The most common email I receive and comment I get on this blog is about pornography. So many of my readers are struggling with what to do if their husband watches porn. I’ve asked several experts to write some guest posts for me over the next few days to help us deal with the trauma of porn use and point our way to recovery. Today Dorothy Maryon, a clinical therapist, shares with us about the effects of discovering your husband uses porn–and how to get through it.
Most women are blindsided when they discover their husband has a pornography or sex addiction.
Many wives struggle to deal with that realization while their world comes crashing down and the bottom falls out of the marital basket they were trusting in. It can be a devastating and disorienting experience and it takes a big toll on their self-esteem.
It’s not uncommon for a wife to wonder why she wasn’t enough to keep her husband from straying outside of the marriage. That “enough” takes in almost everything from feeling not interesting enough, not loving enough, not thin enough, not sexy enough, and so on. In addition to those feelings is the compounded emotions of feeling disconnected from him and for some time now. Unfortunately, and mistakenly, many women fear they are the problem and spend a lot of time and effort trying to be the ideal spouse.
In reality the situation is very different than what many women think. His looking at porn is not about you. His interest, desire and connection should be all about his wife, not about a counterfeit. Pornography robs a wife of playing a central role in his life and she feels demeaned and replaced by an air-brushed picture on a screen.
His turning away from you to pornography exposes a lack on his part, not yours.
Most people underestimate the addictive quality of porn and by the time they recognize its compulsive and addictive underbelly it’s too late and they are trapped in a repetitive cycle of shame, compulsivity, and often betrayal.
So what can a wife do?
How does she recover a foundation for her own self-esteem and a roadmap to go forward?
Honestly, there are no easy answers but there are a few things we know about the trauma this causes wives–and how to help.
First, recognize that it is trauma.
The closer you are to someone who betrays you the more profound the trauma. Therapists call this “relational trauma” and it ranks right up there with all the other traumas. Because as human beings we are wired to connect and it is a brutal experience to have that connection betrayed. Women often report that they feel “crazy” or “not themselves” after such a discovery.
Some of the more common symptoms of relational trauma include:
• Fear and/or anxiety
• Outbursts of anger or rage
• Intrusive thoughts of the trauma
• Feelings of self-blame or responsibility
• Feelings of panic or feeling out of control
• Sadness or depression
• Feelings of detachment
• Feelings of worthlessness or being broken
• Preoccupation with body image
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep
• Feelings of helplessness
It’s normal after a betrayal to feel and act this way.
Second, don’t isolate.
Find a way to reach out. This can be a tricky place for women. Who do you tell? Many women don’t want to “expose their husbands” and so carry the burden of “the secret” as well as their own trauma. Find someone. Tell a spiritual leader, a therapist, or a 12-step group. This experience is too difficult to navigate alone.
Third, get educated.
Learn about compulsive or addictive behavior. It will help to learn about it as a disease, as a lack, as a method of self-medicating. It will help to understand how it impacts the brain. This knowledge will also help because over time you will learn that it isn’t a lack on your part. In fact your husband can still be in love with you despite the ugly issue in his life that he has kept secret and has prevented him from being fully in the relationship.
Fourth, get help.
Find a good therapist who specializes in relational trauma and compulsivity/addiction. They can help you create a roadmap for healing. Find a friend to pray with and encourage you.
Fifth, learn how to take care of yourself.
Be self-compassionate. Do things that help you feel stronger or more grounded. Exercise. Pray. Find a pilates class. And above all be patient with your own process.
Sixth, learn about trauma and triggers that reactivate the trauma.
Understanding will help you be less reactive and more forgiving when you are. Many women describe the experience of being “triggered” as being on a roller coaster. One day you feel fine and somewhat normal and the next something small can trigger feelings of anger, grief, fear, and loss.
Seventh, don’t give up and don’t give in.
Healing is a journey and in this case requires the deep soul work that takes time and great compassion. Insist that he get help. In the case of sexual compulsivity or addiction being sorry is not enough. Work and help is required.
(Sheila says: I totally agree with this! I’ve always said that a man who says he is sorry but who refuses to admit his fault to anyone else is not really sorry. Real repentance is accompanied by confession and accountability. James 5:16–Confess your faults one to another, and pray one to another, that you may be healed!)
Lastly, take heart!
You may be familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but not as familiar with the term post traumatic growth. Post traumatic growth are positive changes that can occur as a result of coping with a traumatic event. Women get through this. Post traumatic growth can lead you to a stronger sense of yourself as well as a deeper and richer life that comes from moving through a difficult and deepening experience.
Dorothy Maryon, CMHC, is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who specializes in partners’ issues associated with sexual addiction in marriage. She has worked as a counselor in the LifeStar program for 15 years, focusing on addiction and relationship issues. She is in private practice and has presented at several conferences on addiction, codependency, creating safety for partners, and grief and trauma issues.