When a Family Is Shattered by Pornography
My long journey to HARVEST USA began more than 10 years ago. It was then that my husband confessed to me that he had a problem with pornography. He told me that it had started when he was twelve years old.
Married for five years then, I had sensed that something was amiss in our relationship. Something was drastically impacting our ability to relate to each other both emotionally and physically. His confession made sense to me, but it also devastated me.
I had been raised in an evangelical Christian home. I had no previous exposure to issues of this nature. My husband was resistant to counseling. This was extremely painful to me. He took the attitude that, “we’ll solve our own problems.” What little counseling we did receive was harmful, especially to me. I was basically told that I must be sure to keep having sex with him and this would, eventually, solve his problem. This further exacerbated my feelings of blame and shame.
Along the way, many unanswered questions lurked in my mind. What was the matter with me? Why did my husband need to look at other naked women? Why hadn’t just getting married cured him of the pornography problem as he had thought it would? What if my husband got involved with or decided to leave me for one of these other kind of beautiful women?
There seemed to be nowhere for me to find solace. I felt obligated to protect my husband’s reputation, so I hid our problems and his for years. I didn’t feel that I could walk up to a girlfriend at church and say, “My husband struggles with pornography; what does yours struggle with?”
I felt that this was one of the Church’s unacceptable, politically incorrect sins. I also didn’t share this situation with my own parents or friends. Nor did I feel that I could actually talk with my husband about it at all. He had rejected the idea that he might actually have a sexual addiction. To my husband, the pornography wouldn’t really be a problem — unless I let it be – unless it bothered me. More blame. I was also angry that God had allowed me to marry a man with this addiction, although I had prayerfully sought His will in seeking a marriage partner.
It was as if I was in a car being driven along the interstate. My husband was driving. I kept asking him to stop – to get off at the next exit, or the next, or the next. Yet he was committed to traveling on the same dangerous route unabated. This left me feeling unprotected and insecure.
The loneliness, together with his refusal to seek help, led me into a state of denial for years. I always knew the problem was there, but felt paralyzed to effect any change. My motto became to make the best of my marriage and family life and continue trying to keep it together with my three daughters. I lived in this place for over ten years!
Then, three years ago, I discovered that the problem exceeded just pornography. My husband was also having an affair. It was at this time that I was at a conference at another church where I saw a brochure for a HARVEST USA seminar. I was astounded that there was actually a ministry to those struggling with these kinds of things. I called to find out if there was something available for wives. There was.
I began to attend the Wives Support Group. I felt immediate love, acceptance, and understanding for where I was. Talk about a shelter in a time of storm. There’s an old hymn that says, “There is a balm in Gilead that heals the wounded soul”. This group became my Gilead where God used other sweet sisters in Christ to lovingly begin the process of helping and healing.
You see—there are no words to express the relief the first time I heard one of my sisters in the group share her gut feelings—and tears, over how her own husband’s problem with pornography affected her. I was able to say, “That’s me! She knows all about what it’s like. I’m not crazy!”
But it wasn’t just the comfort of having others there who were walking the same road. No. I was often challenged to see my own sin as well. Others confronted me about my own self-protection strategies throughout these years. I came to see that my determined self-sufficiency was sin as well — a basic lack of trust of God. In my own attempt to control my reaction and response to this situation over the years, I learned the harm I also had been doing.
In my own anger and in hiding my pain throughout the years — not being candid or honest with him, I had basically bought into protecting my husband from the consequences. Years ago I had made a commitment not to convey to him how wounded I was by what he or the pornography was doing to our marriage. I, too, had been pretending. God began to show me how much I had become enmeshed in my husband’s issues — and the damage I had done in my own commitment to protect his secret.
I had participated in much false pretense. My silence had also served me well.
I began to learn that I did have a voice in the relationship. I did not have to keep silent. Most importantly, I could trust God to be all I need Him to be for me in the times when my words to my husband would not be well received. Many times they were not. I realized that for years I had been using my husband and my family for my own personal comfort and happiness — these things had become idols in my life. Over the past two years I have also discovered that God is not so much concerned with my own personal happiness as He is in enabling me to find Him in the midst of every trouble and circumstance.
Despite my desire to see my marriage healed, I now walk through the dreadful valley of divorce. Grieving the loss, right now I know that divorce is God’s way of protection for me and my daughters. Looking back over it, I now realize that we were a family that needed to be disrupted. God, in his goodness, has allowed my family’s world to be turned upside down. Once I would have been very fearful of this kind of disruption – done anything to prevent it — and hated the idea of brokenness. Although I still don’t relish it, the Lord has allowed me to be broken and I realize that it’s in this place where I am the most teachable. I have realized that he and his promises will never forsake me – as a, soon-to-be, single mom with children.
Through all this process, the Wives Support Group has been a lifeline – which God blended with my own personal counseling. He has used all this both to redirect my life and to give me hope in God, especially when things appear hopeless. A Puritan prayer says it best.
“Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;
Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty,
your glory in my valley.” 1
1Puritan Prayer from “The Valley of Vision” Arthur Bennett, Editor, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1975
*Sharon is a pseudonym