How to Talk to Your Husband about His Porn Use

how to talk to your husband about his porn use

If you’re reading this article, you may be one of thousands of women each year who discover that their husband’s online viewing habits include pornography. Perhaps you’re a woman whose relationship with your husband has been negatively impacted by his porn use, or you object to his use of pornography based on factual, moral, ethical, or other principles.

In any healthy relationship, and especially within marriage, that is reason enough to open the door to this important conversation. There are several principles and strategies you can adopt to have this talk and make it more effective. But first, let me say that his viewing habits are not because of you. And if you have suffered any (or a lot) of pain as a result of his use of pornography, I want you to know how sorry I am you are going through this. This pain is called betrayal trauma. It’s not easy, and I understand your pain. I have had to have this conversation myself, so let me help you prepare to do the same.

Spend some time reflecting before you start the conversation

If you intend to confront your husband regarding his use of porn, first spend some quiet time alone thinking and journaling. Before confronting your husband, consider the following.

What are you hoping to accomplish by having this conversation? Is it to reassure yourself that you are enough? Or is it a conviction against the use of pornography? Are you already angry and looking to express this? Check your motives, because how you approach the conversation can either help or hinder you in achieving your purpose.

What is it that you do not like about his use of pornography? What is your objection? Is it moral? Is it based on what you think of pornography in general? Is it the lies or other behaviors that commonly accompany porn use, like gaslighting or his avoiding intimacy with you? Being clear on exactly what you object to will help you make yourself clear to your spouse.

What impact has his pornography use had on you? Pay attention to what your body has been telling you, what your thoughts have been, what you feel in your heart about his use of pornography and describe its impact. What are your needs and fears you are carrying with you into this conversation?

Be clear about what the negative effects of pornography are to you. Write these down, so that you can be prepared to discuss them with your partner.

If you are concerned that his pornography use is an addiction, gather research regarding this. Also, consider the impact of pornography use on the community and on society, at large. Much research has been done in this area. (Read recent statistics regarding the impact of pornography.)

Know what you’re willing to accept and be prepared to state boundaries around this. Consider your thoughts and feelings regarding your marriage, impact on the children, etc. Consider what type of behaviors you need from your husband to help you feel safe and cared for. Boundaries are to help you establish emotional and physical safety.

For example: I don’t feel safe when my husband lies to me. If I find out he’s been lying, I feel I can’t trust him. Since I can’t be intimate with someone I can’t trust, I’ll likely abstain from sex until I feel safe again. Another example might be, if my husband states that pornography is not a problem and he won’t quit, I will explain it’s a problem for me. I will seek help for myself to decide how to proceed.

Be prepared, if necessary, to follow through in order to establish safety for yourself and your children.

How to actually have the porn conversation with your husband

Now that you know how you feel about pornography, its potential impacts on you, your family, society, etc., prepare yourself to speak with your partner about your feelings regarding these things. The following principles might be helpful.

Don’t assume that your husband won’t hear your concerns. This will enable you to address the situation in a nonjudgmental fashion, and increase the likelihood that he will hear your heart on the matter. You may consider starting the conversation with a curious question, such as “How do you handle temptations when online?”

Calmly and respectfully, tell him your feelings about it, based on the journaling you did prior to your conversation. Be open and curious about his thoughts and opinions.

Acknowledge his viewpoints. This doesn’t mean you agree with him. This simply reassures him that you’ve heard his opinion and you understand what he’s saying. Repeating back what he stated in your own words will help him see that you are listening.

Ask questions. “Do you feel this impacts your ability to be intimate?” “Why do you view porn?” “Are you able to stop?” “Will you stop?” “What do you get from it?” If you find that these questions cause you to feel trauma, or that the answers are causing you to feel trauma, stop the conversation, and get insight from a coach trained by the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) to help you navigate how to proceed.

Based on his responses, continue to share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and concerns. Don’t assume he should understand how you feel. Tell him. Share your fears with him. If he becomes angry or defensive, stop the conversation and again, consider talking with a trained Betrayal Trauma coach to get help understanding your situation.

Strive to reach an agreement regarding what’s acceptable and what’s not. If he is unwilling to discuss or agree on the matter, and if his intended behaviors are not acceptable to you, state your boundaries. Be prepared by knowing what you need in order to feel safe in a relationship. If he acknowledges that pornography use is a problem or that it is a struggle for him, try, if possible, to reassure him. Let him know that help is available for him too.

Sometimes starting the conversation is the hardest part. Some people appreciate a front door approach, which is bold and direct: “I’ve noticed you’ve been looking at pornography. I have concerns about that. Can I tell you what they are?” Others prefer a side door approach which is less direct: “Hey some friends and I were talking about… (or “I was reading an article…”) about pornography and its effect on relationships. What do you think of that?”

How the conversation goes will depend on several factors. Are there other behaviors correlated with porn addiction like lying, gaslighting, or other unhealthy ways of interacting, including narcissistic traits? Has pornography been a casual interest that he can take or leave? Or is it a compulsive habit that he’s begun to depend on as a coping mechanism or to gain a quick mental “high?” How he responds may offer some clues. Does he get defensive and angry during the conversation? Or is he understanding of your side, supportive, and committed to addressing your fears and reassuring you?

If, at the end of your conversation, you feel you’ve not been heard, or you were thrown “off course” and are left confused and frustrated or if you didn’t keep your cool; don’t beat yourself up. This can be a tough conversation, and there’s always another chance to talk again, to clarify, add on, or any other thing you may wish you’d done better.

If you’re left feeling lost and confused or not knowing how to proceed, know that help is available. If you feel your husband is unable or unwilling to stop his compulsive porn viewing, there is something you can do. The partner coaches at Betrayal Trauma Recovery are specially trained by APSATS to assist women whose partners are caught up in the web of compulsive pornography use or sexual acting out behaviors. They know how to coach women through these tough conversations and assist them in creating appropriate boundaries to establish emotional and physical safety in their homes. Getting help to navigate the very muddy waters of a relationship impacted by pornography use and sexual addiction is key to success.

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