Hope

Because I Loved Her, I left Her

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I chose to include them both in this response. I will be speaking in terms of divorce, but these concepts are equally applicable to "break ups" prior to marriage and within engagements.

Q: When do you suggest that a problematic/troubled partnership separate? Or stay together?

Q: How do you successfully break up with someone that you see no potential with?

A: The quick answer, with love.

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See also:

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: Real Love

Subdivisions in the Celestial Kingdom

Thank You Doesn't Quite Do It

Book: Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problems With Theism And the Love of God

 (vol. 2) by Blake T. Ostler

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

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I left my wife because I loved her. 

The following is true and personal. I hesitate sharing this 1) because the experience isn't mine alone and 2) it's a sacred and vulnerable experience. Sharing this experience opens the door for much judgement and misperception. Additionally, in sharing something so personal, there is an acknowledged risk of bias in my recounting of these experiences, and I fear I may misrepresent others’ perspectives. As such, I am openly acknowledging the following as my perspective alone. Despite these risks, I felt the clear impression to share these things. There are so many lonely and hurting souls who don't have a loving example of healthy break ups, that I would feel selfish not to share. Divorce and break ups are never easy, but they are also a taboo topic and few know how to navigate them, and fewer with a healthy perspective. With that, I hope my experience guides those who are currently struggling, hurt and alone to a more loving and healthy path. 

For the first time in my 13 years of married life, I lay next to my wife with a peace and clarity I'd never felt before — at least not to this degree.

There had never been a time when I didn't love my wife, although life presented challenges and pain I never thought possible. Those challenges and the associated pain often proved my character, while at other times it revealed — with heart-wrenching clarity — my weaknesses. Nonetheless, my love, devotion, loyalty and hope never wavered in our marriage. In fact, they deepened with each new challenge and blessing. But with each new challenge and blessing, I felt our relationship becoming more distant and lonely. 

How is it that marriage could be so painful and lonely? Our stake president once told us, "I don't understand. I see two smart and worthy people who are fighting for a good marriage." I too didn't understand, but what I felt was pain and loneliness during this time. No matter how much faith, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, service, scripture reading or selflessness was given, the relationship seemed to get worse. It didn't make any sense. 

Knowing that, there I was lying in bed next to my love, my wife of 13 years and the mother of our two children. I was feeling a peace and clarity I had not previously felt in our relationship. These feelings didn't come because we made a "breakthrough" in our marriage and felt connected and joyful, but because it was then I knew it was time to leave. As we held each other close, tearfully discussing the path forward, it was ironically the easiest discussion I felt we had had in our married life. 

In order to not inappropriately discuss too sacred of personal experiences, I will share the doctrinal concept that God answers all prayers, James 1:5. The decision to end the marriage was made in serious fasting and prayer. It was entirely a spiritual decision; in no way was it a flippant decision, but one involving God in the process.  There was no infidelity, "sin" or behavior that is otherwise viewed as "sufficient" to leave a marriage. I emphasize this fact only to clearly communicate that this was completely a decision I made with my Father in Heaven. Although unhealthy behaviors existed within our marriage, the decision was made between the Lord and I, not me running away from the behaviors.

To this point, and in response to the questions asked above, there are quite a few toxic myths and traditions in our culture that cause us to distance ourselves from God.

  1. The assumption that divorce is not really an option

  2. The idea that divorce is only a consideration if abuse and infidelity occur

  3. The feeling that divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage or relationship

  4. The fear that divorce is perceived as an easy way out or a form of giving up

These myths are devices used by the adversary to prevent heavenly communication with your Father in Heaven. These myths make the assumption that God will not tell you to leave your spouse, that divorce is only acceptable if a spouse becomes so dangerous that their behavior has essentially ended the relationship already or has put you and the family at risk. Where is the joy and agency in these perspectives?

Myth One — Divorce is not an option

Divorce is absolutely an option.

There is a notion that if someone believes divorce is an option, it's somehow synonymous with rejecting the marriage covenants and will prevent couples from "fighting" for their marriage. If this were true, I assure you there would be bigger issues within the individual and relationship than their ability to "choose" marriage first. If these unhealthy issues are present, a mantra, a belief, or a moral standard that divorce is not an option will only foster resentment, feelings of isolation and in some cases a feeling of being a prisoner. It's very common for individuals who believe divorce is not an option to privately hope that illness or a crisis like a car accident will take their spouse from them. Some may even privately hope the same would happen to themselves just to be free from the relationship. Depending on how toxic the relationship becomes, some spouses will add to the toxic behavior by setting their spouse up for failure. They do this by withdrawing, denying sex and intimacy, becoming passive aggressive and/or constantly finding fault with their spouse. Ironically, due to the natural human need to feel connection, the one spouse who views choosing to leave as worse than participating in a relationship may end up seeing the other spouse seeking companionship elsewhere. By participating in the toxic behavior, the spouse actually exacerbated the issue at hand, which leads to myth two (divorce is only an option in cases of abuse or infidelity).

For example, a young wife came into my office expressing suicidal thoughts, feelings of depression and anxiety, and her absence of joy in living the gospel. She was doing her best, doing everything she could to have the Spirit and love of God in her life. She felt that her depression was a function of her biology and considered getting medicated. Before we explored that option, we explored her relationship with her spouse. There was significant conflict and emotional distress. Her husband was a good man who also struggled with his own weaknesses. These were two good people who were "fighting" for their marriage. In a sincere desire to support and encourage her in her marriage, priesthood leaders would frequently say things like, “Divorce isn't an option,” “Don't consider it,” “Work hard,” and "Don't give up on him.”

In her mind this was logical, but also created a feeling of despair and resentment that was like quick sand. She wanted to do the "right thing" and therefore pushed aside her feelings as her just being "selfish" and "unrighteous."

She shared her "resolve" to not give up, using incongruent optimism (the words were optimistic but her affect was depressive).  I then asked her why she wouldn’t divorce him. She looked at me with a little confusion, but also with some curiosity and asked, "Why would you say that?" She quickly added, "Aren't you suppose to encourage me to stay married?"

I replied, “No, my professional responsibility is to improve individual health and happiness. If that leads to a stronger, happier marriage, that is wonderful, but if it leads you to move on from an unhealthy relationship, that is also wonderful. Either way, you get the choice to stay or go. That is not my choice. It's yours with God.”

She broke down in tears and asked, "I get a choice?!"

“Yes,” I said. “Isn't that the agency you were blessed with? The power of owning your authenticity and identity?”

"I've always been told I made a covenant and can't ever back out of that choice. It made me feel trapped and lonely, like my spouse can say, do and act in any way he wants because he knows I can't leave," she tearfully explained.

Again, I calmly but confidently reassured her, "You get a choice. That choice is between you and God."

Something interesting happened. She came back the next session excited and hopeful. Her whole countenance changed, she expressed feeling joy for the first time in years. But get this, she said she decided to stay in the marriage.

What changed? She made a real choice with God. She felt empowered and was able to own her decision because it WAS her decision. Some may say she always had a choice. Maybe so, but when you are told over and over that it's not an option, you stop making it an option. When you stop making it an option, you don't really choose. When you don't choose, you secretly and sometimes openly wish for death to take you or your spouse away, to free you from that decision.

The doctrinal mistake people are making here is to not use their agency, to not counsel with their Heavenly Father and decide with Him — together — what is best. It has nothing to do with "breaking a covenant"; it's the fact that they are not choosing for themselves the next step, not recognizing that they even have the right to choose. Not embracing our agency is the greater sin. The entire Plan of Salvation was provided for us to have agency. Father's plan was for us to have the chance to choose "wrong," ergo the Atonement was also provided. Not using our agency and the Atonement is a rejection of His plan. Too many are so afraid to "make the wrong choice" that they make no choice at all. This places them in darkness where the Atonement feels distant and hope dissipates. No wonder those who give up their agency experience depression and anxiety.

It is no surprise that clients who learn to embrace their agency often find they have the ability to choose to joyfully remain in their marriages, where otherwise they would have either left or stayed out of fear.  But again, it's not about me convincing them to stay or leave. If they choose to leave, that is their choice, not mine. When individuals feel compelled, forced or are convinced there is no other option, they experience increasing resentment.

Myth Two — Divorce only if abuse exists

If abuse is present, you waited too long.

Meaning, you deserve better and this has gone on far too long already.

"Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise, they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.

Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy ...

To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.

If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution." —Richard G. Scott, To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse

Abuse is a dangerous place to get to in a relationship. If experienced, it distorts our perceptions of our Father's love for us, our perception of human relationships, and even our ability to use the Atonement within our own lives. Abuse should never be tolerated in ANY degree within relationships. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical. I have heard people say, if my spouse ever did ... to me, I would leave. Why would the Lord design a plan or commandment that would require severe abuse to be the only reason for divorce? Why do we wait until a relationship becomes so toxic and dangerous, to only then begin to consider divorce? If you have children, what are you teaching them? If you don't have children, what message are you communicating to yourself about what is acceptable in a relationship? 

For many years, I convinced myself that I must "long suffer" in my marriage and "endure to the end." There was hope that my spouse would "change," only to realize that my tolerating of the toxic behavior and me staying in it was merely enabling the unhealthy behavior and giving permission for it to continue. I was essentially teaching my children that "love" was to be abused and to accept abuse. When in fact, to honor the eternal marriage covenant is, in part, to teach our children how to love and be loved in God's way. Generations of youth have been taught that abusive relationships are acceptable and are a normal part of marriage, that unhealthy and unhappy parents are to remain in abusive or unloving relationships for "the sake of the kids."

"Men [and women] are, that they might have joy" is a concept I believe we fail to understand, embrace and teach to our children.

Myth Three — Divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage

Another form of denying agency is to view a marriage as "failed." This is a ridiculous notion and is toxic at its core.

To say a marriage has failed suggests that both people in the relationship can control each other, that one spouse's behavior is a reflection of the other's "righteousness" or "unrighteousness." This can be said in a different way: "Through my righteousness, I can 'control' my spouse's behavior. If their behavior doesn't change as a result of my prayers, fasting, obedience and sacrifice, then I must not have been faithful or righteous enough to save the marriage. Therefore, I have failed the marriage."

Sounds silly and a bit arrogant when written out, doesn't it? Now, think about how many actually view marriage that way, and then notice how that line of thinking — I argue — is similar to emotional and spiritual abuse.

It also suggests that someone failed or both individuals failed in the marriage. This is dangerous thinking and it does no good to entertain it. This line of thought isolates individuals and children of divorced parents. When my own divorce became public, those who knew me for many years made an assumption that I did something horribly wrong to cause the marriage to end. I'm not entirely clear why they came to that conclusion, other than they were influenced by a societal stereotype that women leave abusive men or that divorces are a result of men being unfaithful. With the exception of a couple people, I was fortunate not to experience this form of judgement publicly. What was more difficult was the absence of help during the difficult and lonely time of separation. As a single father working full time, I didn't get the support that is traditionally given to women in that same situation: meals, babysitting or emotional support. Fortunately, I did have amazing home teachers at the time who were as supportive as they could be in their visits.

The view that divorce is a failed marriage affects the children in negative ways too. Each of my three step-daughters experienced this first hand.

In my current marriage and family, we consider each child our own full son and daughter and refer to them as such. But, for clarity's sake in the following examples, I refer to my daughters as step-daughters.

A friend of my youngest step-daughter found out that she was a child of divorced parents and promptly assumed she needed comforting. In his attempt to sympathize with her he said, "I am sorry you come from a broken home." She was a startled when she heard this comment from her friend. She was deeply confused by it and replied passionately, "My home isn't broken!" Never had she been happier and felt more loved than after her parents separated. Before the divorce, her parents' marriage relationship didn't allow her parents to connect with her or with her sisters. After the divorce, the result was a uniting of the relationships between parent and child, and therefore an increase of joy. The divorce allowed my step-daughter to develop a more loving and connected relationship with her mother. Because of this, she was seriously surprised anyone would make such an observation (brash assumption that divorce could only be so negative and not be fulfilling a need within the family as a whole).

My middle step-daughter, while in a seminary class, was taught that her parents did "not keep their temple covenants" because they got a divorce. That mindset implies it's a serious sin to God to get divorced. This interaction during class both deeply troubled her and angered her because she began believing one of or both of her parents were "wicked" and did something horrible to end the marriage. Fortunately, she was mature and loving about her response and said, "I have a problem with that." She asked her teacher for further clarification. To the teacher's credit, he did his best to explain what he believed but ultimately left her troubled and unclear on the topic.

My oldest step-daughter also experienced the judgement of others assuming that divorce could only be a negative thing, but in a more abusive way. When her boyfriend was experiencing jealousy, he told her he didn't want her to have friends outside of their relationship. He accused her of being unable to commit to him because she came "from a broken family," insinuating that she didn't know how to be in a relationship with him due to her parents being divorced. He used similar language later when she recognized their relationship was not working and needed to end it.

These specific incidents occurred because individuals boldly judged a situation incorrectly. Unfortunately, the social stigma is prevalent within society and even within our faith. Children often see themselves as the cause or reason for their parents divorce and that they have become a "statistic" of a broken home, more likely to repeat their parents' behavior in their own relationships.

I wonder if this has lead to individuals delaying marriage? What if the need to separate can be viewed as a healthy alternative to a living in a toxic relationship? What if we taught ourselves and our children that a successful marriage is one in which you haven't lost yourself nor lost your relationship with God? Thriving in your relationship with God might mean leaving a toxic marriage you have no control over.

Myth Four — Divorce is an easy way out

Anyone who says divorce is "an easy way out" is profoundly ignorant and dismissive.

Individuals who tend to say divorce is an easy way out, fall into a pattern of the first two myths.

  1. They fear to use their own agency or "give up" on their spouse

  2. They view divorced couples as weak and unloving

After all, we promised to "endure all things" with our spouses, but that does not include abuse. 

One divorcee observed,

"People who make this claim about divorce have clearly never been through it or they would never say such a thing. I don't know a woman [or man] out there who has been through a divorce and didn't fight with everything she had to save her marriage. I guarantee you, leaving or being left was the scariest and bravest thing she had to go through.

Those on the outside may see this decision as being rash and quick because they didn't share the same four walls in which the couple changed, fought, and tried. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. You do not pass go, do not collect $200, nor do you ride off into the sunset. It affects you deeply and for the rest of your life.

The pain you feel during this time is like no other. So nobody gets to sit on the sidelines and say you took the easy way out.

Every time you look at your kids or see another family holding hands crossing the street as you sit alone in your car, you are constantly reminded of how hard you fought and how much you gave and how it still wasn't enough." —Katie Smith, I Really Wish People Would Stop Saying Divorce Is the Easy Way Out.

Here’s another:

"When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of responses I got were the "choosing love" idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty — things my ex and I had lost or never had.

Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And what it comes down to is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and started working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me, but if I've learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it's that I can't control how other people act or what they say. I can control how I react and how those things make me feel.

I'm learning that it's okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think." —Rachael, On divorce and the "you just didn't try hard enough" myth

There was NOTHING easy about my divorce. Even with the knowledge I had from God to proceed with the divorce, and feeling his hand in my life through the process, the intensity of this refiner's fire was more than I had ever experienced. It tried me, it tested me, it strengthened me, and it crushed me. There were times I felt the Spirit stronger than I had ever felt before, but there were also times I felt a despair I'd never thought possible. There were times I felt more love for my ex-wife than I had ever felt for her.

I chose divorce out of love. I did not hate my ex-wife, nor did I think she was wicked or sinful or dangerous. I chose divorce because when looking at all the options, this was the most loving thing I could choose.

Too many turn their spouses into monsters to make it palatable to leave, to justify their "giving up." I don't take divorce lightly, but when we view divorce as an absolute no, we remove choice and foster resentment, we wander in darkness and wish for other acceptable ways out. Own your choices. Know your limits. Trust your relationship with your God. Recognize that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave. 

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

An Unspoken Struggle: Things As They Really Are

“Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” (Jacob 4:13)

One of the biggest hurdles in working through our weaknesses is overcoming disabling and destructive thought patterns, especially when working with those who struggle with sexual-related issues. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and private. Unfortunately, almost all embrace thoughts and emotions they believe are appropriate in these struggles but are actually preventing them from progressing and finding hope and joy in the moment. These thoughts and emotions sway from pessimism to optimism. But neither are helpful in healing, self-mastery and embracing the atonement.

Optimism can be as dangerous and destructive as pessimism; it can prevent spiritual growth and self-mastery. Optimism and pessimism are two emotional sides of the same coin. There doesn't appear to be any doctrinal basis for optimism in the gospel. The Lord never chastised Job for complaining or needing to be more happy in his trial, or Joseph Smith for complaining there were too many churches. But you might say, “Job’s proving and Joseph Smith restoring the Gospel were a part of God's plan. Like Laman and Lemuel, we are rebelling and sinning against God.”

I assure you most, if not all those I see, are no Laman and Lemuel. The moment we sin or transgress, we see ourselves as Laman and Lemuel, and the moment we repent we are Nephi. This is the dichotomy we unfairly place ourselves into and is harmful to our progression. Those who approach sin and self-mastery with optimism and pessimism are slowly losing hope. Our weaknesses don't make us like Laman and Lemuel; our lack of desire to love and trust God and refuse the atonement make us more like Laman and Lemuel. This idea was captured perfectly in a meme I found recently:

I understand this can slide easily into a topic of semantics. You might be recalling talks over the years that you've heard or read encouraging optimism. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk in General Conference in 2001, "Words of the Prophet: The Spirit of Optimism." More recently, T. Jeffrey Wilks of the Marriott School of Management at BYU gave a devotional "Optimism and Joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Both messages are spot on and insightful. I am confident that you can think of many other messages that encourage optimism. 

However, what I have found is that these talks use the words "optimism" and "positive thinking" interchangeably with hope and happiness. Technically, this is not what optimism means and is not how most interpret its meaning. 

The Webster dictionary defines optimism as "an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome."

I believe that this is the definition used by most people and those with whom I have worked. It is the inclination to expect the most favorable outcome as opposed to seeing things as they really are, the "positive" approach to life. 

What if Joseph Smith was an optimist? How different do you think his prayer would have been? "Father there are so many churches; it's confusing but thank you for blessing us with so many options to worship thee." He would have missed out on the First Vision experience, lessons of eternity, and the building up of an individual courageous enough to lead the Restored Church into a new dispensation.

Where in scripture does it tell us to be optimistic? It doesn't. But rather, the scriptures teach us to see things as they really are: "Wherefore, it [the spirit] speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be." The scriptures also teach us to take our concerns — even complaints — to the Lord.

In an often misread scripture, Sariah provided an excellent lesson in the need to complain:

"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (1 Nephi 5:2-3)

I have attended many meetings where individuals interpret Sariah's murmuring and complaining as an issue with her faith and use it as a cautionary tale. However, I see Sariah's actions as an example of faith, authenticity and seeing things as they really are.

Camille Fronk Olsen, professor of ancient scripture, offers additional insight to Sariah's experience:

"I suggest a different explanation. To establish Lehi and his family in a new land where they would inspire and instruct later generations to come unto Christ, God needed more than a father and a son (as successor) to possess a testimony tried in the fire of affliction. God also needed a matriarch, weathered by her own trials of faith and armed with her own unwavering witness, to stand steadfast with her prophet-husband.

When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land. The content of 1 Nephi 5 is therefore especially significant because it shows how crucial a mother's preparation is to the Lord. God desired not only that the family possess the brass plates for the journey, but also that both the mother and the father have unshakable faith before they continued.

... Sariah's reunion with her sons was additionally charged with the spiritual witness and stronger faith she received as a result of her trial. At that moment Sariah gained a deeper testimony than she had previously known. Notice the power and assurance in Sariah as she bore witness to her reunited family: "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 5:8)" —Camille Fronk, Desert Epiphany: Sariah and the Women in 1 Nephi

Sariah is a wonderful example of how voicing concern or complaint can strength faith and even be a form of expressing faith.

Consider Joseph Smith's complaint and concern while locked away in Liberty Jail:

"O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?" (D&C 121: 1-2)

What followed was a powerful and calming revelation that would not have occurred if his fears and concerns were glazed over with optimism. Like Sariah's complaining, he expresses faith in a loving Father in Heaven who answers prayers. To some degree, each prayer we offer is a complaint to God and should be. It is important to offer gratitude and recognize His hand in our lives. But it is equally important to see things as they are, recognize our weakness and, well, complain. Complain with hope and faith in the atonement.

Those who struggle with sin, especially sexual issues, often take a pessimistic or optimistic approach to healing. When they give into their weakness, they often shame themselves, which is not sorrow but guilt and negative self-talk and thinking. For some reason, they feel the ease and power of the atonement are not enough. Also, they fear that if there is not enough self-punishment and shame, they will repeat the undesired behavior, a form of scaring themselves out of the behavior. Others, on the other hand, will over-compensate and take on an optimistic or positive thinking approach. The pain, shame and embarrassment are too much to deal with, and feelings that they are not worthy of the atonement are too overwhelming. Therefore, to avoid or cope with that pain, they put on a smile and repeat gospel positive phrases such as, "I know God loves me," "If I fast and pray more, I will overcome this," and "All I need is more faith," or some other form of positive gospel affirmation. These are those whom we sometimes see as dedicated example Saints who seem to never have a negative thought and all the right answers.

One such client came into session each week and after briefly sharing their status immediately engaged in positive gospel self-talk. "I know I failed this week because I didn't read 30 mins each day. If I increase my scripture studies, I will not repeat the sin." They were very literally not seeing things as they really were. They jumped immediately into supposed solutions to their failure. They thought that if they dwelt on it too long or "complained," they would be lacking faith in the process. But what they are doing is denying themselves insights specific to their needs and self-mastery. What eventually happens is that the gospel positive self-talk runs out. Doubt takes over and faith is diminished. No matter how much they pray, read and do good works, they repeat the undesired behavior. As a result, they question their faith and experience a spiritual fatigue. Many give up after years of repeated visits to their bishop and prayers of repentance. They begin to no longer believe that the Lord doesn't give temptations and struggles greater then we can bear (1 Corn 10:13), or if it were true, it must be they are too sinful to be blessed.

Hogwash! It's because we glossed over the atonement with pessimism and optimism. It's not always about more prayer or scriptures but rather a need to see things as they really are. Although our struggles are in no way easy, it is easier to focus on more scriptures, more prayer, and more faith. If Sariah or Joseph Smith glossed over with optimism, would they have expressed their hard concerns and complaints? Would they have learned and been prepared to bring forth greater faith and revelation by laying their fears on the altar?

Even with those who have struggled with their sins for 40 years, I have seen almost immediate success when we begin to voice their complaint to the Lord. It's scary to be accepting of your weaknesses and discuss them with the lord.

But as Kathryn Kirk as pointed out in her struggles, the gospel is a place of healing, not hiding.

I have even heard many say, "Before I see the bishop or a therapist, I want to work through this to a certain point." Sometimes, we in the faith put too much emphasis on our own works and not enough on trusting the atonement. You no longer have to be afraid of your struggles, but embrace them and see them as they really are without guilt or shame. Eliminating shame and seeing things as they really are is essential to self-mastery and to making your weaknesses strong before the Lord.

When we can stop treating our undesired behaviors with optimism or pessimism and face them with courage, we can bravely lay them on the altar to have our weaknesses made strong. Let's replace the optimism, gospel self-talk and pessimism with hope! I love the words of Pope Francis in making this very same point:

“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.

At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!” These are verses that reveal the desire for a hope. Yet here that hope is an iridescent ghost that disappears with the dawn.

“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.” —Pope Francis, A Big Heart Open to God

It is tempting to run from our undesired behaviors, to hide them, or to — in some form of karma — do more good to prevent the bad. Recognize your weaknesses courageously, learn from them, and make them strong.

An Unspoken Struggle: LDS Women Addicted To Pornography

"So. I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and have been my entire life. My struggles with pornography began in 2003 out of a mix of boredom and curiosity. For years now, I have felt like one day I would share my experiences, and that from the things that I've learned, that I would be able to perhaps help just one other person in their struggles. My intent is not to talk about the details of anything, but just how the gospel of Jesus Christ has and is changing me, and helping me through this painful addiction. If you are a woman who is struggling, or know of a woman who is struggling with pornography, let me know. I know that it is difficult, and I know that having someone to talk to can make all the difference in the world. So this is my attempt to reach out to you. If you are a single woman, you are in good company cause so am I. I don't know what it is like to have this struggle in marriage, but if you are married, hopefully there will be something here that can help you too." LDS Women Struggle Too Blog

This "LDS Woman" is a brave single adult woman and active member who contacted me about her addiction to pornography. She had been battling this persistent Goliath for many years, had seen her bishop many times, fasted, prayed and did everything right. But the desire and addiction wouldn't go away, and she would find herself back at square one again and again. Discouraged, frustrated and at times hopeless, this dear sister didn't know what else to do. No matter how hard she prayed, read her scriptures or how sincere her desire to rid her life of porn, it wouldn't go away. As a result, at times she would even question if her faith was sufficient. After all, if faith can move mountains why not rid her of her desire for porn? Additionally, as a woman addicted to porn in The Church, this provided its own difficulties.

If you are an Latter-day Saint woman struggling with porn in any form, you are not alone. I get it, we don't talk about Latter-day Saint woman addicted to porn in The Church. But I assure you, I have seen as many women as men who are struggling, and you are not alone. There is hope! The story of my client "LDS Woman" is a beautiful one. I encourage you to follow the link to her blog and follow her personal journey. I encourage you to seek her out and ask her questions. If you feel unworthy, unclean and ashamed, I would ask you, are those feelings bringing you closer to Father or further away? It is a common misconception that we must feel shame and guilt. Sorrow, yes, but not shame or guilt. Where shame and guilt are, hope can not prevail. Where there is no hope, despair and depression grow. You can be happy now, even in the mist of battling an addiction or an occasional viewing. Yes, you most definitely can be happy during the battle of your Goliath.

"An Unspoken Struggle" will be a series of blog posts that guide you in your battle, how to turn from shame toward hope, from despair toward courage and how to retain the beauty of intimacy and sexuality while untangling yourself from porn. Unlike most addictions and misuse, we don't want to destroy, avoid or suppress our heavenly gift of sexuality. Too many have "defeated" their Goliaths only to find a new problem when they get married. Intimacy is difficult, avoided or triggers past addictions.

If you have any specific thoughts, questions or curiosities that you'd like me to address, please contact me directly or in the comments section.

“I never thought a pornography addiction could be a girl’s problem. I was proved wrong when I was about 16 years old. I came across a video of pornography, and since I was alone and curious, I watched it. After that first time, I felt like I had to watch something every day. I became addicted to pornography.

Viewing pornography made me feel bad. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t do anything to change. I was never happy, and I felt dirty and infected with Satan’s tempting filth. But I still found ways to watch it just so I could satisfy my appetite. My addiction led to more and more wrongdoings. I lied to everyone: my brother, my mother, and worst of all, the Lord and myself. I would tell myself that one more movie wasn’t going to hurt me, one more dirty story wouldn’t be that bad.” —"No Longer Addicted: My Journey to Overcome Pornography"

Thank You Doesn't Quite Do It

"Building a celestial marriage. The scriptures give an occasional glimpse into societies in which people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18), where “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15.)" —Spencer J. Condie, And We Did Liken the Scriptures unto Our Marriage

Thank you doesn't communicate the profound appreciation I have for my wife. It seems too trite. In no way does it express the joy, all accepting love and adoration I feel from my wife and what she has provide for me, or the Christ-like example and courageous endurance with which she not only accepted but full-heartedly committed in supporting me in my Master’s program. To convey even slightly the miracle and blessing this has been, I must share briefly how we got to this point.

When I was thirteen I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to be a psychotherapist. It’s an unusual story, and what kid knows they want to be a therapist? A firefighter, astronaut, race car driver, a professional skateboarder, surfer, sure. But a therapist? I might have been the only one ever in the history of the world. Although I didn’t know such a career existed or the vocabulary to describe my passion at the time, I was fascinated by human behavior. My stargazing was people watching. I got just as much awe and sense of magnificence from viewing the human experience as looking into a clear star-filled night. It wasn’t until I found a college “Intro to Psychology” textbook a couple years later that I realized it was a career and entire field of study. I took that textbook everywhere and devoured it. When in high school I was reading Jung, Fraud, Maslow and Rodgers. I was bored with fiction and thought it was a waste of time. I wanted more; I wanted to understand why people do what they do, what made them tick, both the emotional and logical.

I couldn't wait to get out of high school; it felt like a wasteful distraction. Finally in college, I took as many classes as possible in the field of psychology. It came naturally and with little effort. I remember Dr. Mark Chamberlain’s (an individual I greatly admire) occasional surprised look when I would respond in class. One such experience came when in the first week of class he was addressing various topics that were going to be covered in the coming months. He began to briefly address the issue with cancer patients and their aversion to food during chemo. I asked if he was referring to the “Garcia Effect.” His look was both of surprise and joy to hear his new freshman’s passion for the topic.

Ironically, my very passion and joy in understanding human relationships was most challenged in my first marriage. My dear bride, my love, my friend, struggled with my decision to become a therapist. Additionally, she had put her education on hold to get married. It wasn't clear to me at the time why there was such an opposition to my career choice. Nonetheless, I desired to be one with her and support her in her education. I made the very difficult decision to postpone indefinitely, my therapist career path.

The next 13 years were filled with great memories and equally difficult memories. In no way do I regret or resent those thirteen years. If anything, I learned more about human relationships than any class would have provided. I learned how to love unconditionally, forgive, be forgiven, courage, trust, how to be an individual in a marriage and how to see the heart of another who is struggling — see them not as their pain or struggle but for who they are as a person, a human, a child of God. The marriage ended, but some time later, I met Julie.

On June 8, 2012, we married in storybook fashion. If anyone tells you there is no such thing, stop them with a dramatic pause and confidently assure them that is not true and show them this video. (I must add, after the events in the video, she climbed up on the roof at 11 p.m. and shouted from the rooftop that she was getting married.) Storybook marriages are real. Period.

It was Julie’s loving prompting that encouraged me back onto the path to becoming a therapist. This was not a rash decision; it was thought about long and hard. You see, it wasn't just a dream come true marriage between to people. This blessing included five children, three daughters from her and two sons from me — in addition to two ex-spouses. Adjusting to a "normal" life would have been difficult enough. But going to school again would require me to be absent from home for long periods of time. With a full-time job, full-time schooling and eventually a full load of clients, it was rare for me to be home. In the last year of the 2.5 years schooling, we were routinely waking up at 4:30 a.m. and retiring at 10 or 11 p.m. at night. We often joked that we saw each other more during our courtship when she lived in Utah and I in California.

Now after almost three years of marriage, I have finished my Master’s in marriage and family therapy. Her love and support wasn't limited to encouraging me to achieve my dreams; she made them her own, our dreams. This was not my goal. It was ours. She will sometimes even say WE are getting our master’s degree. This was not just getting through a difficult time; it was becoming one. Loving the process as Elder Maxwell has said, one is not only to endure, but to endure well and gracefully those things which the Lord “seeth fit to inflict upon [us].” 

We read in Mosiah about how the Lord simultaneously tries the patience of His people even as He tries their faith (Mosiah 23:21). One is not only to endure, but to endure well and gracefully those things which the Lord “seeth fit to inflict upon [us]” (Mosiah 3:19), just as did a group of ancient American saints who were bearing unusual burdens but who submitted “cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). —Elder Maxwell, Patience

Julie, my love exemplifies the meaning of Elder Maxwell's words.

Additionally, in these three years she has sent two daughters off to college, one on a mission, put two boys through the cub scout program, remodeled our home, started a new career, jumped two feet into a new business venture. She found daily ways to bring us as a family closer to Christ. We valued our 5 a.m. "dates" at the gym, long hours of editing papers, and many insightful heart-to-heart conversations.

In every way, she has been that best friend, complete adoring partner in life. We are deeper and more in love now then ever before. This is my feeble attempt at expressing my deep and ever-grateful love and gratitude for all you have done. Thank you.