We still hadn’t even finished writing out the thank you notes for the wedding gifts when the effects of my husband’s lust addiction first hit hard.
We had been married for less than three months. It was a rainy Friday night, and I’d made it home from work first. I’d heard from so many people that nothing beats the first year of marriage for the frequency of a couple’s physical intimacy. Since we had “waited until marriage,” people waggled their eyebrows at us and made references to how, now that we were married, we must be “making up for lost time.”
Our relationship wasn’t playing that script out.
It had already been weeks since we had, speaking in euphemism here, “celebrated the sacrament of marriage.” I was repeatedly reaching for my husband. He wasn’t reaching back.
I reasoned that maybe I wasn’t being obvious enough. We were still new at this, after all. So that rainy Friday night, waiting for him to come home from work, I decided to do some romantic decorating—of both our apartment and my own person—and waited to greet him.
He stepped in the door, took one look at me, and said, “I’m not in the mood.”
As I blew out the candles and got back into jeans and a sweater, I reminded myself that it’s okay for a man’s drive to be lower than his wife’s. Because I loved him, I had no desire to pressure him into something he wasn’t interested in that night. We had the rest of our lives together to work this out. I shouldn’t take it personally.
But as the rest of our lives together progressed, it became more and more difficult not to take it personally. He was an expert at hiding his lust-addicted activities from me, but I still felt their effects. Those effects piled up as the years of our marriage wore on.
He was becoming more and more irritable and insulting towards me in and out of the bedroom. He looked me in the eye less and less, and when he did, it was only to lie straight to my face in answer to direct questions like, “Are you having an affair?” “Are you using porn?”
It felt especially personal when, during the few times we tried to connect, he started experiencing erectile dysfunction.
The trajectory of our relationship’s breakdown is all too familiar to many partners of lust-addicted people. It’s no longer a secret: porn rewires both the brain and the body. The porn-hooked brain stops recognizing others as human persons made in God’s image and likeness. Instead, people become objects to be used when wanted, ignored or denigrated when not.
Further, when the addict’s body becomes conditioned to associate sexual activity with a screen, the real-life spouse often either gets outright rejected, can’t receive the addict’s full participation in the marital embrace, or both.
To top it off, we live in a culture that tells us that there must be something wrong with the wife if her husband isn’t pursuing her in bed. No wonder this feels so personal.
Thank God for science, 12-step recovery, and especially for the CIR meeting for family and friends of lust addicts.
Plenty of scientific studies on porn use describe objectively why the addict’s behavior is really nothing against us; it’s just the biological reality of what happens to a person who chooses a safe-feeling fantasy over the unpredictability of real emotional and physical intimacy.
I have found no better remedy for this desolation than the gifts of recovery. In my home, I was rejected. In meetings, I experience unconditional acceptance. In my marriage, I heard lie after lie. In talking with other spouses like me, I hear rigorous honesty and get to be honest myself. My husband avoided my emotions. My sisters in the rooms share their feelings freely and invite me to share mine. These wholesome, honest relationships with my fellows in recovery help me get back to a place where I regularly experience unconditional respect, honesty, and personal freedom.
Even better, our Catholic in Recovery meeting helps us really detach from the addict with Christian love. This is because recovery supported by the sacraments empowers us in a special way to make choices that bring us closer to God’s opinion of our value and worth. After all, our faith is about Real Presence: my sisters in the Tuesday night CIR meeting all point me to Jesus in the Eucharist whenever they answer my phone calls, share encouraging texts, or even just show up at a meeting. We give of ourselves to each other in spite of rejection elsewhere. This reminds me that, when sin tries to convince me that even God doesn’t want me, Jesus died to save me.
My time in CIR takes me off the roller coaster of trying to make it work with someone who just can’t see me as a person to love rather than a thing to use. I now know that my husband’s rejection is not a referendum on my beauty or worth. The heartbreaking fact is that this illness has convinced him that he doesn’t want anything real when it comes to intimacy, not even the real love of his wife.
God made us both to be real. God willing, my husband will recover his realness.
Rejected by him or not, through God’s help in my own recovery, I intend to preserve mine.
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.