Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written a marvelous book called Boundaries in Marriage. They define a boundary simply as “a property line” between one person and another. They make this statement:
“When two people together take responsibility to do what is best for the marriage, love can grow. When they do not, one takes on too much responsibility and resents it; the other does not take on enough, and becomes self-centered or controlling.”
That, I think, is a dynamic that so many couples dealing with a pornography addiction can understand. The addict is addicted, and the spouse takes responsibility to “fix” and help.
Now, there’s no shame in trying to fix things. Fixing and helping is what happens when you’ve got a problem in the family. That’s normal. I did it. My friends do it. Every wife I’ve worked with in therapy does it.
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the fixing and helping actually fix or help anything.
It just leaves everybody feeling frustrated, exhausted, discouraged, and stuck.
The Boundaries Way
When fixing and helping don’t work, there is another way: boundaries. But boundaries are a total paradigm shift, and it takes time for us to be motivated enough—usually by extreme pain—to stop fixing and helping, and get some boundaries in place.
With boundaries, we draw a line between “me” and “you.” We differentiate. Instead of all living in the same lump of a problem, trying to fix it and help it, we step back and breathe a little. Then we start to see what belongs to you, and what belongs to me. We each have God-given freedom and responsibility. We each acknowledge this and make new choices accordingly.
God has given me a free will, and I receive it. With that gift of freedom comes responsibility, and I embrace my own choices, behaviors, and emotions.
God has given my husband a free will, and I allow it. With my husband’s freedom comes his own responsibility, and I allow him to have that as well. Even if he chooses not to take responsibility for his choices, behaviors, and emotions, I won’t carry it for him. It’s his to do with as he chooses.
That sounds simple, but when I talk about this process with women, they often feel scared. They’re afraid their husbands will do terrible things if they stop fixing and helping. What’s more, they feel guilty about considering their own needs and wants. They are sure that boundaries are selfish, mean, unloving, and just too scary.
It is true that, with boundaries, my husband makes choices for himself, and those choices are not always what I want. He says no to my preferences sometimes. That’s hard, and I have to learn to trust that God will be with me, even when I am scared and disappointed and hurt and angry. God will carry me through.
God is my God, not my husband.
It is also true that, with boundaries, I make choices for myself, and those choices are not always what my husband wants. There are times when I just say no. I have had to learn to trust that the he will be okay, even if I disappoint him. The way I respect him in that situation is by letting him feel how he feels.
- He might be mad or hurt or disappointed or scared. God will have to carry him through.
- If he tries to push the responsibility for his emotions onto me, by verbal put-downs or angry outbursts, I will remove myself from the situation so that he and God can be alone together and work it out.
God is his God, not me.
Here is another thing that I’ve found. When I am first very clear and honest about what I feel and what I need and what I want, I can then make a real choice. I can choose what I want, or I can make a choice that is not exactly what I want, out of sacrificial love for the other person. When I choose to give, it’s a real gift.
When I am not clear and honest about what I feel and what I want, then I will spend a whole lot of my time giving other people what I think they want, hoping that they will in return spend an equal amount of energy giving me what I want.
That’s a “sacrifice” for the purpose of manipulation. And while that might masquerade as love, it’s just control with lipstick on it.
God’s love for us is a sacrificial love, not a controlling love. He loves us, and He lets us choose whether or not to be in a close relationship with Him. I think of the parable of the prodigal son. The Father’s love never wavered, but he let that kid go into the far country and live in a pigsty until he was ready to come home. I don’t think that was a fun time for anybody, but it speaks to me when I think about how freedom and responsibility and love and boundaries all work together.
Here are some example boundaries from Boundaries in Marriage, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Verbal boundaries might sound something like this: Physical boundaries might comprise: Emotional boundaries could include: I wish I could tell you that having good boundaries will for sure fix your life into exactly what you want it to be, right now, today. But the truth is, real boundaries are a risky thing. We don’t know what the other person will choose. The truth is, life is scary and it hurts and sometimes I get mad and I wish I could control it and manipulate it and fix it and tie it up in a pretty pink bow. But in my saner moments I know this: I will choose freedom and responsibility, and an honest mess of love that hurts over the fake-perfection of pretend, every time. Because when we hold onto our boundaries, and battle through with God’s help, there is real love and real relationship and real freedom waiting at the end of the road. So every day, I try to do these things. This is a joyous and life-giving way to exist in every area of life. Also, it is messy and painful and challenging. And God is enough, even for this.
Here are some example boundaries from Boundaries in Marriage, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Verbal boundaries might sound something like this:
Physical boundaries might comprise:
Emotional boundaries could include:
I wish I could tell you that having good boundaries will for sure fix your life into exactly what you want it to be, right now, today. But the truth is, real boundaries are a risky thing. We don’t know what the other person will choose. The truth is, life is scary and it hurts and sometimes I get mad and I wish I could control it and manipulate it and fix it and tie it up in a pretty pink bow.
But in my saner moments I know this: I will choose freedom and responsibility, and an honest mess of love that hurts over the fake-perfection of pretend, every time. Because when we hold onto our boundaries, and battle through with God’s help, there is real love and real relationship and real freedom waiting at the end of the road.
So every day, I try to do these things.
This is a joyous and life-giving way to exist in every area of life.
Also, it is messy and painful and challenging. And God is enough, even for this.
This article is really excellent! Thank you. What it stated was an encouragement to me and a help in keeping the right perspective.
Hey Emma Joy, I think boundaries are tough to maintain, so if this helps you, I’m so glad! Blessings on your journey!
My husband has been addicted to porn since he was 12. We have been married for 4 years now and each year he has been trying to quit this addiction. He has an accountability partner, he has put software on his phone, he prays, fasts, etc. He does well for a good period of time and relapses again when stressed or life gets tough. This last time he was doing so well. Then I could see that his behavior began changing-selfishness, isolated, spiritually distant, less sex. I knew he had relapsed. This time has been more devastating because we are just starting to do ministry together. I’m tired and angry.I have not necessarily tried to “fix it”-now I’m almost ignoring it but it’s impossible to ignore when his behavior is so different. He always keeps trying. I was told if he is actively trying you should never separate. I read your article and I appreciate the information, it’s helpful. But, what if you have a husband who confess and keeps trying. Yet, he keeps relapsing. I really don’t know what to do.
I would encourage you to read our blog post: Building Trust Despite His Relapses. You will also be able to download our ebook “Hope After Porn.” Blessings!
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.
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!
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.
Yeah, Katy, to just let it be. That is SO hard. And so powerful! Stand strong.
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.
Setting boundaries can be really difficult… I’ve been married for 8 years and we have four wonderful kids together.Found out my husband has been seeing this widow since 2017 which was when she lost her husband.I felt hurt and betrayed because he doesn’t feel remorse for his action and the more I talk about it,he only goes deeper into the relationship, which hurts me even more.I have set boundaries severally but seems not to be working because he is less bothered by whatever I do.I have decided to just let go of him from my heart and allow him decide what he really wants,at this point i seem to be ready to just walk alone with the kids until God touches his heart and brings his heart back to us someday.Though he comes back home everyday except for days he claims to travel which in most cases are just excuses to spend longer time with her, his always with his phone and always wants to be alone even when he is home.so much for setting boundaries, lol.
Boundaries are really about you. What’s okay with you, what’s not okay with you. Hopefully the other person is committed to the relationship and cares about you, so they’ll respond to your needs.
However, this does not appear to be the case with your husband. You state what’s not okay with you, and he continues in this full blown relationship with another woman.
There is no religious institution I know of that would suggest this marriage is even a marriage anymore. He has broken his vows completely.
Here’s an article that might help: A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce.
Divorce is the ultimate boundary, the final acceptance of reality.
You might want to find a therapist to help you sort through this. Just for you, not a couple’s counselor
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!
This is my life right now. I would like to know how you are getting along now. I need encouragement.
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
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?
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.
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
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
I cannot tell you how much this article means, it is as if God sent it especially in my way. Thank you!!
I’m so glad, Betsy! Blessings to you, Kay
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
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
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.
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.
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.
My advice is do not marry him! Why put yourself in such a high risk situation for heartbreak and unhappiness? Get out, you still can and look for a better guy.
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.
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
Thank you for this article. I have been trying to find the answer to a couple of questions I have now that my husband had admitted to a 5-year pornography addiction. Shouldn’t the husband work on his addiction recovery before the marriage relationship – I feel I need to see commitment to a change and action not just words before I want to invest time in trying to salvage the marriage. Also, when and how much information should be told to the kids who are in college and high school?
Yes, I completely agree with you that the husband should work on his addiction recovery before marriage counseling is possible. Too often, if marriage counseling comes first, “saving the Marriage” is the focus when I think it needs to be on personal responsibility and healing for both partners. The husband has a lot of work to do, and the wife does too–although it’s a completely different kind of work.
What I would suggest for wives is that they find a therapist for themselves, someone who can help them process their emotions and work on healthy boundaries, no matter what the husband chooses. The online resources at Bloom for Women are really excellent for helping wives cope with the trauma of betrayal.
I think kids in college and high school should have all the information about what’s going on in the family. They don’t need details, but they need facts. If dad is looking at porn and it’s threatening the family, they need to know that, in my opinion.
Peace to you,
Kay – I have been in a monogamous relationship for 15 years but about two years ago I felt a great uneasiness in my spirit about our relationship. I started finding pictures of naked women on his computer and pdf’s of live dating websites. A few months ago he called me at work and obviously thought he was voice texting someone else in a very seductive voice. He immediately called me back and said that it wasn’t him, which I clearly knew it was. He claims not to even remember now. Meanwhile, I have found several sites that he is on and posting very lewd messages about how he is masturbating to many women on these sites (please excuse my blunt reference). He continues to deny everything and calls me a sneak for getting into his phone. He tells me I’m crazy and I need to stop snooping but every time he thinks things have calmed down, more of the same things come out. I even tried to accept that he liked porn but he is taking it to a very dangerous level and won’t admit anything! It has gotten to where he sleeps during the day and stays up all night. He hasn’t slept in our bed in several years but blames it on me (snoring, etc). I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the gist of what’s going on. I have struggled mightily with self esteem, depression and self loathing through all of this. I am the primary bread winner in our household and there is also evidence of drug abuse. He has wrecked every car we own, has lost customers over his inability to be responsible and still refused to admit any issue. He tells me I’m a prude when I confront him. I have been returning to my relationship with the Lord, which he also wants nothing to do with. I have left the home recently and come back and just not sure what to do next.
You know the truth. His denial, blaming, and “not remembering” are all part of a gaslighting routine. He doesn’t want to face the truth, and he doesn’t want you to do it either, because let’s face it, he has a sweet gig going on here. He can break his marriage vows as much as he wants, keep a free ride with whatever he wants to do, as long as you don’t fully face the truth, and set some boundaries around this.
You are NOT required to be a slave to his sin. If he wants to be a slave to that sin, that’s his choice, but you don’t have to live in this mess with him.
Here and here are a couple more articles on boundaries.
Whatever he chooses, YOU can choose to live free and clear of his mess. He has broken his vows, and you get to decide what that means for you. Your freedom, your boundaries, your choice.
Peace and a healthy life to you,
How long should boundaries stay in place? In my case I feel like some of them should stay in place forever – like safe search on the computer and no tablet/phone when alone in the bedroom. My husband feels like I should just completely trust him because it’s been around a year now. Admittedly, I do not fully trust him still and don’t know if I will ever be able to. I also feel like it is better to have boundaries to help keep the temptations away. He was honest with me when we started dating that he used to look at porn, but had decided it wasn’t good for him and had stopped a little bit before we got together. He still had issues with watching movies, tv shows, etc that had nudity or very sexual things in them, but would say that it was fine because it wasn’t actually porn. This part of his life he was not willing to change and it kept getting worse until he was right back into everything unbeknownst to me. Until 11 years and 4 kids later I found out because I stumbled across something he had accidentally forgot to delete and my daughter was on his tablet next to me and I saw it. When confronted he denied, lied, and got mad, then grabbed his tablet and went through everything he had and deleted everything he thought he already had. Later he begrudgingly admitted that he “just stumbled on something innocent” and it led to more and worse stuff and he couldn’t stop. Then when work got bad it was his release and even though he “wanted” to he could’t stop, and it was “to hard” trying to be with me because the kids were always around. He also admitted that he did and kept it all at work for the majority of those years so I would never find out, but within the last few years it was hard for him to do it at work anymore so he was “forced” to do it at home. All the while completely checking out on our marriage and our kids. He said he had no idea we almost never having sex anymore and that he was getting angry at the kids all the time and not playing with them. I wish I had clearly saw the signs and pushed harder with him when I felt things were off throughout the years. I knew porn was bad but never knew how bad and addicting porn could be and that it would be with him forever. He has made a promise to never do it again and has been “clean” (so he says), for a year now. Do I believe it? I don’t know. Have things in our relationship and with the children gotten better? Yes. Should I continue to stay after such a betrayal? I still question that everyday. Has the pain eased and the crying stopped? Not even close. Will he do it again? I can’t help but think yes. He promised me he wouldn’t when we got together, he promised me again by marrying me, then again when we later got sealed together as a family in the temple at our church, and after the repeated assurances he wasn’t doing anything when I asked/suspected something throughout the years while we were married. Why should I believe that this promise is real when the others weren’t?
Thank you for being open and honest with your struggles. I would encourage you to read our blog post “A Letter to Wives After the Betrayal of Pornography.” Praise God for hope and healing, even amidst severe trials.
Married for 31 yrs and lets just say it took a good 20 yrs to finally be at peace with who I am. 10 yrs ago I found out that my husband was going to cheating websites and porn. It was very hard for me to take. I lost myself but thanks to the Lord found myself again. I made a decision and let God do the rest with my husband. God and I had our own work to do so things became so great but recently I see he has mingled a little back to those sites. Nothing like close to before yet its not acceptable to me. I prayed and gave it time but realize its now affecting my desire to be with him. I prayed and had the talk about how I felt and why I am so distant sexually with him. He didn’t say a word and is more or less ignoring me and that is ok. I will give him time to think about what I said. Just remember don’t let go of who you are so as not to rock the boat. I tried that in the past and lost me and my relationship and trust in the Lord. I stand true to myself and not afraid or embarrassed to be me and stand strong to my truths. I will give it a week and if he refuses to discuss what I shared with him then I will bring it up again and ask that he give me his response to the conversation. Quiet time is good for soul searching and I respect that but too much time could lead to sweeping it under the rug and never being dealt with and that isn’t healthy either. I don’t want to divorce and if he can’t understand my position I will be as this article is about placing boundaries until the Lord gives him the understanding I will not veer from what I know in my heart is not healthy or right for a marriage to succeed. I trust God in leading us both in the right direction and for truth and honesty.
It sounds like you’re in a good place of knowing what is okay and not okay with you.
As you wait for your husband’s response, you might appreciate this article as well.
Peace be with you in this journey,
My husband is addicted to porn. After what I thought was a period of him doing really well, I discovered that he had been looking at porn and lying to me for 6 months.
Since this has come to the light, he is extremely repentant, has made an appointment with a counselor, and is meeting with men from our church. After trying to “fix it” for months (years!) on his own and obviously failing, I am proud of him for opening up to some men he respects about this and for seeking healing. I am finally opening up to some women about it as well.
We have tried to set some boundaries, but I’m struggling to navigate them. At this point, we’ve been in different rooms for over a week. I’d like to have a stated end to this separation, but I don’t know when that can or should be. I don’t trust him, but I do see him taking steps to rebuild trust. We want to take things slow, but I’m terrified that having sex with him again will be a failure or “giving in” on my part and will lead to a lack of motivation in him. I don’t know how to meaningfully introduce intimacy back into our relationship. Any advice or relevant experience?
Wait until you are ready to have sex, and WANT to have sex. Wait until the relationship is intimate before your bodies are intimate. Here’s an article about rebuilding trust that might help as you process when or if you are ready for sex. You don’t owe him sex. Your body is your own, and you decide when you want to have sex.
I hope that helps,
If a person masturbates while viewing porn, which by the way is the whole purpose of looking at porn, the person is having sex outside the marriage covenant. And that is adultery, and yes it is biblical grounds for divorce. But that is not a mandate either. The question you have to ask yourself, is staying with your spouse worth the price you are paying.
thank you for your ministry and to allow your life to be a testimony to others who face the same struggles. i pray we all be victorious with His Word and His grace and mercy🙏🏻
Thank you for offering assistance/freedom through helping us understand & navigate boundaries. I’m in week 2 of finally just not being okay with the emotional abuse and displacement of his secret addiction (however mild or occasional) as well as hidden anger onto me. I haven’t even brought up the porn addiction to him since my final boundary was crossed 2 weeks ago. I’ve been just watching myself & leaning into God. The last time we discussed porn was about a month ago when I asked him and he said he had looked twice that week. A spiritual authority supposedly spoke with him a week ago and right after he tried to put it all back on me “I’m sorry you were not feeling cherished.” I held my ground and just said “this isn’t about me”. He continues in the shame cycle which is really a challenge to navigate except by God’s grace sustaining me through the day. My question is, at is there a good time or any profit to bringing it up myself and just engaging in some sort of like “so are you ever gonna like acknowledge this?” He has not been in any way repentant, even after a Christian authority talked with him, and he is openly lying and okay downplaying it’s hold in his life. I can only work on myself and have no voice or influence into his growth. However, he is punishing me continually because he knows he’s been found out. I finally realize I have been hurt and there are lot of things I’m now having to process when I look back and see all the lies and deception. I feel really sick. I want to just grieve and I also know God is so good to me but it’s really hard to feel hope when the accountability he’s now apparently going to go to isn’t even trained in this type of sin/issue and I highly doubt he’ll ever actually admit the truth when he is so adamant in his lies. I’m just really sad, even if there’s a lot of beauty and love God’s doing in my heart.
I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through. It’s truly heart breaking. And I’m so grateful for your strength and courage, to look reality in the face and see what’s really going on.
I think you can set the boundaries you need to set, based on the reality that you know, with or without a conversation with him. Lack of repentance, lying, downplaying: these are all signs that he is not willing or able to do the work that needs to be done, and based on that reality, you set the boundaries that need to be set. You might appreciate this article, called A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce. You’r enot required to be a slave to your husband’s sin. Ever.
It seems really normal to be sad and devastated and also able to see that you’re going to be okay, no matter what.
You might appreciate the online resources at Bloom for Women. And a therapist, just for you, might be good, to help you process emotions and set the right boundaries for yourself.
Peace to you