Should I Stay or Should I Go? Lust Addiction and the Catholic Marriage

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I remember being at a Catholic spirituality conference the summer before I got married. The conference included a time of Eucharistic adoration, and so in the silence of that space, I did what any faithful Catholic fiancée would do and opened up to God about my fears. I was a child of divorce myself, and so was my fiancé. I so desperately wanted to avoid making the mistakes our parents had made.

I had my misgivings about getting married but everyone told me that was perfectly natural and to look at the future with my head and not my impulsive emotions. Doing so, I saw how good my fiancé and I looked “on paper.” We got along so well. On our Pre-Cana marriage preparation day, we even answered some of the questions with exactly the same wording. We liked so many of the same things and laughed together so much. I was the talkative, creative one, and he was the quiet, logical one. A perfect balance, I thought. Our friends agreed. Even the priest who prepared us for marriage agreed.

So in that moment in adoration, I threw as much of my trust into God as I possibly could.

I know we may face even infidelity at some point, I told God, but I love this man. I know you’ll get us through anything.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The insults began on the honeymoon. We weren’t married two months before his withdrawal from and constant deception of me were in full effect.

I, however, had made a vow, and I intended to keep it. Thus I spent more than two decades trying to make my marriage work, utterly baffled as to why we only seemed to be growing farther apart the more I flirted, begged, pleaded, cajoled, raged, fasted, and prayed for him to act like the husband I wanted and needed.

Shortly before our twenty-second anniversary, the man I married began what’s called “trickle truth,” where he confessed one small part of his lust addiction—but withheld most of it.

This only started a more painful cycle: I would feel relief at his “opening up” to me. I would think that we’d made progress and before I knew it he’d be back to passive-aggressively insulting me, doing something to turn our kids against me, or withdrawing more and more into his phone.

I would follow the instructions from the latest relationship help book or podcast I’d studied, communicate how unloved I felt as a result, and what I needed for us to grow closer. He’d confess another bit of trickle truth, promising me he wasn’t hiding anything else. I would forgive him. He then would shower me with all the words and attention I’d told him I appreciated, and I would believe him and think, “At last, our troubles are over.”

It was never long after I’d started trusting him again that the cycle restarted. Between the intensity of these ups and downs and the ensuing erosion of trust in a relationship that looked so good “on paper,” I thought I was losing my mind.

I sought help at a secular 12-step meeting for the loved ones of lust addicts, and I immediately felt at home. I clung to the stories of the wives whose husbands had chosen recovery and were now delighting in healthier marriages. I also took solace in the slogans of recovery:

Don’t give up before the miracle happens.

You don’t have to decide right now.

And even the tongue-in-cheek, Choose serenity just for today. You can push him down the stairs tomorrow.

I often shared in those meetings about the conflict I felt: I had made a vow to stay faithful until death but staying in this relationship was harming my career, my finances, my relationship with my kids, my sleep, and my mind. As each trickle truth made clearer to me that my husband’s addiction had been hidden from me before I made that vow, I shared with my home group how I was afraid that, since I had not been given the opportunity to give my full consent to a marriage with this person because of his deception, according to my faith tradition, I wasn’t really married.

I’ll never forget the shocked and confused expressions I saw in that meeting in response. It was as if they were saying, What do you mean, you don’t know if you’re really married or not?

I kept going to that meeting and finding great recovery and fellowship there, but my heart longed to be able to talk about my situation with Catholics who knew not just where I was coming from but with whom I shared a language and a name for our Higher Power—whom we choose to call God.

Thank God the Tuesday night Catholic in Recovery virtual meeting came into my life. 

In that meeting, I am understood at a depth that I don’t receive anywhere else. I had a place to voice my fears that I would go to Hell if I gave up on my marriage. Then, as I learned more about my husband’s illness, I had a place to voice my fears that I would go to Hell if I didn’t divorce him.

Most importantly, in CIR, I receive the consolation that shows me God’s gentleness, mercy, and love. I came to see that God’s love really is unconditional. I see that He was suffering with me through my husband’s behaviors, and He will walk with me through whatever decision I make.

In both my secular fellowship and CIR, I have been supported in recovering my career, finances, relationship with my kids, my sleep, and my mind. I have formed friendships with people who have chosen to stay in their marriages and those who have made the decision to divorce and seek annulment. I have given and received safe, unconditional love. I have received enough strength to step out of my husband’s cycles and move forward into my own recovery, wherever that may lead.

Today I look back to that night of adoration the summer before my wedding. I remember my faith then that God would get us through anything. On those days when I’m tempted to think that that faith was misplaced, I look at what I’ve come through and how much more I now believe in God’s love for me than I did that night twenty-six years ago.

Even when our cross—our “anything”—is a marriage affected by lust addiction, God gets us through. No matter what we decide, with His love, there’s always a resurrection on the other side.

Catholic in Recovery has a meeting for the family and friends of lust addicts. Join us for experience, strength, and hope every Tuesday at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific.


Catherine A. Quinn is grateful to be recovering from the effects of lust addiction in loved ones. She writes about both the pain and the healing and hope that are available to those harmed by all aspects of this addiction.