15 June 2012

This gets a bit heavy

I've been emailing with a fellow WoPA who has been dealing with this much longer than I have, which probably means more questions, more frustration, etc.  She raised an interesting point that really had me thinking.  I'll post her question here, and then my response but I'm interested in other opinions too, so speak up if it speaks to you. 

Her question:

"If one of the major keys to recovery for the addict is improving the relationship with the spouse, than this would imply that in some way a poor relationship was responsible for fueling the addiction in the first place. That just doesn’t seemto ring true."

The best I could come up with:

After doing a 4th step inventory, and evaluating my own past and present choices, attitudes, weaknesses and strengths I've realized this.  And I'm going to have to try really hard to get this to sound right.

My shortcomings in our relationship did contribute to the resentments my husband felt about our marriage.  But he had a choice how to cope with/handle those resentments.  He chose to go against his conscience, the teachings of the gospel and he experimented with pornography.  Was I partly to blame for the issues in our sex life? Yes.  Was I at ALL to blame for the choice he made to induldge in an addictive behavior? NO. 

Does that make any sense? I know it's hard to make the distinction, but I think it's there.  I truly believe that improving the relationship is helpful in my husband's healing, but the choice still remains his.  Just like he chose his way into addiction, he has to be the one to choose his way out.  

I want to take it one step further here, something else to chew on.  Like I said, these are new ideas for me and I'm still sorting through them.

Over the course of our marriage there have been times I have mistreated my husband.  Undoubtedly.  I'm not perfect.  His way of coping with the way I mistreated him was to act out in addiction.  I'm not sure he ever justified his behavior by pointing out to himself how I mistreated him, but it would definitely be a possibility.

His addictive behaviors were definitely a way he mistreated me.  And how did I respond?  I got angry, I was cruel, I guilted and shamed.  I mistreated him.  Was I justified in mistreating him because he mistreated me?

I mistreat him, he acts out in pornography addiction and by doing so mistreats me.  I act out by being hurtful and unkind.  (Talk about a vicious cycle!) Are either of us justified? I'll grant you that addiction is probably a greater sin than the ways I have hurt him, but the principle remains the same. 

He is no more to blame for my response to his behavior than I am to blame for his response to my behavior.

If I believe (and I absolutely do!) that he is responsible for the choices he makes when he is hurt or resentful, then it must follow that I am responsible for the chocies I make when I am hurt or betrayed.   It seems reasonable to assume that if I expect him to control his thoughts and behaviors after being hurt, I ought to be able to control mine. 

Right? Or no?


  1. I have had to face this myself and while I didn't realize this was basically some of the many conversations in my head - it is. You and I have both the same conclusion - the same belief - as hard as that is for me to say. I haven't even gotten through Step 2, but as I have read about & anticipate Step 4 & the ones that follow - this rings home very much to me.

  2. Wow, if I can’t control my response to triggers, how could I expect that he could control his? What an interesting thought. I think I should print your posts and make a notebook of inspiring thoughts to read to keep encouraging me.

  3. Spot on! Men do not always choose to act on their addiction because of mistreatment from their wife. there is a million and one things that could be triggers for them.( I know you were not implying that. I just want it out there.) You of course are right about the choices we make and the cycles we allow ourselves to become trapped in.
    I do not feed or contribute to my husbands addiction. But I am responsible for my part in our relationship.
    Very thought provoking post Jane.

    1. You are absolutely right Olives- there are MANY reasons an individual pursues the path of addiction.

  4. True but there are many men who are addicted before they even get married...no way could a spouse be expected to accomodate warped perceptions from the start.

    1. I'm not exactly sure what you mean Anon, can you elaborate?

      I don't mean to imply in any way that a woman/wife should accomodate her husbands warped perceptions with regard to pornography and sexuality under any circumstance, premarriage addiction or post-marriage. I'm referring mostly to the emotional ways I mistreat my husband. I shame him, guilt him, lash out in anger. But you're right, some addicts have a warped understanding of healthy emotional relationships as well, and we are not accountable for behaving in any way that would be unsafe or unhealthy for us.

      Am I way off your point here?

    2. Not to add to any confusion, but I have to add that I know personally - I have warped perceptions. All of my relationships with men I dated or otherwise before marriage involved sexual activity. I really have no concept of how to base a real relationship without sex with a man. So not only does he have so perceptions to deal with that are warped, but so do I. And I don't have an addiction - I just confused lust for love when I was younger.

    3. My guess, from my experience, of what Anonymous was referring to is that when you come into a marriage and your husband is acting out in secret -- despite newlywedded bliss, then you haven't done anything to emotionally harm him yet. (i.e. the cycle of mistreatment has begun, with one party not doing any of the mistreatment yet). I get that -- we were so blissfully happy early on, spending all of our time with each other, talking into the late hours of every night, making love every night . . . then you find out that you're the happiest you've EVER been, and your husband was looking at porn anyway. My guess, is that is what Anonymous is referring to -- when there hasn't been any mistreatment yet, no resentments festering, and he's acted out anyway. 'Cause addiction will find ANY excuse to act out. Which, I don't think negates any of what you wrote -- I still TOTALLY get what you were saying, and it's genius and something I've definitely been coming to terms with -- once I found out about it I withdrew some of my love and affection, there have been times I have taken advantage of his guilt and his laid back personality, almost wanting him to 'make up' for his mistakes through his actions on my behalf. I believe my husband's addiction has found any excuse to feel justified in acting out -- but I still feel bad about the times when I was that reason. When the way I treated him didn't help him to feel any better about himself or our relationship. I regret the times I haven't treated him the way he deserves to be treated, just by virtue of being my husband, not to mention all the amazing ways he loves and serves our family.
      So back to the original question you addressed in your blog -- I see where she's coming from. The idea that pornography is a problem in my marriage because of some deficiency in 'us' has always frustrated me, because to begin with we were truly happy and connected and marriage was everything we'd wanted it to be and exceeded all our expectations. I feel like when he uses our relationship now as any kind of excuse, it's just that, an excuse, because before it was us it was just something else. I don't feel it was our relationship that caused him to act out with porn. I DO feel that as our relationship weakened (in some part the porn that I discovered and I didn't trust him and it weakened our relationship, in some part changed priorities with the kids and all that), it became a weak spot for my husband that made him more vulnerable. While we're working on our relationship now, both of us recognizing where we have hurt or wronged the other, we are getting stronger -- we have a more solid foundation in which to build our relationship back up -- to ignore what's gone wrong in our relationship would doom it. But, my husband is also very aware that things could be PERFECT between us, I could be the model wife, endlessly kind, giving, affectionate, warm, understanding, busty (jk), and he is still vulnerable to this addiction, because it will use any excuse possible to act out. Which, I guess, is the whole point of recovery -- so we both stop looking for excuses and own ourselves! :-)
      I know my big ol' response didn't necessarily address exactly what you wrote about Jane, but it was where stream of conscience brought me :-) Sorry if I got off topic at all!
      Love your writing and your insights Jane!! Thanks!

    4. Yeah, my scenario definitely has its limitations. Like you said, an addict will probably still act out no matter how perfect his life at home is. And I hope I didn't belittle in any way, the pain of those emotions that surface after we realize the extent of his behavior.

      I think the reason I mentioned the 4th step is because before I did the 4th step I didn't realize the extent of my own issues. I'm not AT ALL trying to imply that you haven't discovered your issues, just that I admire (and envy) you for the bliss of your first few years. (Making love every night, WOOT WOOT!) Ours were good, but not without their flaws. There hasn't ever been a blissfully happy time for us where we weren't mistreating each other in some way. And I say that now because we hold "us" to a much higher standard of communication, respect, and honesty.

      Long before Pete was addicted to pornography our relationship was good, but not great, because of said issues. Anyway, I hope someday you return to those amazing first years, but without the lies and darkness.

    5. No, I totally think your made your point awesome -- no matter the circumstances of the relationship, the whole "He is no more to blame for my response to his behavior than I am to blame for his response to my behavior" thing is genius! And I NEEDED someone to put it just like that for me!

      I was just trying to come at it from where Anonymous was coming from, and seeing how even if some of the circumstances of what she/you/I are going through are different, that the underlying message was totally true and an important discovery that one must make to get to a good place in recovery. In fact, if I could do needlepoint, I'd make me a pillow that said, "It seems reasonable to assume that if I expect him to control his thoughts and behaviors after being hurt, I ought to be able to control mine." :-)

      And by being more introspective, I may be confident there weren't many issues in our first year that I could've improved upon, but MAN, those years after that I am TOTALLY seeing where I acted like a spoiled brat because I was hurting and my expectations haven't been met. It's been hard to own up to where I've mistreated him, but it's been REALLY good for both of us! And like I said below, I'm realizing that in healing we have to create a relationship that allows for who he's changing to become, even if there is a selfish part of me that liked the status quo of his overall personality.

  5. Sorry! One more thing, back to the original question posted . . .
    I think part of the whole 'if it was a good relationship when it was going on, and now we're saying we have to build a good relationship again to recover, then are we saying it wasn't good to begin with' thing . . . I've thought about this. A lot of times I think, "I just want to get back to where we were," then I realize where we were I was being lied to while my husband was looking at porn. Then I get sad, 'cause we were really happy, and I thought we had a great relationship, so where do we go from here? I think part of the whole relationship building/recovery thing is that we not only have to get back to a good relationship, but we have to rebuild a relationship that encompasses what we've gone through and how we've changed. We can never go back to where my husband and I were, because he's fundamentally changing (for the better) as he's recognizing and voicing his frustrations, anxieties and negative emotions. Our new relationship will have to accomodate a husband who has more emotional needs than he did before, one who is less likely to just 'go with the flow' and who is now learning he can voice frustrations and be loved and accepted still -- so this new relationship we have to build has to fit who we become as step work changes our lives. So, it's this new relationship we're nurturing that will help heal us in recovery, not just any good relationship that we may or may not have had in the past, but a new one that encompasses who we are now. I don't know if that made any sense. :-)
    OK, I'll shut up now :-)

    1. HX, we never want you to shut up! You always have great insights! I love this thought of accommodating for the "new husband" who has problems and concerns and is allowed to voice them and process them without feeling rejected.

  6. This is the same anon as before. Sorry to have been so brief, I have never commented before and I got nervous. I was just trying to say that in my situation, my husband had his issues before we were ever married...on his mission, before his mission, after is mission. Honestly, after 11 years of marriage, I can't remember if I knew about this stuff when we got married or not. It's possible, I may have minimized it (I'm sure he did), and how can anyone that young and newly married comprehend how damaging it is anyway? Truly, I think then I did just try to make him happy...even by agreeing to things that made me uncomfortable. Now after all these years... I won't do that anymore... I am stronger and have more self respect. So to play the blame game (on me) when all of this has been here all along... and long before I came along... Just don't get it. I'm not perfect, but our marriage never was what it should have been from the start. No one's marriage is perfect...everyone has their own work to do...but I'm sure that if you aren't dealing with this garbage there are more normal ways of working through problems. Everyone has weaknesses but not everyone has to sin...which is really what you said anyway. But I just think when you throw the sin the middle it distorts the way you would normally work through weaknesses...in a healthy, loving manner... And now to sound like a total victim...it just really isn't fair. One party isn't playing by the rules... You should be able to learn to communicate and become closer without hurting the other person and breaking covenants...

    1. Anonymous- thank you for commenting. It's so helpful to me because sometimes I spiral into these thought processes and see them from only my perspective. It is so good to hear someone else's perspective to broaden my vision again and keep me from getting too self-involved. I still get nervous when I make comments sometimes, once it's out there it's out there. But as I said somewhere else, at least we have the protection of anonymity. If you want to come up with a pseudo-name to use, then we can remember you, and be virtual-friends. :)

      I feel really badly that it came across like I was blaming myself, or any other wife, for their husband acting out. Or, not even that but for suggesting that something I/we do was the root of their resentments. Sometimes it is, maybe even rarely it is, and very often, it's NOT. You are right, your husband's addiction started long before he met you. And I totally agree that when I got married I had no idea what this was all about. We weren't really dealing with it at the time, but even after he started we minimized, for years we minimized. I'm glad you've made progress and have self-respect. That deserves major credit to you. You ARE strong.

      ALSO- totally crazy that he is a counselor. I think about how we always expect that the so-called "experts" should have all their crap together, but I've seen dentists with awful teeth, lots of overweight physicians, and bankrupt accountants. Your husband's comment about the cheating husband was totally out of line. Like I was saying, no one is EVER justified in mistreating someone else. Responding to a nagging wife by breaking her heart through infidelity is like shooting a bazooka at someone with a slingshot. Ugh!

      Seriously though, thanks for sharing.

  7. Also..My husband is a counselor...yep you read that right. The plot thickens. He is doing well, and to be fair, most of the "sin" is really behind him and he is able to help others. But he did come home last night and tell me about a couple and how he totally could see why the husband would cheat. I said, excuse me, are you kidding me? He said well the wife this and that...pushes too hard, he can never make her happy, on and on... I DO NOT CARE! There is no license for cheating, for Pete's sake! If you are really that miserable and can't think of any other solution (like communicating, perhaps) get a divorce.. But don't cheat!!! What is wrong with these men???

  8. "If one of the major keys to recovery for the addict is improving the relationship with the spouse, than this would imply that in some way a poor relationship was responsible for fueling the addiction in the first place. That just doesn’t seemto ring true."

    The way I see it is that evidence of recovery includes an ability to be more compassionate, empathetic, etc. Studies have shown that there are changes in the brain that come with addiction. When there has been a consistent level of sobriety (it often takes 12-18 months), the brain can start to heal, which then can allow more of the relationship skills to be more free to develop.

    So I don't think that this line of thinking about recovery implies that the relationship 'caused' the addiction. I think it's more an indicator of something to watch for as evidence of true recovery.

    And as Jane points out, when a woman is in recovery, the evidence will show up on 'her side of the street' as well -- where her ability to respond not with anger but with clarity will help with 'her side of the street' in the relationship.

    In essence, addiction predictably affects every part of a man's life. So does codependency affect every part of a woman's life. By definition, then, it would follow that recovery shows up in every part of each of their lives, including a healthier relationship.

  9. This is a great post and conversation. It is interesting how the addiction can feed off of mistreatment, and my triggers feed off of his addiction. My husband has been able to realize that in the beginning, he was often creating situations in his mind - convincing himself how I had wronged him in some way or was unloving or must not care about him. He knew the porn was wrong and would hurt me, so in his head he had to justify it by creating reasons why it would be ok.

    So now I look at myself and my triggers and basically it seems like that is often a similar thing, I might not know anything specific but because I am reminded of something painful, I create a situation of what-ifs in my mind, and allow myself to be hurt and angry at my husband. Even if there really is something to be hurt about, I don't have to choose to let that cycle affect me.

    1. This, and all these comments, are really giving me something to think about! Thanks Jane and everyone else!

  10. Good stuff ladies! In case anyone is still reading, I'd like to chime in too. I've seen that pornography addiction is destructive on multiple fronts. First to the addict himself, second to the me as his wife, and third to our relationship. That means there are three recoveries to manage. It's complex and messy when we are so intertwined and yet still separate. In our marriage we try to stay out of each others way and allow much needed healing to happen in our respective recoveries. I know I can't control his addiction and he knows he can't control my reactions. The third area, our relationship, is a recovery that we work on together. Communicating, apologizing, forgiving, and serving each other helps us find peace and repair the hurts that we have both felt both recently and in the long term. However, no matter how great our relationship is, it's not going to end my husband's addiction. It's just one of the puzzle pieces. And this problem is so big that it has A LOT of puzzle pieces.
    So in answer to the original question, a bad relationship is NOT to blame for an addiction. And likewise, a good relationship will not cure it. Is that to say, we should not work on our relationship because it won't make a difference? No! It's not a cure-all, but life in a marriage where you talk and laugh along the way is so much nicer. We all know this road can be a long one and working with our spouses (even if they are still addicted) will help to survive the ups and downs.