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Pornography: Will You Ever Trust Them Again?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. I'm Chris Grace.


Tim Muehlhoff: And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.


Chris Grace: And we're going to come to you on a regular basis, talking about all things related to relationships. And Tim, we've been doing a series on sex within relationships. We talked about pornography last time.


Tim Muehlhoff: Well, it's important. People think about this a lot. And trust gets broken.


Chris Grace: Yeah.


Tim Muehlhoff: It's hard to go through a relationship and not have times where trust is not as strong as it could be.


Chris Grace: Yup. So we're coming to you from a beautiful campus, Biola University. And go to our website, We have material there along this topic. And Tim, let's do this, let's talk about what it means when we break trust. Let's say, for our listeners out there that they have no doubt been personally impacted by this, by someone in their family, friend group, even their own personal time, or an own personal relationships, have experienced a violation of trust. They've experienced maybe somebody who has betrayed them with another person, infidelity or adultery or even just on dating relationship, this person has not been faithful to them.


And so, it brings up a lot of emotional and difficult processing for this person. Let's talk a little bit about forgiveness. Let's talk a little bit about building trust, primarily. But let's also talk about how we do this and how we help listeners process, if they have experienced this or they've had somebody close to them who have experienced this.


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Whenever I think about trust or the breaking of trust, I always think of this quote by Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Once trust is broken, I become suspicious of everything you do.” Boy, that's powerful, isn't it?


Chris, I had a .... One of my kids, this is when they were much much much younger, lied to us and got caught. And so, there had been a birthday party the day before so I asked my son to take a balloon, blow it up, but don't tie the end of it. So he did that method, “Okay, let go of a balloon.” And the balloon just kind of flooded around, all the air went out of it. And I said, “Listen, that was my trust in you. Now, I'm suspicious about a lot of things whereas, before I trusted you. A sleepover, taking the car, or whatever.”


So the good news is that trust can be rebuilt. But it can't be rebuilt overnight. So a lot of couples, trust can me compromised by the depth of a thousand small little cuts, or it can be a big event of something like that. But when we, on the communication side of things, this about trust, we always break it up into two categories. And I think it's important to think about each.


One, is what we call self trust. Self trust is, I want my wife to believe that I'm trustworthy. I want my kids to believe I'm trustworthy. I want my employer to think I'm trustworthy. But self trust ask the question, but are you in fact trustworthy? Can you be trusted? See, all of us want the trust but deep down in a personal level, am I trustworthy? This is what King David says in Psalm 139. He said, “Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart. Try me, and know my anxious thoughts. Is there any hurtful way in me?”


First thing to do is ask a really hard question. Am in essence a trustworthy person? Here's some interesting questions to think about, do I usually tell the truth to my spouse, or do I always tell half truths? That's interesting Chris is, am I always spinning the truth, but just a little bit? We live in the age of spin. Another question is, am I trustworthy when it comes to the issue of sexual temptation? In other words, as Bill Hybels said, “True Christianity is what you do when you're alone.” So can you trust me when I'm alone? Am I trustworthy when it comes to financial stewardship? Am I a person of my word? Do I usually follow through in what I'm saying I'm going to do? Do I live out the values in private that I talk about in public?


So first thing I need to do is to ask a really hard question. Am I a trustworthy person? Am I worthy of the trust of my kids, the trust of my spouse? And for some of us, that's where you start and you ask those really hard soft diagnostic questions.


Chris Grace: So Tim, let's kind of break this down just a little bit. Trust, asking ourselves and being that kind of a person, right? Is this one way to look at it? Trust is almost a gift to another person that says, “I will be true to you, right?”


Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.


Chris Grace: I mean that's truth ... I will be true to you emotionally and in all ways. I'm not hiding from you. I will do what I say and promise I will do.


Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.


Chris Grace: I am the same person on the inside as I am on the outside.


Tim Muehlhoff: Right.


Chris Grace: Right? There's authenticity. What you see me feel on the inside and see on the outside. Also trust means I'm also looking out for the interest of the other person, you said.


Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: Okay. If trust then is that, when we trust someone, you have to feel safe in their presence.


Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.


Chris Grace: That would be ... By the way, an ultimately trusting type of relationship that needs to be restored is one in which you could see is having these amazing places where I can be carefree. I can be myself. That's trust, isn't it?


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.


Chris Grace: I don't hide and I don't have to protect myself.


Tim Muehlhoff: Right.


Chris Grace: Okay. For people that have been hurt, to rebuild that, there's a lot that needs to take place in a person's heart. How do they know when they should be willing to re-trust? So I'm getting out a little bit the difference between forgiveness and trust. We are commanded to forgive. We are not commanded to trust. Would you agree?


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I think there's a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.


Chris Grace: Okay.


Tim Muehlhoff: And so the point I was making in the beginning Chris was, of course, I want my wife to trust me, and I say to my wife, "And by the way, you can trust me." The very first part of reestablishing trust is, me, as an individual. I need to own the fact. "You know what? I'm not as trustworthy as I thought." I've done some things that I need to own have twiddled away my spouse's ability to trust me. Now, we all know people Chris who just won't do that. They'll make excuses. They won't own it. So it is important to be diagnostic a little bit with yourself to say, "Man, you know what? I think I just blew the trust that my spouse had in me."


Chris Grace: Okay. So then, here's what we're doing maybe ... I think we're talking about two sides of the equation. We're talking about the person who has committed the sin has committed the sin, who has committed the events. Whether it's infidelity or porn use-


Tim Muehlhoff: Or misuse of the credit card-


Chris Grace: Whatever it is, in whatever area. So for that person to be trustworthy, there's a lot of things that they're going to have to do. What is it on the other side of the equation when this has been done to you? You are either the party who has now been in some ways, violated or in some ways that trust that you had in this relationship has now been ... You've been betrayed in this. So you find out your wife has had an emotional affair with somebody a physical affair. How do you go through that process Tim? And what would you tell the listeners here who would say, “I'm not sure I can trust them.”  But they're still trying to deal with forgiveness. They believe forgiveness is a good idea. They know forgiveness is a good idea, but dug on it. They're not ready for this, or maybe they are ready for it. I'm just not ready to forgive them.


Tim Muehlhoff: You know what's funny Chris? So this is what my wife, Noreen would say, To her it makes a world of difference if you came to me and said, "Guess what? I did something, I'm owning it. I shouldn't have done that." Or did you get caught? See, for Noreen, that's huge, and I think for many women and men, did I catch you in it? So who knows if you'd still be doing it if you weren't caught rather you came to me and said, "Hey, I want you to know, this happened, and I realize there's going to be ramifications about this." To me, that's a huge starting point. So if a person gets caught, to me, that's a greater offense. And it's going to have to take more steps to rebuild trust.


Chris Grace: And even new ones at a little bit more. If the person comes to me because I got caught, that's that, but if they also come to me, and they're harder, their motive is for something else. Like you know, they were caught in this and so they admit to this and it's like, “Okay. I might as well just reveal a little bit more.” Because we get new ones that even further and say what we're hoping for, I think, is that the person would come to you with a genuine heart of repentance. A genuine heart of, I have hurt you, I need to ask your forgiveness, and I'm about to tell you something and my heart is being transformed to change. That is what we would like to see.


Tim Muehlhoff: And because I'm teaching political communication as well as marital communication. So you know that political strategist, people who advise people within politics will say this to them, when something happens that obvious is going to hurt the trust of the people, they'll say this, "You get one shot at coming clean. You get one." So you're going to have to make a decision how much do you want to share right now because I guarantee you if we go through this whole thing of you coming clean and then two days later, another part of it comes out, and you're like, "Okay. Yeah. And actually ... " But see that's the spinning of the truth part, right?


As a politician, you might think, "Okay. I just minimally want to share, and I'm going to hold these things back." But I'll tell you what, if that happens in a marital relationship Chris, now you've just taken Gandhi's quote and pour gasoline on it. Because it's now like, "Hey, by the way, why did you spin at the first time? Second, what else is there? And now, you're telling me you're coming clean. I don't know if I believe that you're coming clean.


Chris Grace: So I've been talking with this couple recently and that's exactly what happened to them. So one of the party says to the other, “You're right.” It was somewhere between being caught and somewhere between confessing. And so Tim they said this, “You're right, I have messed up.” In fact, the person admitted to using pornography, in this case. And they talked about the extent to it. In fact, they grabbed a scale that we oftentimes talk about in the last podcast, The Sexual Addiction Scale and Struggling Scale. And admitted to this.


Now, unfortunately two weeks later, there was more evidence that came out. Credit card statements and other things and then the spouse is now putting two and two together and the person is now admitting, “Okay. I have been unfaithful as well in these areas with another person.” So Tim, what you're saying then, is you have one shot. In the example you gave, but in relationships, what you're saying that it's also very important how this happens and to what extent there at the beginning. Being able to explain, explore, confess and deal with the whole issues-


Tim Muehlhoff: So Chris, that's a great example of a person kind of spinning the truth a little bit and then the facts came out a little bit later that discounted it. That's a hard place to be. Let me give you a different story of the effects that has of coming completely clean and how it allowed a couple to save their marriage.


Church and Melissa, I won't use their last names. But they're public this. This has been shared even nationally. He was the first responder to the Oklahoma City bombing. He was a police officer. He stepped right into the nursery and you can imagine the carnage that was in the nursery. Well the only way he could cope with that is through drinking. So while he was drinking, it got so bad that his wife separated from him and again, he not only acted out though alcohol, he started sleeping, he would say, with basically anybody.


So guess what? He begged her to come to a marriage conference, Noreen and I were speaking at. And they did. They actually did. And they put their marriage back together. And I later said to Melissa, I said, “Melissa, how did you forgive a husband who had this drinking problem and then basically said, I've had so many acts of infidelity. It's hard to keep them all straight.” And she said, “When we sat on the couch, I asked him one question, I said two conditions. One, you tell me everything and second, you are not lying to me.” So he said to her, “Here is every act of infidelity I can remember because the blackouts, because of drinking.” He said, “But everything I told you is true and I'm not withholding anything.” She looks at him, and she says, “With the love of Jesus, I'm now going to forgive you. But Chuck, it better not come out that there was more.” And he looked her right in the eye and he said, “I swear to you, there's not.” And they were able to piece back together, right.


So you could see him wanting to spin it. Like the really bad ones, “Oh, I'm not going to show those.” But that comes out. So this heartfelt confession you're talking about, I this is really important to come up. But listen, if you're setting out to your spouse and you're confessing something, don't spin it because man, if you get caught in a double lie, you have sent that communication climate down even deeper. And it's going to be harder to come out.


Chris Grace: So I think we're also at that point Tim, I'm hearing a difference between forgiveness and trust. What she was able to do. Forgiveness I think we could call this, what she did forgiveness needs to be ... And in biblically, it needs to be immediate. Trust is not immediate. That didn't mean just because she forgave him that she immediately trusted again, right? Would you agree?


Tim Muehlhoff: I wouldn't say forgiveness is immediate.


Chris Grace: The need to forgive is, as I've said, we need to forgive.


Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. We're going to take time depending on the offense. It could take a long time for me to forgive you.


Chris Grace: Yet, we're commanded to forgive. We are not commanded to necessarily rebuild that trust immediately. Forgiveness is unconditional. I can't hold back my forgiveness in one place, right?


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.


Chris Grace: Trust is not. Trust is conditional, you show me. Would you agree?


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. And it can be punitive. See, this is where you get into a tough spot. So the offending person, the pornography or whatever, now has to sit down with that spouse and work out the means by which trust can be rebuilt. That's a negotiation. But the spouse who was offended may, from a punitive perspective, say, “Okay. This is what it's going to take for me to trust you. This, this, this, this, this, this.” And it's too much.


Chris Grace: Or they keep bringing it back.


Tim Muehlhoff: Or adding conditions for trust.


Chris Grace: Yeah. Okay.


Tim Muehlhoff: That's hard.


Chris Grace: Okay.


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. It's really difficult.


Chris Grace: It reminds me of the C. S. Lewis quote, I think you mentioned it before, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.” Right?


Tim Muehlhoff: I love that quote.


Chris Grace: It's easy to talk about forgiveness, but until you have something to forgive. There's a South African novelist named, Alan Paton, who made even another quote similar to that, “When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive.”


So in this area of recovery and restoration, it really is going to be a journey and a process. I think what I still wonder about is, how do we help lead people through this when there's deep pain, deep hurt. And just to say, it is a process of time, isn't it? And professional therapy at times, professional counseling, professional help, especially when deep hurts are done. And it involves maybe some hard decisions like time away from each other.


There's couple who, they're going to need to, and we're counseled, they need to separate for this because there's no way she can recover from this immediately and quickly. And then you have the complications of family and children. And it just gets painful.


Tim Muehlhoff: That's right. By the way, that's such a good point Chris. Let me bring up a slight little tangent. When trust has been violated between you and your spouse, absolutely you need to get advice from somebody. You go to a friend, or a pastor. Be careful how many people you share this breaking of trust, why? Because you and your spouse might actually work it out and Trust has been reestablished. Guess what? Your in-laws, your parents, they're still like, “Hey ... “ they're back at square one, when you've moved on and now, they're trust of your spouse has been greatly weaken. So keep that a small circle of counselors.


Second, I get asked this question all the time, “Well, how will I know when my spouse trust me again?” And here's the short answer to that question, when your spouse says, she or he trust you again. So you're going to have to sit down and work out the conditions of rebuilding trust. In other words, “I want to see you do this with the credit card. I want to see you go three months and let's, you and I talked about before you use the credit card for big purchases, I would like us to talk about it as a couple.” That seems reasonable to me. Now, if the person says, “I want to go three years and you can't purchase anything until I approve it.” That seems punitive.


But I find impatience on the person who did the offending, to say, “Three months? No way! How about three weeks?” I think people sometimes who are offended and break the trust are often too impatient to demand forgiveness. And then demand that trust has been rebuilt. Man, I think that's ... Depending on what we're talking about, that can be a long process. So my son who lied to us, guess what? The cool thing was in a relatively short amount of time, like about a month or two, I walked up to him and said, “Hey, guess what? We trust you. So hey, you can do sleepovers, you can do this.” I think it would have been too much to say, hey, a year of punishment.


So you're going to have to work it out with that person what seems reasonable, but at the end, the person who has been offended, you have to ask the question, “Okay. What would it really take for me to trust my spouse?” And that needs to be the starting point. I think a bit of a negotiation between spouses of these are precursors to building trust. And to lay them out.


Chris Grace: When I think about the person in the relationship that has ... Is on being they were offended, they were hurt, they were somehow betrayed, they have a journey to go through. Remember the Corrie ten Boom's story. She couldn't forget the wrong that was done to her. And she had forgiven the person. Remember? But she kept rehashing this instance, and she couldn't go to sleep. And so, finally, she cried out for God for help, and she has happened to talk to a pastor. Remember that? And the pastor told him or told her, "Listen ... " Here's what's interesting, in that church tower, there's a bell, and it's rang by pulling on a rope. But after that rope is let go, the bell keeps swinging. The dings and the dongs, slower and slower until there's a final dong or ring and it stops.


He told her, if you remember the story, he told her about it. I believe the same thing is true with forgiveness. As you said, when we forgive we take our hand off of the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we must not be surprised. If the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. Right?  And so they're just kind of that old bell finally slowing down. And so. She said ... Yeah, for Corrie, it really helped because that proved to be true. This restoration, the force of this was the willingness that really is she let go of the rope. And kind of on out of this. And it eventually kind of came less and less.


How do you get to that point? How do you know when you are there when you're still pulling on this rope, this grievance and it's still there and you still hear these reverberations and it's painful? Are there ways in which you could help that process along, or is it just time right now?


Tim Muehlhoff: Well, I think, you know this comes from your field Chris. This priming studies that let's say you go to dinner in a dirty restaurant. We're not even primed to see dirt in other restaurants. I think the breaking of trust is like that. It primes you now to really pay attention to your spouse, who better be crossing all of his or her t's and dotting every I or now my mistrust of you.


So I think Chris, part of it is our self talk. We're going to have to say, “Yes, my spouse violated my trust. But now I need to really pay attention to the good that he or she is doing.” Like, okay, in this one aspect the misuse of a credit card or the looking at porn, there's a trust issue but to judge the entire person as being untrustworthy in every area because of this one area, we call that, you know that's, you're being blinded by this one issue. Sp I would say, catch your spouse doing what's good in other ... You know what I mean?


Okay, this spouse had a hard time with credit cards, but he or she is a great parent. He or she is kind. He or she is making an effort. You know what I mean Chris? Otherwise, this person is in a ditch. He or she is never going to get out of because you've primed now to look at and scrutinize every single thing. That's self talk right? It would be a big deal.


Chris Grace: It is. It's self talk. It also reminds me of a study that was done just based on that, where Tim, they had students come in and they have them talk in front of a microphone. Just like we're doing right now, for five minutes. And so, they just spoke on whatever they wanted. And are you familiar with the white bear study, where after five minutes everybody was talking, it was great. Then the researcher said, “All right. Right now, we're going to say, you could do this for five more minutes, just like you did. It was easy, but there's only one thing you cannot talk about or even ... You can talk about or think about. Every time you think about a white bear, we want you to ring this bell front of you.”


So everything is fine. You have five minutes. Go. Just ring the bell when you think bout this white bear. What happened was it took about 10, 15 seconds before the person would now, “Okay. I'll talk about this and this and ... I went on vacation and now I'm swimming and I see a white bear.” Ding. So this continue to go on and on and it took over their thinking. In fact, three or four times, every minute, they're ringing this bell thinking about the white that they, previously could have talked about anything, but now they can't. So you can't talk about this one thing.


Tim Muehlhoff: That's good. That's good.


Chris Grace: So here's the interesting thing, they then said, “Okay. Good. Stop.” It's almost like it infected their brains. And then they said, “Okay now. Take five more minutes, you can talk about anything you want including white bears and it went away.”


The point was, I think in this study, or at least one takeaway was that, when we try to hide something or keep it in the recesses, we actively try and hold it back and it begins to, and also, take over. And so, I think the researchers Tim, what they learned was, it's a very interesting thing that we do as humans, that talking about the deep things that we can't or that we hide from shame and vulnerability is actually a pretty beneficial thing. Because otherwise, actively trying to keep this away or hidden takes its toll.


And so, I think it's a great study. It talks about that idea that we sometimes, a lot of our shame and ... That feeds on this kind, on secrecy or on silence. And it grows that way. So that's like the evidence for an argument for why we should confess our sin. He's faithful and just to forgive us our sins. But also to talk to our spouse because otherwise, we're going to keep holding something and it consumes us.


Tim Muehlhoff: The white bear thing made me think at what Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 10:5, “Take every thought captive.” Now listen, the only way to do that is, you just can't say, “Okay. I'm not going to think about my spouse's mistrust.” So this is where for me the Jesus prayer has been helpful. On two levels, one the Jesus prayer, for some of the listeners, is just very simple prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.”


The reason I like that is two fold. One, when I think about the white bear, that is my spouse's violation of trust, I can't just say, “Okay don't think about it.” So when I do think about it, I say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And guess what? I love the and part, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Again, there's things I've done in this marriage. There's things ... I'm not perfect in this marriage. So I love that when a thought comes and I said, I'm going to combat it with a thought and that's what Paul is saying, “I want you to take this thought captive.”


So yeah, you can't just not think about a white bear. And by the way, your spouse isn't just the white bear. Again, if a person come up to me and says, “I don't trust anything my spouse does. My spouse can do no good.” You and I both know Chris, that we're going to say to them, “Listen, that's a pretty myopic view of your spouse. Right?”


Hey, let me close with one story that made me ... I love that story of Corrie ten Boom. It reminded me of another story that I think is helpful to our listeners.


So you know that Clara Barton was the founder of the Red Cross. And what some may not know os that she was betrayed publicly in a very public act by somebody who worked with her. And Clara Barton had to forgive this person so she eventually did. And then it was like a year later after the event, she was speaking publicly and took questions from the press and one woman said, “Hey, concerning that one incident with this one woman, I just want to get response.” And here's what she said, she said, “Oh, I don't remember it.” And the person was like, “What you got to be kidding me, it's was in all the newspapers. It was incredibly hurtful. You don't remember?” She goes, “No, I distinctly remember the time that I forgot that.”


And so I love that of saying, “Listen, these hurts are never going to magically go away.” That bell is always there to yank on. And again, if the hurt is really bad, the mistrust is really deep, no doubt that's always in the background, but you choose, I love what one woman said, “Happy marriage is the choice not to reheat your spouse's sins in the morning for evening dinner." So we go to be careful not yank on that bell, right? And that's a spiritual enterprise between you and the Lord. “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner” kind of thing.


Chris Grace: Yeah. And so Tim, I think that's a great way to think about this. For help for those that are dealing with areas that you know, there's verses that we can turn to and there's people who could come alongside us. If couples, people in this area want to read an awesome Psalm. Psalm 32, when David talks about when he kept silent, his bones wasted away through his groaning all day long. And his strength was dried up. He said, “I acknowledge my sin to you and I did not cover my inequity, I said I will confess my transgressions and you forgave my inequity."


Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: Tim, there are times in which the sin is so great, that a person is going to need to step away from the relationship. And they need to get help and advice in doing that and when it violates something about degree. And then of course, we would recommend at that point talking with their pastor, talking with a therapist, talking with a counselor, somebody who can navigate them through this.


But in the world that we live in today, we're going to hurt and offend other people. The goal is to eventually establish trust by becoming a trustworthy person, by confessing. We used talked about these things. Any last thoughts for this in this area?


Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Chris, let's tackle in our next podcast. So when is a relationship, when is the trust been so deep, the hurt's so great, that if ... Like what you said, you need to forget this person. It might take time, but you got to forgive. Christ commands all of us to do that. But does that mean that I have to stay in the marriage no matter what? Are there any conditions by which biblically, we need to leave? And what advice would we give people. So let's take our next podcast and do that.


Chris Grace: Perfect. That said, I think what we need to do to continue this. Tim, it's been good talking-


Tim Muehlhoff: By the way, as you've been speaking, I thought of a white bear 10 times. You actually look like a white bear right now. A talking, beautiful white bear.


Chris Grace: Thank you. That's actually helpful. I appreciate it. So all that to say, it's just been fun. Good to have you and-


Tim Muehlhoff: Thank you for listening to the white bear podcast.


Chris Grace: From the Art of Relationships. Buh Bye.


Tim Muehlhoff: Bye.


Chris Grace: See you. Bye.