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I want to begin these thoughts with a word of deep sympathy. It’s difficult to imagine the pain experienced by someone whose spouse is addicted to porn, which is essentially saying they have been unfaithful and adulterous. The pain of the thought that this person you’ve committed your life to is not apparently as committed to you, not fully present, and perhaps always comparing you to some fantasy “other” when you are in their embrace is a cross of incredible weight. Why is this happening? Why am I not enough? How could you do this to my heart? Can I believe you, or even trust you anymore?

I want to offer some thoughts below with a deep sensitivity, mindful of this cross. I want to encourage you to pray for your spouse, and to get there I want to speak on two levels; the objective level and the subjective level.

First, a word about your subjective experience of this trial. The word is mercy. I don’t know where else to begin if you want real healing than with this word. The fuller meaning from the Latin ‘misericordia’ is a heart that suffers with another. It’s compassion, it’s to suffer with. Starting here may seem like an impossible ask, but it’s essential.

Unless we go there, deep down, into the heart, then there can be no real forgiveness, understanding, or healing. Luke 17 speaks about this forgiveness:

“If your brother sins, speak sharp words to him. If he is sorry and turns from his sin, forgive him. What if he sins against you seven times in one day? If he comes to you and says he is sorry and turns from his sin, forgive him.” - Luke 17: 3-4

We will get to the “speak sharp words to him” bit in a minute, which is the objective work we must do with a spouse struggling with porn. But back to forgiveness, to bringing mercy into this subjective realm of the heart. It is the foundation stone that must be set in order to rescue or rebuild or redeem your relationship. We cannot truly and freely and sincerely pray for a spouse addicted to porn if we don’t have this forgiveness and mercy in our hearts. Our prayer would be dry words, perhaps even bitter, constructed in anger and offered only by the lips and not the heart.

Related: How Much Accountability is Necessary in Marriage?

The Rain of Mercy

For the heart that’s been betrayed, mercy and compassion are like the rains that water the garden of their prayer. We learn to step back and ask the hard questions about this fall of our spouse. What led them to this place? We step inside and discover there the hunger and desperation that’s in all of us. The words of Bruce Marshall come to mind: “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” It may not come as a comfort but it offers us a clue as to why someone would ever go down this road of pornography. It’s not our fault. They are looking for something we cannot give.

A glimmer of connection and understanding can be made when we acknowledge the universal thirst, the longing for intimacy that’s in all of us. The release and the relief that sexual stimulation (porn, masturbation, adulterous affairs) offers us, however, is a pale substitute for this infinite ache that can only be assuaged by the Infinite Love of the God Who made us so hungry.

Understanding the ache is a start. Asking the question, as Jesus did to the wanderers of His time, What are you looking for?” gets us in the front door. The stimuli, the pleasure of porn is an outlier. And so here comes the need for the “sharp words” Saint Paul talks about. Porn can never be sought as an end in itself. We can never use another person for our own sexual gratification. We can never expect the natural good of sexual pleasure to take the place of God. To admonish the sinner (or here the spouse) is a spiritual work of mercy and a wake-up call. Porn is inherently wrong and contrary to the authentic happiness and holiness and flourishing of the human person. We are made for love, not lust. We are made for personal communion, not just pleasure devoid of personal responsibility and accountability.

Hard as it sounds, can the spouse show mercy to a spouse who’s fallen into the “false infinite” of porn addiction? Yes! Christ did with all of us. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But conversion is key! And it’s only through Him, with Him, and in Him who reached into that abyss to save our souls that a spouse can forgive and pray sincerely as well.

Looking into the reasons for the spouse’s turning to porn might also be unsettling for the partner. Is there any way I may have exacerbated this by an emotional disconnect or distance? Have I severed the communion he/she is looking for because of my own wounds?

Related: Need Mercy? You've Come to the Right Place 

The Grave Injury

Objectively, as said above, porn can never be justified or compromised. It is a moral evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense” (CCC, 2354).

It is not an activity that is essentially harmless. It is also not to be viewed, contrary to popular thought today, as a kind of marital intimacy stimulus plan. The problem with porn (not that you don’t already know this) is that it strips away the person with all of their rich complexity and leaves us with a passing pleasure. If youve struggled, you know its leaked out of that dark room you tried to keep it in and its become present in nearly every twist and turn of your life. A loving spouse can never allow it. Porn is a black hole that takes the life and the light out of our eyes, but where this sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).

Related: Porn Has No Room in the Home of Love

Healing and Hope

“For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother.” - 1 Corinthians 7:14

Praying for a spouse who struggles with porn is truly a heroic act of virtue. You are standing in the gap between love and lust, pleading with the Most High God for the beauty of the person (yours and everyone else's) to be revealed, re-veiled you might say, for your spouse so that the image of God is preserved. Praying for your spouse is a bodily as well as spiritually profound act. You offer your body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) and assist your beloved in the re-orientation of their look, their gaze. Their impulses are retrained, humanized.

This prayer, coupled with conversation and collaboration with therapists and marriage counselors, spiritual directors, or pastors, will be challenging! You are encouraging your spouse to re-engage with the mess of real life! Pope Francis once wrote that “The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.” (Pope Francis, EG 88)

As difficult as it is, pray that their face be turned. And this means you face them with this mercy. This burning love for them not just to return to you, but to the Lord. What a burning and purifying gaze this is. The face is how one person is present to the other; it is self-exposure before each other, toward each other. The face is therefore the bearer of personal presence… The face makes us vulnerable. It can reveal us in our most naked nakedness, defenselessness, without resources’” (Fr. Lorenzo Albacete, God at the Ritz).

In this heroic act of intercessory prayer, invite the Lord to reorder desire—yours and your spouses. Ask Him to let His Face shine upon you so that the same light can spill out from you onto your beloved. The prayer of your heart is for them to move from addiction to adoration. Your prayer is to get them to seek true intimacy and communion with the God of Desire who gave them their desires to desire Him, the Source.

We can extrapolate the words of Pope Francis meant for us to evangelize to words witnessing love to our spouse. Our prayer should not be nagging or shaming or belittling. We should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.” (Pope Francis, EG, 168)

Praying for a spouse who struggles with porn is a prayer that again must be embodied. It is not simply words whispered in desperation but prayer that seeks to reveal, open, heal. Prayer with the hands and the head and the heart. And remember there is no timer set on this one. There’s no point at which one says, I’m finished now. We pray without ceasing for them, and the prayer keeps changing us too. As Saint Ambrose said to Saint Monica through her tears and many years of praying for her son, Augustine, who was lost in his own lust and addiction… “A son of this many tears can never be lost.”

Perhaps this selfless prayer will lead you both into deeper intimacy. It will draw back the curtains and clouds of lust and reveal finally our true face, our truest desires, our frailt, and our weakness. Through this sincere prayer we can find new strength and hope. Behold, He makes all things new! (Rev 1:25)

Resource
Novena for Purity Graphic

The Novena for Purity

Description

Join Covenant Eyes and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity for nine days of focused prayer with the Novena for Purity, where you’ll ask God to strengthen you in various ways as you seek to live a life of purity. 

Audience: Men and women 
Language: English 
Resource Type: 9-Day email challenge 
Cost: Free 

Bill Donaghy is a senior lecturer and content specialist for the Theology of the Body Institute as well as a Certification Program instructor, and international speaker. He's worked in mission, evangelization, and education for nearly 25 years, with a background in visual arts, philosophy, and systematic theology. He teaches as an adjunct professor for Immaculata University as well as Homeschool Connections, teaching Catholic homeschoolers with live, interactive courses for primarily middle and high school age students. Bill is also the co-author with Chris Stefanick of the RISE: 30 Day Challenge for Men program at www.MenRiseUp.org and editor of the Strive21.com initiative with Matt Fradd. He and his wife, Rebecca, live just outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.