Help Me Save My Marriage! My Husband Watches Porn!
by Ella Hutchinson, LPC, CCSAS
Originally Published on June 28, 2012 at Breaking Free Blog
When sexual addiction has not progressed beyond pornography, this may be even more dangerous and damaging to a marriage than when acting-out behaviors include sex acts with other people.
This may not seem to make sense. Surely, after doing research on sex addiction, many wives of porn addicts are relieved that their husband hasn’t done some of the extreme behaviors they have read about. They may even question if they are overreacting to his use of porn. It doesn’t help if friends and even counselors tell them this is “normal” behavior, and they should accept it and stop making mountains out of molehills. In reality this act that is seen as harmless by so many and perpetuated by society as completely acceptable. It is indeed extremely common, and well over half of men (including Christian men) look at porn, whether occasionally or daily.
Most people do not recognize the damage that is being done to a man’s brain when he exposes himself to this obscenity, whether sporadically or compulsively.
While my focus here will be on porn addiction, any women whose husband uses porn will find some helpful information here. Even when pornography use has not become an addiction, it is damaging and a wife has every right to insist her husband stop using porn. If he is unable to stop, this is a sign the problem could be more serious than it seems.
Meet Leah and John
Leah came to me after twenty years of marriage. She had recently learned about her husband’s pornography use. She had caught him a few times before, but was too focused on caring for three children, including one with serious health problems, to make too much of an issue of it. She didn’t like it, but like so many, she assumed there was nothing she could do about it.
However, by the time I met Leah, she had come to realize the issue was much bigger than she could have imagined. John was looking at porn at home, at work, and on business trips. Leah had found bills from pay-per-view movies in hotels, charges to porn sites on their credit card statement, and finally John admitted to using porn on his work laptop.
Leah knew John’s career was at risk, as was their financial stability, and of course their marriage. As she was consumed with caring for their children she hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that John’s sexual attraction to her had all but disappeared. She even pushed aside comments that she was not attractive enough or exciting enough in bed. Although these statements were incredibly hurtful, she just didn’t have the time to allow herself to dwell on it.
Leah’s Growing Conviction
As Leah’s children grew older she began to notice more distance on the part of her husband. She began to recognize how he had abandoned her when their daughter was sick and immersed himself in work and the Internet. The things Leah stumbled across on their home computer could just have easily have been discovered by one of their kids. When Leah confronted John all she got was comments about how all men look at porn, that she was overreacting, and that if she satisfied him then he wouldn’t have to turn to porn.
Finally, after researching sex and porn addiction Leah persuaded John to attend a twelve step meeting for sex addicts. John came back relieved at how much worse off so many of these guys were than he was. After all, he had not physically stepped outside the marriage. But Leah’s sense of betrayal was very real and only increased as John tried to justify and rationalize his behavior.
She tried reaching out to a friend who told her that her husband also looked at porn and that Leah should just ignore it. “All men do it.” Her pastor simply told her to have more sex with her husband and spend more time on her wardrobe, hair and make-up. A counselor told Leah to be more open-minded and try watching porn with her husband. Leah did try once, but it was uncomfortable for her and didn’t feel right. She never did it again. Still Leah went back and forth, questioning whether she was overreacting.
Will John Ever Change?
When Leah came to me I explained how porn affects a person’s brain and increases his lack of ability to experience intimacy. I explained how so often porn causes a man to prefer masturbation and images on the computer to his wife, no matter how objectively attractive he may find her. Healthy, monogamous sex is often no longer exciting or fulfilling. Even if there is still an active sex life within the marriage, a woman is likely to experience a lack of emotional connection and feel like her husband is not fully present with her. He may try to get her to parade around in lingerie or pressure her to participate in sex acts that she is uncomfortable with. Sometimes a wife refuses to join in on these activities. Other times she feels it is her duty as a wife to satisfy her husband in whatever way he wishes or that if she cooperates she will be able to keep him from straying. Unfortunately, this simply does not work and in fact, she in unaware that by accommodating her husband’s unhealthy desires she is participating in his acting out and could be fueling his addiction.
Over time, with Leah’s persistence, and by attending the group meetings, John was willing to admit he had an addiction. Leah insisted on an intensive for couples dealing with sex addiction and John agreed. During the disclosure and polygraph it came out that John had been looking at porn habitually since before they even met. This debunked John’s argument that his porn use had anything to do with Leah. Leah felt empowered by this, but during the intensive John admitted he was not confident he was even a sex addict. Leah was devastated.
See, a man who has acted out with prostitutes, has had multiple affairs, sex with random women he met online, when he has to write down all his sexual behavior in his lifetime, can no longer live in denial. He is more likely to quickly recognize the extent of his actions and the damage he has caused to himself and those around him, especially his wife. Men like John have an easier time normalizing their behavior. Reading books about sex addiction can be comforting as they learn stories of men getting arrested for using prostitutes, blowing their life savings on acting out, and participate in activities such as group sex. I recommend starting out with the book, Every Man’s Battle, for men struggling with porn addiction alone.
It is important to note that sex addiction is progressive, and men who compulsively use pornography are likely to eventually act out with another person if they have not already. Some red flags are e-mails and chatting with women online, posting or responding to ads on Craigslist, and unaccounted for time and money. While e-mails with plans to meet up with another woman or texts about sexual escapades may seem like obvious evidence that he has been physically unfaithful, it is shocking to me how many men are able to convince their wives that they did not follow through on these things and never planned to. He was just curious, just found the flirting exciting, doesn’t know why he did it but would never go outside the marriage. Perhaps, but probably not. What’s the expression about a smoking gun? Listen to your intuition, ladies.
Leah Sets Boundaries
So what did Leah do? She joined a therapist-led support group for wives of sex addicts and continued individual counseling for herself. She learned how to set boundaries. She insisted John sleep in the guest room and gave him a firm time frame of when he had to turn around his behavior or would have to move out. She made it clear what her expectations were of John. Some of these were individual counseling, regular twelve step meetings, regular polygraph tests, intensive aftercare, and eventually marriage counseling. She stopped checking up on John and sat back and watched to see if he would follow through with his commitments, as she turned more of her focus to finding healing from her own trauma.
Leah not only made it clear that the pornography must stop, but that John must also change the way he treated her and become more patient and humble in his dealings with her. When John did not treat her with the respect she knew she deserved, she calmly told him she would not engage in his manipulation or verbal abuse and that he could talk to her when he was ready to apologize and treat her properly. Then she walked away.
Most importantly, Leah learned about and implemented great self-care. In addition to her support group and counseling, she began taking daily walks that turned into jogs. She discovered that journaling was an excellent way to get out her feelings and when she was angry or sad she would write until she got it all out. Leah also learned that if she did not start her day with prayer and Bible study, she would not have the strength to handle her situation, but that these practices made it possible for her to get through anything, knowing her Heavenly Father was by her side.
John has not acted out sexually since the couple’s intensive six months ago. He just passed his last polygraph test. He is still struggling with expressing intimacy and empathy, but Leah holds out hope that with continued counseling, which he has embraced with open arms, he will get where he needs to be. She recognizes that this is a process and that while she is not obligated to stay, she has decided at this point it is what is best for her and her children. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but trusts God to lead her where she needs to be.
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Ella Hutchinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Clinical Sexual Addiction Specialist in Houston, Texas. She also serves on the Board for the International Association of Christian Sexual Addiction Specialists. You can learn more about Ella’s counseling practice, couple’s intensives, and support groups for wives of sex addicts on her website ComfortChristianCounseling.com.