Four years ago, Bethany’s husband shared some startling news: He was addicted to pornography. As mother to four young children, Bethany had to continue to be mom, but she also chose to dedicate herself to her husband’s recovery. Recognizing she needed time and space to heal herself, Bethany sought out support systems and drew closer to the Lord. Bethany speaks about the need to tend to her own wounds, as well as support the man she loves.
How did you meet your husband and what is the dynamic of your family?
I have known my husband since I was fourteen. We met in ninth grade and were friends all through junior high and high school. I didn’t necessarily wait for him while he was on his mission, but we wrote back and forth as friends. When he returned home, we officially started dating.
We married in the Mesa temple and lived in Provo for four years while I got my degree in neuropsychology and he got his masters in accounting. We had two children and then we moved and had two more. We are now raising our four children—ages nine, six, four, and three.
How did you first discover that your husband had a problem with pornography?
He told me about four years ago.
We moved to Arizona after graduation and were excited to have a “real job.” We bought a little house and my husband started a fulltime job. Soon, he started acting removed from the family, and emotionally I could feel something different. I attributed it to the stress of starting a new job and the unexpected pregnancy with our third child.
I knew he was struggling spiritually because he had to say no to a newly extended calling of Elder’s Quorum President, but I really knew very little about the whole situation because he seemed to blow it off as just a little “slacking on his scripture reading” and something about “not feeling up to leading the Priesthood in the ward”. Soon after turning down the calling, he had an interview with the bishop. I thought, oh, the bishop is going to offer him the calling again. After his meeting with the bishop, he came into sacrament meeting and I looked at him, expecting him to tell me what the new calling might be. But instead, he just told me we would talk about it later. That night before bed I asked again about the calling. He then told me we needed to talk. I knew it must be more serious, but I had no idea of the gravity of what was going to come out his mouth. His first words were, “My problems all started with pornography.”
My stomach went into an upheaval. I felt like I needed to run to the bathroom and throw up, but I couldn’t really move. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. He was very sad and apologetic. He told me he had an upcoming church court; that’s what the meeting with the bishop had been about. I was heartbroken and didn’t really know how to react.
Do you know how his pornography addiction began?
He was first introduced to pornography as a child, around 5 or 6, which I am told is the average age these days. He struggled with it in his youth, but was able to serve an honorable mission. After his mission, he was focused on dating me and getting married in the temple so he was able to abstain during that time. When he got back from his mission, the Internet was a lot more accessible and much more of a big deal than when he left. We had access to the Internet in our home, and that’s when he started to struggle again. I learned all of this that first night he told me about his addiction.
When you learned of his problem, what were your feelings about the future of your marriage?
If you would have asked me before this actually happened, I would have said I would leave my marriage. I’d be crazy not to. But in the moment he told me, I was numb. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. My thoughts went straight to the Lord-“what am I supposed to do?”-over and over again I asked this. I thought I should probably leave, but I didn’t really feel like leaving. I tried going to a friend’s house, but the Spirit told me I needed to go home. I went home and we talked more in depth about the future of us. My husband was committed to making our marriage work. The bishop had told him we could go to counseling, and he promised to get that arranged and to get help for himself. That night we fell asleep in the same bed holding hands. It’s totally crazy to me, even now, but that’s how the night ended. That was the most open our marriage had been in a very long time and so it actually brought us closer together.
Were you able to confide in anyone? What kind of support group do you have?
The night he told me about his addiction, I called my mom. We ended up telling his family, and eventually, we knew we’d have to tell close family and friends. However, I prayed hard about who I was going to tell because I needed people who could support us, not judge us and who could handle the burden of knowing. There is a lot pain in knowing someone you love is struggling with something so hard.
I soon learned that LDS Family Services had a Twelve Step Program specifically for women, the Church’s addiction recovery program. This was specifically for the wives of sex or pornography addicts, and it was a huge help. At those meetings there were other women going through the same thing. Usually when I am around people, I have to have my mask on, to pretend everything is okay and keep a smile plastered on my face. But there at those meetings I felt safe and there were women who could relate, I felt not so alone in my trial. As a Mormon woman, I felt I couldn’t go to church falling apart or people would look at me like I must be crazy so knowing that there were people that I could fall apart with was a great comfort.
How did/does this struggle affect your day-to-day life as you continue to raise a young family?
I still have to be a mom. I am still the one who prepares meals and does the dishes. I didn’t have the compassionate service committee bringing meals or arranging babysitting, because they couldn’t know what I was going through. So the first little while was very hard. However, forcing some sort of normalcy has helped. I have to go on. I have to be “normal” and emotionally available for my kids.
I no longer carry this burden around every day. I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore, and I said, Lord you just take it because I’m not going to carry it around anymore. I’m just going to get better and I’m going to be an awesome person because of this!
I remember that Jesus Christ has already carried this burden, everyone’s burden. It seems hard to turn it over. But in actuality, it’s the simplest thing to do. I just turned it over to Him, and He took it away. After that, I looked back thinking, why didn’t I do that a long time ago? Turn it over. He is standing at the door. I just had to open it. He is waiting for us to let go of our pride and say, I can’t do this anymore.
From there, I have asked Him to show me what I should do. He is the only one who knows what path will bring me happiness. I can only focus on myself and my own spirituality and not be responsible for my husband’s. I know the Lord will be there holding my hand and carrying me when He needs to. I just needed to get to the point where I was so low that I had nowhere to look but up to Him.
How has your husband’s addiction affected your sense of self?
There are so many women who struggle with this problem everyday and so many of us struggle with feeling like our husbands struggles are somehow our fault or that we aren’t good enough somehow. Of course this is totally false but it is out there! Luckily, I have never had serious doubts about whose problem this really was. I have always tried to be the best wife and a better mom. I really have no doubt in my mind that I have done my best.
The greater challenge for me is the loss of trust. It takes a lot of lying to pull off something like a hidden pornography addiction. The lying is so upsetting because it takes away my power to make decisions for myself and my family. By lying, my husband controlled what I knew and therefore controlled what decisions I made. This took away my power, my agency. And that really, really hurts when it is inflicted on the person who you are most vulnerable with.
However, this is also the man whom I loved and who was sealed to me in the temple. My love for him in the face of his deception is so conflicting because it made me doubt my own feelings and my own ability to listen to the Spirit by deadening my perception of my own emotions and therefore, my inspiration. That was devastating because without the Spirit, I have nothing. It is the only voice I can fully trust. That has been the most damaging to me.
What has been your role in your husband’s recovery?
The first year, I was really involved in his recovery. During that year, he didn’t have any setbacks, not even masturbation or looking at pornography. He was excommunicated, and a year later he was re-baptized. At that time I was really involved. He told me when he had a difficult thought or a hard day. I was a partner in his recovery.
But there came a point when I couldn’t do it anymore. I completely withdrew from his recovery. It was too burdensome for me, and it wasn’t allowing me to focus on my own healing. I had ignored my own healing for a year because I was helping him. For myself, I started making boundaries. He needed to call other men from his support group rather than solely leaning on me. My healing needed to begin because it was starting to affect the way I behaved toward my kids and how I felt about myself.
I think the healthiest decision I made was to take a step back and focus on my own healing, while leaving him to work on his healing. There have been times that this has taken actual physical separation while actively working on myself and in turn our marriage.
Our counselor reminded us that my husband had been carrying around this burden for years. So of course it felt good for him to get that burden off, share it with the bishop and with me. However, for me it felt like I got all of it dumped on me all at once and this was just the beginning of the process. My husband told me he didn’t care how long it took for me to heal, he would wait. Knowing he was going to allow me to heal the way that I needed to heal and not expect me to “forgive and forget” just because he was working on it was a huge comfort.
How has the gospel of Jesus Christ influenced your healing?
My healing has been all about the gospel. It’s been about the Atonement and my Savior. He’s the only way a person can heal. I’ve read a lot of books, and I go to support group meetings and counseling. I’ve tried to meet other women who are in my situation, hoping someone will fully understand. But there are so many times when I just felt totally alone!
Through those times, I pray by the side of my bed, and I often get the feeling that someone is embracing me. That feeling is what got me through. Those experiences helped me understand the enabling power of the Atonement. The role of the Atonement for the sinner is talked about a lot. However, there is another side of it: the Atonement’s role in the life of the person who’s been hurt. It enabled me to get up out bed, shower, brush my teeth, change the diapers, do the dishes etc. This was possible because of the Savior.
The Lord guided me to my support group where I could talk with other women. He worked through some of these women to bless my life. I needed to get to the point where I felt all alone so that I knew it was Him who healed me. Because of this, I know my recovery and my healing has little to do with the books that I read and the amazing programs I’ve been able to find. It all started with Him and it will end with Him. He is ultimately where the healing is. The only time I don’t feel completely alone is when He is there with me on my bedroom floor, or when He is with me doing the dishes or at the park with my kids.
What motivates you to remain committed to your relationship?
From the beginning, the Spirit told me this challenge would be my refiner’s fire. I’ve always wanted to come out of it a better person with or without my husband. When I’m taking care of myself in all aspects–physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally–I feel strong and I feel like I can handle it.
My husband and I have separated a couple of times over the past four years. So, we’re still in the middle of trying to sort this out, but I feel like it’s getting better. I’m constantly asking the Lord what I should do, and He has not told me, yet, to leave. He hasn’t told me that this is over. I just feel like my moving on still needs to be with my husband and I have hope that it will get better and eventually be better than I could have ever imagined.
I have prayed from the beginning that I would see my husband in the way that the Lord sees him, and that love has never wavered. I’m talking about love for who he is as a man, and as a spiritual being. Certainly the romantic love has wavered. There are times when I have honestly been able to say, I don’t love him right now. When that feeling comes, I pray that someday I will have the desire to love my husband again. The Lord has told me that this emotion is okay and that I can have hope for the future of that love.
I think He realizes I have been hurt and my life has been completely changed. I didn’t deserve this and it’s okay not to be in love with my husband right now. But I have prayed that I can love him, at least on a spiritual level always.
There have been times when we needed to separate emotionally, and this year we separated physically. Being in tune with the Spirit during this time was so important. If we stayed apart and emotionally detached, things would end. I went to the temple a lot and I really prayed to know what the next step should be and when it should happen. After a lot of work on myself I knew I needed to turn my attention back to my marriage. I asked him to come home and I’m praying every day that the Lord will help me to know what to do with this relationship, how to heal it. We’re moving forward in baby steps towards a happy marriage with hope!
How has this challenge affected your children?
We have tried to make our family life as normal as possible, and even when we were separated, we tried to let the children know that Mom and Dad still loved them and that this wasn’t their fault. Of course it has disrupted their lives and their security and that is part of this that I would change if I could but I can’t and I feel that the Lord will consecrate this experience for their good.
We are very upfront with our kids. Of course, we only share age-appropriate information. We don’t talk specifically about pornography; however, they know about choices and consequences.
I want my children to understand that they can talk to Heavenly Father. I want them to know that the Savior is there for them, too. I’m hoping this experience will actually help them in their own life experiences. I hope they will have a relationship with their Savior and feel the same comfort I have found at an earlier age than most children because they have needed it and will need it.
What is your motivation for sharing your story?
I am surprised when I meet a man who claims to have not seen pornography. When we were counseling with our bishop, he said he was working with fourteen other men with similar pornography problems that had come to him.
He also said that when he looks into the pews from the podium, he can see more men who are struggling with pornography but haven’t come to him. Next to each of these men is some kind of woman: a mother, a sister, a girlfriend, or wife.
Too many women feel they can’t talk about the problem of pornography because it’s their husband’s issue, and they don’t want to reveal their husband’s challenges. There is a stigma attached to a man who struggles with pornography addiction. People think they’re weirdoes or perverts. I want to change that perception. Men who struggle with pornography are normal people. They are people sitting with you in sacrament meeting. It’s the Elders Quorum president. It’s the Primary teacher. It’s people who wear shirts and ties to work and have clean-cut hair. My husband and I were each other’s first kiss. My husband wasn’t sexually active in high school. He is a good guy. There is no one face of a pornography/sex “addict.” They are sons of God who struggle with a serious trial-just like anyone else!
How can parents protect their families from pornography?
Avoiding pornography is no longer a reality. You cannot avoid pornography. It is everywhere. It is no longer a matter of if your children are going to see it; it’s a matter of when your children are going to see it.
Once you have kept your home safe, educate your children from the time that they are young and also educate ourselves. We need to teach our children what pornography is and what the feelings are that are elicited by it but we need to understand it all first ourselves. Children need to feel they can come to parents when something happens; they need to know that the word pornography is not a bad word They need to not feel shame when they see it or have a reaction to it and that is our job as parents: to shield (as much as possible), teach, and allow them to feel safe to talk to us-that means no guilting, no shaming, no rejecting.
Because sex is so sacred, somewhere along the line we as members of the Church began treating it like it’s this secret thing that shouldn’t be talked about. We need to teach our children that those feelings are okay but that there is a time and a place for those feelings. In fact, they are something to be celebrated and to be held sacred, not considered secret and dirty.
What advice would you give to spouses of pornography addicts?
They should focus on their own needs and try to find women who are willing to support them.
LDS Family Services has also been a great resource. Any kind of counseling is a help. Lots of reading, Deseret Book has a lot of reading on the subject-and don’t be embarrassed to buy them, lots of people do it! Also, getting to the temple has been important. I have found the temple to be a place of learning that helps to keep me safe and allows me to have hope for my life and my eternity.
At A Glance
Marital status: Married 10 years
Occupation: mom and legal assistant
Schools Attended: Ricks and BYU
Interview by Melissa Hardy. Photos used with permission.