In the midst of the frustration, the ugliness and, yes, even hateful feelings toward my porn-addicted spouse, I got sick of myself.
I think that’s the first step to changing: being really disappointed with who you have become. The second step is getting a vision of something better.
For a Christian, that shouldn’t be too hard because we have our Big Brother Jesus to role model what we want to be—even in a marriage gone bad. For me, Galations 5:22-23 became a promise of how the adversity in my marriage could be fertile soil for the Holy Spirit to plants seeds that would yield the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
It’s easier to feel like you’re yielding these fruits when you’re in a happy marriage, or are happily single. But isn’t it a good indication of how saturated in the Spirit we are if we can yield fruit under less than ideal circumstances? I wasn’t (saturated or yielding). I was out of control with misery, impatience, meanness and harshness—because I was angry. But it was an eye opener to recognize that my marriage, if nothing else, was an opportunity for spiritual growth. Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy confirmed much of my early thoughts along these lines and helped me reframe my expectations of my marriage.
In a way, I liken the emotional process I have gone through to the four stages of grief. I was in denial for the first couple of years during which I learned about my husband’s porn habit but didn’t really understand its affect on our marriage. When I sat in the bathroom that day and cried realizing the marriage I had waited for so long really sucked, my denial turned to anger. I stayed in anger a long time—years.
At the end of this stage is when I got sick of myself. Then I progressed to depression (yes, I consider it progress because at least it’s not anger anymore… on most days). At the beginning of that phase I decided to focus on self-control by shutting my mouth. I hated most of what I said to my husband and figured Momma was right when she said, “If you can’t say something nice, best not to say anything at all.” So I shut up. I’m not recommending silence (counseling is a better idea) but it helped me to change negative patterns. And it fit my depression. I should say I’ve never been one to feel really depressed, but in the big picture of my life, I have been in a depression in these last few years.
When 2013 rolled around, after 10 years of marriage, I felt a strange thing: hopeful. And that is the first signal to me that I’m entering stage four: acceptance. Now my reading table has titles such as William P. Smith’s Loving Well (Even If You Haven’t Been).
Like any long term change, you can’t see this under a microscope. Instead, you have to compare today to this time last year, or this time three years ago—which is why it’s so vitally important not to give up on a marriage when you’re angry. I don’t often think, “This was a good day,” but I do often think, “Today was better than a few years ago.” On any given day, I still have one foot in the depression stage and vacillate on which way to step, but when I see the progress over the years, again, I feel hopeful.
And the best part is that the progress in my marriage corresponds to spiritual growth.
And that is good.