If your husband has been battling a porn addiction, when do you invite him back into your bed?
Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today I thought we’d do a 3-part series on battling porn in marriage (since that’s the most common problem in the huge backlog of questions I have), starting with this one: how do you re-establish a sexual relationship after pornography?
A reader writes:
My husband has had an addiction to porn for our entire 13 year marriage. He lied, deceived, blamed me, neglected me and I only found out it was porn by accidentally walking in on him one night. That was more than two years ago. Since then he promised many times to seek counseling and support groups but nothing changed. About a month ago I asked him to separate. He refused but he did move out of our bedroom and into my daughter’s room (she’s bunking with her brothers for now). He now sees a counselor weekly but I have not gone with him yet. He asked me last night when he can move back into our room. I don’t know what to tell him. I don’t know what criteria to use or how to know. We haven’t had sex since before my last baby was born and she’s almost 9-months old now. The time we were intimate it was obvious he didn’t want to do it and that he was trying to simulate something he’d seen in porn in order to reach orgasm. It didn’t work. I felt like filth afterwards. How can I answer him when I don’t know what it will take to get comfortable with him back in our bed?
First, I am so, so sorry that you’re going through this. But I’m also so glad that your husband is getting counseling! That’s wonderful.
I know I’m going to get pushback on what I’m going to say today, though, because so many people believe that men only turn to porn because their wives won’t have sex. That may be true in a few cases, but from what I’ve seen and from the people that write to me, that is not usually the case at all. Usually the porn use PRECEDES the marriage, as it does in this case. He was using it during their entire marriage.
And because porn rewires the brain so that what becomes attractive is an image rather than a person, porn often STEALS a guy’s libido within marriage–
As this woman writes, her husband couldn’t even reach climax without fantasizing about porn or doing something that porn had. Just being with his wife was no longer enough.
This is especially true for younger wives who got married after the internet generation started. So, please, no comments about how he wouldn’t need porn if she would just put out! That is simply not the case with the vast majority of marriages, especially young marriages. And even if that is the case in some marriages, it is not those marriages that we are addressing here. We are looking at marriages where guys have used porn the entire time, and who have NEVER actually made love, because sex has become so warped in their brains.
I’d really encourage people to download this free ebook from Covenant Eyes that explains how this process works:
Now back to the question.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good absolute answer. So much depends on your relationship, your ability to communicate, his openness with his struggles, his repentance, and more. So let me just give some general principles for people to think about.
Rebuild Trust After a Porn Addiction First
You can’t just jump into having sex right away. (Now, some people may not have stopped having sex; I think that a sexual fast can be a good idea as he “resets” his arousal process, and most counselors and discussion forums for guys coming out of porn have said the same thing. But it isn’t absolute, and so much depends on your relationship).
But let’s say that you did stop sex and confronted him about porn.
In this reader’s case, the husband was reluctant to stop the porn and only did so when drastic actions were taken by the wife. This is quite a different scenario than one in which a husband confesses and takes the initiative to heal.
So there’s extra trust broken here.
Get an accountability partner
A counselor is wonderful, but a counselor is only there for a short time. He needs a guy who can hold him accountable and who can meet with him periodically and ask him honestly how he’s doing.
Be completely open with computers/tablets/devices
You must have complete access to his phone, his devices, and his computer. If he says that he’s stopped using porn, but he won’t let you see his phone, that’s a HUGE red flag. It doesn’t mean that you have to check on him all the time (that’s what an accountability partner is for). But it means that you should be able to pick up his stuff and use it without him freaking.
Use Covenant Eyes or something like it
Install the Covenant Eyes program on your phones and computers and devices. It’s accountability and filtering–meaning that everyone in your household gets their own account, and that allows them to access the internet based on their age/issues. So a 6-year-old sees less than a 13-year-old who sees less than an adult. But if you don’t want to use it for filtering like that, you don’t have to. You can only use the accountability side, where if anyone tries to access a site they shouldn’t, someone of your choice (the accountability partner, preferably) gets sent an email.
This helps you know that when he’s online, he won’t be searching for porn anymore. Or at least it will be a lot harder, and the temptation will be largely limited.
Go to counseling with him
If he is seeing a counselor–wonderful! But it would be a good idea to do at least a few sessions with him so you reassure yourself about what he’s hearing, and a counselor helps you talk through some of the trust issues. You may also need some counseling yourself to work through your grief.
Rebuild Your Friendship
When I speak, I often say this: when you lose the ability to talk about the little things in marriage, it becomes even harder to talk about the big things.
When you’re friends, you talk and share about your day. You laugh together. You do stuff together.
When you’re battling porn that often goes away (and with many of these couples they never had that because he was so secretive, living a double life, and just wanted to get away from his wife so he could have some time on the computer).
But that friendship provides the goodwill so that you can talk about the big things. Without that goodwill, each big issue seems even bigger. Is this the one that will break our marriage? Your marriage becomes all about tension.
You need that friendship again so that you can be honest about sex and how you’re going to rebuild it.
So go on walks together everyday. Talk about your day. Start a new hobby together that doesn’t involve a screen! Play some board games as a couple. Do something where you spend time together with low stress.
Talk About How to Rebuild Sex
Here’s the challenge with starting sex again: you can’t resume where you left off. You have to do something totally new, because your sex life in the past, if it was based on porn, was corrupted.
You want to begin to experience real intimacy in the bedroom–something you likely never have. In the past, sex has been only physical, because he hasn’t been mentally present (since he needs the fantasy about porn to get aroused). So we have to rewire his sexual response so that what becomes arousing is YOU, not a fantasy of replaying porn in his head.
That takes time.
I’ve written before about how to restart a sexual relationship after pornography, and how to rewire your brain after pornography. Both are difficult, but they are totally doable! And God absolutely wants to help you have such an abundant life in this area.
But you can’t until you’ve got some honesty.
So talk to him about how we need to rewire his brain so sex is about intimacy, not pornography.
That means that if you’re making love and images enter his head, he should stop, and you guys should start touching and talking again so he can refocus on you. That may mean that sex takes a long time–but if he keeps going if the fantasy is there, he’s feeding the fantasy, and he’s actually working AGAINST healing.
It also means taking a lot of time just touching and learning how arousing it can be to just be naked together as you talk and touch and become vulnerable. It’s not a quick, dirty thing; it’s an intimate thing.
But you have to talk to him about this BEFORE you start having sex again. Don’t expect him to just “get” this. Talk about your expectations and your plans.
31 Days to Great Sex is a wonderful tool for rebuilding your sex life after pornography. The first few days help you to just talk about your sex life. Then you spend a few days just touching each other and exciting each other that way–which can help him to experience how arousing just touch can be. Then you learn how to flirt and be affectionate again, which is such a key component of a good sex life.
As you move through the month and try some of the spicier challenges, you also get the opportunity to talk about how porn may have rewired his brain, and what you are going to do about it. So if you have trouble articulating some of these things, 31 Days to Great Sex can help you start these conversations–and it’s a great way to start into sex again carefully! And the ebook format is only $4.99–so you can’t go wrong.
Find out more here.
I Know You’re Hurt–But Sex Can Also Help Healing
One last thought–I don’t know how long the above steps will take. For some people, this will be a quick thing. For other couples it will not.
But here’s what I will say:
once a guy has really repented and is taking steps to change, then don’t take too long to invite him back.
He’s fighting the battle of his life right now.
You can be one of his best weapons in fighting that porn!
And with him feeling like you’re on his side, fighting WITH him, not AGAINST him, it will be so much easier to heal.
I know you’re hurt. And you need to work through that. But don’t prolong that process too long, because you want an intimate marriage. And that’s largely up to you.
Of course this can’t be rushed. It would be foolish to jump back in bed if he’s not serious about healing, or if he’s still secretive about computers. It would be foolish if he doesn’t acknowledge that porn has changed his arousal process and that he needs fantasy to get aroused. But if he does acknowledge this, if he is trying, if he is in recovery–then be his ally!
What do you think? Any advice for this woman? If you’ve ever walked through a marriage with a porn addict, what helped you rebuild your sex life? Let us know in the comments!