About the author, Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner has been married to Andy for over 25 years. For 20 of those years she served with him at Wycliffe Bible Translators, working in the Solomon Islands preparing a New Testament translation into the Arosi language. They have four children and two poodly rescue dogs. They live in the Dallas area where Andy works for SIL International, Wycliffe’s sister organization. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Rapha Christian Counseling. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir. You can read more of her articles at kaybruner.com.

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Hope After Porn

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Porn use (and even adultery) doesn't always mean that a marriage is over. Get this free e-book to read how four betrayed wives found healing for themselves and for their marriages.

40 thoughts on “Boundaries for Couples Facing Porn Addiction

  1. This was beautiful and powerful and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the raw honesty and the hard stuff – because its what we all need.

    • Hi Tabitha, I think the more honest we are all together, the more able we’ll be to face the hard stuff. We are powerful people–God’s gift to us: power, love, and a sound mind.

  2. Boundaries=My recovery! So tough to set them and keep them. So tough to not want to reach out and control my husband’s recovery from pornography. Thanks for the article!

  3. Be careful with the suggestions to move out or separate “for a time”. There can be a strong temptation to jump on these “solutions” over the pain and difficulty of working out marriage problems. These are absolute last resorts, and for the protection of each person. However, from my own experience, they tend to make problems worse by isolating each partner. So it would be wise to ensure each person has a strong support system before even considering separating. God bless!

    • Point well taken. We know a lot of the women who read our blog could most definitely qualify as reaching the point of “last resorts,” but this does not apply to everyone. In the end, the church needs to play an critical role in helping women in these situations to decide what to do and how to do it. I agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith that says in situations where the bond of marriage is unraveling, parties involves should “not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.” Let’s face it: moving out because of a spouse’s porn addiction is a frightening move for most people, and we need all the support we can get in these cases.

    • I agree fully. My wife took your advice to move out and take our 4 children without notice which almost caused me to report her for kidnapping our children but I didn’t by the grace of God. Let me be clear there is no abuse in our family. We had an argument regarding my sexual needs after going through biblical marriage videos I figured we should be on the same page regarding our individual needs as a marriage covenant and I’ve been in a Christian recovery program for pornography and past hurts for the last month and a half so it’s not due to me not seeking biblical counsel and staying the path. After she contacted me she said this article helped her make her decision and that I should read it. I agree on the boundaries but when it comes to separation the bible is clear, let no man separate what God has joined together (Mark 10:9). In cases of physical abuse or danger of others yes there is a need to get away and seek help but to advise husbands and wives to separate as a form of boundaries is not biblical and your offering advice that is not biblical and could easily result in unnecessary separations and divorce which could be talked out with biblical counsel. If the significant other refuses counsel than the boundaries should be set but if the significant other openly and welcomes biblical marital counseling then there is no excuse for a spouse to up and leave on your advice.

    • Porn use breaks the covenant of marriage. You promised to love, honor, and cherish your wife and keep yourself only unto her. Your porn has broken those promises.

      The Bible is clear that if you look at a women with lust, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. Matthew 5:28

      When you looked at porn, you broke that marriage covenant, and now you’re living with the consequences.

    • I found my ex fiancé out two times. I set boundaries the first time and he broke them and I walked the second time. This has been so difficult for me. My first husband has addiction to porn and I will not go thru the mental abuse again.
      My ex fiancé is in complete denial and he is supposed to be such a good Christian he is even an elder in his church. He has this secret life outside of our community. I do think he went too far with his online affairs. He is into tinder and when he was working out of town the iPhone went offline and he didn’t want to FaceTime with me in a certain night. Huge red flags. I found out he was still on dating sites as active in his secret yahoo account and just so much stuff. I was physically sickened by what all I found him on and when I presented him with everything his only question was, how did you get the passwords. Really!? Then I broke off and he told me to leave him alone and tells everyone in Destin I’m the crazy insanely jealous woman and that’s why he left.
      I’m beyond hurt and mortified by this man. How could I have given him a second chance when I first found some of this? I didn’t k is the depth of his addiction and again he is in denial. I was the best thing he ever had in his life and he blew it.
      I hope my future relationship can be healthy and harmonious and porn free.
      I hope I can move forward soon.

    • I’m so sorry. I’m sad for you, and I’m sad for him, too, as he’s choosing a life of lies instead of a real relationship. I think it’s so important to know the truth, and to take responsibility for ourselves. So, as painful as this is, I’m glad you were able to do those things: to see reality for what it is, and to make healthy choices for yourself. I think those skills will serve you well in future relationships. Blessings, Kay

    • Wonderful answer to Chris, Kay. Very truthful and honest, and right to the point. Thank you for showing him that looking at porn, based on what Jesus said about adultery, is equal to the act itself. All intentions and decisions to act on something come first from the heart. Thank you so much for your very insightful answer.

  4. My husband is currently living in our home in our basement. He has no interest in me and basically lives his life separately from myself and our children. Is it even possible to set boundaries in this situation?

    • Well, I’d say that when life is not the way you want it to be, the best way to figure out your boundaries is to process through your emotions, and then make decisions about how you want to respond to the situation. Usually that works well with a wise person on your side, maybe a counselor, who can hear you out, help you work through your emotions, and think about a healthy response. Consider how to create a healthy life for yourself and your children, regardless of his choices.

      I’d also say that radical self-care, rather than anxious devotion to his choices and behaviors, is a wonderful boundary to build for yourself, if you haven’t already! What are the things that nurture your spiritual, emotional, and physical health? Get busy with those things!

      Blessings, Kay

    • This is my life right now. I would like to know how you are getting along now. I need encouragement.

  5. Just a brief history, my fiance has struggled with porn, and of course is a continuous struggle for him, but we went to counseling together when I found out and are doing ok. But recently I came across some pictures on one of his social media accounts of women. Not porn or naked, but very sexy. To me this is the same idea as porn. It’s still hurtful to me and disrespectful. Also he enjoys watching tv shows that disrespects and degrades women. I am just reading Boundaries in Marriage and it’s a great book. I know these things are wrong and I now know that I can’t “make” him see this either. I can also see now that I handled both of these situations with control…(which I struggle with and am trying to get ahold of). He stopped but for the wrong reasons. So my question is this: I can’t control what he looks at, (and now he prob won’t post them anymore, but can still look without my knowing) and I can’t tell him what he can and can’t watch on tv(we only have netflix so I can see that he’s not watching them), so what kind of a healthy boundary can I set for myself? Or a sort of consequence for him when he does watch them or look at those pictures? I know it’s his problem, not mine, but I also don’t think I should just sit by and let him do that because it does affect me.

    • I think you’re running up against something really important: RECOVERY IS ABOUT SO MUCH MORE THAN NOT LOOKING AT “PORN”.

      Real recovery is about him being able to turn toward you and the relationship, rather than him walking some kind of line where he can say “It’s not porn.” I think the deeper issue here is whether he’s able to listen to your concerns, and care about how you feel. That’s not about you controlling him, that’s about him being able to turn toward the relationship and be concerned about you. The more the relationship grows in that way, the more it will nurture HIM as well as you. But I think that’s something men are not socialized toward in our culture to begin with–that tender, emotional side of the relationship. That seems like “a girl thing” in our culture–especially when there’s been a lot of porn influence that says men are all about sex.

      But for my husband, that emotional connection is THE thing that keeps him out of porn now. He will turn toward our relationship now, because it nurtures him as well as me. And that started with him listening to me and caring about how I felt when I discovered his porn addiction; it grew into me being able to listen to him talk about his stuff without going crazy. Now it means we’re both nurtured and healed in the relationship. It’s not about keeping rules any more. It’s about love nourishing us both and turning us toward one another because that’s where the good stuff is.

      I wrote a couple of blogs a while back that are related to this.

      One is about that idea of turning toward the relationship, which comes from the work of Dr. John Gottman. The other one is about being on the same team.

      Have a look at those, and see if that helps with what you’re thinking about. Let me know and we can talk more about it. Kay

  6. Dear, Kay,
    thank you so much for this article. It has helped me a lot. God bless you for being faithful in helping us this way!

    I understand that I shouldn’t be tryting to help my husband or to fix him.
    But what if I set boundaries and he doens’t seem to respect them?Or if I set some rules, like I want to go to bed at the same time, I want you to turn your phone off by a sertain time at night, or things like that. But they don’t seem to happen. Then what do I do without being controlling and without trying to fix him? Where is the line between trusting him, and being just foolish?
    Thank you!

    • Oh yes, the terrible thing about boundaries is that you have to be willing to defend them! People don’t just automatically respect your boundaries like we wish they would! I would say, you have to decide what you’re willing to live with and what you can’t live with, and choose healthy boundaries for yourself. You’re not trying to control or fix him; you’re closing the door on things that are unacceptable in your life. I think you’ve got to consider what you’ll do if he doesn’t respond to your boundary requests? I personally think you have to decide if you’re willing to separate for a while, in order to let him work on his issues. If he doesn’t do that, then you might have to accept that the relationship will not survive. If you’re not willing to end the relationship, then you’re left with staying and figuring out how to do that, given that he doesn’t respect your requests.

      Here’s an article about trust that I wrote a while back. It’s helped me to think in terms of emotional trust, and not just simple behavioral trust. “Who is he in relationship with me”, rather than just “what does he do.” But, when your partner just doesn’t seem to be impacted by your requests for boundaries with his electronics, then that’s a big trust-buster.

  7. A great article! I have just learned about boundaries!!! And this is AFTER 20 years of my husband’s porn use, with multiple, multiple counseling sessions, and different counselors over the years. I recently had some very, very bad counseling that made things so much harder on me. Two weeks after the birth of our 8th child my husband lost his job because they caught him viewing porn on his work computer. Unfortunately for us, without the financial ability for professional counseling, we did what we usually do counseling from church. I am very much of the opinion that most churches are woefully inadequate to handle SA. After a few weeks of such counseling I was ‘not allowed’ to be upset and angry (please remember this has been going on, knowingly for 20 years), and that I was told I was sinning since I did not have ‘hope’, since love hopes for all things. So, since I was not hoping, that means I was not loving, which means I was in sin! This is NOT what a wife, with a newborn, needs to be told after their husband loses his job with 9 mouths to feed!

    Anyways, I found out about boundaries, and what a relief that was. Granted I felt the need to go to that ‘extreme’ and have him move out. So far it is working in our favor. Since he works from home, it was a nightmare to me to have to ‘deal’ with him day in day out, all the live long day. Especially since his actions were all the same. He is in CR, and he is in a step study….and he keeps saying he is changing, but as far as his *actual* actions….no change there. I finally see his selfish behavior, deflecting the blame, shifting my focus, etc. He says he doesn’t know he is doing it…but I could not live one more day with it!!! Twenty years was long enough!!!

    I just wanted to say that I would NOT recommend kicking a spouse out with out thinking it through, but there is most certainly times for it, and NOT just for abusive situations. But that is just my two cents.


    • I am so sorry you’ve had such bad experiences in counseling, but sadly I think this can be typical when those offering counsel do not understand the nature of addiction, and when they aren’t familiar with healthy boundaries either.

      After 20 years and a lost job, perhaps extreme boundaries are necessary. Many women in your situation will meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One of the best practice standards for treating PTSD is to get the person to safety, and in your case that has meant that he can’t be present while you’re trying to recover. Of course it’s terrible to take action like this, but sometimes that’s just what needs to happen. It’s not what we want, it’s not what we hope for, but it’s necessary.

      Have you read Hope After Porn? Several women talk about their experiences with recovery and some of them took action like yours, too. It’s a free download and might be encouraging. Blessings, Kay

  8. I found out my husband was addicted to porn when I was 8 months pregnant with our first child, that was 6 months ago…I am still in shock and still trying to deal with it. He really had me convinced it was just a normal thing, and that men just need variety. I believed him, and then asked him how am I going to get what I need out of the relationship when his focus is Porn, and the women with the Porn. We tried everything. What I realized with time and enough spying, that the type of women he looked at in the porn was directly related to the type of women he looked at when we went out together. When it was older women with brown hair, that is who he was checking out at the grocery store, or if it was blond teens, that is where his eyes went when we were shopping for clothes. It was more than once and he admitted to it. The last time I caught him looking at a girl from out of his porn collection, I asked him, what he really got out of looking- I see it and am mad distant and don’t want to touch him, and the most he gets is mental pictures he can masterbate too later. And this is bad for our relationship, for saying this I got blamed as being crazy jealous. Now after doing research, and learning the biological process… I realize that porn can be just as addictive as a drug due to the combination of powerful feel-good hormones that are released. And now I know that because ot this physical process, he was bonding to these women in the porn, and then directly “looking” for them in real life. But that gives me hope, that if he eventually decides to give up Porn, he can establish a healthy bond to me too. My hunch earlier in our relationship that if we have sex before we go outside anywhere, then I became the focus of his attention always seemed justified. Now, through my research I know why. I hope my spying and own experience can help others in this struggle. I am in stage one myself, and this article on boundries is exactly what I need. I can’t handle the blaming and abuse anymore and want a safe situation for me and my baby. I know my husband values our family, so I hope he will decide to get the help he needs, and it is his choice.

    • Hey Lisa, I’m glad this article was helpful to you. Here’s another recent article by Ella that you might find helpful, too. It’s definitely going to be your husband’s job to take responsibility for himself and work on his behaviors. I hope he chooses to do that. But no matter what he chooses, YOU can be healthy and choose good boundaries for you. You might find that a counselor or a group like Celebrate Recovery can help support you as you find your way forward. Blessings, Kay

  9. My husband admitted he has an addiction to how porn makes him feel but has takin it a step further by reaching out to strangers on local sites for ‘casual encounters’ . He says he hasn’t followed through on any, it’s the excitement of doing it but as I don’t trust him right now it’s hard to believe anything. A little lost…any advice?

    • I’m so sorry, May. Of course you don’t trust him: he isn’t being trustworthy.

      I would suggest a couple of things. One, find a counselor just for yourself, who can help you process your emotions and decide on healthy boundaries. Two, find a group, either locally or online, to give you support and community.

      You might want to take a look at our free download, Hope After Porn, where several women talk about their own walk through recovery.

      It’s up to him to decide if he wants his family or his fantasy. He needs to figure out why he needs that fake excitement, rather than the reality of love within marriage. Some men DO make the healthy choice and recover. You can offer that to him! Meanwhile, make sure that YOU are taking care of YOU and being healthy, no matter what he chooses.

      Peace to you, Kay

  10. Kay,
    I’ve just recently started reading these stories and seeing that other wives are going through and experiencing the same thing I am. I don’t use social media of any kind, so sending this is very scary for me. My husband got involved with a young girl in the workplace in 2005, three years after we brought that evil computer into our house. It was sometime between 2002 and 2005 that I realized he was looking at porn and it was in 2005 when I starting realizing that he was up to something when my heart started filling faint. I noticed that he wasn’t coming in from work until after 2:00am when usually he was home by 11:30pm. It wasn’t until I took my kids to bible camp and had to stay overnight in a hotel where the camp was located. The next day I returned home, got ready for bed and started to get into bed (he was at work) when I noticed that the flat sheet on the bed had been turned around???? I got into bed and sensed the smell of a cologne other then mine. My heart pounded so hard and I knew something was not right. I confronted him the next day and he broke! He told me that he had been seeing a employee 18 yrs old… I held it all in, I told his parents who had arrived at our house on vacation a few days later. We appealed to his brothers, sisters and parents for prayer and support. Fast forward to now!! We quit telling his family about our problems after judgements were felt, I never spoke it to any of my family-total secret. I thought this was all behind me, ocassionaly i’d check the cookies on the computer and see sites that he had looked at and he’d repent. over and over. Then, 2013 we lose our 18yrs old daughter in a car accident and things are going down hill fast. I use to cry my eyes out at realizing that he didn’t cherish me. I even think he’s had another affair or two since 2005, but now I’m stuck in another country, no real connections, no family, no church family (the church we attend is so large that we’re just another face in the crowd) and I’m finding myself policing his activities now online. He travels for his brother-in-laws business and I have no control over him being going out of town for weeks at a time. They just gave him a company phone and now he carries two. I would leave, but I have no family to go home too (my mom died a month after my daughter and my side of the family has no idea of what I’m facing). I am broken, no where I can go, I’ll just keep reading here. He’s a real soft hearted husband, goes out of his way to do things for me-almost feels fake. What could I do about this?

    • Oh Tina. Your story just breaks my heart. So much pain. I think find a therapist in your area, someone who can help you process through all this, and decide on healthy boundaries for yourself. Whatever he chooses to do, YOU choose a way forward that is healthy for you, and helps you process all this pain that you’re bearing.
      Peace to you, Kay

  11. On the topic of separation sadly most churches do not have staff that can walk a couple thru a separation with the goal of reconciling. This is badly needed in our churches & frankly should come from couples that HAVE walked thru a crisis marriage! We are to comfort with the comfort our Lord Jesus has given us.

    Second when you find out your husband has committed sexual sin, even if he says its limited to Porn only, PLEASE get tested for STD’s. It for your protection!

    If you are going to separate along with working w/ a great Christian counselor PLEASE talk with a Lawyer. Even if you don’t want to divorce, you need to know your rights & especially if you have not worked outside of home & have children. You can do this discreetly by paying cash. Also right down your questions so that you are prepared because the lawyer will bill by the hour.

  12. I’m afraid I will have to insist on a separation. After 18 years of marriage, one lost. Job and another almost lost…. He won’t give up porn, lust and maaturbation. It goes way beyond crushing me and making me feel less than. We’ve seen countless counselors. He hops accountability partners. Nobody knows the whole story from the beginning to now. He was reading some terrifying erotica a while back and I nearly divorced him. The job loss, almost losing us… Wasn’t rock bottom. Now this is the third time in 11 months it’s come out. I am so done.

    • It’s okay to be done after 18 years of this. It really is okay. It sounds like you’ve done everything you can, for as long as you can. It’s okay to face reality and have good boundaries.

      Here’s one of the best articles I’ve come across, called A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce.

      This is tough, but there is freedom. You are not a slave to your husband’s sin. He may choose to be, but you don’t have to any more.


  13. What would be your thoughts on boundaries (emotional, physical etc) for a daring couple. Boyfriend opened up about porn addiction and lost his job at church because of it. So far he’s taken steps to show hes very committed to dealing with it (mentor, counseling, restrictions on phone etc). We had been talking about engagement and I love him to bits but I don’t know what’s the best and healthiest boundaries for supporting him while he deals with this. He has placed our relationship into my hands and I want to journey it out with him, in just not sure how that should look.
    Limiting time together? Limiting other communication?
    Any thoughts or advice?

    • I would say that if you’re interested in a long-term relationship with him, you need absolute and full disclosure as to the scope of the problem. You also need absolute and full disclosure as to the scope of his recovery efforts. While it may not be appropriate to know all the content of his meetings, you should certainly know who he’s meeting with, how often, and ask any questions that you want. I would want his counseling to be with a licensed professional, like a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.

      It’s pretty much impossible to date or marry any guy these days who doesn’t have significant porn exposure, so it’s not a bad thing that you know about this now. The real question will be, how does he do going forward, taking responsibility for himself? Does he take responsbility, disclose to his accountability partners, participate willingly in therapy, work on himself in general? Those are all good signs of healthy recovery. Or does he get defensive, say it’s no big deal, say he doesn’t have a problem, blame you for being a nag, conceal his process? Those are bad signs.

      You might appreciate this article I wrote a while back about emotional trust.

      As for limiting time, communication, etc., those are boundaries you can set for yourself according to what’s healthy and how the process is going. Here and here are a couple more articles on boundaries.

      You can always find a therapist to help you process emotions and make healthy choices, just for you.


  14. Hi Kay,

    Thanks for your well written and to the point article.

    We’ve recently had our first child. We expected there to be some periods of inactivity as a result, but we’ve been really stretched (high needs baby). For the past 1yr and a half, my husband seemed patient, and I tried to make myself readily available. Got back “into shape” in a few weeks and bought a new wardrobe. But he picks on my appearance, and even said he doesn’t feel that attracted to me any more.

    Sometimes I will initiate things or hint we should connect and get cuddly, but he will comment that I should try and be more spontaneous. Sometimes when we start, he looks bored and recently didn’t even finish and to rectify, wanted me to face away in another position with zero intimacy (I decided not to part take, and he apologised after). He recently opened up saying he’s been using porn but didn’t specify how long. He already admitted using it before our child was born (although he said occasional).

    When I asked him how can I help, what can we do, he said he’s dealing with it and knows it’s wrong..and that he doesn’t need my judgement too. And wouldn’t talk any further, implying I should be grateful he admitted it. I haven’t brought it back up yet but I thought he would have apologised at least.

    Since marrying we left our home churches and we are not members of a church, even though we’ve been attending one for a few years. He is not interested in counselling (he likes to keep things private).

    I’m thinking to seek counselling on my own,. I feel like he’s not happy with my appearance and sexual behaviour because I can’t live up to the porn. I’ve told him this before but he doesn’t agree its linked. I’m not sure what to think or do. Maybe I am sexually boring (he’s had other partners too, but I haven’t, so hard to know)
    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Yeah, it sounds like seeking counseling for yourself is really the way to go at this point.

      I agree with you that his difficulties with intimacy are probably related to porn, but it sounds like he’s not able to admit that to himself at this point and it sounds like he’s defensive and blaming rather than being responsible for himself. Fairly typical of a shame response.

      Here and here are a couple more article about boundaries that might be helpful as you think things through. And here’s a good one from The Gottman Institute about porn and intimacy.

      The bottom line is, you deserve to be treated with respect and value, and you know when that’s not happening. Trust yourself, decide what boundaries work for you, and stay strong.


  15. Hi Kay,
    Thank you for this post..it is helpful for so many.
    I wanted to ask you if you have encountered any dual addictions before? Namely, drug and sexual addiction..and how they relate. My husband uses a drug which enhances oxytocin in his brain and uses porn at the same time. He seems caught in a cycle of toxic shame about this. Unfortunately, due to the substance abuse I find when he comes home after disappearing he is exhausted/hit a low. Once he has slept/recovered, his brain has shifted from initial remorse (when he first comes home) to defensiveness. He shuts down any conversation I try to start, even when I express a need to speak about this in a constructive and not overly emotional way.
    I feel stuck.
    I feel betrayed on every level in our relationship: emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual. I find it especially difficult due to the dual addiction to find him in a right frame of mind for a constructive conversation.
    I have set boundaries in place – at present: no sex, seperate bank accounts (I can’t trust him to not spend my earnings).
    We have been co-habiting rather than being married and it’s a sad and traumatising situation. We are both struggling with grief and hurt. I’m sure he sees me hurt and feels guilty and this guilt makes him turn on me and blame me for his actions/choices.
    I resonate with gas lighting to the point of emotional abuse.
    I also see my husband as lost and hurt. Someone who is using addictions as a bandaid to numb the pain he is in. He has shared about feeling neglected as a child and subsequent abuse. He also saw a lot of trauma in his family life and as a result of living in a war zone for some time.
    Any suggestions on how to get him to pursue help and find his pathway to recovery and hope for a future?

    • Carla, the sad news is that you can’t control your husband’s choices. There’s no way to get him to pursue help unless and until he is ready. The only thing you can do is look at the reality of the situation and decide what boundaries are right for you, based on reality. Boundaries are not to make him change (although that would be nice if he chose to!); boundaries are to make you safe and healthy. If you’re not able to be safe and healthy with current boundaries, continue to face reality and shift boundaries as appropriate. Here and here are a couple more articles you might find helpful. it sounds like he has a lot of pain and work that he needs to do, but until he is ready to do it, make sure that your boundaries are right for you. That includes separation and divorce. Peace, Kay

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