Discussing Pornography Problems With a Spouse
Often the partner of an individual who struggles with compulsive use of pornography will reflect back and say “I knew something was wrong, I just wasn’t really sure.” The effects of pornography on a marriage or other intimate relationship can be very destructive. Many times both individuals have the desire to talk about and seek help for the problem but do not know where to begin. Following are some tips for discussing a pornography problem with a spouse.
Signs of a Pornography Problem
Sexual additions experts Rory Reid and Dan Gray, in their book Confronting Your Spouse’s Pornography Problem, identify 10 signs of an existing problem:
1. Loss of interest in sexual relations or insatiable sexual appetite
2. Introduction of unusual sexual practices in the relationship
3. Diminished emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and intellectual intimacy
4. Neglect of responsibilities
5. Increased isolation (such as late night hours on the computer); withdrawal from family
6. Easily irritated, irregular mood swings
7. Unexplained absences
8. Preference for masturbation over sexual relations with spouse
9. Unexplained financial transactions
10. Sexual relations that are rigid, rushed, without passion, and detached
Confronting the Pornography Using Spouse
Often suspicions may arise from unusual behavior of the partner such as the ones listed above. In speaking with couples who are seeking help for pornography problems, the non-using partner will often say, “I suspected something was going on, but I wasn’t sure.” They recall feelings suspicious, but were unsure of how to go about finding out. There are several methods of confronting the problem. In the initial confrontation, you should express concern for your partner’s unusual behavior and explain how you feel about it in a non-blaming way. Due to the secrecy that accompanies a pornography problem, your partner may be inclined to deny using. This may be in the form of minimizing the behavior with an excuse like “It just popped up when I was surfing the web,” or “It just happened once.” They may also completely deny the problem by saying “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Often wives report that they felt like they were becoming paranoid because of the deception. In this case the spouse may prefer to be able to bring hard evidence to the next confrontation. Perhaps it is by bringing pornographic magazines that the user has hidden, by bringing up specific incidents where the user was caught viewing pornography, or through the installation of a computer program that track s the internet activity on the computer.
Confrontation may also take place in the place of a support system such as a religious leader, counselor, therapist or other qualified individuals. The confrontation should be planned so that the delivery can be non-blaming and create the least amount of defensiveness in the partner. It is important to understand that individuals will differ in their readiness to admit they have a problem. It should not be expected that the user will readily want to come forward with all the details of the problem. The user may be defensive no matter how well the message is delivered.
Disclosing the Problem (For the User)
Many compulsive users feel an overwhelming amount of guilt and shame about their problem. It is nearly instinctual to try to hide this problem from loved ones for fear of disappointing them. However, it is very difficult to recover from this type of problem without the support and help of your loved one. Additionally, this problem can be destructive to an intimate relationship. Partners often report feelings of broken trust. By disclosing your problem with pornography to your partner, you can start to rebuild that broken trust through honesty.
It can be a very difficult decision to disclose this behavior to a partner. There is overwhelming shame, guilt, embarrassment, and deception involved. Sometimes disclosure is a necessity. In the situation where a user was engaging in unprotected sexual affairs, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases dictates a disclosure to the non-using spouse. However, Reid and Gray state that “90% of spouses who received a disclosure felt it was the right thing despite the pain it caused them.”
When and how do I disclose this problem? Reid and Gray make several suggestions to facilitate an appropriate disclosure. The disclosure of pornography use or inappropriate sexual behavior should be made sooner than later. Recovery from pornography use is contingent upon full disclosure. Due to the secretive nature of the problem, it is important to come clean with the non-using spouse and make a full disclosure in order to rebuild trust and honesty. The disclosure should be as complete as possible, but details of the actual acts do not need to be included. While disclosure can be viewed as an “event,” there are circumstances in which it can be a process. For example, in the case where the user has been so extensively involved in the behavior that they do not recall everything at the time of disclosure, future disclosures may need to be made to maintain honesty and trust.
Reid and Gray suggest that before making the disclosure, the user should engage a religious leader, therapist, or some sort of support network. The support network can serve the help make sure the disclosure is appropriate, non-blaming, that it does not ask for the non-using partner to do something, and that both individuals are sufficiently supported. The support network can also help the disclosing individual choose the most appropriate time to tell their spouse.
Reactions to the disclosure. At the time that a spouse first discloses the use of pornography, their partner may feel a whole range of emotions in a very short time. Reid and Gray suggest that when a disclosure about pornography is made it can leave the partner feeling a variety of emotions. Some of those might include “anger, betrayal, rejection, confusion, depression, disappointment, fear, guilt, feeling responsible, frustration, feeling unloved, despair, abandonment, rage, disgust, indifference, denial, helplessness, hopelessness, upset, bitterness, resentment, powerlessness, discouragement, loneliness, uncertainty, doubt, hesitancy, devastation, distrust, worthlessness, suspiciousness, alienation, feeling victimized, humiliation, anguish and even relief” (p 10). All of these are common and understandable.
The disclosing partner should prepare themselves for these emotional reactions. Often, pornography has a dulling effect on an individual’s ability to feel emotions. Being in the presence of, and feeling uncomfortable emotions are part of the recovery process. Any attempt to lessen the partner’s experience may be an effort to reduce your own anxiety, guilt, shame and suffering. Learning how to cope with the presence of these emotions is essential to recovery.
Following the disclosure the user should expect their partner to have a lot of questions. Often the use of pornography within a relationship is seen as a betrayal of trust, and partners will want to know details about the pornography use. Questions may center on the frequency, content, location, and duration of pornography use. It can be difficult to endure these questions because the user is inclined to want to put the whole problem behind him or her. However, it is important to realize that the non-using partner has just learned about this and is still working through many different emotions. Many couples have found it helpful to involve some sort of mediator such as a religious leader or professional counselor to help facilitate discussions.
See the article at this website, Resources for Those Struggling with Pornography, for additional helps.
For Further Reading:
Confronting Your Spouse’s Pornography Problem, by Rory C. Reid and Dan Gray
Discussing Pornography Problems With A Spouse: Confronting and Disclosing Secret Behaviors, by Rory C. Reid and Dan Gray
Sexhelp.com: Your path to help, hope and healing