My Husband’s Porn Addiction Is a Cross I Could Never Bear Without Christ

Our Lord wants our response to his love to be sincere and wholehearted. That is how he loves the Church. That is how I want my husband to love me.

“Red Rose”
“Red Rose” (photo: GoranH / Pixabay/CC0)

“May I put my phone here?” 

He asks this every night, eyes averted. 

I avert my eyes, too. “If you want.”

He puts his phone down on my bedside table, and we say goodnight. 

I don’t want this kind of marriage. I don’t want to be scheduling my life around therapy or support group meetings. I don’t want to spend a dime on relationship recovery books. I don’t want the kind of marriage where I can’t help but wonder, every time my husband takes his phone in the other room, Is he at it again?

I don’t want to be this powerless. 

I asked to have his phone at night about six months ago, less than a year after learning of his porn addiction. He told me that he was not acting out anymore, but he was exhibiting all the self-centered behaviors of someone still living with a brain wired for lust. Each time I woke up in the night to the glow of his phone in his hand as he made his way to the next room, I could not get back to sleep.

All the well-meaning books, articles and therapeutic programs I’d tried, both independently and with him, encouraged me to voice my needs and desires. So I asked for his phone at night. 

It didn’t help. 

Like anything I’ve asked for in our marriage — date nights, words of affirmation, openness, honesty, intimacy, prayer time, therapy for me, therapy for him, couples’ counseling — I’d asked for his phone in hopes that he’d seize this opportunity, embrace this chance for us to grow closer together and become more an earthly image of Christ’s self-giving love for his Church. 

Everything I asked my lust-addicted husband for, I always received the exact letter of what I’d requested but nothing of its spirit. Instead of connection, his responses have all been laden with resentment. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? No matter which well-reputed authorities advised me to ask for what I want, my husband smelled control. 

Obsessed with the thought, What else can I do to fix this marriage? I sought out groups that support spouses of porn addicts, including Catholic in Recovery and S-Anon. In those meetings, I have discovered that I am not alone. I hear stories of having tried everything to fix broken relationships. I meet others who have shown me that, no matter what we ask, we are powerless to change any aspect of another’s addiction. 

No matter what I ask, the addict will do what he wants. And isn’t this exactly how Christ loves his Church? 

God gave us the gift of free will. He also gives us abundant grace through the sacraments. God desires that I come to him as my whole self of my own free will, hiding nothing. He offers me endless opportunities to relate with him in honesty, openness and willingness, most notably in the sacraments. 

Jesus invites us to closeness, but he doesn’t ever beg or cajole. He wants us. We want him back or we don’t. 

With every choice God offers us, he surrenders his power over us. He wants our response to his love to be sincere, wholehearted, under no constraint. Isn’t that exactly how I want my husband to love me? Jesus will accept nothing short of our freely-given selves. That is how Christ loves the Church. That is how spouses are to love each other.

Living with a lust addict is teaching me to be more Christ-like in this way: to live out my love for another, I must surrender my expectations and desires. I must follow Christ’s example and let my husband come to me when and how he wants. He wants me back or he doesn’t.

Through God’s generosity, I now know that I will be okay no matter what my husband chooses. I can set boundaries and be open only with someone who has rebuilt, one tiny choice at a time, a bedrock of trust. I am done snooping and begging. I trust God to let me know when this man is trustworthy, and if that is not going to happen this side of the grave, I trust God to keep me safe and well anyway. My husband is free to love me only if he is free to reject me. My goal must be not my earthly marriage but my Jesus in heaven. 

So when my husband says, “May I put my phone here?” I reply, “If you want.”

I am powerless. God made us both to do what we want. I want surrender.

Catherine A. Quinn is the pen name of a Catholic wife grateful to be married to a recovering lust addict.