righteousness came from a set of rules (many of which their leaders had made up!) He wanted them to understand that sin is so much bigger. It reaches all the way into our thoughts and motives.  He wasn’t talking about divorce.  He was challenging them on their hearts.

It may help to look at another one of Jesus’ similar teachings.  In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus compares being angry with your brother to the sin of murder. Jesus was again challenging their legalistic righteousness.  But yet, I think you would have an entirely different response to your husband being angry with you and beating you.  Both sins come from the heart, but the degree of anger leading to (and the damage from) him beating you would be much more serious.

Jesus was asked directly about what reasons are appropriate for divorce. In Matthew 19:4, he replies to that question. “Haven't you read…that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus first answered their question by pointing out the sacredness of marriage—a union that God himself joins together. In verse 9, Jesus went on to say, that divorce for any reason other than marital unfaithfulness, constitutes adultery. Divorce is a last resort that God allows in circumstances where human sinfulness spirals out of control.

But Jesus’ plea, “Let man no separate what God has joined together,” tells me that it is righteous to fight to keep a relationship together.  And the Bible has never been more relevant in these sexually charged times, where Satan is having a heyday with the onslaught of pornography, in urging us to fight for our marriages…

“Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex.”  Hebrews 13:4 (The Message)

The Bigger Question

It’s not that there is never a reason for divorce.  I personally know of women whose husband’s refusal to get help (and whose repeated unfaithfulness and web of lies) over an extended period of time, led these women to choose divorce.

I totally respect these sisters in Christ for the courage it took to make that heart-breaking decision and believe that Jesus would have us treat women and men who are divorced with the utmost compassion. And several of these women have now been able to remarry and are enjoying a Godly marriage to a disciple of Christ.

But I’m also afraid that for many of us who are dealing with sexual sin in our marriages, the very hurtfulness can make us prone to buy into Satan’s lies, as he subtly gets us to question God’s plan and even God’s faithfulness….

Why should I stand by when he’s being unfaithful to me in his heart?
Would God want me to suffer like this?
Don’t I have a Biblical way out?  Maybe God is giving me an opportunity for a better life.
How can I know he won’t bring me more pain in the future?

And perhaps all of these boil down to…"Why should I continue to hope for good from this marriage, when right now it is bringing me so much pain?”

When I hit the pinnacle of pain in our marriage, I had some hard decisions to make.  Certainly, there were many voices advising me that I had Biblical grounds for a divorce (twenty years of on and off impurity including a physical act in an adult bookstore). And I desperately wanted the pain over.

Yet, there was a bigger question that haunted me.  “What does God want for me?  Is he calling me out of this relationship?”  And when I was honest with myself, I realized I felt no such call.  

And, if I hadn’t found my own way into recovery, divorcing Dave could have easily led me straight into another co-addicted relationship. The truth was that part of the intensity of my response to Dave’s sin (which included many sinful responses—control, manipulation, threats, and codependency) came from hurts in my childhood.

Ultimately, I thought, “Who will fight for Dave if I don’t?”  But in reality, God didn’t just want to fight for Dave. He also wanted to fight for me.  Because I stayed engaged in the relationship (simultaneously letting Dave know that he had to get into recovery if we had hope of making it in our marriage), God went to work on my heart, exposing the sinful parts, helping me take responsibility for how I was, healing hurts all the way back to my childhood.

Little by little, a miracle began taking place.  Dave began working more intensely on his issues.  And as I embraced my own recovery, getting in a group and taking my codependency and love addiction head on, I began to have better boundaries and a more gracious and honest response to Dave’s sexual sin.  As time went on, we learned to fight together for the purity of our marriage.  And now we’re enjoying the very best years of our marriage!

This all reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  Romans 5:2-6

Most of all, I think we must put our faith firmly in God—the God who can restore men and women after sexual sin, bringing beauty out of chaos.  The Bible is full of stories of his restoration of those who fell sexually whether through adultery, promiscuity or even prostitution.  Through them we see some of the most beautiful expressions of the grace of God.



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