He picks up his phone to check e-mail, respond to a few texts, and see who’s winning the game.
It’s happened thousands of times before–but this time is different.
He glances up and catches his wife’s eyes. She looks like an angry bull just before it charges.
Now come the accusations: “I know you are looking at one of those filthy porn sites again. After all the damage you’ve caused with that stuff, I knew you wouldn’t quit!”
The defense: “You’re crazy! I can’t even check work e-mail or reply to a text from my boss without being accused of looking at porn again! I’m not going to be treated like a little kid being monitored by ‘mommy.’”
This scenario happens all the time after a wife discovers that her husband has been looking at pornography. Since she discovered it, and that he had been hiding porn for quite some time, she won’t be made a fool of again.
Now she is convinced he is always looking at pornography. Like killing a cockroach, she knows there are a lot more where that one came from–and she is intent on finding them.
Your Wife Has Triggers Too
Maybe it isn’t looking at your phone or tablet. Maybe it is a sex scene on a TV show, a news story about pornography, or another leader caught in a sexual scandal. All of these trigger the pain of finding out her husband has been looking at porn. They trigger the fear of being deceived and betrayed again.
You know the saying: first time shame on you, second time shame on me.
As a counselor working with couples recovering from sexual betrayal, I see this every day.
He gets angry and indignant–for once he actually wasn’t looking at pornography, and she gets upset. He begins to think, “Fine, why bother trying if I’m going to get in trouble anyway.”
Yes, it is frustrating–but that is a cop out.
The husband in these situations feels like his wife is doing this intentionally to punish him. He thinks that all she has to do is not think about it all the time and she will be fine.
“We were having a perfectly good evening until she got triggered by…” If I had a nickel for every time I heard the statement, I could retire in the Bahamas tomorrow.
“Why Can’t My Wife Just Get Over It?”
Let me share the other side of the story with you. Her side of the story. It isn’t as cut and dry as you think it is. This is what the wives in my office have taught me. Whenever I share this–their eyes get big, and they shout, “That’s it! You nailed it!”
First, let’s start with the obvious. Because she has likely caught her husband looking at porn on several occasions, she is hyper-vigilant. Trust has been demolished so he loses all benefit of the doubt–even if she really wants to believe that he isn’t looking at this stuff anymore.
It is safer to assume that he is looking at porn since he has lied so much in the past. This is a way of protecting herself from being caught off guard again–from being devastated all over again.
Wives that I work with describe these thoughts as “invasive,” “tormenting,” and “I can’t turn it off.” Once that trip wire is hit, she reexperiences some of the fear, pain, and anger from past betrayals.
Reexperiencing something is different from recalling something. I have worked with a lot of guys who fought in the Gulf Wars. They reexperience a lot of the horrors from over there when they recall certain events.
They would love to “turn it off” or “just choose not to think about it.”
How to Respond When Your Wife Reexperiences the Betrayal Pain
So what do you do when your wife’s trip wire goes off, and she is convinced that you are looking at porn all the time?
Here are a few steps that have really helped the guys I work with. Take a deep breath and have a bite of humble pie:
Acknowledge that you have given her a good reason to suspect that you are looking at pornography. (This is not pleading guilty). She can’t trust your words, so affirm that her fears are based on what you have done. This will end a lot of these arguments really quickly.
Do not argue with her. You are not going to convince her of your innocence by telling how you are a grown man and deserve to be trusted. Telling her that she is paranoid or crazy will only add fuel to the fire.
Genuinely apologize for lying to her and hurting her in the past when it comes to looking at porn. Check your ego at the door–this ain’t easy.
This will help her brain downshift from panic and anger, to fear and hurt. This one alone can save you hours of bickering.
Wives, Tips for When Your Betrayal Pain is Fresh
Accept that you are afraid to trust anything he says. That doesn’t mean that he is always lying–it means he is like a politician to you. You never know what to trust.
Own your fear and pain. The anger that screams you need to protect yourself, or shutting down to protect yourself from being hurt again are based in reality. That doesn’t mean you can say and do whatever you want when you are triggered. Tell him that it truly feels like he is hiding something–and that this sets off all of the alarms.
Accept that you will not be able to police his behavior. You can’t keep him from looking, or catch him every time he does. Accept the risk–you are choosing to risk staying in a relationship with someone you love, who hurt you, and could hurt you again. From that place, ask him for what you need to feel safe: access to his phone, computer, tablet, emails, etc. To not check these when you are trying to enjoy time together as a couple or family. Asking tends to work much better than demanding.
With time as you both are able to respond to each other in these ways, these triggers die down. It is really hard to do when the pain is fresh–so try to give her some extra grace for a while.
The brain is a funny organ. Using these strategies gives you proven tools you can use to get off the “crazy train” where everyone is coming unglued. Give them a shot, then leave a comment below to let me know how it went.