I have been married for 25 years. A little over four years ago my husband told me he is addicted to women. Even though he’s had a problem with pornography most of his life, his main problem is that he criticizes me and compares me to every woman he’s seen. He has multiple crushes on women from our ward and neighborhood and admits to having inappropriate thoughts about them. He gets defensive if I point out that these women only look like this because they’ve been surgically enhanced. He says he is not attracted to me and a little over a year ago told me we were no longer married and if he decided he wanted to marry me he would ask me. He has not asked yet.
We sleep in the same bed and do things like go to a drive through for dates. He tells me I’m fat and ugly, but lusts over women that I feel would be equal or less than my worldly beauty. He claims I have no talents which I really don’t because he either discouraged me from having them or took over any projects I would start because they didn’t look how he thought they should and I was incapable of doing anything well in his opinion.
We have been to three years of counseling and he goes to 12-step meetings. I’m at the end of my hope that he will ever give up his preferences that draws him to other women. I feel it is not only demeaning to me but to them. I understand that as humans we will find other people attractive I don’t, however, believe it is the same as being obsessed with them for days, weeks, months and even years in his case. He stays home as much as possible because there isn’t a woman he will not run through his filter and find something he likes, even if it’s simply her shoes, then he will obsess over her and compare me to her.
I am struggling to even breathe and feel I am teaching my daughters that it is acceptable to allow a man to treat you poorly and that forgiveness means allowing that behavior to continue. He quit his job a year and a half ago claiming he’d be able to get over the crushes he had on co-workers, yet he has not been able to get over them. We are in financial ruin and I feel I’m drowning. Any advice on how he can get over his preferences or how I can accept that he will always “love women” would be appreciated.
These are oppressive conditions and you won’t be able to feel the freedom to breathe and relax until something changes. If he won’t change, it doesn’t mean that you can’t change your situation. Your mental health and well-being matters and will have a significant impact on your ability to care for and teach your daughters. I’m glad you recognize the seriousness of this problem and are willing to seek help.
I’ve never met your husband, obviously, so I can’t make a professional assessment about whether he has an addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, or something else. You shouldn’t spend your time trying to diagnose him either, as it can make it more difficult to create actual accountability for the way he’s treating you. In other words, sometimes spouses who are being emotionally and spiritually abused focus on causes of their abuser’s behavior instead of the more uncomfortable task of accepting the reality of what’s really happening in the present. This approach can also evolve into making excuses for abusive behavior.
The reality is that your husband is acting in a demeaning and degrading way to you by his actions and his words. Your husband may act like he chose to not be married to you, but his actions actually disqualify him from being your husband. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
“To impair or impede [your wife] in any way for
gain or vanity or emotional mastery over her should disqualify [you] on the spot to be her husband. Indeed, it should consign [your] miserable soul to eternal incarceration in that large and spacious building Lehi says is the prison of those who live by ‘vain imaginations’ and the ‘pride of the world’ (1 Nephi 11:36, 12:18). No wonder that building is at the opposite end of the field from the tree of life representing the love of God! In all that Christ was, He was not ever envious or inflated, never consumed with His own needs. He did not once, not ever, seek His own advantage at the expense of someone else. He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them. He was forever kind.”[i]
We’re also reminded in the Doctrine and Covenants that anytime there is unrighteous dominion, “amen to the authority” of that man. In other words, when your husband treats you this way, he’s not acting as your husband. Elder F. Burton Howard reminds us that the marriage covenant is conditional. None of us has an automatic right to have access to or treat our spouse in degrading ways. He says:
“Notwithstanding the grandeur and glory of the gift [of eternal marriage], it is not free. In fact, it is conditional, and having been given, it may be withdrawn if we do not keep the conditions of the covenant which accompanies it. Those who verbally or physically abuse their wives or husbands or those who degrade or demean or exercise unrighteous dominion in a marriage are not keeping the covenant.”[ii]
You need to protect yourself and not allow him to access to your ears, your body, your mind, or your heart. He can’t be trusted with the way he’s treating you. Having this type of intimate access to someone is a privilege and should be guarded and protected with the utmost care. Elder F. Burton Howard also taught:
“If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t make it common or ordinary. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by.”[iii]
Every time he speaks to you this way or places you below other women, he disqualifies himself to be your husband.
You aren’t powerless to respond to this. I don’t know what you will specifically do in your situation, but you can get direct answers from God. President Russell M. Nelson recently promised, “that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek.”[iv] You can know as surely as you know light from dark how you need to handle this situation.[v] I wouldn’t recommend you continue marriage counseling when he’s actively abusive in this way. It’s harmful to do couples therapy when there is active and unchecked abuse, addiction, or affairs. Seek individual professional support so you can learn how to respond and protect yourself from further damage. This will also help you send clear messages to your daughters that certain types of behaviors in marriage and family life are unacceptable.
You shouldn’t have to defend how you look or compare yourself to other women. Who you are as a woman isn’t on trial. Emotional and spiritual abuse is often hard to detect and respond to because it intertwines with our own sense of self and desire to become better. Criticism, comparison, and degrading comments will only leave you feeling like you’re a failure, so start by refusing to allow any more of these types of comments to be directed at you. You can’t change the way he thinks, but you can decide whether you’ll allow yourself to be in line of fire. And, make no mistake about it. If your daughters are hearing and seeing these things, it’s highly likely they’ll believe these things about themselves.
It’s time to stop hoping he’ll change and time to begin changing the way you respond to his treatment. Seek education about emotional abuse and take steps to protect your beautiful heart, mind, and soul. If he won’t protect you, you can’t put yourself in his hands any longer. This doesn’t mean you automatically divorce him, but it does mean that the way you interact with him on a daily basis will look different. Ask your Heavenly Father and others who know and love you to remind you of who you are and why you matter to them. Hold onto these truths as you create a new way of living in relationship to him and your children.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[v] Moroni 7:15