One of the things we have learned over the decades is that sex addiction is normally not cured. Rather, ongoing freedom depends on surrender. Battles with lust also do not necessarily get easier with age. In the 70’s, XXX theaters were filled with white-haired men. People continue to act out in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. While healthy sexual desire resides in the body and may diminish some with age, lust resides in the mind.
Ken and Shirley (not their real names) are a believing, church-going couple in their sixties, married for decades. Shirley reached a tipping point with Ken’s internet pornography addiction in November 2014. She reached out to Living Without Lust by e-mail soon after. We met with Ken and helped him to find a 12 Step recovery group. He has been sober (no porn and no masturbation) and, by personal observation, significantly more free and happy since November 2014. Here is Part 1 of their story.
In the following account, please note the critical importance of clergy and preachers speaking publicly about this struggle and providing resources. Living Without Lust is here to help.
LWL: Why did you contact us and what did you hope might happen?
Shirley: The day I learned about Living Without Lust, we were at a conference. Driving to the conference, Ken and I had a rather long dispute in the car. When we parked the car, the conversation still wasn’t finished, so I went inside to attend to my responsibilities and began to talk to a woman pastor I knew and told her some of what was going on; Mainly about the rage and anger Ken would experience when he was cross with me or the situation. We had been through a lot of counseling and work together over the past twenty years and I was getting tired. So the meeting started and a couple of things began to unfold. One was that Living Without Lust was there with a table. We never got a chance to get over there and see it. But interestingly enough, one of the speakers began to talk about pornography addiction in his remarks.
In my role in the church, I had heard our leader talk about pornography, particularly as it related to the clergy, so when I got home, I tried to find the Living Without Lust website. I actually had to make a call to locate it. So when I connected with it, I began to see a familiar name, Jay Haug. So I wrote an e-mail asking for help.
That e-mail said the following in part…..
“One minute I know I should end this marriage, the next I think I should stay. I don’t want to live my life like this any more. I want peace and to have a relationship with the Lord and not have the fighting and all that goes with this. I’ve suggested the one thing we’ve never done together to overcome the pornography is to pray together – to get on our knees and ask for release from this problem. That was a couple of nights ago. He still hasn’t suggested we pray together. Should I ask? Should I lead? Then who owns the prayer and the action to make the change? If I lead, is he just following or is he actually earnest about wanting the Lord’s help?
I want to get on my knees together and scream to God for help! I’ve done it on my own. I want to know what action to take to end this cycle we’re in over and over. I don’t want to leave but fear (yes, I guess that is the correct word) that is all that is left to do — I don’t have ANY answers any more!. He believes in God and has a relationship with the Lord – not mine to figure out. Why doesn’t he lead? I’m desperate for help. I want answers but know you can’t give them to me. I’m heartbroken that this man I love is so proud he won’t take help and I’m becoming so broken that I don’t know what to do.
Perhaps you have an idea or two.”
I had been in recovery for many years myself and I knew I could not fix Ken, even though at times I still try. But I didn’t know what to do anymore and I really believe a lot of the anger was because of “the secret.”
LWL: When did you first become aware of Ken’s sexual addiction?
Shirley: Well, I first became aware of his interest within the first year we were married, because he had been put out of work for a week for going out on the internet and looking at porn. He told me one day about it. I asked him, “What are you going to do about it?” Initially when we were dating, he told me that his first wife told him she thought he was an addict and he had gone to some other recovery meetings. But his bottom line was not their bottom line, so I don’t think he felt the connection at the time. So he wasn’t at a place to go back to the meetings, so he just tried to control it.
LWL: What was it like to be married to a man who struggles with this?
Shirley: The biggest difficulty for me was that I knew he had a secret. I did a lot of traveling for work and when I would come home, his behavior was different. Women have that 6th sense. We know that something is going on. I could always tell and then he would become angry. I didn’t matter if it was a significant issue or not. The trigger was there. Frequently, it was pointed toward me and I was the trigger.
LWL: Was there anything you tried to fix the problem?
Shirley: It was difficult to talk about the problem because it was a secret so it was difficult for me to get to the place of feeling safe to bring it up. It had to be the right time, right place and right discussion. Sometimes Ken would bring it up and I did try to get him to go to recovery meetings. I knew I was trying to manipulate him but that didn’t work. We went to counseling and read self-help books. We went to a couple of retreats but generally the discussion didn’t come up.
LWL: What did this do to your emotions, your faith and your hope?
Shirley: My hope never waivered because from the beginning Ken had always wanted to improve himself. He had always wanted to get better. Much as he would scream and yell about having to change, we both knew that each of us had to change. I had always believed that we were put together for a purpose and I believed he would continue to change. One therapist had even encouraged me to leave him but I refused because I believed it was not an option. I didn’t think that he really had as strong a faith as he thought he had and he wasn’t leaning on the Lord, so I thought if he could find it, he might find freedom.
LWL: So now Ken has been sober for 6 1/2 months. (7 1/2 now) What changes do you notice? What is different?
Shirley: He is much more at peace; much more grounded. We still have struggles in our communication. There are still times when he gets angry, but now I know it is not because he has been watching pornography. He is more accepting of me. Our sex life is different. There is definitely a deeper intimacy there. Our ability to communicate is growing. Overall it is much better.
LWL: Ken, What was your struggle before you got into recovery?
Ken: Like Shirley said, she found out about it when I got a week off. I kept saying I could quit but I was really only like a dry drunk. And so that went on several times. We had ongoing arguments and she would question me. I would deny I had been on the internet and then finally admit the truth. Then, after several of those, I would tell her I would try and quit. I would say, “I can do this.” I thought I could give her a guarantee but that didn’t work. So then, when we were having the argument in the car, I walked a couple of miles, got something to eat and then came back. When we heard the different speakers, then I decided I would listen to her but I wasn’t ready for what she suggested, which was to get into some kind of program.
Part of it was all of the people I knew in the church I did not feel comfortable broaching this subject with. How was I to share this conversation? I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone else, because I didn’t know how it would be received and I didn’t want to be stigmatized by somebody who wasn’t prepared to hear it.
LWL: All of us have heard sermons that have at least mentioned lust, pornography or sexually addictive behavior. How did you react to such messages when you were practicing your addiction?
Ken: I made the mental leap to believing that they were talking about somebody else. Yet at the same time I did realize they were talking about me too and I did need to repent, but I think I only got as far as I needed to, but I didn’t do anything. It was like the seed falling on rocky soil. It didn’t take much root.
LWL: What would your advice be to men in the church today who might be thinking the same thing and that there is no hope for them.?
Ken: I would say we need to find out that we are not alone. We generally know that, but we don’t know where to connect. My advise would be that if you hear of a program like Living Without Lust, you take advantage of it. I had a previous negative experience with a recovery program but I needed to find out that there are lots of resources out there. Living Without Lust can help.
LWL: When you got in touch with us, what were you hoping might happen?
Ken: I was hoping there might be something different out there. I did look at the Living Without Lust site before I talked to you and thought that you might be more connected and could help me. It was at least a start, a way to be open-minded.
LWL: What happened then? How did you get connected and begin recovery?
Ken: You asked me some pointed questions and your responses helped me understand my isolating tendencies, as well as other addictive personality traits. You gave me a list of meetings I might attend in my area and invited me to attend one where you would at least be present, which helped. Once I got there, I found some other people that I knew which helped.
Then by going to the first meeting, as I participated and listened to others, I said to myself, “Yes, this might do the trick.” (To be continued…)
Part 2 will be in next month’s newsletter.