Scene: A young girl sits on her bed, sobbing. Her mother is beside her, stroking her hair and consoling her.
"I remember – Sofia was 5. She was so angry with her sister. Her sister had just taken something from her room or something. Rusty was at work, and I was trying to tell her to calm down and forgive Mayah, because she was only 3 and she was her sister," Alegra Rohr, whose husband, Rusty, is a recovering pornography addict, recalls.
"I finally said to her, 'You need to love her (Mayah, Sofia's younger sister), even though she does things to hurt you, because you're her sister," Rohr, 39, told The Christian Post. "She came back at me and whined, 'Mom, you don't know what it's like!'"
"I came back at her and said – in a controlled, but angry voice – 'I absolutely know what it's like. Your daddy is doing things that hurt me and I am still called to love him as his wife."
Sofia's eyes got "huge as saucers," Rohr said, and she asked her mother "What is he DOING?"
"'Right now, you just need to know that I understand,' I told her," Rohr said.
Many Christian wives find themselves pressed to explain their husband's pornography addiction to their children. Many of them are hurting themselves, yet struggling with this issue of honoring their husband. They may even sit next to you at work. Pornography is such a hidden sin that its victims are often hidden as well.
"You're fearful to talk to anyone, fearful of embarrassment. You don't want to talk to anyone because you are cautious you will be judged," Rohr said, describing the plight of many wives whose husbands are addicted to pornography.
Rohr and her husband found hope and healing in a Christian program for porn addicts. The Rohrs now live in St. George, Utah, with their three children: Sophia, who is now 9 years old, Mayah, 6, and Joshua, 4. They are still active in the recovery program.
The couple wants to help other Christian couples going through the same struggle, Rohr said. With the coming of White Ribbon Against Pornography Week (Oct. 30 – Nov. 5), Allegra Rohr sat down for an interview with CP to tell her story.
CP: To admit your husband struggles with pornography is very revealing. Why are you being so open about such a sensitive issue?
Rohr: Everything that we go through can bring glory to God – even in something as painful as this, we both felt it needed to get it out there.
Not just me. Rusty has been very transparent because he knows that men struggle and he knows it's kept in secret.
CP: So how did this problem all start? Were you even aware at first that your husband was looking at pornography?
Rohr: It actually started before we met. Rusty had a slight exposure to pornography in adolescence, but then, it like, turned into him looking at his mom's lingerie magazines and stuff. It became an escape for him when he was emotionally troubled.
He told me he struggled with lust when we dated, but I didn't know what that meant. I thought it was just a guy thing and that it would go away.
He thought he wouldn't struggle with it once he was married, when he could have all the sex he wanted. ... But intimacy with another woman is different than a false intimacy with sin, a sin of the flesh.
CP: So he didn't just grow out of it, or change once you were married?
Rohr: Well, around 1998-99, the rise of Internet made access to porn really easy. There was no shame involved because he didn't have to go to a store to purchase anything.
He kept it secret for the first couple years of our marriage, but then I started walking in on him, or the Holy Spirit would nudge me to go talk to him and ask him how things were going and he always confessed.
CP: That's good that he was so honest. You're lucky, many men just lie.
Rohr: Oh, but he would passively lie, just never to my face. Porn addicts are progressive liars, they have to be.
CP: So when did you really know that it was a serious problem you needed to seek help for?
Rohr: When he told me has was starting to look at it at work, I knew it was more of a problem than I first realized. It never stays pornography. It's a progressive sin that always leads to death – death of a family, death of a marriage.
A pornography addiction progresses from catalogs and soft core pornography to hard core pornography, which leads to child pornography. Child porn then progresses to massage parlors, prostitutes, affairs.
It's like any other sin – it never satisfies.
CP: So did Rusty realize it was a problem at that point?
Rohr: No, he knew it was wrong, but he always felt justified.
Then he started watching late-night porn. And he actually did go to a massage parlor that offered "sensual massage." But he told me he did not get one.
That's when he realized it was more serious than he thought.
CP: Did you seek help or counseling at that point?
Rohr: Yes, we tried several different counselors and groups. But whenever we tried to get help, it was always based on a sympathetic ear and accountability. They would work on having the man train his eyes to “bounce away” whenever he encountered a lustful image, not linger and look.
CP: That's easier said than done.
Rohr: Someone else told Rusty he had to be transparent with me every day, in every lustful thought that entered his mind. He ended up confessing every little thing that he thought was a lustful thought.
Someone else told me to abstain from sex, as a means of correction. That just made him bitter and angry.
CP: So nothing worked?
Rohr: Basically, they just tried to teach us coping tools. But none of them worked because they never dealt with the heart issue.
CP: How did you feel at that point? Did you seek counseling or support on your own?
Rohr: It's a very lonely road for a wife who finds out their husband is involved in pornography, because there's so much shame involved. You feel like you're not "good enough" for him.
You fear you or your husband will lose respect, and yet you lose your respect for him. Despite what God says, I would think, “He's choosing to sin – why should I respect him?"
Keeping quiet is frustrating. And sometimes that anger blinds women to their own sins.
CP: You must have kept seeking some help though, because you found Pure Life, the recovery program you're in now.
Rohr: Rusty was terrified of passing his sin down to his children if he didn't deal with the heart issue.
Pure Life deals with that, and it deals with the wives' issues as well.
CP: You mean how to deal with your feelings, like anger and hurt?
Rohr: Yes. Some wives end up trying to control and micromanage their husbands, which always backfires.
Pure Life doesn't let you (the wife) sit in that anger – it puts a mirror up to your face and says, "You are a sinner in need of grace just as much as your husband." It levels the playing field.
CP: So how has Rusty changed?
Rohr: He became a servant. Sin says “serve me, serve me.” He changed that.
It's still a temptation. But his heart has changed. He is a different person now. He deals with his sin, instead of rationalizing it.
CP: You are still in the program after a few years now. Do you think Rusty will ever not have a struggle with pornography?
Rohr: No, because addiction is an ongoing sin. You constantly have to choose victory over temptation. We all have weak areas where Satan likes to tempt us. When he is away (at the Pure Life live-in program), I tell the girls, “Daddy is just sick, like we are all sick – sick with sin.”
CP: Praise the Lord that it didn't ruin your marriage.
Rohr: It's not easy. Many marriages don't survive a porn addiction. All I can tell other couples, especially wives, going through it is be supersensitive to the Holy Spirit, because ultimately, you're accountable to God.
Is it painful? Yes. Is it the end of a marriage? No. Can God restore it? Absolutely. He is in the business of restoring.
Editors' note: This is the second in a three-part series about pornography. Part one revealed how common pornography is, both in the secular world and in the church. Part three will focus on Pure Life Ministries, a program designed to help Christian couples recover from pornography addiction.