Joe and Patty came to my office in crisis. Patty had recently discovered Joe viewing internet pornography late at night. A search of the computer’s history revealed chronic use of porn. Joe admitted he had a problem with Internet pornography and vowed to get help. He was truly sorry for hurting Patty, but he could not understand why she was so upset about it. Joe couldn’t understand why she had so much difficulty forgiving him and moving on with their relationship. What Joe didn’t understand is how pornography affects wives.
Impact on Wives
For many women, discovering that their husbands have been viewing pornography is similar to uncovering an extramarital affair. As a result, they experience a variety of emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, betrayal, and rejection. They believe their husbands would rather be with the women they view in pornography rather than their wives. Often they feel that they have been replaced by a computer image. The woman on the computer screen is “the other woman.” Because of this, many women are devastated whey they discover their husbands have been looking at porn.
For many wives, their husbands’ use of pornography is a violation of marital trust. When a man and woman marry, they vow to love, honor and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. Viewing pornography is akin to breaking these vows because they are in no way a sign of a man’s love, honor and respect for his wife. For these women, the men they married all of a sudden seem like strangers. Many feel like a fool for ever having trusted their husbands. For some women, the violation of trust is so deep that they question if they can go on with their marriage. While they might be able to forgive their husbands, rebuilding trust can be extremely difficult.
Pornography invading the home can also lead a wife to feel old, unattractive and sexually undesirable. It’s no secret that most of the women in pornography are just over 18 years of age. Furthermore, thanks to plastic surgery, makeup and digital photographic enhancement, most of the women in pornography do not exist in real life. They are too “perfect.” A wife in her mid-thirties, who has had a few children, might be very beautiful; however, she does not look like a 19 year old. Because of this, she may think, “How can I compete with the young girls in porn?” This can lead her to feel ugly, undesirable and rejected by her husband. This is further compounded by the effects pornography can have on a man’s sexual performance. A man who is addicted to pornography can become so accustomed to being sexually aroused by the “perfect” women in pornography that he can eventually find it difficult to perform sexually with his own wife.
Impact on Husbands
Studies have shown that men crave respect from their wives more than love. Pornography robs men of this basic need. Pornography use almost always leads women to lose respect for her husbands. They also begin to view their husbands as poor role models for their children. This adds to the lack of respect. This can be very painful for women because it inhibits their ability to love, honor and respect their husbands. Men were created to be the leaders, providers and protectors of their wives and families. Pornography prevents men from being able to fulfill these roles because it leads a man to isolate himself and neglect his wife and children. This deepens the trust wound in the marriage.
In addition to the emotional effects that pornography has on wives and marriages, it can also have physical ramifications. When a man becomes addicted to pornography, he eventually develops a tolerance to it. What was once sexually arousing becomes boring and uninteresting. Thus, he can go from viewing soft porn to hardcore porn. After a while, even this is not enough. He may develop a desire to perform the sexual acts he has seen in pornography. This can lead to using prostitutes and engaging in anonymous sex. With this comes the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
With one couple I treated, the wife found out about her husband’s pornography/sex addiction from her physician. She had gone to her gynecologist for her annual examination and was informed that she had a sexually transmitted disease. She had gotten it from her husband who had been frequenting prostitutes. Since she had always been faithful to her husband, she knew she caught the disease from him. After confronting him, he confessed. One can hardly imaging the devastation this couple felt. Although this couple loved each other dearly and were committed to mending their marriage, it took months of therapy to work on forgiveness and rebuilding trust.
Fortunately, most couples are not like the one just described. Most are like Joe and Patty. When people think of addiction recovery, they often envision the addict attending 12-step group meetings and individual therapy sessions. While these are needed for recovery, marital therapy is also needed to heal the deep wounds inflicted on the marital relationship.
Moving Toward Healing
In all cases, wives need to learn how to forgive their husbands. This comes by understanding the deep emotional wounds that lead a man into pornography addiction. When one understands that addictive behaviors are often symptoms of deeper wounds, it becomes easier to have compassion and forgive. Trust also has to be rebuilt in the marriage. This comes from the husband taking responsibility for his recovery and proving his trustworthiness to his wife. As forgiveness and trust grow, the couple experiences healing in their relationship. Thus, addiction recovery is not just for the addict, it involves spouses and families too.
Couples need to realize that even the most devastating situations can lead to greater love, trust an intimacy in a marriage. There is always hope. However, it starts by husbands understanding how their pornography use affects their wives and marriage. It is my hope that this understanding will prevent men from viewing pornography as well as help heal marriages that have been damaged by pornography use.
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Peter C. Kleponis is a Licensed Clinical Therapist. He completed his doctorate in psychology at Capella University. He has extensive clinical experience in working with married couples, sexual conflicts, and sexual addictions. Peter has participated in the marital conferences and in the marital education seminars of the Institute of Marital Healing. Dr. Kleponis is featured in the DVD parent workshop UNFILTERED: Equipping Parents for an Ongoing Conversation about Internet Pornography.