Friday, February 2, 2018

Healing My Marriage: Clarification Letter

I recently wrote a letter to my wife, acknowledging the emotional trauma I've caused her through my behavior throughout our relationship. It was an incredibly powerful experience for us both, so I thought I'd share. I had a three-page prompt I was working from, which I believe was based on research from Dr. Claudia Black. Here it is:

Dear [my wife's name],

In this letter my goal is to openly admit all the ways in which I caused you trauma throughout our relationship so both of us can recognize the lies, excuses, and rationalizations I created as part of my addiction. I want to put these behind us forever.

I first want to make it clear that even though you didn’t know about my addiction until years into our marriage, I was addicted to pornography and masturbation long before I met you. You did not cause any of the behavior I was already hooked on. I had already gotten progressively worse in the content of my addiction, and I had already concealed it from many, many people before we started dating. My continued indulgence in my addiction and deception about it wasn’t because of you, but because of my inability to understand the true nature of the problem and solution and because of my pride in thinking I could overcome it on my own.

Throughout the years of my addiction before I met you, I had accepted lies about how the addiction was affecting me and my relationships. I believed that because it didn’t involve anyone else it wasn’t harming anyone. In our relationship, I didn’t want to believe the harm it was causing, and so I turned many of the problems it was causing back towards you. The fact that, even before my confession, our relationship was shaky—frustration caused by how much I was playing video games or watching shows, by the amount and types of sex I wanted to have, by the amount of work I wasn’t doing on campus and around the house, and by my lack of support of your goals, paradigm, and health—was a sign that me and my addiction was causing you deep emotional harm. In addition to these specific behaviors, my communication was infected by lies I told myself and came to believe to justify my addiction. These include the following:

  • I believed that you owed me sexual intimacy for several reasons. Firstly, because I am a man and have stronger sexual desires. In reality, marriage and sexual health is built on mutual trust, which I wasn’t living up to. My giving into my addiction meant that my sexual desires and expectations were unreasonable. Also, sex truly is optional. Secondly, I believed I deserved sex because I earned the money and helped around the house a little. In reality, my helping us as a family was part of what I was supposed to be doing at a bare minimum, not extra, special behavior that would put you in my debt. Sex isn’t something that is owed, it’s something that’s shared from a place of safety. Lastly, because I considered myself more physically attractive than you. In reality, you weren’t lucky to get me, I was lucky to get you because of your humor, wit, independence, creativity, love of nature, honesty, friendliness, love of others including our kids, curiosity, and innate talents in cooking/home and project design/baby making/coaching/music/etc. Not least of which because of your entering our marriage from a place of honesty and faithfulness then staying with me through the trauma I’ve caused you. You don’t owe me anything, especially not sex.
  • I believed that I was entitled to indulge in my lust and masturbation because you didn’t fulfill your role as a wife to satisfy my sexual needs. In reality, I drove you away through my selfishness and chose my addiction over you because it was safer and easier. It was also hollow, shallow, and a counterfeit mimicry of love.
  • I believed that my strengths and progress was a justification for my acting out. That I needed to be forgiving of my shortcomings. In reality, my strengths are positive things but don’t justify anything. I can make progress without intentionally backsliding.
  • I believed that if I could stop by myself, the whole problem will just go away and nobody would have to know. God would forgive me and it would be like it never happened. In reality, I was creating problems that would affect every aspect of my life and my family’s lives. Isolation and lying isn’t what God had in mind when he promised forgiveness for repentance.
  • I believed I didn’t need help from other people, especially not other addicts, because I was different and better. In reality, while I am different than other addicts, with my own strengths and positive qualities, I am also really similar, with the same or worse weaknesses. I definitely need the help of others who understand me to recognize my weaknesses and recommit to recovery.
  • In order to justify my hypocrisy, I came to entertain doubts about the church, its standards, and even the existence of God. After my second concerted effort at recovery failed, my doubts had progressed from unanswered questions (about church history/Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, etc.) to playing out possible scenarios of how God didn’t exist or the church wasn’t true, to full-blown disbelief…ending with a belief that I was justified in living with my addiction because there was no God. In reality, it wasn’t that God wasn’t there for me, but that I had distanced myself from God and took my lack of success from my half-hearted efforts as a reason to doubt. My willingness to abandon my beliefs was another, deeper betrayal of the trust you showed in me when we got married. As I came to question my doubts, I realized that either there were answers to my questions or, more importantly, that I was basing my testimony on logic rather than the powerful peace that comes through obedience. My success in recovery that came as I have relied on God and acknowledged my countless failed attempts as self will has become the foundation of my testimony that God really does exist, and this really is His church.

In addition to incorrect beliefs I held, I also had unrealistic expectations for you, including the following:

  • I expected you to have libido regardless of how I behaved. I considered you to be flawed because you didn’t match my unreasonable and incorrect ideas about womanly desire. In reality, by prioritizing my views of women—that were formed through watching pornography— over your reality—that was formed through your thoughts and feelings—I was disrespecting and dishonoring you. You were right to behave in the way you did, and it was wrong of me to expect any different.
  • I expected you to accept my behavior and my lies that I believed about myself. In reality, you were being courageous to stand up to me and in tune with the reality of the situation.
  • I expected you to take care of family and food and cleaning because you are a woman. And I thought I was entitled to video games and not helping because I worked and am a man. In reality, just because the culture of our upbringing allowed or even encouraged certain behavior, that doesn’t mean that it is right for our relationship. I lost out on countless opportunities to serve you and express my love through only pursuing my desire to selfishly numb my own fears and pain.
  • I expected you to know and judge me by my actual intentions. So when I actually was making progress and change, I was impatient with your lack of trust. In reality, I need to have more confidence in my right behavior and patience with the effects of the trauma I’ve caused you. It’s completely reasonable for you to doubt my intentions and my verbal explanations.

In addition to the false beliefs I used to justify my acting out and the unreasonable expectation I had for you, I also found ways to cover up what I was actually doing, which was spending time looking at youtube videos, playing video games, browsing the internet, looking at pornography, or masturbating. My smokescreen methods included the following:

  • I claimed to be on campus doing my grading or homework.
  • I claimed to be going to the bathroom or having a shower.
  • I claimed to be relaxing from a hard day’s work with some harmless youtube or video games.
  • I claimed that I needed outlets because of all the stress and anxiety I was going through.
  • I claimed that I couldn’t sleep and needed to get up and get something.
  • I claimed that I was actually sleeping or sleeping out on the couch.
By using these smokescreen methods, I have tainted your view of me being on campus, me looking at a screen by myself, me having a shower, me going to the bathroom, me getting up at night, me having dreams, and me sleeping somewhere else.

I also acknowledge that I applied smokescreen methods to others, whether it be colleagues on campus who thought I was being productive, your parents or others when we were traveling, and others in more subtle ways, such as pretending to members of our ward that our marriage was fine and that I was a strong, faithful, obedience member of the church. I may not have openly lied to family, friends, or others about my addiction, but I certainly lied through my implications and impressions I tried to leave. I actively attempted to not only smokescreen, but to make myself look good, through giving priesthood blessings/baptizing kids/attending the temple/accepting callings despite my doubts and unworthiness, bragging about my work and accomplishments, making progress in cleaning, conducting successful projects around the house, etc. In certain ways I also made you look bad, such as when I focused on progress in cleaning and other things typically done by wives.
Through my addictive behavior and my justifications and expectations I have caused you to be confused about love and my true feelings. For example, by claiming that I loved you and that I was doing dishes and housework because I loved you, when I actually was doing those things to increase the likelihood of us having sex, I was trying to push a false reality on you.

The way I have treated you in our relationship is not what healthy, positive relationships look like. There are healthy couples out there, like [my second sister's name] and [her husband's name] or [my third sister's name] and [her husband's name], who genuinely express their feelings and disappointments, and work through their stresses openly and honestly. Their behavior matches their verbal account of what’s going on, which matches actual reality. I want for us to be there as well, but because of where we’ve been it’s probably wise that you not trust me in certain problem areas for the foreseeable future without accountability and clear evidence in the following behaviors: how I spend my time on campus, when I get on websites by myself, solo video games or time spent on video games, and browsing movies/shows/games/apps.

Your reactions to my behavior and impulses to protect yourself are completely natural and appropriate. When I caused you pain and was dishonest, questioning my truthfulness and behavior is the only rational reaction. Feeling pain and betrayal is also the correct response, since I lied, deceived, and didn’t come into our marriage with a foundation of honesty and from a place where I could express honest, real love.

Your creation of boundaries and standards for my behavior are also natural and appropriate. I have reacted as if your boundaries were intended to punish me or victimize me when I was trying so hard to improve. In reality, for you to feel safe, being clear about what you will and will not accept is actually a kind, pro-relationship behavior. It was wrong of me to hurt you in the first place, and even more wrong to try to keep you from protecting yourself from me. I support anything you need to do to feel safe, and I commit to respecting anything you ask me to do for your safety.
I would like to answer any questions you have about my behavior, motivations, or thinking. If you ever feel triggered or suspicious or doubtful of my honesty, the burden is on me—not you—to set the record straight and affirm the truth of the situation. Your feelings and questions are valid, and I commit to complete honesty and openness in addressing them.

[My name]

I think this was such a powerful experience because it was empowering to specifically acknowledge the ways and extent to which I tried to force my skewed version of reality onto my wife and the specific ways she resisted. She may not have always reacted in healthy ways, but her feelings were real, and they were real signs that something wasn't right, and what wasn't right was me.I don't think I could have written this letter without some perspective that comes from sobriety (it's been since September 2015 since I've looked at internet pornography, and I've had 9 months of active recovery work without crossing any of my bottom lines). I don't think our marriage could heal all the way before I had written a letter like this. I recommend this part of the process to any addict whose spouse doesn't feel safe and comfortable. The process might go something like this: Admitting Problem => Getting Tools/A Support Network => Brutal Honesty with Self, God, and Support Network => Patience and Consistency in Working Personal Recovery Program (including working the steps, forming/strengthening/keeping boundaries, and doing dailies) => A Really Long Time => then work like this clarification letter, a full disclosure (which I did a few weeks ago), and other things. 

Thanks to my therapist and wife for insisting things weren't good enough as they were!


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