After I read through this blog, I just knew I had to contribute. My heart beat a little faster seeing somewhere that Catholic women can talk about these issues instead of pretending they don't/didn't exist or feeling like they are the only person going through it. I agree with the writer of this blog, that there don't seem to be places for Catholic women to turn when dealing with sexual infidelity. I'm hoping that sharing my story might help someone else to know that they aren't alone and might encourage people going through this same issue.
My story is a bit different as it doesn't involve our marriage as much as the beginning of our relationship, and faith plays a bit of a different role. My husband, then boyfriend, and I were sexually active fairly early on in our relationship. I was a "Sunday Catholic" or "Cafeteria Catholic" at the time, and he was a non-practicing Baptist. We were both products of our messed up sexual culture. A few months into the relationship, I found out that he was using porn and masturbation. For a month or two, I told myself it was normal and that I was the one with issues. I told myself that if my self esteem was high enough, it wouldn't bother me. I told myself that this was all fantasy, and I was reality- so what was the issue? Any time I looked online for resources, most of them seemed to say that all men use porn, all men masturbate, and that women needed to accept that this was normal. So that's what I tried to do. That didn't last long though. I would use his computer sometimes when I was visiting, see porn links in the 'recently viewed' section, and felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. It made me feel cheap, cheated, and not good enough. I wondered what was wrong with me that he was turning to women on a screen. Over the next few months, I expressed this a few different times to my then boyfriend. Each time, I would approach it from a place of emotional exhaustion, which I'm sure looked like anger. I would fight myself in my head, lose the battle, and then lay it all out there for him, instead of ever approaching him calmly and lovingly. His defense mechanisms would immediately kick in, and he would say in a huff, "I'll quit looking at it if you want me to". But I had huge fears of him resenting me, or saying he would stop and then doing it behind my back. I would respond "I want you to want to stop". And of course, that got us nowhere until the next time we had a similar conversation.
Instead of things getting better or even staying the same, they spiraled even more. I became obsessed with his use of porn and masturbation. I couldn't control it, which bothered me, and I felt it controlled him and me, which bothered me even more! I would sometimes try to initiate sex and he would admit he had just masturbated before coming to see me. To me at the time, it was one thing (though still hurtful) for him to do it when he wasn't going to see me, I was out of town, etc. and another for him to do it knowing he would see me within hours. I began putting parameters on his porn use, and I think he agreed because he thought it was a compromise, and that him giving in a little would make things better for me. We made rules that seem so insane now, like he would only do it if ________, or he would let me know every time he did it and what he looked at so I wouldn't feel he was being sneaky, or I would make him some 'videos' that he could use instead. As you can probably imagine, that was incredibly unhealthy, and that spiraled even further. We were a mess. We still had our normal life and normal dating relationship outside of this, but the longer it went, the more it started to affect our daily life.
Right at a year after we met, we had what I refer to as "D day". I looked at his computer while he was at work and saw what he had looked at and at what time that morning, and realized that not only did he look at a LOT in one 'session', and not only did it make him late for work, but he was looking at it while talking to me online. I flipped out. I lost all composure, and called a friend (the only friend who knew all of this was happening, as she was dealing with a similar issue with her husband). She was boarding a flight for Germany and couldn't talk much. Actually, I'm really thankful for that because if she had been able to stay on the phone with me, she probably would eventually have calmed me down and made me rethink saying something. Instead, we had to hang up when I was still livid and sobbing. I ended up calling my then boyfriend at work and basically told him I couldn't do this anymore, that I felt betrayed, disgusted, and cheapened. I left his apartment and went to mine. He ended up leaving work early and came over. He was really scared that I was done with our relationship. At that point, I was thinking I might have to be. I honestly don't remember that first conversation. I'm sure I cried and yelled, and I'm sure he tried to talk in circles out of self preservation.
Another thing I'm thankful for is that I had a work event that night. I had to leave about an hour after he got there. How I functioned that night, I'm not really sure. But it gave me 3 hours to calm down and it gave him 3 hours to really evaluate himself. He texted me about halfway through the work event and asked me to promise not to leave him. He said that he had done some research and found all these stories of porn and masturbation addiction, and he could see himself in those stories. He could see where he was in the stories, and then could see how far it took some of the men (affairs, extreme behaviors, issues with the law, etc). It scared him. It was the first time that day that I felt like maybe we would make it through this. Before that, I felt that no matter how much I loved him, I wasn't willing to go through this for the rest of our lives. So I went to his apartment after the event, and though I was still extremely emotional, we were able to have our first productive talk. I told him that just his word was not enough for me, that I needed to know he was seeking some type of help. I told him I needed something too, because my heart and self esteem were very damaged from dealing with this for almost a year. Later that night, he found a program called Recovery Nation. I credit that website as a huge reason of why we were able to salvage our relationship. There is a section for the couple to do together (unfortunately incomplete as the creator passed away and some of his files are missing, but they are slowly working to complete it), and a section for each person to do separately. We chose the separate route first, out of my insistence, because I knew we both needed to work on who we were as individuals before we tried to work on ourselves as a couple. It is very thorough, very emotionally involved, and took us quite some time to complete. If I recall correctly, doing the entire his/her sections and what exists of the together sections took us about 6-8 months or so of doing one to two lessons per week. Some people need in person counseling or therapy, and we thought about it, but felt this resource was adequate for what we needed. I am in no way paid or given any incentive to mention the site, but I do whole heartedly recommend it for couples going through similar issues. I don't think we would be who we are today, or where we are today, without it.
We had a long road ahead of us. I still had lots of resentment and hurt feelings that we had to wade through. We had to rebuild who we were as a couple and as individuals. My self esteem was non-existent and I had to work to build it back up. My husband's entire mindset and way of living had a major overhaul. He had to find out who he was without this addiction. We had to figure out what worked for us and what didn't. We had to figure out how to meet my emotional needs (talking about it until we were blue in the face) without compromising his emotional needs (letting it go as much as possible so he wasn't dragged through the mud about who he use to be, and could become who he wanted to be). It was hard, and it was rewarding. Coming back from the depths of despair, we both began to cling to God. We added in prayer to our every day lives, and began attending Mass regularly. About 6 months after "D day" my husband decided that he wanted to join the church. His joining RCIA was the push I needed to delve further into my faith. We both jumped in head first and our relationship with God blossomed, which really strengthened our relationship with each other. When we look back on that dark time now, it is still hard and it still has emotions attached to it, but I always tell my husband to look at what God has done for us, and to be proud of where we came from. We left a sinful way of living, turned to God in our darkest hour, and He did not disappoint. We are strong Catholics now, faithful to the magesterium. Only a few years ago I was a contracepting, cafeteria Catholic and he was someone bound by sexual addiction. So there can be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and a person can change. We owe it all to God and it did not come without a lot of hard work, but it was so worth it to be where we are today.
Last, here are a few tips if you are going through this:
- Don't try to talk yourself into thinking that porn and masturbation use are normal. Don't try to justify the behavior for your husband.
- Approach it from a standpoint of love. Everyone's "D day" is different, and some people may have to have many of them. But I can tell you that any time I approached the issue from frustration or exhaustion, it got us nowhere. Had I sat down to really think it through, and then approached it lovingly, I sometimes wonder if we could have avoided "D day" all together.
- If you turn to a friend, make sure it is someone who will uphold your Catholic beliefs and value your marriage/relationship. I felt I only had one person to turn to and, while she was very helpful in some ways, she was damaging in others. For a while, she made me think it was something I should just get used to, and so I tried to do that. She also encouraged me at one point to walk away. It was coming from a place of sincerity and concern, but it wasn't what I needed and wasn't helpful.
- Find outside help if you need it. For us, that came in the form of Recovery Nation. My husband also reached out to a priest (though that backfired) well before he was even thinking about becoming Catholic, after hearing a homily on sexual teachings of the Church, and we did talk about getting therapy, but didn't feel the need. You and/or your husband may need it and that's ok. It doesn't make you weak; in fact it makes you strong for recognizing it and seeking it out.
Out of respect for my husband, I have agreed to remain as anonymous as possible. If you are going through this, have gone through this, and want someone to talk to about this topic, please email the author of this blog and she will connect you with me.