Focus on the Family Singapore interviewed Christine and Joel (not their real names) about their difficult journey through first discovering Joel’s porn addiction, and then recovering from it. Here is Christine’s account.
Q: What was your marriage like before you discovered your husband’s porn addiction?
A: At the time I discovered the addiction, we were quite distant. I worked full time, and when I got home, my full attention was on the children. I think we had grown apart without realising it.
Joel was working part-time then since our children were 3.5 and 1.5 years old at that time. It was equally challenging for him as they were constantly falling ill.
We were so exhausted by the end of each day that we had little to say to one another. Being introverts, we both needed our own quiet moments. I stayed up and busied myself with my hobbies and online shopping, while he was doing his work or playing computer games.
Sex was the elephant in the room that we totally ignored.
Q: What were some of the issues you faced?
A: We lacked physical intimacy, given the limited energy and time we had.
But I think the lack of physical intimacy is often symptomatic of deeper issues.
- Lack of connection in our communication:
We communicated but it was often at the level needed for survival, such as I need you to pick up some groceries, or one kid needs to see a doctor. There were no deep conversations about our feelings or our needs. We were in the trenches of parenthood, and to a certain extent, it was every individual for himself.
- Joel’s fear of rejection:
We never talked about the need to be intimate. I didn’t want to, given the exhaustion. But I had always taken a pastor’s advice to heart (i.e., never reject the other party). But Joel never asked, perhaps due to fear that he would be rejected, or that I would find the act unenjoyable. Since he didn’t ask, I kept quiet too. Sex was the elephant in the room that we totally ignored.
- Unspoken resentment:
I resented having to go to work, while my husband was on part-time. We had discussed it to death and agreed that the children needed at least one parent to be around during their formative years. The nature of my work was better suited to a full-time arrangement. His job, however, often took him away from the home for long hours, and sometimes weekends. Hence a part-time arrangement for him seemed to work well.
However, I struggled with mum guilt immensely. I missed my children, and would often feel jealous when my son seemed closer to my helper than me.
Looking back, I think the resentment grew because we never had a chance to talk things out. To assuage the mum guilt, I turned to online shopping instead of pouring my heart out to my husband, or asking him to pray for me. I kept quiet about the mental load because I didn’t have the energy to quarrel about it. At that time, we had not come to a place in our marriage where we could argue without drama and rage.
I did not know whether I could trust anything he had promised me, or said to me, anymore.
Q: How did the discovery about his addiction make you feel?
A: I contemplated broaching the topic of divorce, but I knew that I was contemplating it only because it would hurt him. In my anger, I wanted to hurt him in the same way I had been hurt.
But even in the midst of these thoughts, I felt God speaking to me.
As I was mindlessly surfing the internet on my phone, hoping to find something to distract me from the pain, God said, “He’s addicted to porn, you’re addicted to online shopping and a whole host of things that numb your guilt and frustration. Are you any better than he is?”
A few hours after the discovery, I was still raging and angry. He was broken and contrite but I was not ready to forgive so easily. We were still not connecting as we tried to pick up the pieces. I called up a couple whom I trusted in our church, and they came over and counselled us.
It took a long while, but the night ended with Joel agreeing to be held accountable. I was still angry, but I accepted that I too had a part to play—by failing to connect with him and meet his needs.
One episode from that night stands out for me. Joel was trying to explain why he did not want to initiate sex with me. I remember cutting in and insisting that I did not understand. The older couple stopped me and told me that I needed to learn to hear Joel’s unspoken cry. It is not just about his words, but what lay beneath them. If I do not learn to hear it now, it would be a similar struggle to understand my kids.
Q: How did you emerge from the episode?
A: It took me quite a while to find that secure familiarity again. I remember heading out for breakfast with him the next morning and feeling as if I were walking next to a complete stranger.
Over the next few days and weeks, I fasted from my phone and computer and spent time in reflection and prayer. I realised that I needed to change. I was off-centre, and I was not dealing with my mum guilt and resentment. The result was that I no longer knew who I was, and I was constantly looking for quick, instantaneous solutions. It also made me extremely self-centred. As a result, I was no longer interested in connecting with my husband, or even hearing what his needs were.
I recall repeating the words of this hymn during that season of healing:
When love is tried
as loved-ones change,
hold still to hope,
though all seems strange,
till ease returns
and love grows wise
through listening ears
and opened eyes.
When love is torn,
and trust betrayed,
pray strength to love
till torments fade,
till lovers keep
no score of wrong,
but hear through pain
love's Easter song.
We look back on that episode now and agree that it was one of the defining moments of our marriage. It was a wake-up call for us to work on our marriage NOW and not assume that there would be something there for us to work on, after the children are grown.
I am also convinced that when we hold fast to the marriage, and work through the pain of betrayal and hurt, our love matures. It transforms into a love that runs deeper because you learn to say that I will love this person no matter how strange he has become, or how much pain he has brought me.
It was a wake-up call for us to work on our marriage now and not assume that there would be something there for us to work on, after the children are grown.
Q: You’ve talked about hearing his unspoken cry. Have you heard more of what he is trying to say since then?
A: I hope so! I don’t profess to hear his unspoken cry all the time. But it is a reminder to me when we have our arguments, to slow down, and not just allow my emotions to take over.
It has become a guiding principle for me whenever my children come to me, and attempt to tell me something. There is something restorative about listening to what lies beneath all that emotion, and reflecting it back to the person. I see it at work when I help my children articulate their feelings. They look at me, grateful to be understood, and it helps them on the journey back to security.
Q: What do you and your husband do together to strengthen your marriage?
A: We walk a lot. Walking helps us open up and talk to each other. So we take long walks, which creates a space to share about the deeper issues that matter to us.
We’ve also cultivated the habit of sharing our devotions with each other. It could be a verse from our reading, and is sometimes as short as 1 sentence. We also pray together every night and make it a point to chat before we go to bed. These small changes have helped us to grow closer.
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