Does My Spouse Have a Problem?

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My husband has admitted that he has a problem with Internet pornography. So that I can help him get over it, I'd like to know what causes people to become addicted to pornography. Dr. Patrick Carnes suggests those who use pornography or sex to deal with problems in life will generally possess some or all of the following distorted core beliefs:

  1. Self-image: I am basically a bad, unworthy person.
  2. Relationships: I'm unlovable. People cannot love me as I really am.
  3. Needs: I can't depend on or trust others to meet my own needs.
  4. Sexuality: Sex is my most important need.

There are many theories as to how these beliefs develop. Most notable are theories that suggest some lack of attachment or validation during childhood, but this theory does not apply to every situation. There are many men and women that have come from basically healthy families that still struggle with these issues.

Regardless of the root cause, childhood trauma notwithstanding, those who indulge in sexual improprieties remain responsible for their behavior. Shame and other psychological issues are reasons, not excuses.

My husband has admitted that he is addicted to pornography on the Internet. I know he's sorry about it and he's tried to change, but he's been telling me he's going to quit ever since I first discovered it over two years ago. What can I do?
A person who truly desires to change, but has had numerous unsuccessful attempts at extinguishing the behavior, will not likely be successful on their own. These people tend to do better in a structured environment with a therapist and a support group.

Regardless of which reaction he demonstrates, it is important that he take responsibility for his own behavior. Letting a loved one own responsibility can be difficult. Some try to rescue the spouse, yet experience has shown that this can exacerbate problems rather than help.

Although a struggling spouse can be influenced, ultimately he must decide which path he will follow. What he cannot choose are the consequences that accompany those choices. Establishing what boundaries you will have is part of the process that applies consequences for his inappropriate and harmful choices. (Establishing healthy boundaries is discussed in more detail in chapter 6 of Discussing Pornography Problems with a Spouse.

I have been addicted to pornography since I was a teenager. I recently got married, and I don't want to carry on this secret addiction any longer. I know I need to tell my wife, but I don't have a clue what to say or how to say it. Any suggestions?
The decision to disclose your secret behaviors to your spouse will be one of the most difficult decisions you ever make. But prolonging it will not make things easier. Every day you procrastinate disclosing is a day you could be working on your own recovery. It's a day that could be devoted to developing a healthier perspective or rebuilding the trust in your marriage. Have faith in yourself and in your spouse.

When you have made the decision to disclose, you may find the following recommendations helpful:

  1. Talk to a church leader or therapist first so you have a system in place to support you through the process. You don't have to go through this disclosure by yourself.
  2. Realize your fear is normal for people in your position. It's okay to feel scared.
  3. If you goal is to get help, part of that process requires breaking the secrecy that fuels the behavior. It also brings an end to the denial.
  4. Remember that over 90% of spouses want to know. Furthermore, 96% of spouses who disclosed reported later that it was the right thing to do. Ironically, those who choose not to disclose in order to keep their marriage from falling apart ignore the reality that their behavior is bound to create emotional distance in the marriage. This may destroy the marriage they are trying to salvage through secrecy.
  5. Disclosure will bring relief for you from the secrets you've been living. Most individuals report a huge burden lifted from their shoulders after disclosure. The shame and guilt will begin to lift as you replace them with truth and authenticity.
  6. Although your spouse will most likely experience a range of strong emotions, she will also be relieved to know the truth.
  7. The consequences you fear are a necessary part of the healing process. In fact, the pain you feel through this process will serve as a reminder to facilitate the changes you want to make.
  8. Regardless of what decisions your spouse makes in response to your disclosure, you are doing the right thing by taking the first step toward developing healthy intimacy in your life.
  9. If you choose not to disclose, there is a high probability your spouse will eventually find out. If the disclosure is forced at that point, the consequences will usually be more severe than if you take the initiative to disclose.
  10. Remember the decision not to disclose isn't about protecting your spouse. It's an excuse you use to protect your own emotions from your spouse's reaction.

I've been worried about my wife's excessive time on the Internet and all of the new "friends" she's made in chatrooms, but I didn't want to believe that she really had a problem. I hated being sneaky, but I purchased ContentProtect (now Net Nanny) just to monitor her chatroom usage, and I was shocked at what I found. Now I need to confront her. Do you have any good advice?
It is often difficult to know how to react appropriately after discovering a problem. Typically, the spouse will immediately confront his/her partner after discovering pornography in the home. However, if the confrontation is done while emotions are high, unintended things may be done or said. Here are a few do's and don'ts.

DON'T enable. Denying, avoiding, and ignoring the problem are the same as condoning the behavior and they are all different means of enabling. People enable because they are afraid of what might happen if they do confront their spouse.

DON'T accommodate. Sometimes a person may make excuses for a spouse, thus accommodating the inappropriate behavior. Inappropriate behaviors do not need to be tolerated or accommodated.

DON'T reinforce distorted beliefs or thoughts. People who use pornography to cope with life have numerous distorted thoughts and beliefs which they may use to help them avoid the realities of life. However, reinforcing distorted thoughts and beliefs or showing misplaced sympathy may inadvertently justify the behavior in the offending spouse's mind.

DO establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Sometimes when a spouse is confronted, he/she may become defensive or attempt to change the focus of the real issue by shifting the blame to you. You are not on trial and do not need to feel guilty about wanting to extinguish this destructive behavior in your home and marriage.

DO show understanding without condoning the behavior. Understanding a spouse's pornography habit does not imply acceptance or approval of inappropriate behaviors. A knowledge of the underlying issues and possible explanations for sexually inappropriate behaviors may help the non-participating spouse to show empathy for their loved one. Realize, however, that expressing empathy and validating his feelings does not mean acceptance, agreement, or approval of the inappropriate behavior.

DO communicate your feelings, thoughts and concerns. When addressing a spouse, it is important to clearly communicate how you feel and what you expect, which must be done without attacking or shaming. Healthy confrontation is very direct but non-threatening. The focus is on the problem behavior and expressing thoughts and feelings.

My husband frequently visits websites that make me feel very uncomfortable. I don't really know if they're "bad" websites or not. What should I do?
Each person must determine what constitutes a problem. Where do you draw the line? What if material that has traditionally not been considered pornographic leads to your spouse's objectification of others? If your husband is sexually aroused by the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated or spends time fantasizing about the women in your Victoria's Secret catalog, how does it make you feel? Is this appropriate? If you're uncomfortable, there is a problem, regardless of whether the material is considered pornographic or not. If material is being used to facilitate fantasies about other women, it is inappropriate. If you are hurt by such behavior, remember that your feelings are valid and need to be expressed.

What are some indication that your partner is addicted to pornography or has some form of sexual addiction?
Often the partners of addicts know, at least on a subconscious level that something is wrong in their relationship. Some signs are very obvious, like finding a hard-core sex video inadvertently left in your VCR, or unexplained charges on your credit card statement. Other signs may be so subtle, or so well covered up, that it takes years before a partner suspects.

Following is a list of symptoms adapted from the National Coalition Against Pornography that may indicate your partner is suffering from sexual addiction.

  • Noticeable change in frequency of sexual relations with you-from total lack of interest to insatiable appetite for sex
  • Noticeable change in actual sexual relations with you-rigid, dispassionate, quick, detached
  • Requests unusual sexual practices that make you feel uncomfortable
  • Neglects your sexual, physical, and emotional needs
  • Neglects responsibilities involving family, finances, and job
  • Increased isolation or withdrawal from family; unexplained absences
  • Easily irritated, argumentative, defensive
  • Unexplained or secretive financial matters

The symptoms that a person might exhibit if they have a problem with pornography. They fit my wife's behavior, but I'm just not sure if she really has a problem. What should I do?
If you suspect, but are unsure if there is a problem, it is appropriate to communicate your concerns to your spouse. Perhaps some of the signs listed previously may be part of your concerns. Address those concerns, and listen and be prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt.

It is often difficult to know how to react appropriately after discovering a problem. If the confrontation takes place while emotions are high, unintended things may be done or said. The offending partner may react to the emotions of the spouse rather than hearing what he/she is trying to communicate. Professional counseling can be helpful in deciding what boundaries to establish and what consequences are appropriate for the offending spouse. If you have enlisted the support of a therapist or church leader, you will not have to go through this process alone.

I have good reason to believe that my husband is addicted to pornography. It is ruining our marriage. He refuses to admit that he has a problem and he also refuses to go with me to get marital counseling. I can't go on like this. What should I do?
Whether your partner is getting help or not, we strongly suggest that you engage the services of a licensed therapist in your local area to help you deal with the problems in your relationship. It will also be helpful for you to join your local chapter of S-Anon, for partners of sex addicts. Experience has shown that developing a network of support and finding out that you are not alone is a great comfort and strength for both addicts and their partners.

What exactly is sexual addiction?
Sex addiction can be defined as a compulsive physiological or psychological need for a sexual experience that has become habit forming. It is the condition of being habitually or compulsively preoccupied with the pathological (sick or unhealthy) need for a sexual event or process. Sex becomes central to the addict's life-more important than family, friends, and work. Sexual addicts frequently deny that they have a problem, even to themselves, and frequently use compulsive sexual behavior as a means of dealing with pain. This denial often leads them into living a double (or secret) life, creating more shame, pain, and isolation.

My husband insists that viewing pornography on the Internet is "no big deal." He says it doesn't affect his "real life" or his relationship with me and I'm just overreacting. Am I?
Not necessarily; but it is always important to gather sufficient information and consider various possibilities before concluding there is a problem. If improper use of the computer is suspected, it may be necessary to install a computer software program that can monitor online activity. (See Net Nanny.) Most monitoring programs can provide vital information regarding the frequency and severity of the problem. Furthermore, if the participating spouse chooses to deny any use, there is a collection of evidence to the contrary. Whether the intent is to determine if there is a problem or not, a monitoring software program on family computers, especially if there are children in the home, is highly recommended.

Although problems may begin on the Internet, it is important to realize that there is the potential for escalation into offline activities.

What if it's not considered pornography, but I'm uncomfortable with it?
Each person must determine what constitutes a problem. Where do you draw the line? What if material that has traditionally not been considered pornographic leads to your spouse's objectification of others? If your husband is sexually aroused by the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated or spends time fantasizing about the women in your Victoria's Secret catalog, how does this make you feel? Is this appropriate? If you're uncomfortable, there is a problem, regardless of whether the material is considered pornographic or not. If material is being used to facilitate fantasies about other women, this is inappropriate. If you are hurt by such behavior, your feelings should be of concern to any person who truly loves and respects his spouse.

My husband began using porn as a teenager. What was once an adolescent hobby became the "other woman" in our marriage. At first it was our intimacy that suffered. Then his pastime grew into an addiction which included more serious forms of adultery, like strip bars and prostitutes. I feel like a failure as a wife and a lover, and I feel totally responsible. Is it my fault?
Many women have similar feelings. It is important to realize that his pornography problem is not your fault. There are many reasons why he may choose to develop a pornography habit. These reasons may include:

  • Attempts to escape toxic shame about himself, possibly caused by childhood neglect, deprivation of needs, family dysfunction or abuse
  • A desire to be wanted or validated without investing in a relationship
  • A coping mechanism to deal with stress or used as a reward for accomplishments
  • Inability or fear of developing healthy intimacy
  • Boredom and curiosity
  • Escape into a fantasy world that pretends to meet his unmet, unrealistic expectations

Regardless of the reason, this problem would have likely developed whether he was married to you or someone else. It is not your fault, and you do not have to tolerate such behavior.