The Partner of a Porn Addict (And Some Exciting News)

How can a spouse best support her addicted husband? 

While some couples or individuals watch porn and have no issues with it, there can be some major issues when pornography turns into an addiction.  In the Christian community I belong to, we see it as a big no-no and are aware that it is an unhealthy way to cope with the stress of life. There is often tons of shame wrapped up in it. Addiction is when a behavior becomes progressively increased and difficult to stop.  When attempting to stop, the addicted person suffers withdrawal symptoms.  Underlying pornography addiction, similar to any other addiction, are symptoms that the person is avoiding dealing with.  Pornography is a dissociative type of behavior that can leave the user wondering where all the time spent using went. It can also increase feelings of shame, a feeling that lends itself to withdrawal and isolation.  

When a partner finds out that her husband has been viewing pornography, or going to strip clubs, massage parlors or prostitutes, they often feel immense betrayal and heightened feelings of insecurity.  From my experience working with married couples where a parter is struggling with pornography addiction or any other sex addiction, the spouse of the addicted person tends to blame themselves.  If only I was pretty enough, did more for him, made him see how much I love him, if I fought harder for our marriage or asked more for him to stop using, maybe then he’d choose me over porn.  

Marriage is a system and if only one person gets treatment, the results can be negatively affected if the other person doesn’t get help as well.  This is true for unmarried dating partners too.

I recommend that both partners go to therapy and attend recovery groups to increase the amount of support and connection in their individual lives. They both need to learn how to open up with people about how they are feeling. It’s not just “I relapsed again”, but rather, learning to talk about loneliness, shame, inadequacy and anxiety.  Many men who are addicted to pornography suffer from social anxiety and going to recovery meetings and therapy can help desensitize social experiences and increase their competency and confidence around talking about feelings.

The partners of sex addicts must also get treatment. The insecurity and habit of blaming themselves for other people’s behaviors is one that often precedes the marriage itself.  Doing the inner healing work with a therapist is paramount if the parter wants to support their spouse.  It seems counterintuitive to most spouses of sex addicts because the addict is the one with the “problem”. Sadly, this belief can inadvertently lead the addict to relapse. The pressure of holding the responsibility for the entire problem is too much for them.  The spouse of the addict must learn to own their own insecurities and anxieties rather than blame them all on the spouse who is actually just the trigger for those things, not the root cause.  

The spouse of a sex addict often wants to support their spouse but it initially usually looks like telling them to go to therapy or meetings, and not like looking inside themselves at where they need support and healing.  The more secure and confident the spouse of the sex addict can become, the more stable the system as a whole becomes, and when the partner relapses, the spouse of the addict doesn’t crumble because their esteem is not based on the addict’s behavior anymore.  They can still get their own needs met (outside of the relationship from friends and therapy) and support the addict in their recovery whereas prior to treatment their needs were dependent on whether the spouse was “clean” from using porn or not.  Couples therapy is another piece in the healthy marriage puzzle because it teaches each partner to listen empathetically and share vulnerably.  

As a specialist in treating pornography addition, addiction in general and partners of addicts, I see the most recovery when people prioritize therapy and 12 step meetings even when they don’t necessarily feel like doing the work.  Just like going to the gym, suiting up and showing up is half the battle.  

If you or your partner is struggling with pornography addiction and you are ready to get help, take the first step of making a therapy appointment.  You are worth it. 

If therapy isn’t a viable option for you or your spouse right now, I just published a book this week called A Power Greater than You. You can find it on Amazon or click on the title in the last sentence and it will take you right there. In this book, the 28 short chapters contain pieces of information, tips and tools, and a lot of encouragement to cope with porn addiction. While it isn’t meant as a tool book for partners of addicts, it can be helpful to learn all you can about addiction or read it together with your spouse to get on the same page about changes that need to be made so that the Power greater than you both can give you each what you are needing to cope with life (rather than acting out by using porn or controlling the other person).

I’d love a review if you read it and find it helpful!

Amy

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