Pornography is something that has affected me and many people I love. I guarantee it has or is currently affecting someone you love, and so even though this is a difficult topic, I encourage you to read on: this is relevant to you. I am writing to share my experience and thoughts with others who acknowledge that pornography is harmful. I want to share what I know, mostly through sharing my journey of supporting a man in his fight against porn. My hope is that through sharing, I can open a safe space for discussion about what women can do to better support their men in the fight against lust, be they brothers, husbands, sons or friends.
Pornography’s reach should not be underestimated. Wonderful as it is, the internet has done some bad things for the world, and making pornography painfully easy to find is one of them.(http://www.fightthenewdrug.org is a good, safe place to look for facts and information on porn’s spread and effects). Of the men I’ve talked to about this, maybe a few haven’t struggled with pornography at some point. For the majority, it has been an ongoing struggle since they were boys. The battle that has touched me the deepest is my husband’s.
By the time my husband and I started dating I was used to the idea that nearly every man I knew in my generation was actively battling lust, usually in the form of pornography. I knew that, like so many of his peers, my husband was raised to love marriage and honor women. All through his addiction, he held to these ideals, hated his behavior, and tried (with greater and lesser commitment) to break it. Pornography though is vicious and highly addictive, and when we started dating he had been battling for close to 10 years. My husband and I had been friends for a long time and I knew him to be a man of integrity. I recognised his clear love of marriage and a respect for women that I knew went deeper than his behaviour. It was because I knew those loves were so strong that I felt a relationship was possible, despite his addiction. There were many times when I had to remind him that his good loves were stronger and truer than his addiction. For my husband, remembering that he was good enough to fight enabled him to start facing his struggles on a new level. Placing that faith in him was scary, it was a commitment, and a risk, and was ultimately one of the best things I’ve ever done. And at the same time, while I gave my support with my whole heart, I also needed boundaries. When we started dating, I was very clear that I was willing to—wanted to—stand by him as he fought this battle, but that he had to be fighting it in order for our relationship to continue. Because this was not my first experience with supporting and encouraging someone in this struggle knowledge of my husband’s addiction did not hold the pain and confusion that I felt when I was first confronted with the pervasiveness of pornography. I don’t know if my acceptance is ultimately desirable or not, it saddens me that it had to be my reality, but I am also grateful that it allowed me to approach my husband with a compassion and easy understanding that I didn’t have when I first found that someone I loved struggled with this addiction.
My initial faith and trust in him helped give my husband the impetus he had been lacking. I think it was from this space of feeling trusted and respected that he realised just how deeply he wanted to be worthy of that trust. He found the strength to take steps that had previously felt too scary, or simply too difficult. He got accountability software on all of his devices (we use Acountable2you, a software that monitors and reports all inputs, including internet searches, to a third party of your choice: my husband’s reports to male friends, not to me). He also met regularly with a minister, and, together with close friends (Jared Buss and Joel Glenn), started a men’s group in which young men, married and single, talk about and support each other in their battles to overcome lust. All these steps that he chose to take gave me increased confidence, increased security in him and in our relationship, and also were a little scary. The more work he did, and the further our relationship progressed, the more he shared with me. We moved to weekly, even daily check-ins, where he would tell me about his thoughts, and whether or not he had been tempted that day, what had helped, what had hindered (positive interactions with me, exercise, and these check-in conversations always helped, while suggestive movies, revealing clothing, images from facebook, billboards, or pop-up ads, among other things, almost always made his struggle harder). These check-ins were powerful, incredibly useful for him, and sometimes very hard for me. Knowing in real-time when he was feeling lust was disconcerting. But knowing how much it helped him, while seeing more clearly than ever how constantly he had to fight to resist the barrage of sexual images and ideas around him, gave me deeper respect and love for him and what he was striving for. It reminded me again of those loves I had initially seen that I knew were worth wading through the muck to stand behind. And we still had to learn how to do these check-ins, we had to figure out what worked best to make them useful for him without crossing boundaries for me, and that didn’t come immediately. But, although not always easy, being so present with his daily struggle helped me love him more, and with a fierce pride. I’m sure it works differently for different couples, but for me, this level of involvement in his struggle was a sign of our moving imminently to engagement. I wasn’t willing to go this deep before I was certain that we both knew this was for keeps.
By the time we got engaged, I knew my husband had been clean long enough for me to feel safe. Unfortunately, we were both lulled into thinking that that particular battle was pretty much won. A few months into our engagement, he got a new phone and forgot to put the accountability software on it. He realised this late one night at a time when he was stressed and had a relapse. He told me several weeks later. I was faced by a confusion of reactions and feelings. I knew this was a mistake, not the pattern. I knew how much it cost him to admit his slip-up, but still the feeling of betrayal from the fact that he’d kept it a secret mingled with the sense that the last few weeks were all a lie, left me cold and confused. I felt distant and I felt sullied. The idea that he looked up pornography when we were planning to be married felt like a reflection on me, like I wasn’t enough. It gave me an insight into just how much more poignantly hurtful pornography within a marriage could be, how opposed it is to the sphere of married love, how dirty and used it could make a wife feel. I know I felt these things only as his fiancé, and at first I didn’t know if I was allowed to feel them. As a result, it took me three weeks to realise that it was necessary to share with him the extent to which this had wounded and frightened me. It was essential that I not condemn him when he confided his failure to me, but I also needed him to understand that now, more than ever, his behaviour affected me. We had some painful, wrenchingly honest and ultimately healing conversations. Having him listen to, acknowledge, and grieve my hurt helped me to feel safe again. Our discussions reminded me it was when he felt hemmed in and like his life was too controlled that he was more likely to detach enough to essentially act out contrary to his love for me, and look up pornography. Through the pain of this experience, we grew closer to each other, and deeper in our understanding of the tenacious nature of this addiction. Because of this experience, we both know in a new way that the hells will seize any opening to reintroduce these temptations. The battle isn’t “won.” Because of this experience, we will always always have accountability software on every device in our home, and my husband has asked me to gently check in every so often to find out where he is in this struggle. Even though he hasn’t been tempted for many months to look up pornography, knowing that these accountability measures are in place are a relief to him and they bring a safety that allows us both to relax.
So pornography isn’t an active problem in our marriage right now. And that is wonderful. I am in awe of my husband’s courage and dedication, and his humility in sharing his personal battles in order to help others combat theirs. Still we both know the struggle is not over. I am so achingly proud of him and the other men who have decided to support each other in this lifelong fight to overcome lust in a world that is constantly flinging it in their faces. And so my real point is, if the men we love are fighting, what can we as women be doing to help them?
Foremost, it needs to be said that no matter what we do to help, ultimately the choice is theirs. Several men have mentioned how important it is for us to understand that. For me that was rather hard to accept. But I know now that as much as we support and love, we cannot—should not—take on responsibility for their behavior. And yet these men—friends, boyfriends, husbands, brothers, uncles, sons—need our support. They need us to feed their good loves, and have the faith in them that they may themselves have lost over the years of progress and backsliding. And we also need to know that we are allowed and supposed to say, “If you want me, you have to put aside this evil.”
When we were dating my husband said to me over and over again that while he was so, so grateful for my support, he also needed to know that failure had a price. He needed to know that if he succumbed to these temptations he would ultimately lose me. He essentially needed something to fight for.
What each man and each couple needs is different, and while there is a lot of overlap, there is no perfect recipe. Here’s what a few other men have said would be most helpful in their battle with lust and pornography:
“There is so much shame around this evil. This means that it is really hard to bring up lust, to admit I have failed, or to ask for help in fighting it. It is probably scary for the women I’m close to too, but if you can, try to ask me about it from time to time. Or ask if certain things (movies, clothing, physicality) are ok for me. I know it could be hard to listen to, but showing you are here to help me and willing to listen is a big deal.”
“The most useful thing for me has been knowing that other men I respect, who are good men, who follow the Lord, also have this same fight; that I am not alone or different, but part of a spiritual army. And yet I have also been immensely supported by the people, especially women, who could express how terribly they felt about lust and porn, who have kept me from thinking that because it is commonplace, it isn’t that bad. I feel loved and supported in this fight when someone is willing to listen to my story that may repulse them and keeps listening with love and acceptance; and who then, rather than condoning or downplaying my mistakes, supports me in seeing the damage they do and the ways that I can overcome.”
“I am bound to make at least small mistakes throughout this fight. That does not justify it, but have compassion.”
“Knowing that you are not doing anything wrong. This evil is about me. It is my evil. But I am sorry that it has to affect you.”
“Patience and understanding.”
“My wife and I are still figuring out whether or not we think it is useful (based on our personality types) to have more frequent talks about my issues with lust. We do have a ‘safe space’ within our marriage where I can bring it up, but right now I don’t bring it up that frequently. My wife generally trusts that I am working on it, and I am.”
“There may be times when tough love or distance is needed. Do not support me to-no-end through this battle. If I am not making any effort to change, showing that you’re hurt, or telling me I need to work on it, trying to get me to think about how to work on it, or getting angry at me, could all be helpful. If I continue to hurt you and am not aware of how much, you should tell me.”
“Time and again my wife has shown me that when I’m down in the pits of my lust and struggling there, she is willing to be the bright and good thing that is waiting for me when I get out again. She offers me her greatest gifts when she makes it clear to me that she is not going to go down into that pit with me—she’s not going to condone my lust, and she’s not going to let it drag her down into self-doubt either. I know that this is a hard stance for her to take: I know that my lust takes me further away from her, and that that hurts her, and I know that she feels a temptation to believe that my lust arises because she isn’t a good enough wife. But I have seen her rise above these things. I don’t deserve her strength. It would be my responsibility to get myself out of the pit even if she weren’t there to welcome me when I emerged. But her welcome is the sweetest thing.”
Aside from this support and open communication, there are simple practical steps that can be taken too, such as ensuring your home has accountability software (I mentioned the monitoring software Accountable2you earlier). Such software can give ease of mind to both you and your man, and give a crucial protection when you have children. I like the idea of accountability software more than simple firewalls or blocks because accountability software will let the parents know if their child is trying to access pornography. With this information, parents can introduce conversations early on, before the child has had time to become addicted (a frightening number of addictions begin in pre-teen years). Not being a parent, I have not yet had to broach this subject with my own children, so I don’t know exactly how we will go about it. But I have no doubt that it will be broached. I am immeasurably grateful that my sons will have a father who I know will use his intimate knowledge of these demons to gently and strongly guide them to identify and resist them. But I don’t yet know exactly what that will look like. For those who are already parents, what do you think? What have you tried? What has worked? What hasn’t?
And for those who do not have sons, or who are not closely connected with someone who is fighting this battle, what can you do? Well, simply, I think you can become informed, and you can be compassionate. Part of what I hope this article will accomplish is forcing us to acknowledge and give some thought to this issue and how we will handle it when it affects us personally. Shocked and outraged reactions to the discovery that someone you love is fighting pornography are so damaging and counterproductive. We don’t want to reinforce the shame of those who are struggling, we want to bolster the good, honest, marriage-loving side of them that has never given in, despite hell’s best attempts. Each of us has to set our own boundaries for what our involvement or support will look like, but I would urge each of you to rule out: “yuck, I can’t deal with this,” unless the man is embracing his lust as good.
The struggle against lust is a lifelong battle and my husband knows that in this world he can never view it as won; whether it is the urge is to look up pornography, or to act from lust in some other way, the temptations can and will come back. Through this process though, I have found how completely I can trust my husband’s will to fight, and his courage in sharing his failures honestly and completely with me. Our relationship is deeper, more raw, and more real because of it. I cannot say that pornography will never trouble our relationship again, and there are times when that feels very daunting. But I have so clearly seen the Lord’s work in action as He has gradually blotted out past memories and reactions that were at one point almost impossible for my husband to resist, and in time, I believe that He will do the rest.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
I welcome you to comment with other ideas, suggestions, or experiences. If anyone is interested in discussing this in a more private setting, with either myself or my husband, we would love to talk. Email me at email@example.com and my husband at firstname.lastname@example.org
And lastly, there is help on the internet too! Here are links to some support sites, specifically aimed at spouses and parents.