This post has been updated as of February 2021.
Many men don’t realize how damaging pornography is to their wives. Most will admit their wives don’t approve of it. However, this is often because they believe their wives simply view it as “dirty.” Women’s reasons for despising pornography go deeper. For them, it’s a devastating attack that reaches down to their very core.
This is what Max discovered when he and his wife Kelly sought counseling because of his pornography use. Although he knew she wouldn’t like it, Max initially thought there was nothing wrong with occasionally viewing porn. For him it was simply a “guy thing” that he did to relax when he was stressed. Most of his friends were into it too, so how could it be wrong. Besides, to him, the women in pornography were mere “images on a computer screen.” How could that be so offensive? As Kelly expressed how deeply hurt she was by Max’s pornography use, he began to realize how damaging it really was to him, to Kelly, and to their marriage.
While porn harms in many ways, here are three particular ways pornography is devastating your wife:
1. They feel deeply hurt and betrayed.
For them, pornography isn’t simply “images on a screen.” They are other women. Thus, pornography use is a form of adultery. When a man chooses to spend time with pornography, he is choosing to spend time with other women.
Furthermore, he is sharing his sexuality with them, a precious gift that must only be shared with his wife. He is giving away something that belongs to his wife. This is no different than having an extramarital affair. Because pornography depicts men sexually exploiting women, a wife might also end up feeling used in her sexual relationship with her husband.
2. They feel ugly and rejected.
Many young wives don’t object to their husbands viewing pornography because they know they can compete with the young women in porn. However, this view changes with time. Naturally, wives get older, but the women in porn stay young. Here is where a husband’s pornography use gets really hurtful.
A wife in her 40’s may see what her husband is viewing in porn and think to herself, “How can I compete? He must think I’m ugly. I’m no longer beautiful or sexually desirable. He would rather be with those young women in porn than with me. He wants to replace me.” This can result in wounded self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and even body image disorders for wives.
3. Trust is broken.
Most wives feel they have an open and honest relationship with their husbands. They believe they can share anything with each other and they have healthy intimacy. This view disintegrates when a wife discovers her husband viewing pornography. She realizes he has a dark secret life that she never knew about. The man she thought she knew thoroughly for years now seems like a total stranger.
This a very deep trust wound. Not only is her ability to trust her husband damaged, but she also realizes her husband may have never trusted her enough to share his struggles with her. Thus, she realizes the trust she thought she had in their relationship never existed. She begins to wonder what other things in their relationship he has lied about. In addition, she often no longer sees him as a good role model for their children. Her whole image of her husband is destroyed.
Steps Toward a Healthy Marriage
For many women, their husbands’ use of pornography is deeply traumatizing. Some even struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Pornography is so damaging that it plays a significant role in over 50% of all divorces. Unfortunately, men never hear this from the mass media. All they hear is that it is “harmless adult entertainment.” I am convinced that if husbands really knew how damaging pornography use is to wives and marriages, they would never want to go near it.
Fortunately, most people and relationships can, and do, heal from the devastation of pornography. It takes time, patience, and commitment to the healing process. Whenever I work with a couple struggling with the effects of pornography, there are three kinds of counseling I offer:
- I work with the husband to successfully overcome his use of pornography.
- I work with the wife to recover from the trauma caused by her husband’s pornography use.
- I work with the couple to heal the damage caused to their relationship because of pornography use.
Many couples claim they simply want to go back to the way things were before their marriage was damaged by pornography. However, this is not what I recommend. Because pornography use and its root causes often predate the marriage, one or both spouses probably were not healthy when they entered the marriage. The goal of counseling is to help them work on individual and marital healing so that they can create a healthy and happy marriage.
While the healing process seemed daunting for Max and Kelly, they still loved each other and were committed to their marriage. As they worked on their individual healing, they were able to develop a new and healthy marital relationship. For the first time, there were no secrets in their relationship. They felt safe with each other and could talk about everything. They felt truly connected and had a healthy level of intimacy. After several months of therapy, they were truly in love with each other and had the marriage they had always wanted. While they wished they never had to go through their ordeal, they could see how God was using it to give them the marriage they had always wanted and the marriage He wanted for them.