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Part 1: Making a Crisis Out of a Crisis
Taken from www.covenanteyes.com
A story of recovery written by the wife of an addict.
It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
After the trauma of preterm labor, a month of bed-rest, and a 3-day long delivery, I was a new mom who had to constantly hold, nurse, or pump milk for our premature daughter. The around-the-clock care didn’t ease up after the first couple of weeks like they said it would. I was so exhausted that I felt delirious. You might know the feeling.
Yet, all this time, I felt a prompting in my spirit that said, Check your husband’s computer. I ignored the warning several times. I felt too drained to admit that Ryan might be looking at pornography while I was caring for the baby or enjoying any moments of sleep that came my way. I thought, I can’t take care of another person’s problems right now; he’s supposed to be the strong one . . . not me! Yet, I knew that in the past, when I had been sick, weak, or occupied with something else, Ryan would struggle more intensely with pornography. Thus far, no amount of disappointment, hurt, anger, conviction, or counseling seemed to solve the problem. The solutions we had tried only lasted until the temptation crept up again.
And yet, the prompting continued, Check your husband’s computer.
When I finally scanned the history on Ryan’s computer, I wasn’t surprised to find some images that he recently viewed. Even though I wasn’t surprised, I did feel freshly hurt and betrayed. I felt the familiar rush of jealousy, of wanting to look intently at every 2-dimensional woman to discover what she had that I didn’t have, what she did that I didn’t do, or what she was that I couldn’t be. I clenched my jaw and set my heart in disgust towards my husband: I hated this man who wasted our time, energy, and resources on lust while I worked so hard to take care of our family.
I held our precious baby in my arms as I sat at our kitchen table and wondered what I should do next. Then it dawned on me, Why should I sit here with a pit in my stomach while he waltzes through the day without a care in the world? I picked up the phone. When Ryan answered, I simply said, “You need to stop looking at pornography.” I knew that he could hear the finality in my voice; I knew that somehow, he got the message that I would not fight this losing battle any more. I hung up the phone, pleased with my concise drama. I wanted him to sweat this one out. I wanted to make a crisis out of this so that it would not be a part of our lives any more.
Five minutes later, Ryan pulled into the driveway and gushed every apology and every “I’ll try harder” he could concoct in an effort to appease me. I had heard it all before. I told him that unlike the past, I would not offer suggestions, solutions, or sympathy. The pattern had always been the same: when I initiated a plan of attack, he never followed through. This time, he had to figure something out that would actually change the pattern. And he had to figure it out himself. I decided to retreat with our daughter to my parents’ home. I needed time and distance to heal, rest, and consider my appropriate response. I needed my mother and my sisters, who would help me to take care of the baby, and I needed a good night’s sleep.
Tears streamed down my face as I packed my bags. In my flurry of mourning and moving, I felt G-d’s voice in my spirit, “You will not return to the same man. Your marriage will never be the same.” I thought the only feasible explanation was that we would be getting a divorce. I relished the prospect that G-d had a better man in mind for me. At the time, I couldn’t fathom that He meant Ryan.
Part 2: Listening to Wise Friends
“You’re acting like the man of the house,” Lois said gently as we sat together on our couch in the living room.
This was the last thing I expected in such a time of crisis. Even though two weeks had passed since I had discovered Ryan’s most recent struggle with pornography, I was still reeling from the hurt. Doesn’t she know that I need more sympathy? I wondered.
I had just returned from my parents’ home in an effort to regain some normalcy and consider restoring our marriage. One of the first things I did upon my return was to go to Ryan’s office and check his work computer to make sure he had been “clean” while I was gone. My dear mentor’s “man of the house” comment came on the tails of me proudly describing my proactive check-up.
Lois must have read the confusion on my face as she explained that I needn’t “check up” on Ryan any more. She said that his male accountability mentors were by his side. She challenged me to allow Ryan to develop his own internal passion to resist temptation. I finally understood that, as long as I persisted in assuming spiritual leadership in our home, prioritizing myself and my goals and taking responsibility for Ryan’s choices, Ryan would not experience the work or glory of G-dly manhood.
Over the past two weeks I had learned to trust the wisdom of mentors and close friends, since I couldn’t see clearly through my own ferocious emotions. In fact, one of the only reasons I decided to return home and give Ryan another chance was the presence of four undaunted friends who dropped everything just to hold our marriage together.
For 40 days after my discovery of Ryan’s ongoing struggle-while I got over my initial desire to kill him- Ryan lived with our friend Mark and his family. Mark spent hours with Ryan-at the breakfast table, under the stars by the fire pit, on the porch, on the phone-asking him all of the tough questions, kicking his behind, and teaching him how to be a G-dly man. Ryan said that every morning Mark would remind him that, in order to truly live, Ryan had to die to himself. This meant giving up every selfish, immature notion and behavior and replacing them with sacrificial love. Tough stuff. Another dear friend (also named Mark!) joined in the battle. “The Marks” (as we came to call them) didn’t overlook anything. They noticed and jumped on parts of Ryan’s personality and perspective that I wouldn’t have had the discernment or courage to address. (Men seem to have a special knack for nailing each other.) Ryan worked hard to consider what they were saying and to accept G-d’s transformation. They spent hours praying, asking G-d to address very specific events, wounds, reasons, memories, and habits. To this day, I don’t know all of the details that went on as the Marks faithfully beat Ryan down and built him back up again, but I do know that we will always tell our children and our children’s children about the friends who did the hard work of instilling manliness and G-dliness in Ryan; because G-d asked them to, they helped to save our generations.
Of course, during those 40 days, I was getting my behind kicked too. (Take my gentle but life-changing rebuke from Lois, for example.)
Lois and another friend, Stephanie, held me through the healing process; crying with me when things were really bad, correcting me when I believed and spoke lies, and teaching me how to return my heart to G-d and to Ryan. They told me that I could call them whenever I needed to talk. So I did. Our marital situation was so dire that I couldn’t afford to be overly considerate. I needed help and, for one of the first times in my life, I not only accepted it, but I also asked for it. Little by little, G-d used their guidance to soften my heart and to transform my bitterness into anticipation.
One afternoon, a friend challenged me to tell Ryan that I respected him and to specify why. Out of my bitterness, I told her that there was no way I could conjure up any reason to respect him at all. Yet, she left me with the challenge. I asked G-d, “How in the world could I come up with a reason to respect Ryan?!”
That evening, when Ryan left our weekly get-together, I dragged my feet to the door behind him. I didn’t know yet what I would say, but I forced myself to begin. I blurted out, “Oh yeah, I ummm… respect you for…ummmm… taking this all so seriously.” I was shocked that I had come up with something on the spot. I was more shocked that I actually meant what I said: I did respect the way that Ryan seemed to be investing his full heart into the restoration process. Of course, I was most shocked that, for the first time in weeks, Ryan’s face lit up with a grateful and sincere smile as he said, “Thank you. I am taking this seriously. I love you.”
Later that evening, I read an email from one of the Marks. It said, “Your groom is coming.” I was ready to hope that he meant Ryan.
Part 3: The Circles of Restoration
I turned to face the married couples as I explained, “We no longer agree with the simplistic counselor-office triangle of one spouse on one side of the base, the other spouse on the opposite side of the base, and G-d at the top of the triangle,” as I drew a big fat X through the triangle diagram. “It’s not because we’re triangle snobs, it’s simply because we’ve learned that a marriage requires a complex universe of elements in order to survive. These days, we’re pretty convinced that a marriage thrives when it looks a little more like this.”
I began to draw one concentric circle inside another one, inside another one, inside another one, until I had drawn five. As I guided the chalk around the circle on the chalkboard, I considered how far G-d had taken Ryan and me in the past couple of years: somehow, we had come through the devastation of Ryan’s persistent pornography addiction, the grueling process of redefining “husband” and “wife,” the humility of submitting to G-dly mentors, and the pleasure of being miraculously reconciled.
The intimate crowd at the marriage retreat listened respectfully as Ryan and I shared our journey: Ryan emphasized the importance of undaunted and persistent male mentors who taught and required him to sacrifice everything in order to follow G-d, and I explained the revolution of becoming Ryan’s helper and friend instead of his boss and competitor. We hoped that our story would inspire other people to address “unmentionable” marital issues and trust G-d to walk them into victory. From the looks on our audience members’ faces, I could tell that some of them were ready to stop tolerating pornography, lust, misplaced leadership, and ugly criticism in order to gain more holy marriages.
They bent their heads over their notebooks and copied the concentric circles that I was drawing on the board. They labeled each one as I identified the circles from the innermost core to the outermost rim:
I explained that each of these elements must be vibrantly present in a marriage, and in this order. Like the planets that are hung delicately in space, these relational elements are ordained by G-d for a balanced life. If we wrongly prioritize or eliminate one of these precious elements, our marriages begin to teeter-totter, and eventually fall apart. Ryan piped in that we have chosen some tough lifestyle changes and have made significant sacrifices in order to pursue this balance. He listed a handful of examples, two of which were: 1) Canceling television so that we would spend more face-to-face time together as a couple; 2) Pursuing mentors who we call, email, and visit frequently;
We’ve installed filters and Covenant Eyes accountability software on our computers that both protect us from unsolicited temptations and demand that we keep our lives open to accountability partners.
As Ryan spoke about these changes in our marriage, I stepped back from the lime-light and took a look at him for a long moment. In him, I saw a man who had unveiled a terrible and omnipresent temptation; a man who had faced his own humanity and sinfulness; a man who had chosen to fall in the arms of G-d and obey Him step by step, even when the choices were tough. This was a new man: a new husband who inspired me to become a new wife, one who would honor G-d, respect her husband, listen to wise counsel, and immerse herself in a family and community that would help her to build her home well.
Several years ago, when I discovered those vile images on Ryan’s computer, I sobbed, and despaired, and fell apart. G-d spoke gentle hope to my heart that my marriage would change; I never would have guessed that the practical, prayerful, pointed steps of humble obedience—on my part, Ryan’s part and our mentors’ part—would result in a miracle this breathtaking.