5 Things I Always Say to Porn-Shocked Wives

I answer a lot of letters from women dealing with the discovery of porn in their marriages. Mostly, they are shocked and hurt and alone, wondering where to go from here. While I answer every one of those letters individually, over time I’ve realized there are some things I almost always say, in one form or another.

So, for women who need to hear these things today, here you go…

5 Things I Always Say to Porn-Shocked Wives

1. It’s normal to feel bad. Really, really bad.

Many women who discover their husband’s porn use will end up meeting the medical criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Most people think of PTSD as something only combat vets face, but anyone who faces traumatic circumstances—such as discovering that your marriage is nothing like you thought it was—can suffer from the same range of symptoms: elevated anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, hypervigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, etc.

Related: Betrayal Trauma–The Side of Porn Use No One Talks About

It’s important for us to understand the severity of the impact of porn use on spouses, so that we recognize the spouse’s need for treatment.

I always make this first point, because…

2. It’s pretty common for men to get treatment while spouses get nothing.

I hear this story all the time: “My husband goes to groups, and we’ve been to couples therapy. But I still feel really upset. He’s doing fine, and I’m not.”

Here’s the deal. Men’s groups are great for men. Couples therapy might help keep the marriage together. But if nobody has attended to the pain that the wife has experienced, if nobody’s helped her process that in a safe place, then she’s still got that pain. I’ve seen women who still have PTSD, even though her husband is managing himself well, and they’ve had successful couple’s therapy.

This is my advice to women: See a therapist. Join a group. Just for you. No matter what your husband chooses, good or bad, you choose life and health for you. Get help for you.

Related: 5 Steps to Continue Healing from Betrayal Trauma

3. I see men reacting to a porn discovery in one of two ways, generally: relief or blame.

The “relief” group of men is so glad the story is out. While it’s a huge shock for the wife, the guy feels instantly better, out from under a load of secrecy, and very often feels that he’s been healed of the problem. The “relief” group tends to minimize the problem by thinking it’s all over now.

The “blame” group, on the other hand, minimizes the problem by projecting their shame onto the outside world. They blame women who take their clothes off in front of cameras, feminism for destroying marriage in America today, wives for letting themselves go or being too fat or not giving enough sex or being too demanding, etc. God for making men like this to begin with.

4. Whatever reaction you get at the beginning—relief or blame—the road to recovery is long and it requires the hard work of both partners, if the relationship is going to survive.

For the porn user, the road to recovery begins with taking responsibility for self. It progresses to having empathy and respect for the spouse. It includes being vigilant with the practical work of change. It means processing the emotional and spiritual pain that has been shielded by porn use for years. It means getting back up, every single time you fall, taking responsibility, and moving forward.

For the spouse, recovery means a lot of hard work too. It begins with facing reality and taking responsibility for emotional and spiritual recovery, regardless of your partner’s choices. It means seeking support through a therapist, a group, trusted friends. It means educating yourself and remaining aware of what’s going on in your partner’s recovery world, while continuing to take responsibility for you.

5. Change is possible, hope is real. Not easy. Real.

We don’t always get a fairy tale ending in this life with bluebirds singing and hearts and flowers following us off into the sunset. Sometimes the change that we want doesn’t happen at the rate that we want, or at all. Sometimes the change happens inside of us, instead of in the relationship. That’s a tough reality. That’s a different kind of hope.

What we know for sure, though, is that Love never lets us go. Nothing separates us from Love. Nothing. Ultimately, that is our real, true hope.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, NLT)

Related: Hope After Porn–Grasping for Air, Hungry for Grace