Curtis & Jenny Solomon: Our Story: Sexual Addiction
What can you do when caught in the prison of porn use? Curtis & Jenny Solomon know it might be tempting to give up--but there's hope for your marriage.
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What can you do when caught in the prison of porn use? Curtis & Jenny Solomon know it might be tempting to give up–but there’s hope for your marriage.
Curtis & Jenny Solomon: Our Story: Sexual Addiction
Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive, but important, subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. So please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Alright; now, let’s jump into it.
Curtis: One of the things, though, that was missing was—a lot of times, in couple’s counseling, everybody would just turn to me and would be like, “Okay, if we can get your problem resolved, then there won’t be a problem,”—almost no attention was given to Jenny—and the pain she was going through, and the questions, the doubts, the insecurities, the things like that that were going through her. That’s where she realized, “I know I need help.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: So we go to write Vertical Marriage. I map out: “I’m going to write these five chapters; you write these five chapters.” On Day One, it didn’t go the way I thought.
Ann: Right; well, I mean you mapped them out; and I got on my computer, and I thought, “Okay, hmm, what do I feel like writing about?” I started the chapter, and it was called “Dave’s Neck Problem.” I—it just started flowing—I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to write about this,” and “…this.”
Dave: Yes, all I know is I’m on another laptop—in another part/a friend gave us this big house—and I look out, and Ann’s on the deck; and she’s like going crazy. I’m like, “Wow! What is she writing? I can’t believe she is that into it.” So I pull up—she didn’t know I could do this—I pull it up on my laptop to see. I see this title: “Dave’s Neck Problem.” I’m like, “What is Dave’s neck problem?” [Laughter] I don’t even know what this is!—we’ve never talked about this. Long story short—I think listeners probably/maybe heard this story—but it was about my struggle to turn my neck when a girl in a bikini went by in our first year of marriage—which I denied I even did—but it was all true.
So I sit down, Day Two, to write a different chapter; and then I’m like, “Wait a minute! If she wrote ‘Dave’s Neck Problem,’ Ann’s perspective; I’m writing ‘Dave’s Neck Problem,’ Dave’s perspective.” [Laughter] Here is the thing about that: I sort of tell my side of the story; but as I got about halfway through the chapter, I had this pause, where I was like, “Okay, do I talk in this chapter about how I struggled with porn, decades later?”—in other words, about year ten or twelve of our marriage.
My first thought was: “No; this is one of those sins that you just keep to yourself.” My second thought was: “Nobody writes about this in the Christian world. I’m going to be honest and see where it goes.” When we sent it to our publishers, Zondervan, we thought, “Those two chapters will never make it in the book,”—which is fine. They came back and said, “Those are two of the most helpful chapters in the book, because this is an issue that needs to be talked about.”
And we are going to go there today, folks—just so you know—this is critical to understand and talk about. We have a couple in the studio today with us, Curtis and Jenny Solomon, who have not only written about it, but they have been honest enough to say, “We want to help people, so we are going to tell people our story.”
First of all, let me say, “Curtis and Jenny, thank you for being here on FamilyLife Today. Welcome.”
Curtis: Thank you for having us. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dave: Curtis wrote Redeem Your Marriage: Hope for Husbands Who Have Hurt Through Pornography. And then Jenny wrote Reclaim Your Marriage: Grace for Wives Who Have Been Hurt by Pornography. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever read a book for wives. Is there anything out there, Jenny?
Jenny: There is not anything from a perspective of a wife, who stayed in a marriage, that I know of. Vicki Tiede wrote a book that I did use for research; and she talks about a situation where she and her husband, eventually, did divorce. So that was one of the impetuses for writing—is I wanted to say—“What does a situation look like, when there is reconciliation, and healing, and hope that, actually, in Christ, your marriage can be stronger on the other side of this difficulty?”
Ann: I would say that Dave and I have been speaking on marriage for probably—
Dave: —35 years?
Ann: —yes, I would say 35 years—
Dave: We’re old; that’s what that means.
Ann: —but I would say, also, in the last 7 years, this is the main focus that wives are coming to me about, where their husbands are struggling; and they don’t know what to do. But it’s also—there are women, who are struggling with it as well—and Dave, would you say the same is true for you?
Dave: Oh, yes; men come to me rampantly. I mean, it has gone from a day when I was a young boy and a teenager—and even a 20-year-old—where you had to go find a magazine; and you basically didn’t do the work—it’s like—“I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to do that”; but if it ended up in your lap, you struggled. Today—it’s in your phone; it’s in your laptop; it’s everywhere—so the problem’s heightened.
Now, you’re a counselor—I mean, you do counseling, therapy; you teach at a seminary; you’ve got kids. So you’re living in those worlds. Do you agree? Is it just a day and age, where this is pretty prevalent?
Curtis: Oh, it’s massively prevalent. It’s almost—basically, I go into every situation—and having worked in youth ministry, where I don’t think, “Has this person seen porn?”—I assume everybody has; it’s just: “How much of a struggle is it for each individual?”—because, like you said, it’s in everybody’s pocket. And the types of pornography people are getting into is getting darker, and darker, and darker. It’s, unfortunately, not a shrinking problem; but a growing one.
Dave: So what is your story? Let’s hear the Solomon journey.
Curtis: We met in seminary. I grew up in Arizona; she grew up in Arkansas. We met in Kentucky. We both started at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary the same semester and started attending the same church.
Dave: Oh, wow.
Ann: What made you both go to seminary? What was on your heart?
Jenny: I grew up in a home where I didn’t hear the gospel, and friends from high school invited me to church. I heard the gospel at youth group, and responded, and became a believer. God just put a sense in my heart that He was calling me toward ministry.
For the next several years—and even, some ways, still feel like I’m still working out what that means—you know, “God, what’s Your call for me? What does this look like?” I think what I have come to now is that I’m not going to know until I get to heaven, and look back, and see what He has had for me. I think what He wants me to know is this next step and not worry so much about the grand picture that He is unfolding.
But when I reached the end of my college career, I really didn’t know: “What was next for me?” I thought, “Well, if God is calling me to ministry, the best thing that I can do is know His Word better.” My parents had told me, at that point, that I was an adult. They helped me with college; and they said, “Once you are done with college, you are on your own.” I didn’t have any money. I applied to several seminaries; and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, gave me a scholarship. So that is where I ended up, and Curtis and I met there our first semester.
Ann: Curtis, how did you end up there?
Curtis: When I was 14, I really felt the Lord calling me to fulltime vocational ministry. I thought that was going to be as a senior pastor, preaching all the time. From that moment forward, just put my eyes toward Bible college and then had no intention of going to seminary. I had a lot of those stories about: “Seminary is a cemetery; that’s where you go for your soul to die.”
But in my senior year at college:
- One, the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.
- And two, the president of the college got up and said, “Hey, some of you will not have the opportunity to go to seminary; and you just need to get out there and start doing what God has called you to do. But for others of you, the opportunity is there. If you can become a more polished vessel for God to use, do it.”
I was like, “Alright, Lord, I’m going to seminary.” I started looking at a few different schools. I kind of wanted to diversify my education a little bit; a lot of my professors pointed to different schools and different strengths. I knew biblical counseling was central to what I wanted to do and to study. Actually, one of my counseling profs said, “Well, if you want to be a pastor, not just a preacher, where you really are full-orbed in ministering to the whole person, go to Southern.” I was like, “Alright, that’s where I am going.”
Dave: —not knowing you were going to meet your wife there.
Curtis: That was probably the best—no, not probably—that was the best thing to come out of seminary. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, you better say that again: “That was the best…”
Curtis: That was the best.
Curtis: No doubt about it—bar none—the best part of it.
Dave: You met the first semester. Did you date a long time, or did you get married pretty quick? What happened? [Laughter]
Curtis: So we met probably in August/September, and we got married April 5 the next semester.
Dave: Oh, wow!
Jenny: We were married fast.
Ann: So you were married students in seminary.
Curtis: Yes; everybody, who is married, thinks it is better for the single students; and all the single students think it’s better for the married students. [Laughter] Yes, that is what we did.
Dave: So then what happened after school?
Curtis: Immediately after—long story short—the Lord led us to a ministry, where I was going to be evangelizing/discipling legislators and legislative staff in the state capitol of Arizona in Phoenix. We went back to Phoenix. That ministry, through a number of things, kind of imploded. I think I did one session with the legislature there, doing Bible studies with the staff and legislators once a week—and there was some sin in the leadership—the leader ministry imploded.
We were like, “God, we just moved across the country from all of our friends and support back in Kentucky. Why did You bring us here to kind of see this thing devolve?” Then He took us to a church in California, in a small town called Atascadero, where I was an associate pastor. They had had a one-year gap between guys they were looking for. We were like, “Okay, Lord, maybe, this is why we were temporarily in Arizona for a year.” That’s where we went, and we were there. That’s—our son turned one right after we moved there—our oldest; our second son was born while we were there. Then about five/six years into that ministry is when I got the call to do the ministry that I’m doing now, being the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.
That’s a long story, short; I joke with people: “My life went: Arizona, California, Kentucky, Arizona, California, Kentucky,”—because that’s where we are now. Jenny always says, “Let’s not move anymore; but if we do, let’s skip Arizona and go straight to California.” [Laughter]
Jenny: That’s where I want to go back, if we go anywhere.
Ann: Had you guys/Jenny, had you any conversation, before you got married, about pornography/about your past? Did any of those things come up?
Curtis: Yes; we did,—
Jenny: Yes, they did come up.
Curtis: —probably in marriage counseling and other places like that.
And just, too, I had struggled with pornography, actually, for a long time. The first exposure I had to pornography was actually when I was about eight; I was at my neighbor’s house. My parent’s both worked; so he and I were together all the time, especially in the summers—no school—hanging out. Pornography would be a pretty prevalent part of that time.
Ann: Did you experience shame during that time at all?
Curtis: Oh, absolutely; I was just torn, because I grew up in a Christian home. I had made a profession of faith when I was a young kid. I was involved in AWANA. I mean, I was doing—externally, looked great: I’m memorizing Scripture; youth leader—all this other stuff—but in the background, there was this just constant struggle with porn that was going on, really, my whole life.
Ann: So it was a secret.
Curtis: Yes, until I confessed to my youth pastor that one time. I think that was one of things that helped me, actually, be able to write this book—is his willingness to share that he struggled—was what enabled me to open up to him that I struggled.
When we met, I told Jenny, like, “Just so you know: this is a part of my past. It’s something I’ve dealt with.” She kind of asked me to: “Make sure this is not going to be a problem ever again, because I’m not sure I can handle this.”
Ann: Jenny, what did you feel when he shared that with you before you were even married?
Jenny: Yes, I mean, we were 21 or 22 at the time. I was so naïve; I had no experience with sexual sin, so it just really wasn’t on my radar, personally. But my dad had had an affair; so my first real exposure to sexual sin was at age 15, when I found a letter that the woman he was having an affair with had written to him. I had a panic attack when I read it.
Jenny: So that just started, for me, a long string of having panic attacks, pretty regularly, and especially, related to anything that had to do with sexual sin or things like that was a real trigger for me.
When he shared his experience, I said, “I forgive you; it’s not that. I just need for you to know I can’t handle that; so if you can’t promise me now that that is never going to be an issue, we probably aren’t right for each other,”—which was a very naïve thing to do. That is definitely not advice I would give to anyone, but that is what I said at age 22.
Dave: Did you say, “Okay; I’m done”?
Curtis: Oh, of course; right; yes.
Ann: Because you thought: “This was in my past”?
Curtis: Well, yes, I thought it was in my past. I had no desire to go back to that; I didn’t want it. I think we have this idea, in our minds, too, like: “Once I get married, and can actually have sex, then this won’t be an issue.”
Ann: And did you think that, too, Jenny?
Jenny: I did; I think there was a sense in which I thought that it just wouldn’t be a problem.
Ann: “Our marriage will solve the whole problem.”
Curtis: So it didn’t last super long; and actually, it was an issue, again, for me a little bit in our engagement, which was short, as you just heard.
Curtis: But I didn’t come clean; I wasn’t honest about it.
Dave: So it was a secret.
Ann: Were you fearful—
Curtis: Oh, absolutely.
Ann: —that she would walk away?
Curtis: I didn’t want to lose—yes—well, I thought she would; I didn’t know for sure. But that is what I thought, especially based on the conversation we had. I kept it secret until after we were married. I don’t remember the first time where I came clean in our marriage; but it was, I know, devastating for her.
Ann: Do you remember the first time, Jenny?
Jenny: I—maybe, vaguely—I do remember, during that season, there were confessions; and just being crushed by them when they happened.
Curtis: Sometimes, we would reach out and try to get some counseling, a few different times. Sometimes, years and years would go by, and then something else would come up. A lot of times, there would be an accidental exposure.
By God’s grace, a lot of times, I was not seeking this out; but I was in the military, so guys would have stuff around, even in the office. I was in a lockdown facility by myself, with nobody else around, and cable. Guys would bring in magazines; you know? It was just right there in your face, and I would give into those temptations—try to hide it for a while; try to buck up and just overcome it, and say, “I can get over this; I can do it by myself,”—all those things that we tell ourselves—and then, conviction again; confession; more counseling; other help—those kinds of things.
Ann: Jenny—here you are—you are living your nightmare.
Ann: Did you feel betrayed?
Jenny: I did; I felt betrayed. I mean, I think there is a sense in which, any time there is a betrayal, you feel crushed; but also, I think because there were lies before we were married, I felt like there was a sense in which my agency was taken away from me: “Would I have married him if I had known?” So especially in those early years of marriage, when he was in the military and going through that cycle, it would come to my mind often: “Would I have married you? This isn’t even fair to me that now I have to deal with this. I am under the weight of this, and I don’t even know that we would be together if it had been exposed earlier than it was.”
Ann: Did you feel like, “Okay, this has happened…”—and I know Dave used to say, “It’ll never happen again,”—at first, I believed him, like, “Okay, that’s something in the past.”
Dave: I actually believed me too.
Dave: At first, I really thought, “I can win this; it’s one and done.”
Ann: Then, after a while, it would happen again and again. I thought, “No; I am not even going to believe you anymore or get my hopes up that this will be conquered.” I felt consumed by it: “This is my life now.”
I responded horribly. I know that, looking back now, I thought: “Is this me? Is there something wrong with me?” There are so many doubts, fears, insecurities. Man, I wrestled with that—I think a lot of women do—of wondering, “Is this my fault?” Then I would go to: “Of course, it’s my fault. Look at me; I’m sure that I’m not enough.”
It took a long time for me to get out of that cycle of anger/of trust. Did you struggle with trust?
Jenny: I did; absolutely; yes. There was a point in our marriage at which I just stopped asking how he was doing because:
- One, I didn’t know if I would believe what he said.
- And two, I thought, “If I’m not going to believe him, what is the point of even asking?”
- Then, three, I didn’t know if I was in a place, emotionally, where I could handle the truth—if he wasn’t doing well—and he shared it with me.
It’s not that I didn’t care—I still wondered, all the time, how he was doing—but I just didn’t want to ask.
Dave: So how in the world did you dig out of this? It sounds pretty dismal.
Curtis: I mean, it had been over a decade in the marriage, and we were struggling. She actually found a note; I had gone to a retreat of sorts, and really been convicted, and wrote down a note to myself: “I need to come clean to my accountability friends.” She finds this note, and comes down—throws it in front of me, and says, “What is this about?”—I said, “Well, I mean, I’ve been struggling; and I haven’t been forthright with my accountability partner or you.”
Within days, she just stopped talking to me, and said, “You need to find me a counselor, and we’re not talking until you do.” We got, probably, the best counseling we’d ever gotten at that point. It took a lot of people, coming alongside us, to encourage and just really, really, really cutting off access.
That’s one of those things—where people ask the question, like, “How did you climb out of this?” or “How did you get over it?”—I think, sometimes, we have an expectation of what faithfulness looks like. I would say, in one sense, I’m not over it; but we are working really hard to maintain faithfulness by cutting off access; having accountability relationships; really, mostly pursuing the Lord, and just growing in adoration for Him.
Because that’s—just like any addictive type of behavior—a lot of times we are going to those things to give us something that only God can give. If we are not growing in genuine love and closeness with Him, all the other stuff—it has to be all of these things combined—and just daily, weekly, monthly, moving forward toward Christ, toward each other, and away from those things.
Ann: Curtis, did you get counseling on your own, as well, as couple’s counseling?
Curtis: Ye; we both got some counseling on our own.
Dave: I mean, you had to find Jenny a counselor; she laid down the law: [Laughter] “Get me a counselor!”—by the way, that’s great.
Curtis: She was clear: it was for her, not for us.
Curtis: She was very clear: “I need help.”
Anybody, who counseled us: “Please don’t hear us saying, ‘You did a bad job.’” One of the things, though, that was missing was—a lot of times, in couple’s counseling, everybody would just turn to me: “Okay, if we can get your problem resolved, then there won’t be a problem,”—almost no attention was given to Jenny—and the pain that she was going through, and the questions, the doubts, the insecurities, the things like that that were going through her. That’s where she realized, “I know I need help.”
Shelby: We will hear what kept Jenny from divorcing Curtis in just a minute; but first, Curtis and Jenny have two books available. The first is Redeem Your Marriage: Hope for Husbands Who Have Hurt Through Pornography; and secondly, Reclaim Your Marriage: Grace for Wives Who Have Been Hurt by Pornography. You can get your copies at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Alright; now, here is Ann and Jenny on finding hope when all looked lost and divorce seemed likely.
Ann: So Jenny, that last counselor that you found, what was different with this person for you?
Jenny: I think, going into it—where I was emotionally/was hopeless because I think, at that point—the day I found the note in the car—I thought, “This is never going to end, and I don’t want to divorce him; but I think I will if I don’t get some help. So I need someone, who is going to tell me: ‘How can I love Jesus?’ ‘How can I stick with him and bear with this?’”
I think what the counselors did that was so wonderful is—we certainly talked about reconciliation; we certainly talked about forgiveness—but the first thing they helped me do is come up with an accountability plan that I was comfortable with that, actually, was covering all the bases and the problems that I was seeing—and saying, “You have the right to insist on this. His body belongs to you; so you need to go to him and say, ‘These are the things you are going to do…’”
Then, I think, once they gave me that freedom—to use my voice, and have some agency, and say, “I’m not okay with the way things have gone. We are dragging this out of the closet and into the light. I don’t care if you want to or not,”—I think, then, I was able to hear the other things about the reconciliation, and the forgiveness, and the bitterness, and anger that had built up in my heart.
Then, I think, once we got through some of that—and our relationship was growing and he was showing repentance in those things—then I was able to move even further in and say, “What about those panic attacks that really, sometimes, are about him?—but really, are about things that happened even before that with your dad?”
Shelby: Yes, we’ll hear lots more tomorrow from the Wilsons when they are joined, again, by Curtis and Jenny Solomon to talk about the importance of remaining an ally to your spouse. Like we say at the Weekend to Remember®: “Your spouse is not your enemy.” I know that is easier said than done; but we’ll dig into that, even more so, tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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