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Rebuild Your Marriage 12 minute read

10 Ways You Can Help Your Husband Leave Porn Behind

Last Updated: April 20, 2023

I often have wives ask me what they can do to help their husband recover from porn or sexual addiction. Every time I hear this question my heart sinks a little because I fear if she is asking this question her priorities might be off base.

It isn’t that there aren’t things a wife can do to give her husband some added motivation to recover. But…

  • If she is asking this question, chances are she is more concerned with her husband than herself.
  • If she’s asking this question, chances are that she is believing the lie that his porn use has something to do with her and that if she just does the right thing she can make him stop.
  • If she is asking this question, chances are she is willing to neglect her own needs in order to meet his.

The problem with this is that if the wife’s focus is on how she can help her husband, she is most likely already hurting his recovery more than anything else.

Let me start by saying, if your desire is to help your husband with his porn struggle, your heart is probably in the right place. I love to see wives who can find compassion for their husband’s battle with lust.

But the mistake I see too many women in this situation is that she cushions his fall. This is how she hurts his recovery. If a wife prevents her husband from “hitting rock bottom” his chances of real recovery are diminished.

I will outline ten steps below that will hopefully help you and your husband find healing from the damage porn has caused in your lives.

1. Recognize his recovery is his responsibility, not yours.

Your number one job is to take care of yourself. You cannot and should not be his support system or cheerleader through this.

If you do everything right he still may fail. If an addict does not want to stop, he won’t succeed. The pull an addiction has over a person is unfathomable to a person who has not dealt with a real addiction.

Many say that porn is the most powerful addiction and the most difficult to overcome. I am inclined to agree.

Your husband may place blame on you by saying he doesn’t get enough sex, you aren’t adventurous enough in bed, you need to lose weight or any other number of excuses. Don’t fall for it.

How do I know this? Because if you do all those things he says he needs, he still won’t stop. He’ll come up with new excuses. The problem was there before he ever met you. By blaming yourself, you are putting a burden upon yourself that is too great to carry.

2. Educate yourself about sex addiction and recovery.

Knowledge really can be power, but be careful about what you read online. A good start is Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers.

Learning about porn can help you see how it is not about you and can help you make sense of a lot of things in your marriage. Learning about what recovery should look like can help you develop a list of boundaries for your husband. The cornerstones of recovery are counseling, group support (such as a 12-step program like Sexaholics Anonymous), and accountability.

Again, none of this matters if your husband doesn’t want it and is just checking the boxes without putting his heart in it.

3. Communicate your needs clearly.

Tell your husband in advance you have something important to talk to him about and ask him when would be a good time. Give him two or three choices such as, “When would be best for you, today or tomorrow?” This may be done with a counselor present. In fact, I suggest you sit down with a counselor to prepare for this discussion.

I also encourage you to write your needs down so you don’t leave anything out. Be prepared to stay calm and stand firm (you have probably already learned that nagging, begging, pleading, and raging don’t work). List your needs from your husband in terms of his addictive behaviors.

Then turn these needs into boundaries with consequences. Get straight to the point and use as few words as possible. You do not need to go into long explanations for why you have these needs. By now, you’ve probably already talked until you are blue in the face about how upset you are and why. This conversation is different and he should be able to tell that.

After you have created your list of boundaries, then create consequences you will implement if boundaries are not followed. Your boundaries should include the following, at a minimum:

  • Porn use must cease immediately.
  • Filters such as Covenant Eyes should be installed on all devices (by you or a trusted accountability partner).
  • Weekly counseling must begin as well as weekly support groups for people struggling with porn/sexual compulsions.
  • Some spouses also insist that a couple’s intensive with disclosure and polygraph be done to help her feel sure there are no more secrets and that they both have the tools needed to move forward in the right direction.
  • Create a time frame for your boundaries, giving a date by which each need must be met.

Then list the consequence that will occur if the time passes. If you take nothing else away from this article, please don’t forget this: Boundaries must have consequences and consequences must be followed through with. So, do not set boundaries you are not prepared to enforce. Your husband will likely try to push the limits by testing you. Assume that you will have to act on your consequences. Consequences can include…

  • Sleeping in separate rooms.
  • Complete in-house separation.
  • Out-of-house separation.

Consequences should be related to the behavior and should not create a mother/son dynamic in the marriage.

While most wives don’t do this, it can be easy for some to get a little proud here and begin to see themselves as holier or more worthy than their husband. We are all sinners.

Your consequences should be based on your needs for physical and emotional safety, not on punishment. If your husband looks up porn on his phone after agreeing not to, an appropriate consequence would be that all Internet is blocked on his phone (this is usually possible) or that he downgrades to a “dumb phone.” An inappropriate consequence would be that he must sell his new golf clubs.

A caveat: While it is not healthy to withhold sex as a punishment in marriage, it is also unhealthy to force yourself to have sex with your husband if he doesn’t feel like a safe person. A good rule of thumb: Listen to your body. Don’t give in to sex with your husband if you are not relaxed and comfortable with him.

4. Don’t isolate yourself.

When you are going through the feelings of betrayal and lack of self-worth that come with your husband’s porn use it can be tempting to shut out the rest of the world. This can be because of your shame related to his behavior or because of a lack of motivation that accompanies depression. It can be because you feel no one will understand what you are going through.

Finding others who have been through something similar is priceless and I encourage you to seek this out. But a person doesn’t have to understand in order to offer support and be a shoulder to cry on. As long as this person is trustworthy and will respect your communicated need not to offer advice unless you ask, set down your pride, and take a risk by reaching out.

A combination of personal, pastoral, and professional support is ideal. Listen to your gut. If you feel your pain or your concerns are being minimized, or if you feel you are being pressured to hurry up and get over it, that person might not be the right support for you. Move on to someone else.

5. Don’t put your husband in the place of God.

This is very easy to do and I think all of us are guilty of it. Who are we looking to first for comfort? People will let us down, especially our spouse, and especially when he might also be going through the most difficult time in his life. If we allow our mood to be based solely on our husband’s actions and moods, we’ll be a wreck.

I get that this is much easier said than done. Of course, we are influenced by our spouse’s moods and choices. They are our partner in life, the person we vowed to share the rest of our life with. Life coach Kathy Reynolds states, “How the partner of a sex addict responds to her husband is a direct reflection of what he is doing in recovery.” I also observe this to be the case a lot, if not most, of the time. Sometimes our reactions can feel out of our control.

But by making a daily choice to put God first, by starting our day in His Word and with prayer, we are placing our faith in a much more reliable source and will find healing occurring more quickly.

By not isolating from other people or from God, and by not expecting our husband to be our sole support system, we take some of the burden off him. This leaves him more space for his personal recovery. This does not change the fact that you will still need continued patience and care from your husband. He just shouldn’t be your only source of support.

6. Let him see your pain.

While it’s important to reach out to others for support, it’s equally important that you not hide your grief from your husband. He needs to see and hear how he has hurt you. You should be able to express your feelings to your husband and receive validation and support in response.

As the cause of your pain, he should be patient, humble, and empathetic toward you. Sadly, this may not be something your husband is willing or able to offer. In fact, his counselor or accountability partners may be actively discouraging him from offering you support. If this is happening discuss how to handle it with your own counselor. Hopefully, this will improve in time, and he will develop more empathy through recovery.

The book Worthy of Her Trust by Jason Martinkus is a phenomenal resource for men in this situation and can be very validating for you as well. If you find you feel worse instead of better when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your husband, then “detaching” (as discussed in Your Sexually Addicted Spouse by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means) can be your best option.

7. Give yourself grace.

You will screw up, over and over. You may lose your temper. You may rage. You may behave in ways that are completely out of character for you. You may neglect responsibilities, your kids, your friends. Every time, take a deep breath, say a prayer, forgive yourself, and start over. You’ll also probably cry a lot, feel tired more often, forget things, lose things, have less patience, and have a general feeling of living in a fog. This is normal. This is not your fault.

When you are tired, sleep. When you need to cry, go to your room, shut the door, and let it all out. Cry out to God. Take opportunities when no one is home, or in your car, to really let your emotions go. It feels good and it’s healthy, no matter how crazy you may feel.

Take long baths. Get a pedicure. Take time off work if you can. Have your parents take the kids for an evening or a week. Go to lunch with girlfriends.

Give yourself extra time to get things done. And who cares if your house is clean. If you can afford it, hire someone to help you clean your house or keep up with the lawn. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about this. If not, take family or friends up on offers to help out.

Go to your church. They may have programs where people volunteer to clean someone’s house or prepare meals for people who are sick, grieving, or have just had a baby. Ask if you qualify for this kind of assistance. You don’t have to share details of what is going on. If you are finding yourself dealing with out of control violence, an inability to carry out day to day responsibilities, or are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, visit your doctor. There is no shame in taking medication to help you through this time if you need it.

8. Allow your husband time for recovery activities.

Once he has committed to counseling, 12 step meetings, accountability, etc. you will both learn how time-consuming recovery can be. Many wives become frustrated by this. You have a right to feel upset as you did nothing to cause this and are in so many ways having to suffer the consequences.

However, discouraging your husband to do these things could hurt his recovery success. Take these opportunities, when your husband is away or doing recovery work at home, to do things for yourself if you can.

If you both are becoming overwhelmed see what you can remove from your plate and again, ask for help from others. It can help for you and your husband to work through creating a schedule and plan with a counselor, so you know when he’ll be gone (and where he’ll be) and he’ll know what you need from him when he is at home. It is fair and reasonable for you to expect your husband to be a fully contributing member of the household. Don’t forget you both need downtime though.

9. Set realistic expectations.

It is fair and rational to expect no pornography (make sure you are both on the same page as to what constitutes pornography), no inappropriate conversations with others, and no inappropriate touch with others, at a minimum.

But recognize that he will struggle. Don’t demand that he never have another lustful thought or feel physical attraction toward someone other than you. While it is hurtful that your husband struggles with lust toward other people, it is unrealistic to expect this to never happen.

Don’t demand that he share with you every single thought he has.

Accept that he will make mistakes (although some mistakes may be deal-breakers).

Do expect to be informed of what he is doing for recovery and how he is doing in recovery. Do expect to be informed of any slips or relapses. Read this article I wrote for more information on what is realistic to expect in terms of your husband’s recovery.

10. Be willing to walk.

Perhaps most important of all, your husband must believe you will leave. If you cushion his fall with reassurances such as, “It will be okay,” or “I’ll always be here for you,” you make his acting out so much easier. None of this should be easy for him.

Unfortunately, some men won’t ever stop long term if he doesn’t think you’ll ever really leave. This is so unfair to you, but it is true. If your husband is being resistant to recovery, begin to prepare for the worst-case scenario by saving money (you may need to get a job), talking to a lawyer, and getting used to the idea that you may have to be on your own. This is called tough love. Anything less than being willing to leave if he doesn’t take recovery seriously is enabling (helping, assisting) your husband to continue in a miserable life of sin. The most unloving thing you can do is help your husband continue to act out by not setting firm boundaries and following through on them.

Again, let me reiterate, do not make empty threats. If you are not in a place to leave then don’t threaten it. Prepare yourself first. Your husband may become defensive at this boundary and accuse you of setting an ultimatum. If he questions whether that is what you are doing be clear by calmly telling him, “Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.” This may be short term separation to give him an opportunity to prove himself to you, or it may ultimately end in divorce.

Steven Gola, author of Divorce: God’s Will?, states,

When we are faced with the decision of either saving the institution or saving the people in the institution, the institution must go. And when we are faced with the decision of saving a marriage, or the people of the marriage, the marriage must go.

The hope, of course, is for the fear of losing you to be enough to motivate your husband to do what it takes to stop acting out and get help. In time, if he didn’t already realize it, he’ll learn how much his sin was hurting him personally and will no longer do recovery for you, but for himself.

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  1. Betty

    My husband and I have been married for over 30 years–before porn became so easy to access on the Internet. Early on there were signs he was looking at pictures periodically (magazines), later rented movies, and in the past few years, the Internet. We’ve had repeated confrontations with him acknowledging that he had a problem, and he did see a counselor. However, this counselor told him that if he wasn’t watching porn that often, he wasn’t really addicted. He claims that over the past year he’s “fallen” just a few times, but as your article confirms, I’m unable to believe anything he tells me anymore, because he has lied to my face repeatedly, only to confess he’s watched it when pressed. For a year, he agreed to remove his personal laptop, and that may have helped reduce his intake. But he asked for it back a few months ago to use to manage some investments. I knew it would be a matter of time before he’d be back to watching porn again and hated leaving him alone in the house. I have taken steps toward self-protection, trying to steel myself emotionally against further pain, telling myself this is between him and God. But I haven’t yet moved toward separate bedrooms, etc. I love my husband, and I know he loves me. I want to protect his reputation with our friends and family. We have two adult children who count on us to be strong in our faith. For their sakes, I want to keep this issue from them, because I fear it would damage their own faith journey. So I am limited in the kind of “consequences” I can impose on my husband and our marriage if he continues. What I hear you saying, Ella, is that I may need to accept the fact that he will struggle with this the rest of our married life. We are both nearing 70. Thanks for your work.

  2. Very nice article for husbands how to stop them watching porn.

  3. Kay

    I have read your article and appreciate it. However, I would like some guidance on the following… my husband views porn from time to time, not constantly. We have fought over it, cried over it, I’ve explained how it makes me feel devalued, disrespected, etc. He has told me it has nothing to do with me, I’m great, he does it to relieve stress, he does it when I turn him down (middle of the day with kiddo wide awake, or some other inopportune time). Last time we spoke about this subject, he said he couldn’t promise to never look again, be he would try to be better. Fast forward a few months and he’s looking again, ugh! Now he says it’s not infidelity since it’s just himself, he wants me to see it from his side… work stresses, not having as much sex as he would like, etc. I told him there are many ways to relieve stress and nothing is going to happen (like an illness or lose an appendage) if he doesn’t masterbate and waits until we can “come together” in our marriage bed. New thinks that I should look at his phone. He recently said that a marriage doesnt work without trust, and I show that I dont trust him by looking at his phone. He isn’t real repentant bc he doesnt see it as a terribly bad thing “since it’s not with anybody else”. We have two different views. I dont want a divorce over this, but it doesnt seem high on his list of things to change, I cant change it for him, I cant “get over it” and accept it, I dont want to keep having cylindrical conversations about it. I just dont know what MY next steps should be (in either repairing or moving on). I love my husband and what we have together…its so sad to think that something like this can be the potential demise of our family and marriage.

    • Kay Bruner

      It is so sad to think that something he claims isn’t a big deal is something he’s willing to sacrifice his relationship for. Really sad. You can’t force someone else to change. You can only make healthy choices for yourself. The truth is, a lot of women meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress in situations like this. If he won’t take responsibility for how his choices impact you, that puts you in a tough spot.

      Here, and here are some more articles on boundaries that might be helpful as you think this through.

      You might also appreciate the online resources at Bloom for Women, which are trauma-informed.

      Peace to you,
      Kay

  4. i found pictures of half-naked girls on my husbands phone two and a half years ago and went into a deep depression for about a year. I confronted him, but he says they are forwards and he deletes them. I lost 40 lbs in 8 months. I started taking anti-depressants but started gaining weight faster than I lost it, so I stopped. Once again I have fallen into my anxiety and depression. I refuse to socialize like I used to. My daughter says that I have come to neglect them (they are older, but they see the change in me. They have gotten to the point where they refuse to talk to me about this subject.
    He constantly hides his phone at the same hours every day and on the weekends. I have confronted him and have even gotten into screaming fights with him. All he says is that I am crazy, sick and I need help. My daughter, too, says that I have an issue (she has never been married) I am tired of feeling neglected and alone. His constant phone time has gotten between our marriage and sometimes I just want to leave! He refuses to admit that he is constantly looking at girls. I have even told him that he has a sexual obsession, but he denies it. I am constantly watching him and hovering over him and he knows it. I don’t know how much longer I can go on….I feel so alone. Other than that, he is the best husband in the world and gives me everything I want, but he does not understand that that does not make me happy. I need a husband present!!

  5. My husband has struggled with porn since he was a child. We have been married 18 years and separated briefly 3 times over this. He goes to meetings a lot, has been to LOTS of therapy, but every time he gets caught he tells me that he is going to meetings and talking to his guys. I am pretty sure he is doing it again, and dont know what to do next. He has Covenant Eyes and a dumb phone.

    • Kay Bruner

      Hi Kate,

      I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve been in for so long. I guess I’d ask myself: is this okay with me? Is this what I want? Here, here, and here are some articles that might help as you process these questions. I’d also recommend therapy, just for you, so you can have a safe place to process your emotions and consider your boundaries. You would probably also appreciate the online resources at Bloom for Women, where they take a trauma-informed approach for spouses in marriage betrayal. You can’t control him and his choices, but you can choose your own health and well being.

      Peace,
      Kay

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