Ian and Beth took the models for their relationships from their parents. Ian did not have a close relationship with his father. The harsh treatment he received and lack of affirmation from his father resulted in his inability to respect his wife, and to encourage and nurture his kids. Beth’s parents divorced when she was 18 years old and, prior to that, she had witnessed quarrels and a perpetuating family cycle of abuse and hurt.

So when pornography reared its ugly head, dividing Ian and Beth in their marriage, neither of them were equipped with the communication skills to deal with it, and so the problem festered. Ian had been addicted to pornography long before he got married. At a young age, he enjoyed watching pornographic films with his school-mates. He shares that watching pornography and masturbating oneself is a terrible addiction that brings on feelings of guilt, which in turn made him angry at everything around him. “This affected the relationship with my wife and my kids as I took my anger and frustrations out on all of them. I felt unworthy of the grace of God. I tried to give up the pornography on my own, but each time, it wasn’t long before I gave in to the temptation again.”

“My husband’s addiction to pornography was slowly killing our marriage,” explains Beth. “It created a wall between us in our bed and in every other area of our marital relations. He refused to speak openly about the problem, and came clean only once, when he was caught red handed.”

My husband’s addiction to pornography was slowly killing our marriage

When Ian was forced to defend his actions, Beth heard one of the most painful words ever when he told her he looked for another woman’s attention because Beth was not attractive. This was the day after their second child was born. For years, Beth carried those words in her heart. It destroyed her confidence as a woman and she felt unworthy when they had sex, even when Ian tried to initiate it.

“I realise now that I carried the emotional scars of my parents’ marriage breakdown into my own marriage,” recalled Beth. “This subconsciously created an atmosphere of tension. Like my mum, I constantly pointed out his faults and never once showed appreciation towards him. We lived like this for years, unable to have an authentic relationship, until my husband signed us up for the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP).”

The Holy Spirit Intervenes

“A while back, I went for Mass alone while my wife and kids were out of the country,” Ian recalls. “There was a CEP roadshow that weekend and I immediately felt drawn to it. I signed up without asking for my wife’s consent, which was rather unusual. By then I had begun to recognise, through my wife’s silence, that she was slowly giving up on our marriage. Looking back, I think it was the Holy Spirit knocking on the door of my heart to take action: Romans 5.5: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

After attending CEP, the couple started to spend three to four hours regularly every week talking honestly about their lives, praying and reflecting on scripture passages and turning back to God to get their bearings right. “Then, things started to change,” Beth recalls. “We learnt to calmly discuss hot-button issues in our marriage, including financial issues and our parents and in-laws, in a constructive manner.”

This battle plan united us; we became a couple again, rekindling the love in us as we sought the good of the other.

The Breakthrough

During one of those sessions, Ian finally decided to talk openly about his addiction to pornography. “I was very happy for the both of us that he found the courage to speak about this addiction and that he was willing to make changes to improve our relationship,” says Beth. “We realised that we needed to encourage and support each other on our path to holiness as we administer the sacrament of holy matrimony daily to each other. We both come from abusive families, and we did not know how to treat each other with dignity and respect as spouses. Now we are able to speak with each other without fear of being rejected or attacked. We know, that whatever we are facing, there are larger forces influencing our actions and, through prayers and fasting, we choose to appeal to the Risen Lord to guide us. We now feel more united and our relationship has become more sincere.”

A Community Comes Together

Once Ian opened up, the CEP community rallied round the couple and devised a battle plan. “As I owned up to my problem, I prayed and fasted, and I finally went for the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” says Ian. “I was encouraged by my wife’s support in praying and fasting together with me. The community was also praying and fasting along with us. This battle plan united us; we became a couple again, rekindling the love in us as we sought the good of the other. We shared deeply and cared for each other more tenderly. Of course, we still have our differences, but there are no more lies that separate us, and this is key to building our intimacy and to the healing of my broken sexuality.

“I have been clean for six months now. Having reconciled myself with God and loving authentically again, our marriage has improved, and I have new-found freedom and am less anxious and afraid.”

This story was first published on the Archdiocesan Commission for the Family’s website.

*Ian and Beth are pseudonyms.

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