Embracing (and Detaching from) Suffering as a Loved One of an Addict

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I am not an addict. I married an unrecovered sex and porn addict but didn’t know it. That’s the simple truth. Since separating from my Catholic husband of over 26 years, many things have become clear to me. One thing is how differently he and I perceive suffering.

Since removing myself and our youngest 16-year-old daughter from the daily and destructive effects of living with an unrecovered husband and father, I can now compassionately and empathetically understand the different ways some unrecovered addicts approach life as opposed to how some non-addicts do.

I have had to get very honest with myself about these things in order to heal from the abuse and betrayal trauma in my marriage. This honesty has led to a restored spirit that had been sacrificed on the altar of my husband’s addiction and abuse toward me. God is renewing me.

When I got married and vowed to love my husband “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” I meant it. I was mature and aware of what I was getting into. I was 28 and he was 37 when we got married, and my life up to that point had been marked by intense and very real suffering and pain as well as much joy and contentment. Catholic schooling with holy and exemplary Irish nuns, teachers and priests, my devoted Catholic mother, and a good upbringing overall had prepared me for the vocation I chose.

A deep love for God was instilled in me. There has never been a single day that I can recall where I have questioned the Lord’s intimate presence. What a gift.

I, therefore, felt equipped for a life promised to Christians according to Scripture and Tradition. A life of affliction, persecution, rejection, tribulations, suffering for righteousness’s sake, fiery trials, etc. Though I didn’t expect married life to be the source of all of these from the beginning(!), my first response when it became my reality was “bring it on!” 

I was in love and deeply committed to my husband in every way, despite his confusing attitudes and treatment of me from the onset. I could deal with discomfort and uncertainty. I didn’t need to “feel” happy all the time to be inwardly joyful. I pressed into my vows and sought to be teachable as a wife. I increased my prayer life, reception of the sacraments, and spiritual reading. 

But 21 years into our marriage I discovered the true and core cause of our marital struggling and difficulties. He had been a lifelong porn and sex addict and had been keeping it a secret our entire relationship.

Knowing how God sees me has helped me understand the handicap and suffering of those who refuse recovery. If dependence on addiction is used to soothe a person through life’s hardships and as a substitute for true happiness and pleasure, then the person never gets to experience the genuine happiness and joy that comes from the hard work of transparency, interdependency, and intimacy with others. 

Instead of uniting with others and finding comfort through life’s hardships, they themselves are the ongoing cause of the hardships for those they say they love. They end up suffering as they cause those around them to suffer as well. 

Since I left my husband he has, sadly, not only continued in his addiction but now maintains that he is “happier” without me. I remember now throughout our marriage, especially since the discovery of his hidden life, whenever I would try to engage in deeper conversations to draw us closer he would see me as being too “intense,” “unhappy,” “angry,” or “argumentative,” even though I was none of those things. I realize now that, perceiving me as the source of his suffering, he has turned me into his enemy. And this has served to ease his guilt over how much harm he did to me and our marriage.

Am I more at peace and living with less chaos and confusion since leaving him? Yes. Do I feel that my spirit is being restored? Yes. But am I “happier” without him? That’s not a question I really ponder.  Happiness is not my idol—and neither is suffering. I am not attached to either one.

I did not separate from him to pursue “happiness” as the world sees it or escape suffering. I left because the dynamic created in the home from the unrecovered addiction had become too toxic for our youngest daughter. My husband grew increasingly angry over our necessary boundaries.  

I could have endured more and found purpose in it, but I could not let her sink further into the depressed and oppressive life he was causing for her with his abusive behavior. Her spirit was being crushed daily. And sometimes the best thing to do is to let go of the suffering that one is causing us. 

As Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “Above all, we must not wish to cling to our suffering. Suffering surely deepens us and enhances our person, but we must not desire to become a deeper self than God wills. To suffer no longer can be a beautiful, perhaps the ultimate sacrifice.”   

In the 17 months since we have been away from her father, my daughter has been miraculously transformed. I asked her to do an essay on suffering for a homeschooling lesson and in it she wrote:

“God saw my brokenness as beautiful. He saw my pain as a potential. When God looks at our brokenness he sees our story. What was a burden in one season has become a bridge in the next.”

I will always be grateful for the lessons learned through the crosses I’ve carried and will continue to carry. Separating from my husband was a huge leap of faith for me. Accepting that I cannot change how my husband approaches life has been one of my greatest sorrows, even though I needed to detach from it. 

But I also know that my husband is in God’s hands, just as we all are. I know that we have a God who will forever love us “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.” 

Praise be to God.

Veronica, a faithful Catholic for her entire life, discovered her husband’s secretive addiction to sex after 21 years of marriage. Now prayerfully separated, she continues to seek healing from “Betrayal Trauma.” She is the mother of three children who are also on a journey of healing. Veronica hopes to share her experience with women who’ve had similar experiences to bring comfort and healing through one-on-one and group support coaching. If you would like to get in touch with her, you can email her at veilofveronica@outlook.com (she will have a website available soon as well).