Confession: I’ve been putting off talking about my marriage and the progress (or not) that we are making in healing from his pornography and my resulting betrayal trauma. I guess I keep hoping that I will have something insightful to share.
We are different people than we used to be. That much is clear.
We are thankful for many things in our story. I am thankful that my husband came clean on his own twelve or thirteen months ago, and voluntarily confessed to me and to other good people in our lives. I am thankful that he is celebrating month after month clean and sober, and has found ways to plug into accountability, support, and relationship in ways he never has before. I’m thankful that I am finding a path forward in living with him, though not always in peace, and that he is finding it possible to live with me and give me grace.
Marriage has not been our only battlefield. Our story intersects with the story of our extended families, our friendships, and our church – and our hearts have wrestled hard. At times, those pieces have been more painful and awkward (both to those groups of loved ones and to us) than the marriage part has been. But those relationships and histories are not the point of this post, and I don’t have words for them yet. I do know this: that whenever we confuse the loved ones in our lives with the Enemy whom we’re supposed to be fighting, we are in trouble. It’s important to understand that we are battling on the same team.
One of my biggest struggles at this exact moment in my marriage is to allow my husband to make small mistakes unrelated to purity, simply because he is human and imperfect, without tying them in my mind to all the things he’s done that hurt me in the past. Maybe he handles a conversation clumsily, or misjudges my state of mind, or delays completion of a project, or uses our vehicle when I want it. Sometimes we are caught off guard by the fury that boils up inside me over the silliest things, because I am still trying to come to terms with what I lost and what he did.
This is not okay in ongoing ways, and I am chasing greater healing.
Forgiveness is a hard thing to get hold of.
Also hard is the delicate balance of mutual submission and individual autonomy. We are each our own persons, but we want our relationship to work and we want to be husband and wife in the way God designed. This is harder than it sounds, and deeper than I can unpack here.
In between the tumultuous times, there are many days of peace and goodness between my husband and I. Not of ignoring our history, but of accepting it, I think, and finding our path a step at a time. We are more open with each other, though perhaps also more able to be wounded.
Trust broke hard last year. It’s a difficult and tricky thing to rebuild. You walk a line between great reward on the one hand and great stupidity on the other. The one thing I have never wanted to be is stupid. I am beginning to trust that my husband will be pure, though always in the back of my mind I know that I might be deceived in him, and sometimes my own growing trust frightens or frustrates me.
But there are a hundred other aspects of marriage that require trust, from his dealings with the greater community to his use of time and money to the leadership he offers our family to whether he will be there to shelter me when I need it. Despite liking him a lot, I often find lines I feel unable to cross, pockets of distrust that I must cope with in some form.
Trust has been my greatest struggle in the past year, and when I say struggle I mean failure for the most part: a desperate holding onto cynicism (to protect me), silence (to avoid the issues entirely), control (to wrestle the world into what I perceive may be its proper shape), or anger (at myself for being such a ditz head as to try again).
Because also, there are many other situations and many other men who request my trust in some form, and to be honest, I have badly struggled in my attempts to give it. Trusting men to lead well, trusting God to plan good paths for me, and in general, submitting myself to the will of others, has become an enormous hurdle for me. This too is not okay in ongoing ways… And now I just crafted and deleted a good five or six paragraphs on this topic, that don’t belong here…
I hope you know that my husband is a really good guy. And also a complete booger. And also a really good guy.
(He says the two are not mutually exclusive.)
(And just FYI, I’m an even bigger booger, and I have never been accused of being a really good guy to balance it out. So there’s that.)
If you ever get a chance to hear Shannon Popkin speak on CONTROL, go listen. Please. She wrote a book called Control Girl, which I definitely recommend, but her in-person speaking on the topic is brilliant and life-changing. I’ve never thought of myself as a controlling person (who does?) but the scales are falling from my eyes, and it hurts.
Anyway I’m wandering. But regarding control, I have learned that my husband would rather I talk to him in almost any way I need to, rather than be silent and make him tiptoe. He doesn’t like silence. But I’ve also learned that his heart in recovery is more tender than it used to be, and the words cut deeper. I’ve said a lot of things I regret, and he receives them, and thanks me for trusting him with what I think and feel. When I am soft again, I apologize for beating up on him, and he says he’s the only man who keeps coming back for more.
I guess he’s right. And I guess that makes him a keeper.
Other things that have helped us so far, besides honesty with each other, are –
One-on-one counseling with experienced caregivers
Books and podcasts, for example
- Restoring the Soul podcast and Surfing for God book, both by Michael John Cusick
- Pornfree Radio podcast by Matt Dobshuetz
- Intimate Deception book by Dr. Sheri Keffer
- From Betrayal Trauma to Healing and Joy workbook by Marsha Means
- And I just ordered a book I’ve heard highly recommended, When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart, by Vicky Tiede.
- (See a larger list of resources here.)
Not trying to be high and holy here. Just enjoying the beautiful truth, and how the Holy Spirit can bring it so tailored to what we need to hear.
His is a group of four men who hold each other to trust and accountability. I’m not there, so I can’t comment, but it’s doing great things and he loves those brothers.
Mine is called Celebrate Recovery. It’s hosted at a church six minutes from my house. Celebrate Recovery was crafted by evangelical pastor John Baker – it takes the twelve steps of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and adapts them to explicit faith, with Jesus at the center as the true Higher Power. It’s a non-specific recovery group for “all of life’s hurts, hang-ups, and habits,” like depression, anxiety, chemical addiction, grief, sexual issues, food addiction, relational troubles, you name it. Every week, we meet on Wednesdays at six pm to worship together, listen to a lesson or testimony, and then split into gender-specific small groups to share personally. It’s anonymous, confidential, and very structured. Nobody fixes you, they just listen, and you do the personal work yourself.
If you are struggling in ongoing ways with any personal issue, please do yourself a favor and Google “Celebrate Recovery near me.” I’m guessing there’s one close by. And if you live locally to me and want a ride some Wednesday, please ask. I’d love to take you.
Now I got off track again. Where was I?
I’ve learned that when there’s a day where something just BURNS me – something that wells up all the emotions, or pops up ironic and incongruous memories that throw the universe and all God’s systems into dissonance – it will not always feel this way. Sometimes the part that is hardest is to let stuff be broken and let myself be too young to have known it at the time, or too weak to figure it out right now, how this is all supposed to work. I don’t get it. But not getting it is a normal part of walking with God and other people. Stopping in the middle of a bad day to acknowledge that truth does not, unfortunately, turn me into a sweet wifely angel on the spot, but it does remind me that I’m not seeing the full picture. I’ll see more clearly hereafter.
I have learned by experience that I am an equally flawed partner in this relationship. What I lack in a history of sexual sin I make up for in a thousand other ways, as named above. My rebellion against what God has allowed in my life is the most dangerous posture I can pick. I’ve learned that my deeply rooted need to distrust (that is, my promise to take care of myself and evaluate which of God’s ways to me are “good”) is a controlling, subversive path that leads to nothing but disaster and despair.
I am greatly in need of my husband’s forgiveness and the grace of Jesus to me, and (a good forty percent of the time) this keeps me from playing the martyr card too lavishly. In many ways, his heart is more open than mine. I learn from him every week. And I am doing some big repenting these days. I am learning that one of the best ways to work on my marriage is to work on me.
Some parts get easier with time, and some harder. Maybe the getting harder is the part of the survival numbness wearing off, and the need to form habits and lifestyles that move forward. Pushing back to a place of functionality, reunification, and thriving. What we have together is precious. I know this even on the days when it doesn’t feel like it’s going well – that shutting each other out would slash all the best parts from our lives. And so we (each and both) walk toward wholeness,
a journey that we expect to take
I do not feel able to say these things in any way that feels cohesive or comprehensive. This is me trying. I also don’t know where you’re at, and it hurts me to remember that some of you are also walking this path. Is there a piece of your story you’d like to share with me?
This post contains affiliate links.