Jolene Ehlers has been married to her husband, Rob for 11 years and they are happily working to help other LDS couples who struggle with pornography addiction. They live in the Raleigh, NC area with their five kids. Jolene is a certified life coach and specializes in helping LDS women find healing when a spouse is addicted to pornography. She hosts a weekly podcast called The Porn Addict’s Wife, and runs The Porn Addict’s Wife Blog where she shares tools, tips, insights and research. All of her life-coaching information can be found at www.jolenewinn.com and the direct link to her blog is www.thepornaddictswife.com
When my husband first told me that he’d been secretly addicted to pornography for years, he followed it up with, “I’m handling it, I’m going to the Bishop, and I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Needless to say, I was stunned. I felt a little embarrassed that he’d hid such a large thing from me for so many years, and I felt compassion for him that he’d felt that he needed to keep this struggle a secret from me, and I felt more than a little betrayed.
In an effort to try and be supportive and understanding of the shame and guilt he felt when he talked about all of it, I didn’t press him to discuss it with me. (I was reassured because I was aware that he was taking action to overcome the addiction.)
He was seeing a therapist regularly and meeting with the bishop frequently to keep tabs on his progression, but I couldn’t help but think, “Well, then who am I supposed to talk to about this?” I wasn’t talking to a therapist, I’d never even heard of ARP, I wasn’t talking to the bishop myself, my husband wasn’t speaking to me about it, and he didn’t want me to share it with anyone else either. It was like my life had imploded and I was expected to be completely silent.
Feelings of Isolation
This pattern of subdued communication continued for years. After his initial confession to me, he was open about his relapses and would again divulge them to me with the caveat, “I’m doing ok. I’m going to see the bishop. And I still don’t want to talk about it.” Occasionally, at random intervals when only the two of us were around, I would hesitantly ask my husband vague questions like, “Are you doing ok?” This approach was a way to determine if he was struggling with the addiction. He was always honest and upfront but we still were not discussing anything beyond the surface level actions. And I was still not discussing anything with anyone else.
Sometimes We Forget the Wife
Gratefully, that is not how our story continues today. We both found healing and his addiction is no longer something that haunts our relationship. As we’ve discussed our journey, one of the thoughts that keeps coming back to me is that sometimes, in our rush to aid the pornography addict, we forget the addict’s wife.
I now know that there are programs designed by the Church, and by others, that help those in my situation. But at the time, I was completely ignorant of their existence. This being my first encounter with pornography addiction, I was unaware of all the resources available to me. And since I wasn’t speaking to anyone about it, there was nobody who could educate me on any of it either.
Admittedly, I could’ve done more research to find programs and resources, but, to be honest, I was in more of a survival mode. I wanted, more than anything, to talk about what was going on, but nobody even knew about it. Just the bishop. And I never spoke to him about it. And he never asked me either.
I don’t bring this up to make our church leaders feel like they aren’t doing enough or that the lack of communication between my husband and myself was the fault of the church. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will take full blame that I was not proactive in seeking help. My hope is, that by bringing this up, perhaps there will be another wife in the future who has a different experience than I did.
Seek to Be Proactive
My first thought is for bishops and priesthood leaders to be more proactive toward the wives of those who confess a pornography addiction. Despite my husband going to the bishop several times to confess his addiction and relapses, there was never a time where the bishop called me in to see how I was doing. Now, I understand that it is not the bishop’s role to play marriage counselor and I don’t think he should. However, I would have appreciated the acknowledgement and could have perhaps used some counsel on forgiveness, the atonement, and other topics for my own spiritual guidance. I don’t mean that the spouse should be called in for an interview or to press on her the need for her to monitor her husband’s actions. But the bishop calling the wife in to see how she is doing and offering assistance could be the only opportunity for help she ever gets.
As I mentioned, this is not how our story ends. My husband and I have both found healing and are now more determined than ever to help other couples who face the same challenge. Pornography addiction is a battle too many couples face. My humble reminder is this: don’t forget the addict’s wife.