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Supporting/Responding to a Spouse (Husband) Who has a Pornography/Sexual Addiction

Supporting/Responding to a Spouse (Husband)
Who has a Pornography/Sexual Addiction
There are many different philosophies on this topic.  I am guessing that my recommendations will be a great relief to some, and will stimulate a strong negative reaction in many.  Either way, after working very closely with couples in this situation for over a decade now, I am confident that the ideas I share will be the best reaction to finding your spouse has a sexual addiction.
This article will appear to have a bias.  That is true.  Currently, in 99% of the cases I work with, it is the husband who has the sexual addiction, and the wife who is seeking understanding on how to respond.   So, this article will clearly discuss how I recommend a wife respond to a husband’s pornography/sexual addiction.  While women can have sexual addictions, it is not the focus of this article. 

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First, we need to remember that the role a wife plays in these circumstances is different than the role of his parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors.  I would hope that his parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors will all have a patient and compassionate response toward the man with the addiction.  But the wife , primarily, is the only one that is a victim of his  misbehaviors and mentalities.  Many try to declare that, “She has nothing to do with the misbehaviors.” Or, “She shouldn’t take it personally.”  I agree that she holds no responsibility for the cause of his misbehaviors (it is not her fault), but in many ways, her life is greatly affected by his misbehaviors.  It is very painful and scary to discover your spouse is drawn to and takes action toward other women…especially when he has a hard time controlling it.
Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT has already itemized the destructive impact that an addiction has on the wife in his article http://salifeline.org/article/effects-of-pornography-on-a-spouse/help-for-spouses, so I will not be addressing that here.  I will address how to respond.
When making recommendations to a woman as to how to react to a man’s misbehavior, imagine your high school aged daughter comes home from school one day and says, “The boy I have been dating keeps looking at other girls without their clothes on.  What should I do?”
Notice, first, that your reaction is not, “Well, Sweetie, you just need to be supportive and not take it personally.”  We don’t say, “It’s not a big deal.” Or, “Maybe you should get better at meeting his needs, then he wouldn’t need to do that.”  Notice when the misbehaviors affect our daughters, we have a much different (and more accurate) response to what course of action she should take, than would a traditional clinical approach.  So, the steps below are designed for the spouse, not the parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors.  That is a topic for another day.


  1. Withdraw to a safe distance.  Many are disturbed by this suggestion as a first suggestion, but if they truly understand the situation, making sure the victim receives no more injury is the first priority.  The “distance” depends on how hurtful his behaviors are.  You don’t measure how much something hurts, or whether or not it hurts by asking the one delivering the pain.  The one receiving the pain will need to figure out how much distance and what kind of distance is needed.  An addict during this stage is often more concerned about his own comfort than he is hers.  I do not advocate for divorce unless the individual bringing pain to the relationship continues to do so, and does not consistently invest time and effort into understanding and changing the painful behaviors.  If the woman is going to heal and recover from this experience, she will need a safe and secure “incubator” or “greenhouse”.
  2. Pack your wagon. The wife will need to prepare for the possibility that she has a long journey ahead of her, and there are no guarantees that he will overcome his issues.  Addiction can be overcome but it is a lot of hard work, and can take a while; sadly, some men are not willing to do that much work.  Healing and recovery are often derailed by impatience.  Both parties need to focus primarily on making sure they are emotionally fortified for the work required to heal and recover.  Both need to plug into their Divine power for this education and rejuvenation.  They should only “work on the marriage” when both can maintain an edifying environment for the other during communication.
  3. This is not punishment.  An addict in the early stages of recovery will often describe step one and step two as punishment.   In reality, the steps she needs to take for her own safety will break up his comfort zone, but the comfort zone is often connected to sustaining his addictive behaviors and mentality.  For the future to be different, the present needs to be different.   Discomfort does not equal punishment.  Incidentally, not intentionally, her distance should create some motivation on his part to do the work it takes to reach out to those who can help him recover…parents, siblings, friends, church leaders, clinicians and sponsors.
  4. Find and plug into healing resources.  She will need to find quality people and programs that will feed her with lots of energy and accurate information for healing.  The tendency is for her to rely on him to change.  “I will feel better when he…”  This dependence on him needs to be disconnected.
  5. Maintain  dignity.  It is important for a woman’s emotional well-being that she not allow herself to misbehave, just because he misbehaves.  In the early stages, it is not uncommon for the addict to blame his behavior on what she does or doesn’t do.  These same men will tell their children, “Just because your sister does something wrong doesn’t mean you get to do something wrong too.  You can’t blame someone else for your misbehaviors.”  The wife needs to watch out for the same pattern in her behavior.  Do not let yourself misbehave just because he does.  Handle everything as if you are training your daughters to handle the situation if they ever find themselves in the same situation.
  6. Nurture goodness.  If he shows signs of improvement, you are encouraged to say, “Good job”, but nothing more is required of you.  Do this because you are a good woman, not because he needs it.  His development/improvements should not be dependent upon you.  If an addict is going to gain full mastery over his misbehaviors, he will need to have a system that is not dependent on his spouse.  He may temporarily rely on others (sponsor, therapist, church leader, coach, etc.), but should not use his wife, the victim of his misbehaviors, as his primary support.  I have a great deal of confidence in men and their ability to overcome this addiction and its negative side effects.  When we train men, we train them to get their emotional rejuvenation from someone other than the one that has been crushed their misbehaviors.
  7. Refuse to be abused.  Hopefully, his painful behaviors will cease soon, but if the addictive behaviors, or any of its accompanying behaviors (lying, hiding, elusiveness, anger, frustration, etc.) return, then I recommend the wife go back to step 1 of this list.
  8. Flourish in a safe environment.  In my experience, if a man can show consistent improvement, if he can grow in his ability to provide her with emotional safety and security, she will warm up to him with little effort.  As I have watch couples recover from extremely painful situations, If the man can provide a greenhouse for an extended period of time (1 month for every year he has had a problem), then the woman almost always responds as any good seed does.  In a timely manner she will grow and blossom again.  It is a miraculous process to observe.  He grows in confidence and a sense of competence.  She feels safe and secure.  If he does not do the work it takes to provide her with safety and security, she can find sufficient safety and security from her own efforts and the Divine source, and can flourish outside the relationship, again, sadly, leaving him outside the greenhouse.


-by Maurice W. Harker, CMHC
Director of Life Changing Services

 

For greater understanding on this topic, read Maurice’s book, “I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, But That’s Okay”.  http://www.lifechangingservices.org/2013/05/new-book-on-healthy-and-healing/.
 Maurice’s counseling agency, Life Changing Services, provides remote services for both the women who find themselves in this situation (the free WORTH group) and men who are ready to work hard to recover from the addiction (Men of Moroni).  Go to www.LifeChangingServices.org for details.  Email inquiries to sofhoutreach@gmail.com.

For Her:  A free service we call…The WORTH Group.  For details, CLICK HERE.

8 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a wife who has been on a 6-year journey learning to cope with my husband's issues, this is spot on. Unfortunately for me, the therapists and priesthood leaders I worked with were not equipped with this knowledge. In the church, we're taught about the atonement and forgiveness and to love everyone, etc., and that burden is often put on the wife. While these things are true, the steps outlined above are absolutely necessary. Through trial and error and the need to survive emotionally, I figured out these things on my own. I will be passing on this article to my bishop to help women he may be counseling. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don't totally agree with the statement that the wife is the only victim. My husband's acts have affected our family. The weekend before he was to ordain my son an Elder, my husband slipped and was not worthy to perform the ordination. I will never forget meeting in the bishop's office to tell my son his dad couldn't perform the ordinance on that day. My son opted to wait until my husband was worthy, which the bishop determined to be another month. Although not to the same degree as a spouse, I believe children are also victims of this behavior.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the previous comments. Not only is the wife a victim but the children are also involved with the fallout as they won't experience a balanced loving parental relationship. I have noticed this with my children as we have been learning to survive a marriage that started in with pornography and escalated to physical, mental, and sexual abuse. One of the hardest things to deal with was the lying to cover up EVERYTHING. Even now, looking back I can't tell what was truth and what was a lie because there is so much to sort through. Once he confessed the pornography to me it was as though a light bulb came on but I had no idea how horrific the whole picture was until years, and a huge amount of therapy later….

  4. Anonymous says:

    Definitely affects the whole family – Can you imagine a young son or daughter walking in on their Father masturbating, while looking at porn. Time and time again… And, if noticed – the child would be blamed for "spying",,,.Of course this led to relationships that grew further and further apart. In our home the frustration, anger and physical abuse only got worse. And, then the cycle continues. So Sad…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Porn destroyed my family and has affected everyone in it. It has stripped trust away from myself and my older daughters. I can forgive, but trust is not part of forgiveness. I will be leery of any future relationships for the rest of my life. This is an interesting article. Thanks for giving a different perspective on this modern day plague.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a women who is going through all of this right now, I feel like it is hard to step back and maintain that safe distance. I feel like I have to hide all this behavior from the people at church and have to act as if nothing is wrong but then at home behind closed doors I need to be able to step away. It is also very hard to deal with the side effects. I never used to react to my husbands abuse and sometimes I feel like it is easier not to and to just let it happen. How do you know what a good distance is?

    • Anonymous says:

      My heart goes out to you. I also am going through this right now. It has been a 5 year journey for us so far and I am happy to say that things are improving! The problem is not completely gone, but we are working as a team to overcome the addiction. I just discussed this question with my husband and we decided that one of the most important things with us has been establishing trust. I need to be detached from it (keeping the distance), but I also want to know how big the problem is. I need to know details and I need to see when things are improving and when things are getting worse. But, it is so crucial that your husband does not explain in detail of what inappropriate things he viewed. That is not healthy for him to be replaying it in his mind nor is it helpful for you! We have established categories of steps 1-4. (Step 1: searching that which might produce inappropriate results, but not straight up porn. Step 2: directly searching for something inapropriate. Step 3: seaching for something which might produce stright up porn. Step 4: intentionally seeking porn.) He reports to me every night. We keep track of things on a private calendar and can see trends. We discuss things often and are always looking for triggers and situations that might be more tempting. This has helped me be involved in the healing process (and I feel like I am doing something to help the problem not just sit around waiting helplessly), and it has helped us discover things that work and things that don't. It has helped me discover actions I can take to actively help my husband. Being completely honest and creating a trusting relationship has opened the doors for us to find ways to overcome and it is WORKING! I am overjoyed and feel hope! I have been in places before where all I felt was hopelessness and discouragement. Those feelings create a downward spiral. Keep going! Work together as a team! It is a difficult thing, but the Lord will help you guys find what will work…as long as both of you are willing and open and honest and trusting. My husband is always seeking my trust and that has made a world of a difference for me.

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