Sara Walker currently lives in Amity, Oregon. She served in the Chicago Illinois North mission, met her husband at BYU-Idaho, and has a been striving to improve her marriage and help her husband overcome his addiction to pornography.

Enter Sara…

Dear Bishop,

Thank you for your service as a bishop in the Church. I believe you were called of God to your calling for such a time as this. We need people who are willing to be on the front lines in the battle for families and individuals against sexual addiction. I am hoping to give you some insight into what women with husbands involved in sexual addiction (SA) need from you as an ecclesiastical leader. I have talked with many women who are dealing with this in their lives, and their stories are varied and poignant. All the women who shared their insight did so knowing that I would be submitting this to you. Out of respect for them and the battles they continue to fight, I won’t use names or specific details.

The feelings and thoughts expressed in this letter are my own, although not every item listed has been applicable to me and my situation. It is my hope that you will use this letter—as well as the spirit of discernment—when counseling with individuals and couples, as each situation is somewhat unique. There are, however, a number of similarities between them as well. I will be attempting to address those.

I feel like it’s important to begin this by sharing with you some attitudes and attributes of the addict. Many of those who come to you with SA will be men—although not exclusively. Therefore, I will use the term addict and husband interchangeably. When a man comes to you admitting he has looked at pornography, please consider the following:

  • Most men do not fully confess everything the first time, or the second, or the third…
  • They may say they don’t have an addiction, that it was just a here-and-there problem.
  • They have likely struggled for years, and are only coming to you because they got caught.
  • They have lied to themselves and to their spouse for so long that they believe many of their own lies.
  • They are so programmed to hide everything that it usually takes a “hitting rock bottom” moment before full confession happens, and sometimes not even then.
  • Often there are things like masturbation and infidelity that they are not talking about.

As a bishop, please consider asking the difficult questions. Be specific. Ask: Do you masturbate? Have you had virtual relationships or physical relationships? Do you go to strip clubs or porn shops? How often? For how long? Do you use your phone or tablet? Do you call hotlines? And so forth. They do not need to be graphic in the details of what they do, but they do need to be accountable. Many of these men have a distorted sense of time. They will say the last time they looked was a few months/weeks ago. In reality, it was likely sooner and for longer than they would admit. They are most likely in something referred to as “addict brain” or “addict mode.” Unless they have been actively working at recovery, they are in addict brain. It gives them a distorted sense of reality. (For more in-depth discussion of addict brain, see the book, Like Dragons Did They Fight.)

Dealing with someone who lives much of their life in addict brain is difficult. When we—the women dealing with this—come to you for help, we often have no one else to turn to. Begin to educate yourself about the nuances of SA. Each of the below items is just a brief overview; this is meant as a starting point and not a comprehensive document. Please consider the following as you seek guidance in counseling us:

1. Do not imply or flat out say that if we would give our spouse more time sexually he wouldn’t have this problem

This is probably the number one source of depression, frustration and abandonment women feel from ecclesiastical leaders. This is the quickest way to alienate the wife. Women will immediately throw up a wall when a priesthood leader tells her this. I actually had a priesthood leader angry with me because he thought I was neglecting that “duty.”

I don’t know how to state this more clearly: Sexual addiction/pornography addiction is not about the sex. It may be difficult to understand this, but the addict does not know how to deal with life and pornography/masturbation is his coping mechanism. A wife could quite literally prostitute herself for her husband and it would never be enough. When told that we need to do more for the man sexually, we are being put in danger emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically.

This addiction is not the wife’s fault. Often the addiction began even before the marriage. Blaming the wife is a way for the addict to deflect the feelings of guilt and responsibility.

2. Counsel with husband and wife individually at first

Because he has been in addict brain for so long, the husband has not been emotionally available in many ways to the wife. He is often unwilling to be vulnerable and accountable. To ask a couple to begin mending their marriage requires that the addict is actively working recovery. Be aware that sobriety and recovery are not the same. Sobriety is part of recovery, but it is not recovery in and of itself. It is important for each spouse to be working recovery on their own before coming together to mend the marriage. In addition, if you are meeting with the couple, do not use it as a time to side with one spouse or another.

3. A woman’s recovery is separate and distinct from her husband’s

As women dealing with spouses with SA, we are largely on our own to seek information and find what works for us. However, there are a few things that will help:

  • Although our spouse may not be worthy to go to the temple, the wife should not be denied access. The temple can be the most inspirational and comforting place for us.
  • Ministering to us individually may include regular check ins, blessings, and temporal support.
  • Assisting us in setting and maintaining boundaries with the addict is vital. They are not meant to be used as a punishment, but as a way to keep us safe and allow for healing for us and the addict.
  • If women are willing, it would be fantastic for you to help us connect with other local women who are going through the same issues. Satan works in isolation. Having others to talk with allows us to share experiences and assist one another in the healing process.

4. Forgiveness does not equal trust

Forgiveness is given when: We recognize that we are not in control. We recognize that we cannot control the addict and their choices, but can only control ourselves. We choose to give it to God and trust in Him.

Trust is given when: We see accountability on the part of the addict. The addict is actively working all aspects of recovery.
The following is an accurate description of betrayal trauma, provided by the website bloomforwomen.com:

Betrayal trauma is a condition that parallels the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and is caused when someone experiences betrayal and deception within their primary relationship; this betrayal damages the trust and safety of the relationship and calls into question the bond they have with their partner. If you have been betrayed by your spouse through pornography use or infidelity, you may experience tremendous anxiety, high stress, fatigue, depression, despair, grief, fear, and other serious symptoms.

As bishop, you can help by not giving the spouse a timeline for either forgiveness or trust. This has to be freely given. And in the case of trust, it must be actively earned by the addict. Misplaced trust can lead to more betrayal and emotional, spiritual, and physical trauma.

5. Another common attitude from ecclesiastical leaders is to ask us to treat the addict like our child, asking, “What would you do for your child?”

This is a complete misunderstanding of the husband/wife relationship. Women look to their spouses to do three basic things: provide, preside, and protect. To treat a spouse as a child diminishes them in all three of those roles, and implies that we ought to assume some responsibility for their behavior. The addict often struggles with all three of these roles. We have to assume them for ourselves just to make sure that they are present in our children’s lives. Again, this is something that we cannot make the addict choose to do.

6. Local church leaders can make a difference

Women have a natural instinct to protect their children and those they love. Most women, when given the proper help, are able to move past the trauma that SA causes in their life. What I hear from almost every woman that I talk with is a desire to have this problem brought to light. Satan works in isolation and darkness. As a bishop, you are put into the unique position within the ward family to lead the charge against sexual/pornography addiction. You can:

  • Have a 5th Sunday lesson on SA/pornography. Life Changing Services (LCS) has several YouTube videos, including one geared specifically towards 5th Sunday lessons.
  • Talk to the youth! They need to be educated on the dangers of pornography and masturbation. Another website geared towards understanding the science of porn addiction is Fight the New Drug. It has a free app for those struggling with addiction as well as numerous articles talking about the specific dangers of this addiction.
  • Talk to the sisters. Educate them on the signs to look for in their spouse and children. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this find someone who does.
  • As stated before, ask specific and sometimes difficult questions to both the youth and adults who come to you.
  • Educate yourself!

While I cannot possibly hope to make this letter comprehensive, I hope it will assist you in dealing with this issue as it comes to you. I have no doubt that it will come to you more and more often. I believe it is truly one of the great plagues spoken of in the scriptures.

Thank you for your service!

Sincerely,

The Wife of a Porn Addict

Podcast Episode Highlights

  • 30:34 – Do not imply that more sexual attention from a spouse will help with an addiction
  • 35:05 – Counseling with husband and wife should not be the first avenue
  • 45:51 – Our recovery is different from our husband’s
  • 49:38 – How to make the invitation to the spouse to come talk to the Bishop or a counselor easier?
  • 55:10 – Forgiveness does not equal trust
  • 58:45 – Bishop’s are put in a place to lead the charge against sexual and pornography addiction.
  • 6:39 – Sara’s email to Kurt
  • 8:04 – Were you aware of your husband’s addiction prior to marriage? Sara’s husband told her after the subject was brought up jokingly. Addicts have a hard time with empathy and often get stuck in cycles. Emotional situations, good or bad, are triggers for addicts to return to previous behavior.
  • 12:25 – Realize that it’s not about you Addicts need to change because they want to change, hitting rock bottom is often necessary
  • 12:58 – How long has this been an issue? This started 15 years and has been a constant issue, recovery is long. They participated in the church’s addiction recovery program and that helped, it’s hard to address pornography in a group program.
  • 15:17 – From the perspective of a wife or spouse, explain to us how you would describe your interaction with leaders, why was it frustrating? Bishop’s never spoke with her as the spouse of an addict, most of the bishop’s counsel was basic and didn’t fully address the severity of the issue. 18:05 – Pornography addictions aren’t always about sex, a healthy spousal relationship can still have problems
  • 18:34 – How can you better describe that pornography addiction is not about the spouse and sexual intimacy? The spouse can stay true to themselves, keep a close relationship with Heavenly Father and continue to read scriptures and pray. Fight the New Drug is a good resource for pornography addiction information. Addiction usually starts in their teens as a curiosity. A lot of addicts use pornography to handle stress.
  • 24:52 – The importance of a Bishop being specific in their counsel Addicts have a tendency to downplay their addiction. Bishops need to ask additional questions about masturbation, intimate online relationship, strip clubs, etc… Bishops need to understand the full scope of a pornography addiction. Bishops don’t need to know every detail but to understand how it’s happening and the level of what’s going on.
  • 27:20 – Bishop’s need to assess their level of repentance and recovery. Is this a one time slip up or is this an indulgence?
  • 30:00 – Speaking from the perspective of a spouse, a list of six suggestions:
  • 30:34 – Do not imply that more sexual attention from a spouse will help with an addiction. Encouraging a spouse to be more intimate could be exposing them to physical or emotional danger.
  • 35:05 – Counseling with husband and wife should not be at first. If the spouse isn’t in a recovery situation, counseling together will be difficult for the addict to take responsibility for their actions. Separate counseling is ok but a professional counselor is recommended.
  • 38:54 – How does codependency manifest in addict relationships? A spouse’s role in helping the addict should not be all consuming, trying to police every moment should not be their responsibility. Restrictions should be put in place because the addict asks for it. Have the addict be accountable for their actions.
  • 42:08 – How do you set up accountability? Men of Moroni recovery program. A daily journal helps them to be accountable to a group of people in recovery and to their spouse. Having a plan in place to deter situations that trigger a relapse is important for the addict. A leader can help the addict be accountable to them and set up meetings and check ups to see how recovery is going.
  • 45:51 – Our recovery is different from our husband’s. Two books that have been helpful: Rhyll Croshaw – What Can I Do About Me? Stephen R Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Remembering to put God first in our lives is very important, continuing to seek revelation and inspiration. Recognize that it isn’t just a trial of the addict, but the spouse as well.
  • 49:38 – How to make the invitation to the spouse to come talk to the Bishop or a counselor easier? The addicted spouse is ashamed and doesn’t want the other talking about it. The wife doesn’t fully understand the “why” of the situation and it’s a struggle of faith and personal revelation. The spouse questions a lot about their role in the situation. It’s important for the Bishop to tell the addict that they would like to speak with their spouse.
  • 55:10 – Forgiveness does not equal trust. Don’t let their bad behavior affect your life. When you see that the addict is making changes then they can earn their trust back. Bishop’s should be cautious about forcing a wife to forgive their husband and tell them to move on. Trust cannot be forced, spouses need to arrive there on their own in their own time. Bishops need to be a resource along the path to help them to forgive and trust again.
  • 57:34 – Leaders shouldn’t ask us to treat the addict like a child.
  • 58:45 – Bishop’s are put in a place to lead the charge against sexual and pornography addiction. The addiction recovery program is great but the needs of sexual and pornographic addictions needs to be addressed. These types of addictions are isolating and it doesn’t need to be that way. The youth and adults need to be proactive in discussing these issues. Stake Presidents and Bishops need to address sexual and pornographic addictions in fifth Sunday lessons or firesides.
  • 1:03:11 – As a wife, what are your thoughts about your husband losing his temple recommend?

Links

Interview with Steven & Rhyll Crowshaw


FOOTNOTES:

1. You can find a fantastic explanation of what recovery is and isn’t, and why a definition if it is so vital to true recovery, in this post on the blog Make My Burden Light.

2. Recommended readings:
Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Boundaries in Marriage, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Moving Beyond Betrayal, Vicki Tidwell Palmer
Like Dragons Did They Fight, Maurice Harker (The reason this particular book and the LCS program are so fundamental in changing the addict is that there are physical steps to take each day and ways to chart your progress. My husband continues with the LDS Church’s ARP program, but he says that the two together are the best thing.)
What Can I Do About Me?, by Rhyll Croshaw (especially helpful for women)
7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

Resources that have been the most helpful for my spouse and I:

  • Life Changing Services – The therapists here have some amazing services for both spouses. It’s also a fantastic resource for young men and young women who are struggling with this. I can’t say enough good things about Maurice Harker and the program he has developed. It is changing lives.
  • Fight the New Drug – This is another website geared toward helping break the cycle of sex addiction. It has an app that is free to use. They continually update their website with new information about the dangers of sex addiction.
  • Healing Through Christ – This website is very underdeveloped, but the workbook for families is phenomenal. In fact, the church at one time used it as their recovery program, but due to copyright issues with some of the contributors it is no longer being used. I would strongly recommend getting the workbooks as a resource for families.
  • Healing with Worth – LCS offers a program specifically for women, called WORTH. There are a number of online groups that are therapist-led that they can participate in. They are also free, which is great for most couples going through recovery. Often the cost of therapy for the addict is straining on the family budget, but LCS really tries to make recovery as affordable as possible.
  • S.A. Lifeline Foundation – This site has a number of resources and their story is a powerful one of addiction and recovery. Their book, What Can I Do About Me?, by Rhyll Croshaw, was the first book I read that really began to help me as a woman as I dealt with everything.
  • ARP – The LDS church program for addiction recovery. It offers wonderful spiritual insights and generally has a meeting close enough for most people to be able to attend in person. For women, it can bring a lot of comfort to be able to meet face-to-face with other women who are going through the same struggles.
  • The six-video Breaking the Chains seminar by Maurice Harker, is especially helpful for women.

Additional suggested readings:
Outwitting the Devil, Napoleon Hill
Putting on the Armor of God, Steven A. Cramer
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
He Restoreth My Soul, Donald L. Hilton Jr
The Drug of the New Millennium, Mark B. Kastleman

For the Girls Who Struggle With Addiction:
Daughters of Light

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