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Yes, You Must Confess Your Porn Problem to Your Wife

Last Updated: August 11, 2015

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It takes courage to admit that you’re addicted to porn. Letting your secret out to a friend is a crucial ingredient to freedom, but it is not enough.

Confess your porn problem to your wife

What now? Are going to tell me to strengthen my resolve and make a commitment to stop?

No, I am not going to lay a burden on your shoulders that you can’t carry, because asking a person to stop watching porn, without a full disclosure to their wife, is asking too much.

Huh? I have to tell my wife?

Yes, you do. Secrecy and isolation are what feed an addiction and, even though you have been honest with a friend, if you fail to come clean with your wife, you are still choosing to deceive her. This is a well-worn path to relapse.

Deceive? That is a strong word.

Withholding this kind of information from your wife is the same as lying to her. Your use of porn affects her more than it affects the friend in whom you confided. Most likely she will have suspected that something is amiss and will have asked you if something is wrong. At this point you most likely avoided the question or went on the offensive, finding fault with her.

Your wife knows you. She knows the various looks on your face, she knows when you’re tired and when you’re stressed, and hiding your porn habit is both tiring and stressful. In order to protect your secret, you’ve withdrawn emotionally or you’ve criticized her in an attempt to change the focus from you to her. This is called “crazy making,” because although you have agreed that there is something wrong in the marriage, you have implied that the fault lay with her.

I don’t have to tell her because I’m not addicted.

Are you sure? If you have any doubts take this confidential online test. And even if you are not addicted, hiding your porn habit from your wife is harming your relationship.

“Harming my relationship”? Come on, man. Guys look at porn. It’s just a fact of life.

Compulsive porn use is referred to as an “intimacy disorder,” which is a keenly accurate label. Whatever reason you give yourself for your porn use, relieving stress etc., you are using porn as a way of coping with difficult emotions. You are avoiding some kind of reality by getting the high that porn offers in much the same way that a cocaine addict snorts a line or two to “take off the rough edges.”

In a Cambridge Study, the brains of active porn users were “eerily similar” to those using cocaine as the neurochemical release of dopamine, is identical. Even if you are only using porn once a month, you are still choosing to numb your feelings rather than face them. Whether you are addicted or not is really not the issue, because when we use a behavior like porn or a substance like cocaine to avoid ourselves, we only make our lives harder.

Avoidance doesn’t work. When the high is over, those things remain that initially created the difficult feelings. In every action movie, the hero faces the bad guys—he doesn’t run away; and when you view porn you are running away. Chances are that if you are running away from the difficult feelings inside yourself you are most likely running away from the difficult feelings inside your wife; not hearing her when she is angry or upset or sad. When you can’t sit with yourself, you won’t be able to sit with your wife. That is how it damages your marriage.

In regard to the statement that “all men do it,” I would agree every human is addicted to avoiding reality, but because others “do it” does not make it a good choice for you. In the 1950s smoking was a very common habit for both men and women, but the fact that “everybody did it” did not protect smokers from lung cancer. Avoiding reality is a ubiquitous and destructive trait of being human but there is a way out—a simple yet difficult path. Tell the truth.

You don’t know my wife. She’ll flip out.

Anger and hurt are a natural reaction to being deceived by someone you trust. Remember, the damage is in both the deception and the use of porn, not in the honesty of coming clean. You hurt her every time you view porn, especially after promising to stop. You hurt her each time you withhold the truth from her. Telling her the truth is not hurting her, it is simply confirming that her instincts have been right on target all these years.

Are you suggesting I tell her everything?

Aside from outright deception, the most common mistake husbands make is doing a “staggered disclosure,” which means telling part of the truth. This is another form of lying as you are presenting a partial truth as if it were the whole truth. If you tell a half truth, you will most likely justify this by saying that you are withholding the difficult parts “for her sake.” This is a lie. Your wife cannot begin to walk the path toward forgiveness if you are not willing to come completely clean with what it is she has to forgive.

There are details that your wife does not need to know and this is where you may need professional help. Here is an example of the questions asked on a full disclosure. Details like “I would lie to you and tell you I was checking e-mail when I was really watching porn” and “I watched porn when our kids were watching TV in the next room” are important to confess because they show the depth of your betrayal, of not only her, but of your children. Have you used her computer to view porn? Have you viewed porn on family vacations? How did you hide it from her? Did you delete the history? If she caught you did you deny the full extent of your porn use? All of these forms of deception need to be disclosed to your wife.

We’ve been having problems lately. Now is not the right time.

There is never a right time, and part of the reason you are having a tough time is because you are doing something harmful to your marriage and hiding it from your wife.

Telling my wife will upset the family, and I can’t do that to my kids.

Kids are smart and very permeable. They know something is wrong. They’ve probably said things to you or your wife. Kids absorb the atmosphere in the home and you have been giving them an example to follow of a man who lies to his wife.

Do you want your daughters to marry a man like that? or your sons to follow in your footsteps? They may, unless you give them another example to follow. The fallout of a full disclosure is messy because anger and hurt are untamed emotions, but remember the harm is in the use of porn and the deception, not in the disclosing of it. Secretive porn use is like food poisoning in that the only way to stop the sickness is by vomiting—but vomiting is messy and feels awful, so don’t expect a disclosure to be easy or quick.

I know guys who’ve done what you are suggesting and now they are divorced.

Only 38% of men believe a full disclosure is a good idea at the time of disclosure. This percentage jumps to 93% after 6 months. It is traumatic for a wife to hear the whole truth for the first time, which is why disclosures are best done with the help of a trained addiction professional, but in presenting a disclosure the husband is turning away from a life of lies and turning toward his wife. Your wife may decide to leave you—you can’t control that—but you can choose to do the right thing.

Well, I’m not telling my wife. Period.

Then you are choosing your secretive celluloid lover over your wife and your porn habit will most likely continue. You are choosing an unfulfilling sexual experience over the welfare of your kids and you are teaching them that to be a husband means to lie to his wife.


Mark Makinney has a BA from Stanford and an MDiv from Princeton Seminary. He is ordained as an American Baptist Minister and served as a pastor in the Bay Area in the 1990s. He currently works with Resolve Therapy as a Certified Sexual Addictions Therapist in Arroyo Grande, where he lives with his wife, Rosie and his two boys Sam and Charlie.

  • Comments on: Yes, You Must Confess Your Porn Problem to Your Wife
    1. JJ on

      I would like to offer a respectful dissent. If you must confess your problem, turn to a clergyman, or a trustworthy counselor. Not all information should be shared between a husband and wife. This sort of confession will likely be very hurtful and hard for her to forgive. Even if she is able to forgive, she will be very unlikely to forget it, and memories of it will always bring her pain. Consider, for instance, whether you would like your wife to tell you that she committed adultery. Assume you never caught or suspected her, and that you never would have known otherwise. Unless she is continuing to cheat, would you want to know about such a grievous mistake? You might, you might not. In any case, you would want her to think very hard and long before taking such a step as to confess to you. Although we live in an age where candid communication is supposed to solve all problems, we should think carefully about what is essential to share. Nor should we indulge our wish to expiate our guilt, however profound, if it would threaten the happiness or peace of our wives. Sometimes the most courageous and righteous course is to reform our actions in silence, or with the aid of a clergyman or counselor.

      Reply
    2. Julie on

      Thank you for this article! As a wife who has survived my husband’s 12 year long porn addiction, multiple discoveries, staggered disclosures, I cannot tell you how validating it is to read these words. The ONE thing I have yearned for in my broken heart was that he had once shown me the respect of bringing his problem to me without me needing to “discover” it. He did not, and I am not able to look back on our painful past and hold onto even one moment of knowing that he chose me above his access to porn even once. Men who are reading this post, believe what the author has said. I could have handled any truth. I could not handle his lies. I would have moved mountains to help my husband recover and get the help he needed. Would it have hurt? Absolutely. But no where near the pain I experienced through discovery and staggered disclosure. I would add that one of the fundamental boundary crossing for me was the denial of my right to know the reality of my marriage and make informed decisions to stay or leave. Husbands do not have the right to do as they wish, hide their truths, and keep their wives in the dark and unable to live the lives they have the full right to live. If you are not willing to give your wife full faithfulness, fine. But she has the right to a relationship where her needs and feelings are respected and met. Including her right to be in a totally monogamous relationship.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Thanks for sharing this, Julie. I agree 100% that women need to know what’s going on so they can make healthy decisions for themselves. Amen, sister!

    3. Volpster on

      With all due respect, JJ, that is garbage and it only gives addicts more reason to hide their addiction from their spouses. My wife has told me over and over that she would rather know the truth than imagine what I’m doing behind her back because her imagination always jumps to the worst case scenario.

      JJ, have you honestly asked your wife if she wants to know if you’ve had an affair? Are you assuming that ALL wives feel that same way? You cannot, should not, be speaking for women since you are not one. You are also making an assumption that what works for you, works for everyone which is not true. It didn’t work for me. It won’t work for most.

      I’m a man so I can’t speak for women… but I ASSUME that most women want to know. Heck, I would want to know. What’s the use of a relationship if it’s based on lies? Is that really a relationship? What you’re saying by hiding affairs and porn use from your wife is: “I’m committed to you, I love you… but I’m going to watch other people having violent sex behind your back and I’m going to have affairs once every 5 years because that’s enough time between them that it won’t hurt you.” That’s ridiculous and very few humans, male or female, want to be in a relationship with an unfaithful partner like that. Well, maybe some do…

      The reality is that, when we cheat or watch porn (which is also cheating), we DO hurt our wives. We are lying to them. We told them when we married them, “You are the one for us. We will be faithful. We will be honest. We love you.” Those are words. And when our actions are otherwise, we are lying to them. How is hiding an affair honest? How is hiding porn honest? How is that faithful?

      The problem is that we want our way without the consequences. The consequence of lying to our wives is that they are hurt and they can’t trust us. That is reality. We want to avoid that because it forces us to look at ourselves and honestly evaluate what kind of sick and twisted people we are. We are forced to see ourselves for what we truly are. Selfish, marginal, immature, unfaithful, deceptive and egotistical (yes, I am included I am included in that). Luckily, we have Jesus. And there is hope. But ONLY if we are completely honest with our wives.

      My conscience couldn’t handle hiding an affair from my wife for our entire lives. Can yours?

      Reply
    4. Good Luck on

      While it sounds good in theory to admit things, in reality, she would hold it against you for life and who are we kidding, more than likely she is looking at porn too. All this nonsense about wives being saints is simply that — nonsense. Porn is no big deal. It gets old after a while. What ruins relationships is making a mountain after out of a mole hill. I do get sick and tired of how we delude ourselves about what women do. As a single man, I can tel you right now — many married women are not saints. Don’t give her ammunition to hold something against you for life. Your relationship will not survive and it won’t be the porn that destroys it. It will be the constant guilt trips and her insecurities that do. At the end of the day, that is what it amounts to — her insecurities about herself.

      Reply
    5. Rob on

      JJ… Your comment that “not all information should be shared between a husband and a wife” is something I would have agreed with several years ago. It is also very true that “this sort of confession will likely be very hurtful and hard for her to forgive”. Of course it will be. Why wouldn’t it be? Do you think that hiding this information from her is protecting her in some way? I know that the reason I hid my acting out (use of Internet pornography, objectification of women, and lying to hide it all) was to protect myself, not my wife. If I really wanted to protect my wife, I wouldn’t have acted out in the first place.
      Your post suggests that ignorance is bliss. It isn’t. It’s just ignorance. My hiding and lying was just to avoid the uncomfortable consequences of my actions. It was (and is) a cowardly act and is something I am ashamed to admit that I am guilty of.
      You interestingly propose a situation in your post where you suggest that if the roles were reversed and your wife cheated on you that you wouldn’t want to know. Really? I suggest the only reason you are so confident in this attitude is that you know that this is not a real threat in your marriage. Why? Because you trust your wife. If you didn’t I’m sure you’d have a totally different attitude towards honesty and openness.
      I have come to know that the trust I have in my wife is one of the most valuable gifts I have ever been given. I also realize that my lying and hiding over the past 34 years of our marriage has significantly undermined our chances of having a truly intimate relationship (and I’m not referring to sex here). My wife’s world was rocked to the core when she discovered the truth of my acting out 3 years ago. Was it my acting out that was the most hurtful? NO. It was the fact that I had hid it from her and lied to her for so long. I have come to know that our wives can handle most anything we do as long as we respect them and are honest with them. There is no alternative here. If we are going to be a married couple, there can be no secrets or lies.
      I am now working hard to rebuilding the trust I have lost. It is going to be a long and hard journey, but it is one that I must take. There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with my wife. Until recently these have only been words. No longer. It is a truth I need to live by.

      Reply
    6. Joyce on

      How do you convince a husband that once porn use is discovered, it isn’t over just by saying “Sorry, I’ll never do it again.”

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Well, I don’t think you can convince somebody else if they don’t want to be convinced! Here’s an article you could pass along that might help–maybe! Also, Your Brain on Porn is our most popular free download for men. If he’s willing to read that, it could be helpful. Essentially, though, he has to take responsibility for himself and his recovery. But you’re right, saying “Sorry, I won’t do that any more” is generally not enough! There’s a lot more to it. But he’s got to do it.

        Meanwhile, you have to consider what healthy boundaries will look like for you. Here’s an article on boundaries; Boundaries in Marriage is another important book on the topic; and our free download for women, Hope After Porn, also addresses that issue.

        You’ll probably need support while you decide what’s healthy for you. A personal counselor can help with that, and support groups like S Anon, Pure Desire, Celebrate Recovery, or xxxChurch are a good place to find other women processing through these same issues.

    7. jt on

      Here is what I find funny. We just assume women aren’t looking at porn. Heck they do the most of it but we think they aren’t looking at it. Who are we kidding? Women are looking at it just as much as you are and that wife you are “confessing” to has just as much internet access as you do and she is looking at it too. Website traffic CLEARLY shows this. So, dont go with your tail between your legs to your wife — more than likely she is looking at it too or hell, she may have done it in the past with someone. Either professionally or homemade.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Your interpretation of this article is so odd. When we publish an article targeted to men who look at porn, why do you believe we think women don’t look at porn? We have many articles about this topic. If I wrote an article for women about how to have good sex, would you assume I thought men don’t like to have good sex?

      • jt on

        Oh come on Luke. I am literally looking at your articles. All of them are about the man having the problem and the woman is at home suffering. Translation: men are bad, women are saints. Here is an article I want you to write and I have the title. “Women stop using sex to get what you want and being vain. Stop tempting men at every chance you get. Stop with the endless selfies. Just stop it. Stop saying you are victimized and then turn around taking off your clothes at the drop of a hat”

      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Guess you’re only reading certain articles, then. I’ve already replied to this concern from other commenters (you can read here and here to read the many articles we have that are the opposite of what you’re talking about).

    8. Julie on

      To JT,
      Your arguments that women look at porn too are accurate. Some women do. Just like some men do. But to assert that because some women look at porn excuses the men who do is based on illogic. What is wrong for one is wrong for the other.
      The issue here is what porn does to intimacy. Specifically, it kills it. Lovemaking is replaced by sex in which one or both (in the case of a couple where both partners look at porn) use each others bodies while calling up pornographic images. I don’t know about you, but that’s simply not good enough for me. When my husband makes love to me, I want him to make love TO ME. And I’m sure the husband whose wife is using his body feels the same way.
      There’s also the issue of the covenant of faithfulness and the right to live one’s life within the safe tenants of truth. If either spouse, regardless of gender, looks at porn and hides that fact from his/her spouse, he/she has broken the marriage vow of faithfulness and respect. In other words, the foundation of the marriage has been fractured and yes – both husband and wife are capable of wrecking such havoc on a marriage.
      I am confused as to why you think because a wife can do this it excuses the husbands who do this. Why would one wrong excuse another? Illogical and ripe with addict thinking.

      Reply

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