Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Wives of Porn Addicts Wish All Church Leaders Knew

In the midst of dealing with her husband's sexual addiction, Cynthia held onto the hope for recovery and healing. In the process of working and struggling and growing, she's met many other amazing women in the same situation. With their help, she compiled this list of insights that may benefit ecclesiastical leaders and the women they're helping:
  1. We are simply devastated. 
  2. We need to know about our husbands’ actions so that we don’t blame ourselves for whatever feels wrong in our marriages. 
  3. We also need to know of our husbands’ actions to help protect ourselves, our children, and our homes. Keeping someone in a relationship under false pretenses represents exploitation. 
  4. We will not get over it quickly. We would if we could, but it will take time and effort to find our way back to emotional health. 
  5. Our husbands’ lies have harmed us at least as much as the actual betrayal. 
  6. It is hard for us to reach out for support. 
  7. We need support. 
  8. Other women who have been in our shoes can provide vital support. 
  9. Our bishops may be the first people we reach out to after discovering our husbands’ addictions. It may be hard for us to trust Priesthood holders since our husband has held the Priesthood in our home. If we feel invalidated by our bishops, it will be so much harder for us to reach out for further support. 
  10. We may need ongoing support from our bishops. It may be hard for us to ask for this ongoing support. A little bit of reaching out and following up from our bishops may go a long way in helping us not feel overlooked or forgotten. 
  11. We did not cause this and we cannot cure it. 
  12. In most cases we have done nothing to bring this situation into our lives. It feels so unfair that we have no choice but to deal with it. 
  13. We are baffled that we ended up here. We have tried to do all the things that we thought would bring us our happy eternal marriage. This is the last thing we expected. 
  14. We may feel cheated that we ended up here despite doing everything right. 
  15. Our husbands do not act out with pornography and masturbation because we give them too little sex; they will not stop acting out with pornography and masturbation if we give them more sex. 
  16. We are in no position to be asked to give our husbands support. If anything we need their support to come to terms with what they have done. 
  17. The best way for us to support our husbands is to hold them accountable. Being asked to “forgive and forget” too early will hurt us both. 
  18. The best support we can give to our husbands is a healthy wife. We need to do what it takes to find our way back to healthy. 
  19. Despite our best efforts, our marriages may not survive. 
  20. Most addicts lie or minimize when asked about their addictions. Their bishops are not likely to have heard the entire story from our husbands. 
  21. Many of our husbands will continue to act out and to lie to us (and to their bishops) after their initial meetings with their bishops. It may not be appropriate to encourage us to trust them yet because they may not be trustworthy yet. 
  22. Even addicts dedicated to recovery tend to relapse several times before achieving lengthy sobriety. 
  23. We need to set some boundaries with our husbands to protect ourselves from ongoing harm. 
  24. We need to eventually forgive our husbands. We may not be capable of forgiving them as early as we may be asked to do. We will do our best to leave a place in our hearts for forgiveness to come. 
  25. Forgiveness does not mean tolerating harm. 
  26. Our husbands have most likely been trying for years to overcome their addictions by fasting, praying, reading their scriptures and attending the temple. These are vital components in their repentance and in building their spirituality. In most cases our husbands need more help than this to recover from addiction. 
  27. Our husbands are incapable of giving up their addictions if they keep them a secret. 
  28. Trust and forgiveness are not the same thing. We will probably forgive before we trust again. Trust needs to be earned once it has been lost. 
  29. If we are asked to make changes to help our husbands overcome their problems, and they don’t change, then we feel like we didn’t try hard enough or lacked faith. It may increase our shame. Only our husbands are responsible for their own behavior. 
  30. Letting our husbands off the hook too easily may decrease the urgency they feel about getting help. 
  31. We feel really ashamed as well. We feel embarrassed that we married someone with this problem, or that we didn’t see it sooner. 
  32. We may feel that if we were prettier, smarter, or more “something,” they would not have this problem. This is not true. In almost all cases, they were addicted before they ever met us. 
  33. We feel alone. We feel like no one else has this problem. 
  34. Isolation compounds our pain. 
  35. Our husbands have not been good husbands. They have been selfish and lacking in empathy. Addiction results in other bad behaviors that have been harming us. 
  36. We need to know what resources are available to help us. A bishop who is familiar with this problem and what these resources are could go a long way to helping us feel better sooner. 
  37. Our husbands’ actions in no way decrease our own worthiness. 
  38. We may want and need increased access to Priesthood blessings. Our husbands may not be worthy to give those blessings, and even if they are, they might not be the ones we want to ask to give them to us. It may be valuable to have our bishops help us identify who we can ask when we need this particular type of help. 
  39. We value our anonymity. We would appreciate our bishops encouraging discretion in anyone who may realize we are meeting frequently (e.g. executive secretary). 
  40. We want our bishops to not be afraid to admit what they don't know. They can ask us what they can do to help us. 
  41. We would like our bishops to not assume they know everything they need to know on this topic. Be open to good information. 
  42. We have experienced trauma because of our husbands’ betrayals. This trauma is not an indicator that we are not using the Atonement. 
  43. We should not simply replace all negative thoughts with positive ones. That shows denial of the impact this problem has in our lives. In order to heal from these difficult emotions, we need to allow ourselves to feel them. 
  44. We most likely need outside help to recover, just like our husbands do. Good counseling and regular support group meetings can help us tremendously. 
  45. We will not automatically get better when our husbands stop acting out. Our progress may actually lag behind theirs. The history of deception keeps us from being able to trust that we are now safe, even if they say that they have not relapsed in a long time. 
  46. Many marriages that fail from this problem actually fail because of the continued lying more than the continued acting out. 
  47. If our husbands have been caught instead of voluntarily disclosing, they may not actually have any desire to get better, no matter what impression they make. 
  48. We need help regardless of our husbands’ desire for help. 
  49. We may need help remembering that we have worth as individuals, no matter the outcome of our marriages. 
  50. This addiction has caused us to doubt ourselves, our own intuition and the guidance we are receiving from the Lord. We need you to support us as we seek for our own answers from the Spirit and make our own choices going forward.
  51. Extreme emotions are normal in our circumstances. We should not feel ashamed for feeling them.
Many thanks to Cynthia and the other women for sharing these insights. Are there any you would add?

32 comments:

  1. Please do not minimize the problem, validation helps us heal. Encourage us to seek support from other women even if our husbands are too ashamed to want to let us talk to someone. They cannot be the ones we turn to for healing because they are the ones that hurt us. Online anonymous forums may be a good start like hopeandhealinglds.com until we feel ready to open up to anyone else or to go to a support group. There are also phone-in groups available.

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    1. Thank you for your comment Imua, and for sharing the resource hopeandhealinglds.com.

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  2. These are by far the most check crucial for me:

    *We have experienced major Betrayal Trauma which is a form of PTSD due to our husbands’ betrayals.  This trauma is not an indicator that we are weak or not using the Atonement.
    *Statistically 70% of woman with sex addict husbands have PTSD / Betrayal Trauma


    This is crucial for leaders to know. I don't want leaders to think our husbands betrayal JUST causes pain & heartache. If we tell leaders it just causes trauma, then I feel like they will think trauma only means : Pain & Heartache. When in fact its literally a form of PTSD. Most of us can check off each requirement on the ptsd "list". I want leaders to KNOW its ptsd, otherwise I truly believe they will unknowingly and innocently not take it as seriously. Which is an easy mistake. 

    BEFORE I knew more about this addiction, If someone told me they felt pain and heartache, it would have been natural for me to think "well, just start using the atonement. If you worked hard enough at not being in pain, u won't be in pain. Choose to not be in pain".

    But our betrayal trauma doesn't mean we are weak, or we aren't using the atonement, or that we are choosing to be hurt by this. We are incredibly strong loving woman that want more than anything to be happy.

    If leaders knew betrayal from our husbands addiction could cause PTSD, then I feel like they would take this alot more serious, alot faster. Just like a leader would take more seriously one of us saying "I struggle with depression" moreso than "im really sad all the time".






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    1. Very well said Dobbie. I know I used to wonder, "He seems to be in recovery, why is she not healing?" Not that I thought wives of addicts were weak, but I just didn't understand the full blown PTSD response. Kevin Skinner's work really helped me understand this issue. If others are interested in seeing if they are suffering the symptoms on the PTSD list they can go to the test Dr. Skinner created at http://www.growthclimate.com/survey2.i?cmd=form&csid=547793&surveyid=57&langid=7&pagenum=1&member_id=.

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    3. Yay thank you, I love it!

      Can the PTSD be added near the top of the list?

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    4. I was actually treated for PTSD by Mark Chamberlain with EMDR. It helped so much and I'm grateful he informed me about it and administered several sessions.

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  3. I like #45, but the truth is, the reason this happens is because of PTSD. Betrayal trauma has such a deep , core level effect on us that we are often worse off once our husbands start into recovery. As our husband begin to work their recovery a lot of what we went through gets relived in the talking and counseling. Remember also, most husbands don't struggle and then stop and never return to it. Most husbands stop, slip, relapse over and over. This is the reason betrayal trauma is a PTSD issue. We relive and relive this trauma.

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  4. This is great information. Thanks so much for taking the time to compile this Cynthia! I agree with Scabs, you are brave! And thanks for sharing it on your blog Mark, I have the highest hopes that this will help everyone involved in helping both the addict and the wife heal.

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  5. Though I am certain this is how many women feel, I am not certain that all of the statements are true, and no one would claim that they are all true in each case. Regarding #15 this is what Dr. Willard Harley Jr. has written using the Tiger Woods case as an example. at Marriagebuilders.com

    "My approach to Tiger's marital problems would have been quite different than the one that was taken. I would have seen his long absences from his wife as a major contributor to his affairs, as they are for most couples. I would have strongly recommended that Elin join him in every golfing event, never leaving him alone overnight, and making sure that his need for sexual fulfillment was met. That's what I recommend to almost everyone who's had an affair.

    Elin would probably not have agreed to my advice at first, but I would have told Tiger to avoid golf until she did agree. His number one goal in life would have been to win his wife back to him, even if it meant abandoning his career. Then, after she would feel some hope for their marriage because he put her first in his life, he would only return to golf if she were to join him.

    But that's not what the Woods did to solve their marital problems. By taking the "sex addict" path, they divorced. That's because the sex addict approach doesn't address the fact that his emotional need for sexual fulfillment was not being met in marriage due to the lifestyle he chose.

    Is your spouse a sex addict?

    What if Elin were to join Tiger on his golf tour? What if she were to spend every night with him, willing to make love about as often as he would like? And then, what if he were to sneak out and have sex with a prostitute? Would that make him a sex addict?"

    Yes, if he felt guilty, and if he felt compelled to do it in spite of the likely consequences that his marriage would be over and his career ruined. Sex would certainly seem to be more important to Tiger than his marriage (or his career, or his religious beliefs, etc.). After being caught with the prostitute, he would claim that he felt he had no choice, and that he felt out of control, the words of an addict.

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    1. Concerned,

      Putting the responsibility on a partner to insure her spouse doesn't cheat? That's taking it too far!

      My experience with two recent clients tells me #15 is true. One feels a rise in urges and cravings after a couple of weeks without porn and it continues until he gives in--regardless of how often he and his wife are having sex. Another pressured his wife to do various things because he didn't "feel fulfilled" by their sex life. She reluctantly agreed even though those behaviors violated her sensibilities--only to later discover that he kept acting out in secret the whole time.

      No one remains faithful because their spouse "never leaves them alone overnight and makes sure that their need for sexual fulfillment is met," as Dr. Harley put it. They remain faithful because they manage the urges and forgo the opportunities to do otherwise.

      Even with an unimaginably attentive and accomodating spouse, the realities of life will conspire to create opportunities for us to deal with less sexual fulfillment than we'd like. Sexual frustration can result not only from travel schedules but from illnesses, hormone cycles, children's needs, unrealistic expectations based on media, etc., etc.

      One of the grand opportunities we have as human beings is to rise above our nature and handle situations that don't measure up to our ideal with dignity, grace, and self-mastery.

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    2. Geez, Dr. Harley's solution sounds like it came out of a marriage manual written many decades ago. Seems like he puts the burden for faithfulness on the non-cheating spouse, and I think that would just foster suspicion and resentment. I'm with you, Dr. Chamberlain.

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    3. My husband's addiction started at nine years old. He was convinced as a teenager that all he had to do was get married and have a sex life, and it would go away. We got married, me now knowing about his 15 year struggle with porn, and things in our marriage seemed perfect. We were both so happy, so connected, spending every night talking into the wee hours as we continued to connect and bond, and having amazing mutually fulfilling sex at least once a day for nearly two years. I had NO idea he was acting out in his addiction almost daily from the third month of our marriage on. No idea. He was shocked and horrified to find that having all he'd ever wanted in a relationship and in physical intimacy didn't change him or his addiction.

      It took awhile for us to figure this out, but it was a huge piece in both of our healing -- that sex (neither the frequency or quality) had NOTHING to do with his addiction or 'keeping it in check'.

      My husband had a very long standing coping technique that he needed to learn to replace -- even if sex HAD replaced it, that would've been unhealthy and draining on our marriage in a huge way as I would've become his 'acting out'. It wouldn't have fixed anything to have more sex or to have sex replace porn. He had to learn to fill that hole in himself in therapy, journaling, prayer -- our sex life couldn't fix it or cause it. Learning that has been one of the biggest pieces in healing our marriage.

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    4. *not (not 'now') knowing about his 15 year struggle . . .

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  6. I think #16, that a wife is in no position to offer support to her husband, is perhaps a bit shortsighted and counterproductive. It may be true that the blame falls on the husband, but empathy is always a good thing, isn't it? An addicted husband is probably in a great deal of pain too, and mutual support may provide a better kind of healing than one based on blame. I believe it is possible for an injured wife to look beyond her own pain, and that her pain will likely be lessened if she can find room for empathy in her heart. A husband in the depths of addiction is probably not in a position to offer much support either, and if both parties are looking only after their own needs but not offering anything, healing may not take place.

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    1. Empathy is always good. Always. But I believe what she means in #16 is that its not a wives job to fix her husband or be the one to make him feel better. She must also never enable him. An addict husband severely injures his wife and his marriage with his addiction so that not only HE'S broken but now the wife is as well because of his harmful actions.

      If a drunk driver ran you over after running a red light and left you mangled lying on the pavement in critical condition, would you be in a place to offer support to the drunk driver?

      Sure, you could try and look past your pain to try and empathize and support the drunk driver--- because of course he's in pain too--- but you may not get very far. Why? Because you'd need a hospital and to take care of your own wounds FIRST.


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    2. Okay, I see what you are saying but I believe that a wife does not need to completely heal before feeling empathy and offering support. To return to your drunk driver analogy, after going to a hospital and receiving care for wounds, the victim would then be in a position to empathize with the driver. Likewise, a wounded wife needs to get beyond the initial injury but then should be able to expand her view and consider what might help her husband to heal along with her. I agree that it is a tremendous shock to a woman when she learns of a husband's betrayal. I have experienced that myself. However, my most complete healing came only after I looked beyond myself. I'm not saying that it is a wife's job to fix her husband (it's not) or that it is her job to make him feel better (again, it's not). Rather, I'm saying that it is a wife's job to understand her husband, to know what he is feeling, to find a place for empathy in her heart. Those are the very things that she herself needs from her husband. For a wife to offer those things even when her husband cannot does not diminish the magnitude of the injury or mean that she has become an enabler. I really believe that a woman should not hide behind her pain, even though none of it was her fault.

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    3. For me, I had a lot of people telling me it was MY JOB to fix him and make him feel better about himself and not ever hurt his feelings with my own hurt feelings.
      Having people validate how much I was hurting and how much my life had been affected helped me to start to heal and to feel understood and validated. Once I felt some of those things, it was much, much easier to validate and support him. But I couldn't give from an empty bucket, no matter how much people felt I 'should' as his wife. I had to start to heal before I had anything useful to give . . .

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  7. Dr. Harley's advice to the greatest golfer ever to play the game was to quit golf and make his marriage priority #1 in his life.

    " His number one goal in life would have been to win his wife back to him, even if it meant abandoning his career. Then, after she would feel some hope for their marriage because he put her first in his life, he would only return to golf if she were to join him. How ever long it took."

    A significant pre-requisite for Tiger Woods? Wouldn't everyone agree? A cursory reading of the advice resulted in a choosing of sides. That is Elin vs Tiger. Even Dr. Chamberlain read it this way. No one excused Tiger or put all of the responsibility on Elin. The advice was to save the marriage. Yes. Tiger made appalling choices, lied, and betrayed his marriage vows as any married man involved with pornography or extra-marital affairs has done. But the prescription offered to save the marriage (right or wrong) involved Elin.

    Perhaps Dr. Chamberlain rightly felt some responsibility to defend Cynthia for courageously posting her thoughts. I applaud him for this and I applaud Cynthia for her courage. At the same time as GW commented many of the "thoughts" listed are very adversarial and shaming. Anyone struggling with these serious issues after reading "this list of insights" would be terrified of disclosing his situation to a spouse.

    "Shame is induced when the pornography user is told that his friends and family will be hurt, and that his marriage and salvation may actually be destroyed. EVERY INDIVIDUAL I HAVE WORKED WITH IS ALREADY WELL AWARE OF THE CONSEQUENCES, WITHOUT REMINDER-- THEY LIVE WITH THOSE CONSEQUENCES DAILY. MOST NEVER FORGET THEM, and they find that well-meaning reminders only contribute to a downward spiral." p. 189 Confronting Pornography. edited by Mark D. Chamberlain

    What is the psychological term for "feeding of the faults of others" as Joseph Smith termed it?

    #14. We may feel cheated that we ended up here despite doing everything right.

    The returning prodigal knows acutely his "wretchedness". It is the other "lost" son that thinks he has done everything right.

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    1. While I don't agree with your initial premise, I do agree that a porn addict knows his own wretchedness. I think women need a great deal of reassurance, and they want to hear how sorry their husbands are, and they mostly want to be understood.

      I have to take issue with #14 because I believe that rarely did a wife do everything right. I'm not saying that a wife is to blame, but aren't there always things in any person's behavior that can be improved?

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    2. I find that for most women they don't actually believe they've done 'everything' right, as in being a perfect spouse. But that they kept their covenants and marital vows. That they followed the counsel of Church leaders and took the 'right steps' in life that lead to 'a happy ending'. Not that they have no faults, but that they did the 'right things' in life and they ended up in a place they never expected, and nobody told them could happen when you're 'following the right path'.

      I have talked with literally hundreds and hundreds of women who've dealt with betrayal trauma in their marriages -- I have found very few want to knock their husbands down and make them feel worse -- but I find very, very few who recognize and understand their own depth of heartache and trauma without someone helping them work through it. I think that's the point of a list like this -- not to show how 'wronged' a woman's been, but to help validate and recognize the ways she's feeling. Betrayal Trauma does a number on you -- I know many women who feel like they're losing their minds or aren't good enough at coping, until someone walked them through the affects of Betrayal Trauma, and suddenly a light switch goes on and they GET why they feel the way they do, why they struggle to get up and get dressed and make all the meals and keep the house clean, why they're dealing with anxiety or depression for the first time. Being validated and understood is often an amazing step in healing.

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    3. Yes! I agree fully that being validated and understood is an amazing step in healing. But for me, the person that I most wanted to validate and understand my feelings was my husband. I didn't want him to take on my pain but I very much wanted him to understand my pain and the damage caused by his betrayal. I needed to know that he was sorry, over and over. Somehow, trying to understand the depth of the despair my husband was feeling was the thing that most helped me to put my own pain in perspective. We were both very broken, but the realization that my husband was in no position to offer the validation and understanding that I sought allowed me to put that on hold, so to speak. It wasn't that I was ignoring my own pain. My number one priority at that time was to save my marriage, if possible, and if I had focused only on myself I am quite certain that my marriage would have failed.

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  8. Hmmm, maybe I'm making too many comments on this, but after looking over the list again I wanted to add one thing. I think the list identifies many of the feelings that betrayed women have, but after reading it I end up thinking there is too much bitterness contained within the list. It is true that it is not the wife's fault, and that she is harmed. But in my experience, bitterness and anger do not solve problems. My husband made many terrible choices and I was injured by the consequences of those choices. However, I never felt that he made any of those mistakes with the goal of hurting me. I was MUCH happier when I was able to feel compassion towards my husband rather than blame and anger.

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    1. I get what you're saying -- and I feel like my recovery, alongside my husband's has been the greatest teacher of love, compassion and empathy that I've ever had. That said, I HAD to feel and recognize the betrayal and heartache and hurt that I felt and work through it and turn it over to God before I could move forward. I didn't read anything here that said to stay in any of those places of being traumatized and hurt -- but recognizing and validating that it really does feel that way when it pops up in your life and marriage. I had far more voices and people telling me it shouldn't hurt this bad. This kind of list, many years ago, would've done a lot to make me feel validated, understood and not crazy for feeling the strong emotions I had. I had to deal with the reality of my marriage and the damage done before I could move forward with any of it. Know what I mean?
      I guess what I'm saying is that it was really important for me to realize and understand a lot of those 51 things (not all applied to me perfectly, but I think it's a pretty comprehensive list of the things that a lot of women have felt) before I could move forward with my life and heal. Staying there would've made me bitter -- but recognizing and validating my feelings was the first step in healing and wholeness -- and healing in my marriage.

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  9. I really appreciate the thoughtful conversation here. Thank you for your insights. I do have a few comments:

    - I agree that the addict does not need to be reminded of his wretchedness. The addict is not the intended recipient of this list. This list is meant to help ecclesiastical leaders to help the spouse of the addict, and also to help the spouse in validating what she or he may be experiencing.

    - Love and empathy certainly belong in every relationship, including a marriage dealing with betrayal. For a long time, I tried to support my husband while subconsciously stuffing down my own reactions in order to not make things harder for him because I so desperately hoped that he would recover. Well it backfired. Pain demands to be felt and my pain forced its way out. I realized that focusing on what he needed to recover kept me from recovering. This list probably comes from that place of insight in me. Also, many bishops and church leaders don't recognize the importance of supporting the spouse as much as the addict.

    - Love includes setting and holding healthy boundaries with compassion.

    I'd love to hear your further thoughts.

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  10. I don't want to give the impression that I think the list is wrong or misguided. I think it is a very useful list, actually. I commented above because I recognized a general feeling of blame and (dare I say it?) selfishness after reading it. Absolutely, a betrayed wife needs to heal. She needs validation. But the list left me feeling like it's all about the wife's feelings, and that's the case in part because she was wronged by her husband through no fault of her own.

    I found that expressing my feelings with my husband was the thing that helped me the most. Not discussing them with an outsider that may have plenty of advice to offer. My husband HATED to have those discussions. He thought that healing would come by putting it all in the past. My feelings of despair would sometimes bubble up at the worst possible time for him, but we kept at it. I do agree that validation is a great and wonderful part of healing, but, for me, that validation needed to come from the right place.

    I understand what you mean about healthy boundaries, but putting that into practice is very tricky. I quickly learned that my early list of boundaries was unrealistic. I was left wondering how to modify my righteous list and still work through things without losing sight of my end goal. I can imagine what kind of advice I might have received from outsiders, and most of it would have been misguided in my case, I believe.

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  11. GW, I don't feel like you are giving the impression that you think the list is wrong. I thank you for offering your insights and alternative points of view.

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    1. Thank you for the links. I agree that the emotional absence can be crippling. In fact, the emotional disconnect was one of the first signs I noticed -- he never did anything around the house, was angry much of the time if not allowed to do his own thing, put nothing into parenting. His logic was skewed too and he sometimes seemed to have the emotional maturity of a preteen. I watched my husband go from a completely disconnected spouse and father back to the loving man he once was.

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  13. PLEASE use the full word. Pornography. Not "porn". Don't nickname something so devastating.

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