5 Top Questions About the Impact on Partners
1. If I have been using pornography or suspect that my spouse is, how can we talk about it?
Marriages thrive on trust and honesty, and secretive pornography use damages the relationship. While disclosure is painful, it is the first step for both partners to begin healing and restore their marriage.
Confronting a spouse
When pornography use is suspected, it’s appropriate to confront a spouse by stating the facts about the behavior or evidence that is causing concern, explain what the facts seem to suggest, then ask for their response. A partner may be inclined to deny a problem at first. You can agree to think about it for a time and plan when to talk again. This discussion can take place with the support of a therapist or church leader.
Disclosing to a spouse
Sometimes a spouse wants to hide their harmful behavior in order to protect their spouse from pain. However, the root of this desire is to protect themselves from the consequences of their spouse’s reaction. Disclosure is essential to change. The process may be difficult but can lead to a renewed marriage and a happier, more fulfilling life.
Reid and Gray suggest steps such as making an inventory, getting support from a therapist or church leader, preparing your spouse, planning for strong emotional reactions, writing and presenting a disclosure, answering questions, and accepting consequences.
It is normal to have very difficult emotions arise when this problem is revealed. Anger, betrayal, disappointment, and more are natural and need to be accepted. It’s also possible that the pornography user will feel some relief when the truth comes out, while the spouse now carries the burden of dealing with the truth. Some spouses may also feel some relief that their suspicions were confirmed.
Be assured that bringing this issue out of hiding in a marriage is best. In spite of the pain, 93% of spouses who received a disclosure and 96% of addicts who disclosed their behavior felt it was the right thing.
2. Why do I feel so confused, anxious, and crazy?
It is natural for spouses who suspect or have learned that their partner is involved with pornography or sexual addiction to experience grief, loss, shock, denial, anger, depression, betrayal, loneliness, anxiety, loss trust, and many other painful and overwhelming feelings. Some exhibit signs similar to PTSD – including flashbacks, sleeplessness, physical exhaustion, and stress reactions to triggers that remind them of the betrayal.
Isolation is often felt because this problem is steeped in secrecy and shame. It can be difficult to reach out for support, and sometimes well-intentioned people give unfounded and damaging advice.
It’s not your fault. Many spouses have felt this way and are learning to put their emotional lives back together.
3. What can I do to feel better?
Recognize that each spouse is responsible for their own recovery first. Encourage your spouse, but don’t take responsibility for their recovery.
Do what you can do for your own emotional health. Healing takes conscious effort. Your feelings of hurt and betrayal are natural. Reach out and gather a support network of trusted friends. Counseling, support groups, a sponsor, and other resources can all be helpful.
Take the first steps to stabilize emotions by attending to your physical health, meet your spiritual needs, find a way to express emotions, connect with others, and simplify life, and learn more about the problem and the solutions.
4. How do I know if my spouse is making progress in recovery?
Good signs that someone is committed to recovery:
- Being honest about their struggles
- Taking responsibility for personal change
- Understanding the difference between abstinence and recovery
- Being able to explain what they are doing to recover
- Full participation in therapy, 12-step group, education, and work with a church leader or accountability partner
- Willing to continue recovery steps long-term
Comparing addictive behavior to recovery can help people recognize the difference.
5. What if my spouse does not want to stop using pornography, or work on recovery?
Each person makes their own decisions, and they won’t change until they are ready and decide to commit. Be encouraging, but also be careful of enabling harmful behavior. Sometimes spouses enable because they don’t want to deal with the negative reactions they get when they confront their spouse. Protecting an addict from the consequences of their behavior by ignoring it makes the situation worse. Set boundaries that clarify what behavior you expect and what the result will be when those boundaries are broken.