It’s painful for me to admit it, but my spouse has become deeply involved with pornography. That’s a huge problem in itself, but the question I want to raise here is more specific. Jesus said that to look with lust is to commit adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:27, 28). Does this mean that a porn addiction can be equated with infidelity? And if it can, am I correct in assuming that my spouse’s use of pornography can be viewed as legitimate grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32)?
Probably not. You should bear in mind, of course, that we can’t give you a definitive answer without knowing a great deal more about your situation. For example, we’d like to know if the porn addiction is an isolated problem or an element of a larger, more all-encompassing pattern of behaviour. If it is part of a bigger syndrome, does the pattern include abuse of any kind? Is the abuse so severe that you feel as if your personal safety (and that of your children, if you have any) is being compromised? If so, we would advise you to separate from your spouse as soon as possible. But we still wouldn’t be in a position to tell you whether you have legitimate grounds for divorce or not.
You’re correct, of course, to point out that Jesus equates lust in the heart with the act of adultery. He plainly says that the one is tantamount to the other, and He does follow this up, just five verses later, by making allowances for divorce in cases where porneia or extra-marital sexual activity has invaded a marriage relationship. But you have to remember that Jesus, in this passage of the Sermon on the Mount, is speaking primarily in spiritual terms. He’s talking about our accountability in the eyes of God. He’s attempting to show pharisaical legalists that the literal keeping of the law will not necessarily justify them, since, from heaven’s perspective, it’s the condition of the heart that matters.
It’s perfectly appropriate to examine ourselves in light of this heavenly perspective. But we can run into problems if we start judging other people according to this standard or try to make it the basis of a social or legal code. You can see this very clearly if you apply the logic of your question to Christ’s statements about murder in Matthew 5:21 and 22. It’s absolutely true that murder begins in the heart and that all of us who think hurtful thoughts about our neighbours are guilty in the eyes of God. But does this mean that we ought to arrest people for getting angry? Should we lock them up, put them on death row and even execute them for calling each other "You fool!" or "You worthless, good-for-nothing!"? Clearly not. The same observation applies to your musings on the subject of using heart-lust and porn addiction as "legitimate grounds for divorce."
But enough of this theological talk. If your spouse is really addicted to pornography, and if your marriage is in as much trouble as your question seems to imply, you need to find some serious help right away. The first step is to realize that sexual addictions of all kinds are strikingly pervasive in contemporary society. Because it is rooted in the basic human craving for relationship, sexual addiction is tenacious and progressive in nature. To put it another way, porn is powerful primarily because it offers a counterfeit form of intimacy and attachment. It’s important to bear these things in mind when seeking to help a loved one who has fallen prey to the deception that de-personalized sex can ultimately satisfy the longings of the human heart.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that it’s time to get a divorce, we want to encourage you to hold on to hope. Effective help is available to anyone who is willing to do the legwork of investigating the options. We suggest that you and your spouse begin by seeking professional counselling, and we highly recommend that you do this together. The most successful course of treatment takes a family systems approach that involves an initial program of intensive therapy, followed by regular and ongoing counselling sessions. Also key to recovery is identifying a trusted friend or group of individuals who will provide an environment of support and accountability. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to programs of this nature or a list of qualified therapists in your area who specialize in treating sexual addictions. You can contact our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.