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

Last Updated: December 5, 2019

Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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.

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.

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 healthy  ways to deal with grief:

1. 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 wine skins. 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.

2. 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…

3. 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.

4. 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.

  • Comments on: When Holidays Aren’t Happy: 4 Ways to Deal with Grief and Porn Addiction
    1. Susan on

      Hello, I can relate so so so much. I lived all my married life of 48 years with my husband who was addicted to porn. I really wouldn’t know where to begin. I’ve forgotten or blocked somethings out of my mind. I guess the Lord was trying to protect me. I Lost my husband two years ago to cancer. I loved him so much. I do think of the many many losses. I am sad because of the loss of time and so much more. I know that the Lord wanted to see us come full circle with healing and restoration, but it just didn’t happen. He’s with the Lord now, free finally. I think I’m okay , but all the things I went through, I’m not sure. Just leaning on Jesus.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Susan, this just breaks my heart. I hope you’ve got a counselor who’s helping you through this complicated grief. Peace, Kay

    2. Barbara on

      I am finally allowing myself to grieve the relationship I thought I had. I am now grieving the loss of my ongoing relationship with my husband. I cannot go on living with my husband.
      He refuses disclosure, refuses to work with a therapist, will not work with me to heal. He will not allow me to talk about my pain and grief; the few times I’ve tried he threatens suicide.
      He attends one 12 step meeting a week, does not call anyone from the meetings, has only met with his sponsor four times in two and a half years. He refuses to have open conversations about his/ my triggers. He denies having any triggers at all. He Is not acting out so he believes he is totally cured. He believes all the so-called therapists and experts are out to “bash” porn addicts and are incompetent. They do not know what they are talking about. How can “they” expect him to help me heal by demonstrating trustworthiness and engaging in hard conversations.
      He yells at me and berates me for the smallest infraction (spilling cat litter when changing the litter box), turning the music down when in a vehicle together, not acknowledging how much he has done to recover ( he expects me to praise his efforts but he keeps his recovery secret). He uses gaslighting tactics until I feel I am going crazy. I will have to leave as I am constantly physically sick and afraid. I never know when he will blow up at me – yelling and swearing. He tells me to stop doing any healing work; no watching videos, listening to podcasts, leading a support group. He believes if I just give it to God I will be healed and be “over the trauma”.
      I am sad that I need to leave for my own safety and sanity. I have surrendered him to God and I am focusing on my own healing.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Barbara, this just breaks my heart. I am so, so sorry for the pain you are living through. It sounds to me like your husband’s porn use is simply part of a huge array of abusive behaviors. As painful as this is, I am so deeply grateful that you are able to identify what’s going on, and that you are able to take the healthy steps forward of leaving for your own safety and sanity. Of course this is so sad. And I am so, so thankful that you are able to do these hard, necessary things. Holding space for you in my heart,
        Kay

    3. Shari on

      My husband was caught by my daughter in 2011and myself two Christmases ago. We are still seeing a therapist weekly. I still catch my husband looking/lingering at billboards, commercials, posters in sporting goods stores, and women in bras at stores. He partially revealed the last one in our session, meaning it wasn’t a woman in the bra, just a bra on a store add. He keeps telling me he’s changed. I’m not seeing this behavior go away. It’s a few times a month. What are your thoughts. I see this as a continuing behavior w only promises to stop. Thank you

      Reply

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