Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist. She blogs at mormontherapist.blogspot.com.
I have been struggling with my weight for many many years.
For 24 years of married life my husband has had a huge problem with pornography and masturbation.
I have continued to find evidence of porn. He has asked me to do odd things sexually – things that he has seen in porn. They made me feel yucky but I did them anyway because I thought if I did then his “need” for this behavior would switch from pictures to real people. About 9 years into our marriage he finally confessed to a Bishop. He lost his temple recommend for a short while. I felt like I had to lie about why he missed temple experiences and why he couldn’t baptize our daughter or give the family blessings.
Nothing has stopped the madness. Each time he tells me he “slipped” all of the past hurts return to me and crush me in their dark despair.
I don’t want bad things to happen to him. In fact, I want him to overcome this problem and to triumph. But I can’t say I want to fight anymore. I’m too tired. I really have little hope for our recovery. All of which makes him impatient with me and he tends to lecture me that I’m being prideful and I need to let the Savior heal me and that all things are possible with God.
PLEASE PLEASE HELP ME!! This is the first time I have broken my “silence” about this… well I did try a few Bishops. Their comments hurt me just as much as his actions. One Bishop said I wasn’t exciting enough sexually and if I’d try “stuff’ he’d be more interested in me. The same Bishop said that it was because I was fat and that no man deserved to make love to fat. His counsel was to lose weight. A different Bishop blamed me because I didn’t monitor the Internet well enough in my home. I don’t think my family would agree. I’m pretty sure they feel I’m the Internet Nazi.
It is not safe because if I lose the weight I might become a “hotty” and be in the same category as the porn. If I stay fat I can never truly be in their “gang”.
If I lose weight I will have to give up all the things that bring me comfort.
If I lose weight I will have gone through all that effort and I still won’t be “enough” for him to stop his addiction. If I stay fat I can at least conserve effort and have something to blame.
If I lose weight I won’t have a reason to blame for his problem… it will return and “fat” won’t be the excuse. I will still not be enough.
If I lose weight I might discover that I don’t “need” anything and my family possibilities will be lost forever.
If I lose the fat I will lose my protection. In some weird way the fat is protecting me.
Natasha, I can guess that you are very busy, please help me, and in turn it will help all of my children.
It sounds like you have a long history to sort out – both within your marriage and also within your relationship with self. Here are some thoughts:
- Your awareness that your issues with weight go beyond just simple diet and exercise is a great start. The many psychological factors as to why you feel safer being overweight will affect your ability to self care and take off the weight if that is your end goal.
- Correlating the problems within your marriage, sexuality and your body-image only to the issue of pornography is taking a rigid view and will not help you achieve your own potential. If being attractive, at a healthy weight, sensual or beautiful means that you are somehow “approving” or “joining” in with the pornography industry then you are stuck. You’re only option is to feel ugly, fat and non-sensual.
- Pornography addiction is a form of infidelity – but with the added issue of compulsive behavior – and can be extremely difficult for a spouse to come to terms with, understand and not take personally. Some of the things that have been shown to help an addict of any type are self-awareness, honesty, openness, addressing issues of underlying shame, safety and accountability. All of these are severely compromised in your marriage – mainly because you are both nursing your own hurts. Licking your own wounds. Feeling judged. Feeling inadequate. It’s difficult to reach out to another when focusing on our own pain – especially when that pain seems to be inflicted by the same person we want to be intimate with. Therein lies the biggest dichotomy of marriage.
- In no way am I trying to minimize your pain by validating your husband – but imagining the shame I’m sure came to define him as he went through this self-abusive pattern of trying to overcome something he wanted to desperately overcome – feeling continually guilty about his thoughts and feelings – failing over and over again – the humiliation of losing his recommend, his callings, his standing as a “righteous” man. That’s pretty difficult and damaging. When we can begin to look through the lens of empathy – it can be freeing from many different perspectives.
- I encourage spouses to have prepared statements for the types of public situations that inadvertently come up when repentance is unfortunately made a public process (i.e. taking the sacrament, baptizing a child, attending the temple, etc.). A few examples of appropriate statements include: “I am not at liberty to discuss that subject,” “Why don’t you ask him/her?,” “That is something personal I’d rather not discuss right now,” and “We are dealing with some personal issues.”
- The fact that you are finding yourself depressed, anxious, “tired of the fight,” and wondering if you still want to be married are all normal responses in this situation.
- There has been an ongoing breach of your marital contract. Therefore, you have the right to leave this marriage. Staying because you feel a need to “endure to the end” is not necessary nor healthy. However, there are legitimate reasons you may want to stay (your children for instance). And problems that go unresolved in first marriages many times find their way into second, third and fourth marriages. In other words, it is in your best interest to resolve issues in the relationship you currently find yourself in. But I am not implying that anyone should put up with or endure abusive behavior.
- I’m sorry you received less than helpful or even inappropriate advice from some of the bishops you relied on for help. It is very unfortunate when this happens. I suggest you seek professional help in addition to any ecclesiastical help at this point.
- Do not make your husband’s struggle and addiction your own. Believe it or not, this addiction has little to do with you, your weight, your sex life, etc. This is not about YOU! It has to do with neurochemicals in your husband’s brain that were in place way before he met you. It has to do with his own sexual and personal development. The less personally you can take this issue, the better. Give this problem back to him where it belongs.
- Pick up a copy of Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts Edited by Stefanie Carnes, PhD. HBO has a great series on addiction films that can also be useful in understanding what you are up against and that it is much more complicated than the simple choice of whether or not people want to be righteous.
- Part of having appropriate boundaries is understanding that trust is something earned, not given. It will take time to rebuild trust in your relationship. If I was working with you as a couple, I would want to start the focus of trust on honesty vs behavior. “By-gones” cannot be “by-gones” until they are properly dealt with. This is part of a successful repentance process.
- Get in touch with your own body, sensuality, and sexuality. These things should not be held hostage by your husband’s addiction. These things are yours. You are a woman, you are a daughter of God and these are part of your birthright.
- Expand your own horizons as to what brings you joy. You are correct in realizing that food is a great sense of comfort. What other things can you develop in your life that bring you joy? Hobbies, interests, career goals, friendships, self-care, exercise, etc.?
- Do not work on yourself FOR your husband. Do it FOR you. That way, regardless of what happens to the marriage, you are still ahead of the game.
- Focus on your health versus weight loss specifically. Weight Watchers is a good program that focuses on “lifestyle” more than “diet.” They have an on-line program as well. A lifestyle has to be sustainable over time. Many times diets are not.
- Medication might be part of a temporary solution – especially if depression/anxiety are overwhelming at this point. This is something you can discuss with your primary health provider or counselor.
If you want to be with this man, stop worrying about his redemption. Be willing instead to be witness to his shame – his struggle. See his divinity regardless of what he’s wallowing in. These issues do not define him. And they definitely don’t define you!
Be willing to get help. Get all the help you need. You deserve it.
What you tell yourself is possible is powerful. Believe anything is possible! Faith, after all, requires a belief in God. If we can believe in His existence, we should be able to believe in anything.