Reasonably often, we get inquiries from a wife whose husband is addicted to pornography and he won’t do anything about it. In this article we want to help you prepare for that first serious confrontation where you have a very deliberate conversation about this problem and how it is impacting you as his wife.
It’s almost inevitable that you are going to run into some level of denial in a conversation like this, so let’s begin by talking about denial. It would be easy to run into this and throw your hands up in the air and give up. However, it is important to understand that denial is a common response to addiction. It is a feature of addiction. And addicts are typically in denial of the negative consequences of their addiction.
One important piece to understand is that the part of the brain that craves or desires something has no direct neural connection to the part of the brain that holds the consequence for engaging in what you desire. One relatable example is a second piece of dessert: the idea of that second piece is always significantly more attractive when you’re about to start into it than the experience of it when you’re through it and starting to feel gross.
If someone were to stop you before that fork bite and say, “No, you should not do this! You’ll feel gross” your automatic response would be, “Get out of my way or you’ll be wearing this fork! I want it anyway!” Now, that is a somewhat trivial example, but it illustrates the power of denial in addiction to the point where a person can ignore the evidence that their choices are harmful.
Nevertheless, it’s still important that the addict is confronted with the consequences of the addiction. We’d just like you to understand that the addict will be in denial and we want to help you prepare so that you can present your evidence, your complaints and concerns in a way that you can motivate him to seek help.
Prepare Yourself First
As we’ve mentioned in other episodes, we are born-again Christians who are not perfect but are trying to live lives that reflect the values of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. All of that to say, we come at this issue with a moral belief that pornography is not helpful to marriage.
We also recognize that we have a lot of listeners who don’t share this belief system and so you’ll approach this issue differently. So, we’re going to offer a range of questions that you should consider as you prepare for this conversation. Depending on your own beliefs and values, some of these questions will be more relevant than others. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions: we just want to think through all that might be going on for you as you approach a confrontation like this with your husband.
- Consider your motives for having this conversation:
- What are you hoping to accomplish?
- Is it to reassure yourself that you are enough?
- Are you angry and looking to express this?
- Is it a conviction against his use of pornography?
- Consider the basis of your objection:
- Is it moral?
- Is it based on general beliefs that you have about pornography?
- Is it the fact that your spouse is lying or hiding to cover it up?
- Is it other behaviors that come with the addiction, such as gaslighting?
- Being clear on exactly what you are objecting to will help you make yourself clear to your spouse.
- Consider the consequences:
- What impact has his pornography use had on you?
- What needs and fears are you carrying into this conversation?
- Pay attention to what your body has been telling you, what your thoughts have been, what you feel in your heart about pornography and describe its impact on you as thoughtfully and precisely as you can. Your husband needs to know the negative effects this has had on you.
- Know what you are willing to accept and be prepared to state boundaries that you will consider implementing in order to create emotional and relational safety for yourself.
When Your Husband Wont Face His Pornography Addiction
This guide is especially for wives in this situation: it provides journaling exercises to help you process the range of emotions that come with a very difficult betrayal like pornography use. Understanding and making sense of these emotions will put you in a more empowered position to have a better discussion about this problem with your husband. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Prepare Your Confrontation
When we talk about preparing a confrontation: this doesn’t necessarily mean conflict or a fight, although that may happen. But what we’d encourage you to aim for is a serious, thoughtful and deliberate assertion of what this problem means to you, how it is impacting you, and what needs to happen in order for your marriage to be restored.
As we go through this section, I want to acknowledge the team over at CovenantEyes — we don’t have any affiliation with them at the moment but their blog is an excellent resource for topics like this and we are drawing on the experience of some of their writers as well as our own clinical experience and training.
Plan for a Soft Start
Because you are confronting something that is probably very shame-inducing and has been hidden for some time, it’s going to be helpful to plan a soft start to the conversation. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be vague or beat around the bush. It is helpful to be direct and get to the issue quickly. But you also don’t want to launch out of the gate on the attack, since this will only make matters worse.
It’s easy to be direct when something like this is hurting you significantly, but you do want to keep your overall goal in mind which means you need your husband to hear what you are saying and have it sink it. Starting the conversation from a place of rage is not going to facilitate that outcome.
You might consider starting with a statement that is simple and factual like, “It’s time to talk about your pornography problem and I would like you to listen for a few minutes while I tell you about how it is impacting me. After that you will have a chance to respond, but I really need you to start by hearing and understanding what this is doing to me.”
Share the Emotional Impact
This is very important to do. You’ll want to use your insights and self-awareness from the questions I relayed earlier along with the clarity and insight from the journaling exercises in the bonus content from this show.
One aspect of denial in addiction is that the addict has buffered himself from the reality of how his actions are impacting you. He has had to numb himself from this consideration in order to continue with the behaviors: now is the time to carefully burst that bubble of denial with some visceral detail about what it’s like to be in a marriage with pornography present and active.
Be careful here to focus on your experience and not to resort to railing on him. Shame is not an effective motivator for change. Helping him become aware of the extent of your pain and the devastation that this is causing you will make him aware of the consequences of his porn use and will do far more to motivate him to change than you cussing him out.
Additionally, don’t assume your feelings will be obvious to him. Make it obvious and explicit for him by letting him know what you’re feeling.
State Your Boundaries
Boundaries help you to establish physical and emotional safety. Whether he is exhibiting remorse or not, if it is safe to do so, you should state your boundaries clearly and simply. We encourage wives to set boundaries that offer them options so that you can enforce the boundary according to the nuances of the situation.
An example boundary would be: when you lie to me, I do not feel safe and I cannot trust you. Since I cannot be intimate with someone I cannot trust or feel safe with, when you lie to me, I will consider one or all of the following boundaries until I feel safe again:
- You will move out of the bedroom immediately
- I will not have sex with you
- You will talk to [your therapist, your pastor, your dad, your accountability partner] about the lying
If you had a relatively minor incidence of lying you might say, you can stay in the bedroom but we’re not having sex this week. Or if there was a significant cover-up and lying relapse you may choose to implement all three boundaries.
There’s no right or wrong with boundaries in the sense of what will fix him. Remember that these boundaries are about what you need in order to feel emotionally and relationally safe, so they will be different from marriage to marriage.
Offer Him a Chance to Respond
Ideally, this problem will become a gateway to more openness between you. You can start that process even with this conversation by offering him a chance to respond to you. You can invite his participation by asking him questions about his perceived ability to stop, why he uses it, and the impact that he sees it having on you or himself. If you encounter a lot of blaming and find yourself starting to feel traumatized by his responses, it would be best to shut that conversation down and continue it in a safer environment such as with a counselor.
Where you can, acknowledge his viewpoints. You want to express some empathy for him, but at the same time it should not turn into a pity party for him about how his difficult childhood led to this situation. For example, you can acknowledge “Yes, your childhood was hard and I cannot imagine what it must have been like. But this is now and you and I need to come to an understanding that these coping mechanisms cannot continue. You need to find a healthier way to cope.” It is good to acknowledge his viewpoints and let him know you understand his feelings, but you should not excuse his actions.
It may also be good to acknowledge his shame and remind him that the way to beat shame is to bring the darkness out into the light. He needs to talk to someone; he needs to face this problem with someone who will be more neutral and supportive than you can be.
After the Conversation
These conversations are hard to have. It’s very possible that you’ll come away feeling that parts or all of it may not have gone well. What do you do then?
Well, if some parts did not go well, then you can revisit those. If you are stuck on certain issues and he is open to it, then those might be better suited for a counselling session.
If the conversation was unsuccessful and you are being blamed and gaslighted and the addiction continues, then you should consider an escalation intervention such as are offered by the ARISE network of interventionists. These are proven, established ways of effectively motivating addicts to seek help for their addiction.
Also, you should consider your own need for healing now. Even if the conversation did go well, are you needing to work through some betrayal trauma from the lying? How has this impacted your self-esteem and self-confidence? The repair of these challenges need not rest on his willingness to pursue sobriety: you can take the initiative to pursue your own healing and growth even while he pursues his.
Our counsellors are trained to help wives whose spouses are caught in pornography addiction and we can help you through any part of this process, from the initial conversation, to your own healing work, to the impact of the addiction.
 Hanna Pickard, “Denial in Addiction,” Mind & Language 31, no. 3 (2016), https://ezproxy.student.twu.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2016-28286-003&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
 Laura, “How to Talk to Your Husband About His Porn Use,” CovenantEyes (blog), 2017, https://www.covenanteyes.com/2017/04/24/how-to-talk-to-your-husband-about-his-porn-use/.
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