Discovering that your partner has a sex addiction is a traumatic event. It is quite understandable that you may be left feeling confused, for such a discovery or disclosure invariably leaves a partner with many unanswered questions. In this article, I respond to some of these frequently asked questions. I hope that these answers will help you begin to understand some of the unique aspects of a spouse’s recovery from her partner’s sexual addiction.
How Did Pornography Enter Our Relationship?
The most important thing to understand is that your husband’s pornography use is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to stop him from using it. In fact, his pornography use probably started long before you met. Often a man thinks that marriage will help him to stop his pornography use. However, an addict quickly finds that this is not the case, and the cycle of use continues long after the wedding bells have stopped ringing. Because of the guilt and shame associated with sexual brokenness, his pornography use remains hidden and the user quickly finds himself living a double life.
It isn’t uncommon for my clients to overlook signs or symptoms of their partner’s hidden behavior for years or even for decades. Often this is simply because they find it difficult to know how best to confront the issue. Moreover, when the addict is confronted, he can become defensive or dismissive. Dr. Stefanie Carnes, PhD. discusses this cycle of disclosure more in her book Mending a Shattered Heart.
How Does Pornography Affect Relationships?
Pornography affects relationships in many different ways, including physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is important to understand that pornography feeds lust and that lust serves the self. When pornography and lust are at the center of a relationship, it is only the “self” that is being served. And when the “self” is being served, the relationship is not reciprocal. This leads to a lack of emotional availability, open communication, honesty and ultimately intimacy. Within the context of marriage, lust can turn a healthy sex drive inward and away from the spouse.
Research on sexual addiction and the brain shows us that pornography directly impacts the functioning of the brain. Pornography use, and the behaviors associated with it, re-wires the brain in ways that prevent the couple from experiencing a healthy and fulfilling expression of sexual intimacy. Pornography use isolates the user and fosters secrets, shame and guilt. None of these are conducive to a healthy relationship.
What Aspects of a Relationships are Most Strained by Pornography?
The aspects of a relationship most commonly strained are intimacy, trust, finances, communication, time, attention, presence, boundaries, our relationship with God, and a healthy view of sex. Come to think of it, the impact of pornography use can affect almost every aspect of our relationships.
Is There Hope for my Marriage?
Yes, there is hope! Many couples choose the hard path of working toward recovery. Many of these couples report having a stronger and more intimate marriage once recovery is achieved. It is true that, in some instances, one or both of the partners are unwilling to commit to working at recovery, and I find that these are the saddest cases to work with. But if both partners are committed to the relationship – or at least willing to consider a future together – and willing to do the hard recovery work, then there is definitely hope.
Now That I Know, What Should I Do?
Having learnt about your partner’s sex addiction, you should do something about it and seek help. Keep searching for help until you find someone who is experienced in working with sexual betrayal. You need to invest time in working with a professional counselor. The biggest mistake I see people making is allowing themselves to become isolated. Connection with the right people is essential.
In my experience, the happiest outcomes occur when spouses work individually on their own recovery. Through this process, they can become the best “them” they can be for their partner. For the betrayed, this work involves tasks such as processing grief, expressing emotions, understanding sexual addiction, caring for yourself, and establishing healthy boundaries. I also encourage my clients to seek out a healthy support group that can offer them strength and hope.
How Long Should I Wait to See Real Change in my Partner?
Each situation is different. However, if your spouse is actively participating in, and committed to, his recovery and abstinence, you can begin to see change from as early as ninety days. But you will only see change this soon if he is working very hard on his recovery. The emotional and spiritual roots of the problem need to be addressed before any true, lasting changes can occur. Many wives look for a quick fix, but there is no easy or quick way to address the root problems. This always takes time and hard work. Moreover, real and lasting change occurs over a longer period of time, and could take anywhere from three to five years. This does not mean that your relationship has to be on hold for three to five years. It may be helpful to think of progress in smaller and more manageable stages of three, six and twelve months.
Although it is tempting to focus on your partner, you really need to be focused on your own recovery process. It is essential to live “in the moment” – to live one day at a time so that you do not get overwhelmed by looking too far into the future. As you live one day at a time, and intentionally work on your recovery, you will be able to look back and see the progress. It may seem unbelievable to you now, but many women are amazed at how the days quickly turn into years.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Deal with Your Partner’s Sex Addiction
If you still have unanswered questions or if you would like assistance as you navigate your way through the unknown, you may want to consider speaking to a Christian counselor. A trained Christian counselor can help you as you try to process the impact of your partner’s pornography use.
Dr. Stefanie Carnes, PhD. (2011) Mending a Shattered Heart: A guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, Gentle Path Press.
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