Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dating an Addict?

We live in a society that is highly sexualized, and porn use and/or sex addiction is probably a lot more common that you think. Click here for some stats. If you are in the dating scene, it's overwhelming enough. Throw sex addiction into the picture, and dating is even more of a mess.

Over the past year, I've had a number of people message me about dating an addict. Either they are dating and want to know how to approach the porn discussion, or they know they are dating someone who views porn and don't know what steps to take next. I've discussed this with fellow wives of addicts, and we have come up with these tips for dating!

First of all, to approach the subject of pornography. Some basic questions to ask include:

  • When was the last time you saw pornography?
  • What were the circumstances surrounding that last time you viewed pornography?
  • How often do you view pornography?
You can learn a lot from their answers. The first question is pretty crucial because, let's be honest, every adult has seen pornography in some form. If you ask someone you're dating when the last time was that he (or she) saw pornography, hopefully they will be shocked into honesty. [haha.] I made the mistake of asking Ben if he had a problem with pornography. He was in denial about his addiction, and at that point in his life, he thought he was "cured" of his porn problem anyway. So he told me he didn't have a problem with porn. We laughed at the uncomfortableness I felt in even asking the question, and I was reminded that I had found one of the "good" guys. 

I really believe not all men are addicts. I know there are guys out there who have accidentally found porn and done nothing to pursue it further. However, I do firmly believe all men have seen porn at some point. And having a discussion about it and the circumstances surrounding their porn viewing is a definite must when dating. 

If the guy is an addict, he could still lie. That's hard to grasp. But by asking questions and developing a transparent relationship, I hope honesty would be strong in the relationship and the necessary steps could be taken.

Next, what if the person you are dating has acknowledged that he (or she) has a problem with pornography (and hopefully acknowledges that it's more than a problem, but an addiction)?

When dating, people put their best selves forward. I know it's not easy for addicts to tell others they are an addict, but from what I've experienced and seen, even if an addict is coming forward and being honest about the fact that they have an addiction, the truth could still be hugely minimized. Or they could be deceiving themselves into believing that everything is fine. When you're dating and preparing for marriage, you're putting forth the best version of yourself. We all do that. So it's important to dig deep and learn certain things about a person (especially knowing that person is an addict) before making the final commitment (and in the LDS culture, marriage is ultimately what we are looking for as we date).

Example: A woman is dating a man who has come out and said he has struggled with porn addiction in the past. He has been sober for x-amount of time, and he wanted to inform her of the addiction so it's out in the open. While it's really great that he told her, simply knowing of the addiction is not enough. What are questions she should ask and things she should watch for in their relationship?

Good questions to ask/topics of discussion:

  • His relationship with the Savior and the gospel
  • What kind of recovery programs he has been a part of
  • What recovery programs he is currently a part of (an important part of addiction recovery is maintenance of that recovery)
  • What kind of therapy he has done/is doing
  • What types of education/research he has done about sex addiction/pornography and how it affects the brain
  • Ask him about masturbation. Porn use and masturbation go together. Trust me, you don't just want to know if he views pornography. You want to know about his lust habits and masturbation as well. 
  • Discover who he is when he is not on his best behavior. Especially learn about him under high stress. How does he react in anger? How does he react in impatience? 
    • See how he reacts when you have arguments or disagreements. If he doesn't get angry or refuses to engage in the discussion, that can be a big red flag. 
  • Ask about his recovery plan for the rest of his life (like I said, recovery must always be in maintenance).
  • Ask about past relationships and breakups. What were the circumstances. How did he feel about it? 
Things you should do for yourself:
  • Research and learn about porn and sex addiction. Learn about how it impacts the brain. Read accounts of couples who have struggled with addiction in their marriage. Learn as much as you can about pornography and sex addiction. It will be greatly beneficial to you to make the most informed decision you can in the future.
    • Learn about denial, recovery, relapses. Learn about addiction patterns and red flags to watch for regarding relapses and addiction behavior.
    • Learn about betrayal trauma.
  • If you are dating seriously, you have the right to know about his addiction. You can ask for a full disclosure if you want (which may be most relevant if you are engaged/preparing for marriage). You could even have him do a polygraph so you have everything in the open (we have never done a polygraph, but I know people who have and swear by it for healing on both sides).
  • Create boundaries and a check-in system. A basic rule of thumb for myself is a check-in every night, and I must be informed of a relapse within 24 hours (preferably after he has processed it with a sponsor or support person. The discussion about his relapse will happen much more smoothly if he has processed it himself). 
  • Know that marriage DOES NOT solve sex addiction or lust. Marrying someone with a sex-addiction will not make the addiction go away. And you will lose yourself if you believe that. There is so much more to the addiction than a desire for sex. 
  • Consider going to a spouse/family support group (there are online and phone options if you live in a remote area--my personal opinion is groups with 5-10 attendees are the best size).
  • Work a spouse/family support recovery program. 
  • Help establish open communication in the relationship.
Here are some resources to help learn about and understand the addiction. 
Here is information about boundaries. 
Here is a good emotional check-in worksheet. 
Here is an example of a check-in dialogue.
Here is a glossary of recovery terms to help you understand some of the facets of the addiction and living with an addict.

Just a couple more things. Some people's first instinct when they hear that someone is dating an addict is simply RUN. I thought I would throw that out there because it's valid. Sometimes that's my first instinct, as I know it is with many of us who are suffering this trial in our marriages. However, I would never deny someone the opportunity to use the Atonement and move on in life. I wouldn't actually say "don't date a man who is an addict" because of my hope in the Atonement. I would say arm yourself with knowledge and the Spirit. That is how you can make the best decision for yourself.

Don't forget to keep the Spirit near. Your relationship with God is your best protection. He will not forsake you.  

I hope this arms you with knowledge and resources you need to make the best decision.
Some addicts are complete jerk-wads.
Some addicts are really good men who are in a true battle against Satan and this addiction.

If you are dating an addict, I hope you know of your worth. You deserve the very best. Hopefully this will arm you to be able to sift through the crazies and find what you are looking for.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Add it to the pile

I've been struggling lately.

Usually, I'm pretty good about talking to Ben. But things have been way off lately. Partially because we have a baby who takes up so much time and emotional energy. Partially because Ben works a lot, and in his spare time he has to do all his "dailies" and dedicate x amount of time to addiction recovery. And then I feel bad when I try to demand any of his time. Partially because of the way I've been struggling, I just don't feel comfortable or confident talking to Ben about it.

There have been times in our marriage that have certainly been worse than now--times when the addiction has been much worse. But ever since his big relapse back in September, the addiction has been ever-present. And it's really hard for me. It's just added to the pile of hard and hurt that he has given me over the past five years.

I know some people don't think porn and masturbation are a big deal. Sometimes I rationalize those behaviors too. The addiction is just so confusing, and I simply don't want to be in this mess. Sometimes my thoughts go the route of "Maybe if I just accepted it, things would be fine..." and I guess that means I take some of the blame and responsibility for the way things are.

Sometimes I just get plain ol' confused because "it's an addiction" and I obviously can't expect the recovery to happen overnight. So I rationalize some behaviors because "it's an addiction" and just try to accept what is happening and know (hope/pray/wish) that he is in recovery and will overcome it eventually.

So when Ben acts out, I just don't know what to do anymore. If we put the acts of viewing pornography and masturbating aside, the addiction still takes a huge toll because of the emotional energy it drains from us both. And then there are the consequences of "addict mode", which are so pleasant (not). But then when I really think about his actions--the lust, the physical manifestation of the lust, the desires working in his brain--it just hurts. And sometimes I force myself to not think about the fact that he is envisioning another woman while he fantasizes and masturbates to that image and just think "it's an addiction" and hope it just won't hurt. Because apparently I'm supposed to understand that it's an addiction. And with an addiction, how much of his actions are by choice or desire anyway? You know? It's just all so confusing.

I've sacrificed so much in our marriage. I'm not perfect, but I do my best. Does he do his best? Is he doing his best at working recovery? Is he really as dedicated to our marriage as he says he is?

Lately, all the lies have kept coming back to my mind. So many lies. So many f-ing lies. It hurts to think about. And it hurts to think about all the negative that could happen in the future.

Ben thinks I'm pessimistic because sometimes I lean towards the worst case scenario and focus on that. I'm so afraid of what could happen to our family because of the addiction. I'm trying to live in the present and focus on what is happening now. But right now it's so hard. I don't know why, but my thoughts keep dwelling on the past. And I keep mourning the loss of my marriage. Over and over again. It keeps happening. I think it's because I keep having so much hope, and maybe I try to trust too soon because I desperately want things to be okay again. And then my heart just keeps breaking.

I can't keep living in fear of the future. And I can't keep dwelling on the past. I don't want my marriage to end, but I am having a really hard time accepting things as they are. I'm having a hard time sacrificing certain things for him to work recovery. It just feels hard right now. And all of this just makes me really annoyed at every little thing he does, which isn't a way to live.

I'm afraid for him to read this post because I'm afraid for how he will feel. That's not a good sign. It means I'm still using my emotional energy to control parts of his addiction. I keep working through that, but then things happen that bring me back down to that aspect of control.

Earlier today, I prayed about all of this. And I just expressed to God how I don't know how to forgive Ben and move on. And I don't know how to turn this over to the Savior, and sometimes I don't know how to love Ben because he feels unlovable through the blinders of my pain. But during that prayer, I was told that Ben is lovable. Through that same sacrifice the Savior made that allows me to turn my burdens over to Him, Ben was shown mercy and love. Because the Savior died so Ben could be forgiven. And if Ben can be forgiven and loved by God, then he certainly can be loved and forgiven by me. There is no timeline on forgiveness. I'm not perfect at loving and forgiving like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are, but through them, I can achieve perfect love and forgiveness some day. So for now I'll hold on to that.

I want to enjoy today because it's Mother's Day. And I feel like I'm ruining it. I love being a mom. I'm really grateful for that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I have hope

I've been itching to write but not really sure what to write about. Plus, it's really hard to find the time to write these days.

I'm just going to write whatever comes to my mind and heart right now.

Having a child puts a whole new spin on being married to an addict. His decisions no longer just impact us. They impact our child (and future children) too. I knew that before I got pregnant, but I didn't understand it like I do now.

For a long time, I have held on to this hope that he will get better. I've stayed in this and worked with everything I have because of that hope. His recovery was doing really well last year when I got pregnant, and I had so much hope for our family life after the baby was born. But ever since a major relapse last September, things have not been the same. His recovery has been very up and down. I've seen addict mode like I've never seen before, and there was a brief period where he went into hiding things from me again.

There are days when I really question everything. I don't have answers, but as I study the scriptures and talks from General Conference, I just keep feeling peace. As hard as some days are, I know I'm supposed to be with Ben. I don't know if that will ever change, but I'm holding on to what I know to be true right now and doing my best to stay close to God (and that precious time I used to spend studying my scriptures and praying every day is much harder to come by now that I have a child who is very needy and clingy).

We are preparing for some new life changes that we hope will have a very positive impact on the addiction and his recovery. It's hard to make big decisions, but through prayer, we can find the answer that is right for us.

As for me and my own recovery? I feel like I'm in a pretty good place right now. I feel so busy and engaged with our son, that it's much easier for me to detach from the addiction and let Ben make the choices to do what he needs to do (or not do--and that's not on me). I'm trying to be present for myself, my son, and Ben while maintaining boundaries and being strong for myself and my son. I'm trying to have faith, hope, and peace.

One thing that has really struck me recently is the fact that I AM OKAY. He still acts out in his addiction, but I am okay. I can see the addiction for what it is. I can see Ben for who he is. I can see when the addiction is rearing it's head (most of the time...), and I can maintain boundaries and not lose sight of who I am.

Most of the time (I say most because I'm certainly not perfect in this area), I can see my value and beauty. I know who I am and I strive to live up to my potential and not let the addiction bring me down.

I don't know what lies ahead, but I do know we are in God's hands. He will guide us to safety, but we have to follow Him. For our family to stay together, we both have to follow Him. So I really hope that Ben continues on his path to recovery and that it becomes less rocky with time. I have hope.