“I Decided to Marry a Recovering Pornography Addict,” Ensign, October 2019
When I was younger, I remember writing things down that described my perfect husband: “tall, dark, and handsome,” “loves kids,” and “great sense of humor.” As a member of the Church, I certainly didn’t expect “pornography addict” to be included on my list when I did find my dream husband.
I fell for Neil hard and fast. He was one of the kindest men I had ever been around. He was loving and easygoing, never said anything bad about anyone, and was just extremely likable. Tall, dark, and handsome didn’t hurt either! I felt like I could completely be myself around him. Neil made me feel like I was home. I was pretty sure I wanted to be with him forever just a couple months into dating him.
Neil, on the other hand, had been in many relationships and had a pattern of dumping girlfriends around the three-month mark. True to pattern, he broke up with me too, just before Christmas. I was devastated.
You know that feeling when you break up with someone you really love and you can’t eat or sleep or even think? That was me. I kept wondering what in the world had gone wrong, since everything with us seemed to be going so right. I finally called Neil to ask for some sort of explanation. And to my total surprise, he said, “Let’s go on a drive.”
I’ll never forget on that cold December night, as snowflakes fell softly onto the car windshield, Neil uttering the words, “I have a problem with pornography.”
Neil later shared with me that his pattern of breaking off relationships didn’t have much to do with the women he dated but everything to do with running away from the chance that anyone might get close enough to him to see through the “good guy” facade.
The funny thing is, Neil really is a good guy—so good to the core. But pornography can make people feel like they’re not ever going to be good enough, like they’re not worthy of being loved.
But I remember the Spirit instantly comforting me as he admitted his struggle with pornography. He was shocked that I was willing to talk to him about it and that he hadn’t instantly scared me away.
I also remember in the following months going through extreme ups and downs of Neil still struggling with pornography and me having no idea how to handle “helping” someone overcome their compulsion to use. (Spoiler alert: you can’t—you can only encourage them to help themselves.)
Neil was able to get his addiction under control until we were worthily sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. Both of us hoped so badly that this would be the magic trick for making it all go away; however, as happens with many who struggle with pornography, it creeped back up pretty quickly and became a serious roller-coaster challenge for us the next several years.
There were many days, months, and years in the beginning of our marriage where I felt alone and hopeless and like things would never fully get better. We went through cycles of Neil relapsing, lying about it, and then going through the turmoil that came after. He’d clean up, things would be okay for a short time, and then I would catch him in a lie or things would just feel “off.” I would confront him, usually with anger, about him not being clean, and the truth would come spilling out. It was miserable and hopeless for a long, long time. And I made myself crazy trying to control anything and everything in our home, on his phone, and everywhere possible to prevent him from having another slip or relapse. None of it worked, though, because when an addict wants to use, he will find a way. And yet Neil kept telling me he wanted to get better, and I knew he did. He just didn’t know how, and I didn’t either.
Neil and I tried everything (and I really mean it when I say everything!) to help him overcome his addiction to pornography: outpatient rehabilitation, group therapy, couples therapy, and individual therapy. We finally found a real solution in the Church’s 12-step Addiction Recovery Program (often referred to as ARP). We attended meetings, gathered hope from others’ stories, and finally found hope and healing after we both individually worked the 12 steps.
In February 2018, we both felt very strongly that the Lord wanted us to share our story, so we opened up about it on my blog, and since then I’ve had many, many women reach out to me asking questions like, “How did you know it would be OK to marry him?” or “How do I know it will get better?”
When I prayed about whether to marry Neil, I received an undeniable yes. Multiple times, actually. Heavenly Father let me know loud and clear that He was happy with my decision. When times were extremely challenging living with Neil’s addiction those first several years, when I got nervous and questioned whether everything would be OK, I felt the Spirit’s reassurance as I turned to this answer from Heavenly Father over and over again.
One particular time during our engagement, I remember getting very nervous when Neil had a small “slip,” and a trusted adviser told both of us to read the talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland entitled, “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence” (Ensign, Mar. 2000, 6–11). Without that talk, I don’t know if Neil and I would have gotten married. But the Spirit filled my heart and mind with peace, love, and complete reassurance that I had received an answer and that the answer was yes. If Heavenly Father—who created us, who knows all things past, present, and future—would tell me yes, then how could I question that?
A lot of people also ask me, “How do you know that Neil won’t relapse again someday?” The truth is, I don’t! Neil could relapse someday. He has agency—we all do. What I do know is that Heavenly Father has a plan. He knows the beginning from the end, and He loves me, and He loves Neil! I also know that Satan is fighting as hard as he can to tear us away from the most precious gift that Heavenly Father has given us—our families.
I know that Heavenly Father would not allow so many of His children to suffer from the pain of pornography addiction without a solution. The beautiful thing about the Church’s 12-step program, which is really just a step-by-step approach to seeking strength and healing from Jesus Christ and His Atonement, is that it teaches you how to deal with life. It taught me, as the spouse of someone struggling with pornography, how to live not in fear, resentment, or pain but in hope, trust, faith, and love.
The advice I would give to someone who is considering marrying someone who struggles with pornography is to ask yourself, have you asked God what He would have you do? If you haven’t yet, sincerely plead with Him for an answer. And pay careful attention to the promptings you receive, with a determination to follow the answer He gives you, whatever that is.
You might also ask yourself, is your boyfriend or girlfriend or intended spouse showing that they’re willing to change? Are they actively seeking solutions? Do they seek these things out themselves, without your asking for it, requiring it, or suggesting it? These are vital questions to ask yourself, and it’s important to be honest with yourself about the answers, because you cannot love someone out of addiction. They can only find the solution for themselves, if they want it enough.
Ask yourself also if you’re doing everything you can to be close enough to the Spirit to receive the answers you seek. Are you attending the temple frequently? Are you praying sincerely? Is Heavenly Father someone you talk to as much as the people you text or message with on social media? Are you reading the Book of Mormon daily?
The scriptures teach us to “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3; emphasis added). I believe with all my heart that “all things” includes whether someone you’re considering marrying is going to be a good spouse.
I don’t know all things, but I do know that God loves all His children with a love stronger and more powerful than any romantic connection we’ve ever experienced. Luke 11:13 teaches us, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” Heavenly Father gave us the Holy Ghost as a guide and companion in this life. Luckily, we don’t have to answer these really hard questions on our own. If we qualify for and do everything we can to be close to the Spirit and are willing to do what Heavenly Father asks of us, He will give us all the answers we need.