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Author’s Note: The following is based on the personal experiences of Traylor and Melody Lovvorn, a couple who run a Christian ministry together in Alabama and who presented at the Utah Coalition Against Pornography Conference this past Saturday, March 12.
I walked into the workshop with curiosity. I knew that the couple presenting had been married for eleven years, then divorced for six, then married again. I read the description of their presentation and watched the two interact as microphones and powerpoints were set up.
I wondered how you could have the words ‘husband’s betrayal’ and ‘ripped their family apart’ plainly spelled out in your biography and yet look at each other each morning full of understanding and forgiveness and be happy to be together. I looked around at the audience, many of whom were in various stages of the struggle with pornography addiction or struggling with the discovery that their spouse or parent or loved one has been keeping something so serious from them. They all watched the couple at the front anxiously, looking for hope that it might all turn out ok.
It wasn’t until she had been married for ten years that Melody Lovvorn discovered that her husband had been hiding a pornography and sex addiction. She said that finding this out was like being blindsided by a 2×4. “Who is this person I’m married to? Everything I knew to be true about my life was now a blur. What is real? What did I do wrong?…Nothing felt safe and everything was uncertain.” Her world was turned upside down. Her children were six, four, two, and six months old and it suddenly felt like she didn’t know their father at all.
Traylor was only eight years old when he first encountered a stash of pornography. He said the discovery stole his innocence and would continue to impact his life for years to come. He grew up in a town in east central Alabama that was so small that you had to go “toward town to hunt.” There were more cows than people and everybody knew everybody. His family was heavily involved in their church and he felt the pressure to perform and be perfect from an early age.
And at only eight, he already had a secret that he couldn’t afford for anyone to ever know. To add to the pressure of perfection, at age 15, Tray began preaching sermons at various churches all over the area. By the time he graduated from high school, he had preached at over 200 of the surrounding churches and he was more focused than ever on not revealing weakness, not allowing anyone to think he was a hypocrite, and most of all not discounting his own witness over the pulpit by revealing that he was struggling with something serious and sinful.
He grew up in a home where there was no room for negative emotion. He thought, “good Christians don’t feel like this,” so “there must be something wrong with me.” He grew up believing that to know better meant to do better. “I know what’s right and wrong, so why can’t I stop going back to what I know is wrong?” He was overwhelmed with guilt; ‘I made a mistake,’ that quickly evolved into shame; ‘I am a mistake.’ His inner critic would not be silenced. “The enemy was relentless.”
When he arrived at Samford University in Birmingham, he hoped that being away from the small town where he’d grown up would give him a new chance to be authentic and connect openly with other Christians he would meet. Perhaps he could finally come clean. But word soon spread about his preaching experience, and he was again buried under the pressure to uphold a reputation and his problem with pornography was pushed back into the shadows.
Tray met Melody in the fall of 1989 during his first semester on campus. Melody says, “It was natural that we found each other. We were both in ministry growing up, we were both highly athletic and involved in sports. We found each other at Samford and really I think the mentality was we were both going to save the world. We were both going to love people and minister to people and just go, go, go and do, do, do.”
They were married in 1992. Traylor wanted to come clean to his soon-to-be wife before they were married, but chose not to. He was scared. He knew she loved the person she thought he was, but he assumed that if she knew the truth, she couldn’t love him. He silently believed that, “one day [he] would fix it alone and isolated and no one would have to know.”
That day just didn’t come.
He even thought being married and suddenly being able to have an intimate relationship with someone real would somehow fix the problem. When it didn’t, it only added another layer of shame, another layer of certainty that he was the problem and that if he were different or better, it would’ve been fixed by now. The shame only fueled the addiction, and it grew much worse than it had been before.
“The more pornography I’d run to, the more shame I felt, the more distant I felt God was. I was this lonely, isolated person using all the energy I could muster to try to keep up this [perfect] persona.”
By the time Melody found out about his problem in their tenth year of marriage, he had had six one-night stands. Melody was devastated and the couple separated. He went to a week-long addiction recovery course and thought that merely by learning a little more information and coming clean about his adolescence that he’d solved the problem. After a few months of separation, he moved back in with his family. But only a year after that, on a business trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, he had another one-night stand. The couple’s divorce was finalized two days before Christmas, 2002.
“Reconciliation was never in my thought process,” said Melody. “I remember, I tried to do all the right things. We tried to never argue in front of the kids and I would pray with the kids at night about Tray…and then I’d go to my room and say, ‘take him out! I can’t deal with this pain’…I don’t think somebody can live—I think somebody can die from experiencing this. I just don’t think a heart can take this. It would be so much easier if somehow he was just completely out of the equation.”
But Melody said that, “God allowed some very wise people to come into both of our lives during this time apart and really our divorced years involved both of us re-discovering who we were and learning to connect at weakness instead of trying to impress with strength.”
She went on to say, “One of the things that I bore through our divorced years was that I would never tell the children what had happened…I had this idea that ‘he was going to be 80 years old before he ever tells the kids.’”
Five years after they’d been divorced, however, Tray came over one afternoon and sat down and began to talk to the children. He said, “Kids, do you what the Bible says about ‘thou shalt not commit adultery?” and they explained what they knew about someone being married and then having a relationship with someone else. And as difficult as the words must have been to say, Tray said, “Daddy did that seven times.”
And Melody watched as her children jumped into their father’s lap and said “Daddy, we forgive you.” In that moment, an understanding of true redemption came upon Melody like a flood. She said, “God redeems the biggest messes. No matter what it is–for me it was self-righteousness…or whether it’s a struggle with pornography or whatever that looks like. Our kids got to experience that…that is the life that they’ve got to live in; that life is messy and God is good and that’s how he changes us.”
Pornography is classified as an ‘intimacy disorder,’ and it wasn’t until Melody and Traylor abandoned a pretense of perfection and allowed themselves to know each other–warts and all–that true, healthy intimacy could happen.
Tray said, “It wasn’t one day that Mel and I woke up and said ‘let’s try this reconciliation thing. God changed us individually over that six years.” Traylor compared the two of them to the prodigal son and his older brother that stayed home and stayed obedient. He said, “we can rebel by being very good like the older brother and we can rebel by being very bad like the prodigal…but it’s not just about being good it’s about God connecting with our heart…We began to learn that life was messy, we didn’t have to cover all that up.”
It’s easy in circumstances of addiction or chronic bad behavior to believe that only one person is at fault, but the couple communicated in their recounting of their story, how they were able to get back together because they both owned up to their own mistakes.
Tray said that we may ask ourselves, “Am I rebelling by being very good, or rebelling by being very bad? And the great news is, there’s grace for both. We’re all desperate for a Savior and it’s not about our outward behavior.”
Obviously, Traylor and Melody’s story is not a universal formula for any couple to find their way back from the dark consequences that pornography can have. Every story is different and everyone’s circumstances are different, but we can all call upon the saving grace of Jesus Christ for redemption.
Those that came to the workshop looking for hope, found it. Not in a divorce that didn’t work out, but in an atonement that will never fail.
Melody and Traylor Lovvorn’s podcast is called Undone Redone and more details on their story can be found in episode 32 of that podcast.