When Holidays Aren’t Happy: 4 Ways to Deal with Grief and Porn Addiction

My friend sent me a SOS text the other night. She had discovered a movie on their cable account that she suspected her husband had watched. Her text contained the normal anger and anxiety that many spouses feel when they find their significant other engaging in pornography. But she also said this: I feel so sad for him. In the same moment she was overcome by her own grief, she knew that her husband had lost something significant too.

When Holidays Aren't Happy_ 4 ways to deal with grief and porn addiction

Grief has been a daily part of my life since this summer. Our family lost six people in the span of three months and I have been intentional about trying to walk it out well. I have also been incredibly sensitive to those around me who are also grieving. Though they may not be processing the death of a person, there are so many things in this world that pain us to lose: the loss of a job, the loss of a dream, the loss of financial security, the loss of a relationship with someone who still walks on this earth. The list is endless.

There are many of you who have entered this holiday season with loss because of your spouse’s addiction. Whether s/he still struggles with pornography or is in active recovery, there are moments when we grieve what we’ve lost because of it. When we notice the sense of loss creeping up on us, we have choices about how we will deal with it, just as we do with any type of grief. We can pretend it’s not there, we can put on a happy face to get through the holidays and then cry alone in the dark. Or we can be real with our spouse, trusted friends, and Jesus.

What Grief Has to Do With Porn Addiction

What do we grieve when porn addiction is part of our marriage? I thought back through my own relationship with Craig and his porn addiction, looking at it through a wide-angle lens that spans over a decade. I’ve grieved betrayal of trust, infidelity, the time I spent trying to be the porn police, my own sin born out of a need to control, the loss of security, and the loss of unity between us. I’ve grieved the loss of hope when I had caught him yet again and when I thought we’d be starting over from square one. I’ve grieved the loss of time together due to porn, video games, and angry stalemates. I’ve grieved the times I was a less-than-stellar mother because of the stress of the addiction and the isolation I felt because I didn’t know how or to whom to reach out. And then, of course, there are those unmet expectations, for the times I was hungry for love and affection and stability and I felt like I had none.

I will not get back the time I lost while my spouse was in the throes of addiction, and neither will you, but this is what I want you to know: Our God is a God who can redeem anything and who can and does make all things new. But part of the redemption process requires us to engage with what we have lost and to be real with our wounds. We can’t expect our spouse to do the hard work of healing and recovery if we don’t engage in the same. If we can do this together, we are able to find true gratitude and appreciation for each other’s work and process.

4 Healthy Ways to Deal With Grief

How can we allow our grief to work in our favor? How can we use it to produce fruit in our hearts and our relationships? Here are four ways:

Be honest. Stuffing feelings never helped anyone. There is something about grief that must be expressed in order for healing to take place. Part of rebuilding a healthy relationship is learning to listen to and validate the emotions and feelings of our spouse. When porn is or has been a part of the relationship, those emotions and feelings are often times not pretty. But keeping them to ourselves, for whatever reason, compounds the lack of trust and inhibits new growth. It’s just like rebuilding a house—we have to get rid of the old stuff to make room for the new. Or, to put it Biblically, we don’t put new wine in old wineskins. The point is this: It’s not enough to heap new behaviors and words into a relationship. We have to clear out the wounds before the new ways of communicating and behaving can make a difference in our healing.

Don’t expect grief to be linear. When Craig and I were writing our book, I remember writing out a story I had told so many times before, and yet, I found myself weeping over my keyboard. There was another layer of healing that God wanted to do in my life. Had I dismissed this swell of pain and tears because “I should be over it now” I would have robbed myself of healing and potentially allowed old roots of bitterness to take up space in my heart. It’s okay to go with God to those deep places of grief. He knows what He’s doing. If He’s asking you to sit with a painful situation or memory, there will be healing on the other side. He doesn’t ask us to experience pain without a purpose. Which brings us to the next point…

Allow God to shed light on its purpose. Jesus made no secret that this world would be filled with trouble. And James opens his letter saying that these trials we go through produce perseverance in us. When porn addiction is your trial, you feel like you’ll be able to run multiple marathons with all the endurance and perseverance produced from those trials.

So many times, I’ve lamented how long it took for Craig to find true healing for this addiction. But being on the other side, I am grateful for the endurance we both developed as we worked through it. When it comes to our marriage and anything that threatens it (including our own behavior), we no longer entertain the thought of giving up. We cannot expect our marriage to always be smooth sailing. Obstacles will arise on our path together, but I know with the endurance we have from our trials, we can use the relational “muscles” we’ve developed to help empower us to overcome.

Release what God’s asking you to surrender. If we hold onto our grief in its initial form and don’t allow God to use it to change us for the better, we will not receive what He has for us. I have been guilty of holding onto grief, clutching it as a security blanket, knowing if I let it go, I would open myself to vulnerability again. I remember after a particularly devastating night, lying in my bed bereft because I could not trust anyone. My heart felt hollowed out and there was a feeling of nothingness present that I never want to experience again. In the morning, God greeted me with just a few words: You can trust Me. In porn addiction, there can be so many mistakes, so many “slip-ups,” and so many times you feel like you’re starting over. It often feels like the best course of action is to hold onto the pain in hopes that it will somehow protect you from the next onslaught. But if God is asking you to release something, it’s because He has something else to put in your hand—something better that will serve you well. Though your spouse will trip and stumble, God never will.

None of these things are easy. The process of grief is not easy. But this I know—God is close to the brokenhearted. He sees you in all your pain, in all of your sorrow, in all of the difficulty that surrounds you. And in this storm, where it may feel like every wave threatens to crush you, He is with you. And to Him you can turn to ask Him to calm the storm or to call you out upon the waters. And if you slip, He’s there to take your hand. He doesn’t expect you—or your spouse—to weather any of this alone.