3 minute read

Betrayal Trauma: The Side of Porn Use No One Talks About

Last Updated: June 21, 2021

Kevin Skinner

Dr. Kevin Skinner is the co-founder of Bloom, an online company that provides support and learning for women struggling with betrayal trauma. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Skinner has been helping individuals and families for over 18 years. He's authored the best-selling book Treating Pornography Addiction and created multiple audio series regarding pornography addiction and relationship intimacy. Dr. Skinner is also the co-founder and Clinical Director of Addo Recovery, a clinic dedicated to treating individuals struggling with betrayal trauma and pornography or sexual addiction.

My new client had just sat down when I asked how I could help. She told me, “I recently discovered my husband has been viewing pornography behind my back. I found out he has been doing this for most of our marriage.”

I gently asked, “How is that influencing you?”

She responded, “I can’t sleep, I can hardly eat, and I can’t think about anything else. I think I am going crazy.”

“What you are experiencing is normal. You aren’t going crazy,” I said. “What you are experiencing is trauma related to discovering your partner’s use of pornography.”

After conducting research for more than ten years and with more than 3,000 individuals, I can confidently say trauma is very common in women and men who discover their partner’s secret sexual behaviors.

In the early 2000’s, there was very little research on this topic. In fact, many therapists were using the codependency model to treat these individuals. However, that wasn’t matching up with what I was experiencing in my clinic. Many women were just discovering that their partner had been using pornography for years without their knowledge. They had felt something was wrong in their relationship, but didn’t know what.

In 2005, in an effort to understand the effects pornography has on relationships, I co-authored an assessment “Trauma Inventory for Partners of Sex Addicts” (TIPSA). The women and men who took this assessment began telling the real story. Many of these individuals are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms. What does this mean exactly? The following symptoms are very common:

  • Indescribable fear
  • Reliving the experience (dreams, replaying the discovery over and over)
  • Avoidance (not being able to go out in public or be around things that remind you of what your spouse has done)
  • Negative self-cognition (I am not good enough or he/she wouldn’t do this. If I were prettier, taller, more attractive, lost weight, she/he wouldn’t do this.)
  • Increased emotional arousal (intense anger, yelling, sleep problems related to racing mind, anxiety, suicidal thoughts)

When I share this information with my clients and teach this in educational classes, inevitably women say, “Why isn’t this being talked about more? I really thought I was going crazy.” My response is that we are now just starting to see the powerful and long lasting effects of betrayal trauma. The symptoms are real and individuals suffering from this type of betrayal should be understood and treated using a trauma model.

If you are suffering from your spouse’s hidden use of pornography, there is help and support. You are not alone and you aren’t going crazy. What you are experiencing is betrayal trauma. I offer a free assessment you can take to help identify your symptoms.

Support Resources for Betrayal Trauma

If you are suffering from betrayal trauma, please reach out. In my research, I have discovered that most women wait for months or years to get help. They feel like others will judge them so they suffer in silence. You don’t have to deal with this alone.

Online Support

Bloom–the world’s largest online support for betrayal trauma. This online support for women offers a support forum where you can receive support from others who understand what you are going through, educational classes on betrayal trauma, question and answer sessions with professional therapists, yoga classes, and much more.

12-Step Groups

COSA–a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior.

Specialist in Your Area

SexHelp.com–If you want a therapist who understands sexual addiction, you will want to find a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT). All CSAT’s have more than 150 hours of training in treating sexual addiction and betrayal trauma.

APSATS–The Association for Partner’s of Sexual Addicts Trauma Specialists. This group certifies therapists who specialize in treating betrayal trauma.

In conclusion, if you are experiencing extreme pain from your partner’s hidden sexual behaviors, you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals suffering from untreated betrayal trauma. So please reach out for support. There is help available and people who understand what you are going through. Although you may feel like you are going crazy, what you are experiencing is real. It is called betrayal trauma.

  • Comments on: Betrayal Trauma: The Side of Porn Use No One Talks About
    1. korinne on

      Dr Skinner, You rock! Thanks for being an advocate for women in trauma.

      Reply
    2. Laura on

      I am so glad to see Dr. Skinner as a resource on Covenant Eyes! His knowledge and resources are helping me tremendously.

      Reply
    3. Kit on

      How does a spouse deal with C-PTSD from the betrayals that continue after full disclosure? This has been extremely difficult for me, especially when I’ve tried very hard to work toward rebuilding a relationship. The slips/relapses can be devastating to our mental and physical health. I truly believe the only way for spouses to begin healing is to remove themselves from the relationship and keep watch on ‘recovery’ from a distance. The damage these repeated negative behaviors cause cannot be sugar coated. It’s a quality of life issue.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Kit. If you feel like separation is what you need, then separate. The level of trauma varies from person to person, and recovery must always be attuned to the traumatized person.

        I think that one of the key issues as you make that decision is the level of emotional trust the addicted spouse is able to demonstrate. If the addict is able to listen to the spouse, to be present emotionally without shaming, blaming, projecting, etc.–then I think you can work on the relationship as a part of the recovery. BUT–if the addict isn’t able to be emotionally trustworthy, then it probably is best to separate.

        Certainly, highly traumatized spouses should feel free to separate for their own recovery, and they should feel free to divorce if the level of trauma is too great for the relationship to be restored. I think the spouse always has the choice, as the victim of the addict, whether to resume a relationship or not.

        Peace, Kay

      • Glennis Darby on

        I agree with you

    4. Carol on

      May 31, 2015 was our 35th wedding anniversary, AND the day I discovered thousands of pages of porn history that my husband had forgotten to delete. He consequently admitted that this has been going on most of our married life, even while he was in ministry. As well, he had joined several dating sites, claiming to be single. He has been working at sobriety, although I have not seen visible signs of remorse. We have Covenant Eyes on our electronics, but I wonder what would happen if that control wasn’t in place as there have been several instances of him dishonouring me. Now that our anniversary is approaching, the trauma is repeating itself intensely, with shaking & crying when I even think about celebrating. What do we do? HE has something to celebrate as I have kept my marriage vows, but to me that day now represents broken vows & memories if our marriage having been defiled. Thank you for any input.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Carol, it sounds to me like you need to find a counselor who can help you process the trauma of this discovery. Many, many times we find that women meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in situations like this, and almost as often, receive very little help. All the resources and energy get poured into the husband’s recovery (and he does need to recover!) but wives are often neglected. The symptoms you’re describing suggest to me that this may be the case for you. Please find a counselor who can help you! A support group would also be a good resource for you. Peace, Kay

    5. rosie on

      can you explain what the codependency model is that was previously used?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        I’d suggest doing a little internet research on codependency. You can start at Wikipedia.

    6. Wren on

      Dear Carol,
      I am so sorry. I pray that the Lord Jesus will comfort you as only HE can do.
      I ask you PLEASE get tested for STD’s including HIV. I understand this can be embarrassing, but it is critical for YOU!! It may be in your town your local Health Dept. can do this without you having to give your name. Either way please do it right away because of your husband’s lies you really don’t know the extent to which he has acted out.
      As to whether you separate or divorce please take that to God. While others may mean well they are not in the position to tell you what to do, especially if they only “know” you through a post on the Internet.
      I pray you can find a good counselor for your own mental/emotional health & please think hard about being intimate with your husband (physically) because again you don’t know the extent of his acting out yet. You must take care of yourself. And Carol you are not responsible for HIS recovery! Sadly you may here that statement but its not true. Only your husband is responsible for his recovery. And Carol your husband is probably very good at getting around filters. I hope you will consider for your own safety & security in YOUR home get rid of the computer or you be the one to have control of it. If he is serious about recovery then he will be more than glad to have you take control of the computer. You can use a login & password that only you have assess too, that way only you can unlock the computer if a family member needs to use it. And if you need to get rid of any type of computer/ipad, etc right now then do it! Its important for you now to establish some healthy boundaries that will make you feel safe/secure in your home. Also if he has a phone w/the Internet then insist he get a “burner” phone that only will allow him to make calls & send texts. No internet access. Again if he’s serious he would be more than willing to do this step, for him & for you.
      Please take good care of yourself. “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse” by Marsha Means is a great resource. Also “An Affair of the Mind”. Others out there are not so good. As for your hubby “Worthy of Her Trust” is great for him to read. If you both are at a point you are interested in going to an intensive I can recommend those that include both the husband & wife. Programs that separate spouses are generally not helpful & costly. If you can “I don’t Love You Anymore” by Dr. David Clarke is an excellent resource. He also does an intensive in Florida. You can reach out & contact him by email He only charges his normal rate for counseling & the MAIN focus will be your husband’s sexual sin. That approach is so different from many counselors who sadly want to work on “marital issues”. While there may be other marital issues down the road to address right now the MAIN ONE is your husband’s sexual sin! Also Dr. Rob Jackson in Memphis TN uses this approach as well. You can google to get more info on him. Other programs I have researched were lacking.
      I hope these resource will help to empower you & hopefully get the healing you need & the marriage if you chose to stay in the marriage. Most of all Carol through this pain, and I know this may be hard to believe but the Lord Jesus wants to draw you closer to HIm & will do so if you allow. HE will always be Faithful to you, never Leave You & will be Your Sustainer (the One Who Takes Care of You).

      Reply
    7. Meagan on

      It has been very disheartening for me to realize how few support avenues there are for someone who has no financial resources. All of the counselors I’ve emailed, all of the online supports, are all very expensive. It leaves me feeling like I’m left to deal with this alone.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Meagan, I wonder if you have seen Bloom? It’s $15/month, I believe, and has forums, classes, and a lot of other resources for recovery. Perhaps that might be an affordable option for you. Peace to you, Kay

      • Bob Jones on

        Meagan, do you have health insurance? If so, there are many therapists who take health insurance, and just require a $25 copay. I have one such counselor, and he is Christian based and trained in sex addiction.

      • Karen Noyce on

        Hi Meagan,
        This is late in coming, but might help someone. I have found healing through the free phone-in meetings offered by Healing Through Christ. They have many meeting options on their website, healingthroughchrist.org. They also have free phone-in meetings for the addicts, as well. It is targeted to a Christian audience, but is very hopeful and has helped me learn the tools I need to heal and deal with my life.

        Prayers for you and your healing!

        Karen

    8. Dr. Harry Schaumburg on

      I’ve treated men with sexual addiction for over 30 years. If you are treating a married man for porn addiction, or any form of sexual sin, unfaithfulness, the wife IS in pain. Its as obvious as it gets! In fact, I find counselors erroring on the side of focusing on treating the pain more that the addiction, which is bizarre, as it than prolongs the pain. Therefore, couples should be treated conjointly, but few counselors have that training. Splitting a coulple up (given the pain) borders on malpractice.

      Reply
    9. Barbara on

      My husband has not only been using pornography he is abusive. He yells at me, smashed two of MY computers, shakes his fist at me, throws objects, threatened suicide if I leave, tells me My reality is wrong, tells me to get over the trauma. He attends one 12 step meeting a week and believes he is cured but he will not allow me to share my feelings or talk about my triggers. He denies having any triggers and now has sexual anorexia. He refuses to have open and honest communication with me. I am afraid of him as I never know when he will go into a rage.
      I now have an in house separation as I have no where to go. In my province in Canada if one person wants a separation then they can choose to do so without any legal documentation.
      I cannot see us reconciling as he refuses to look at his family of origin issues, learn about betrayal trauma or meet with a sponsor. He totally lacks compassion for me and refuses to offer any comfort when I try to talk about my pain.
      I believe when there is an ongoing cycle of abuse along with the trauma then there is a necessity for separation and possibly divorce.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Barbara, you are describing abuse. God does not ever, ever require you to be abused. I’m glad Canada makes it easy for you to leave an abusive spouse. I hope you will be safe while doing so. Peace, Kay

    10. Mary Ann on

      My boyfriend of two years has been lying to me about his porn use. He told me early on about his struggle with porn addiction but I did not realize how much it would affect me…boy, has it. I have caught him lying to me multiple times and when confronted, he lies more or shuts down entirely. Since the last time I caught him, he reinstalled CE and said he would rejoin faith-based recovery. However, he has not followed through on recovery and is not active in it but I know it’s not my job to nag him.

      Recently I found out he’s looking at porn on an old cell phone. I have a feeling he will lie if confronted, as he has done this every time so far. I have not wanted to face it, but it seems like he is not ready to give recovery an honest shot. He has lied and I do not know if I can trust him. I know this and yet I feel stuck. Any advice?

      Mary Ann

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey there.

        It’s time to think about boundaries. He’s lying to you, and when he’s caught, he doubles down and lies some more. He makes promises that he doesn’t keep. Of course you don’t trust him: he isn’t trustworthy. Under no circumstances should you trust him, until he has proven that he is worthy of your trust, by trustworthy behavior over time. He has shown you very clearly what his priorities are, and how he intends to live his life. Is this okay with you? Is this the life you want?

        Those questions of what is okay and not okay with you make up the basis of good boundaries. Here, here, and here are some articles that will help as you think about where your boundaries need to be. These are from a marriage perspective, but I think they will be helpful.

        Peace,
        Kay

    11. Kara on

      I came across my husbands porn addiction or What started off as porn addiction, when I read his text message to a transvestite escort three days ago. And the text message was on Mother’s Day At 10 am around our family. To go meet up so my husband could give him anal. What the hell. He says he never has seen any escorts but it’s escalating to happen. He’s been messaging them for years in waves! One he gave out his drivers license, work business card (covered the home and work locations… moron) to be activated for this other escorts services. She was a almost 70 year old lady when I checked her page out. He talks like he knows the lingo but swears he hasn’t pulled the trigger. He will go as far as emailing/texting about their availability and then chickens out he says. At this point I’m assuming he’s paid for these services but I don’t have proof. He’s staying with his parents, he’s depressed, throwing up and not eating, not sleeping, can’t focus since I caught him. He’s said he’s wanted to stop and started praying about it the weeks prior to me finding out. But also after a week or so he gives in to his urges. Pays porn sites of girls on only fans. So is my husband a porn addict going towards sexy addict or are the terms the same? I need help I’m completely consumed 24/7 with this now. I feel that now his secret was found out, I cannot tell anyone (besides my family) what I’m going through. It’s as if he handed over his dirty life secret for me to ingest, lock down inside me. I’m hurting badly! I feel intense waves or rage. I can’t eat, can’t sleep, have emotional breakdowns 24/7, panic attack. Cannot parent at all. I have no motivation to even dress my toddler for the day. I hate him. I have no grace for him right now. We have a toddler and my HS son from another relationship. And I’m sitting here alone inside out “home” while he has our son for the weekend with his parents. I don’t Answer phone calls/text to friends bcs I cannot tell anyone. This is so depressing I hurt so bad inside I have no language to express the pain. He’s going to start a 12 step program, he set up an appointment with me to also attend with a sex counselor for addicts next week. I’m glad for him and it’s healthy but I also feel like this addiction is my addiction now. I too need help now.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey Kara,

        I am so, so sorry for the pain you are going through. It sounds like your husband has a lot of sorting out to do, and I hope he will do it. It’s his job, let him do that work for himself.

        I am really glad to hear that you recognize your own need for help. The symptoms you describe are unfortunately so normal for betrayed spouses. You absolutely do need help and support for those. Your pain is real, your trauma is real, and there is real help for you. The best place I know for healing the trauma of betrayal is Bloom for Women, an online support system that is trauma-informed for spouses. For a small subscription fee, there are support forums, online classes, and all sorts of healing resources for you.

        You can also look into a personal therapist for yourself, someone who works from a trauma-informed perspective.

        I hope your husband does his work, but whatever he chooses, you can absolutely choose health and wholeness for yourself.

        Peace,
        Kay

    12. Mel on

      So I’ve been going threw this with my partner for about ten years now catching him masturbating to Porn with me literally in the next room bathroom to be exact on a vacation, I had asked him to join me in the shower and stepped out of the shower catching him master bating to porn this is not the first time and it’s driving me crazy , he makes me feel empty inside at times so in raged I just don’t know what to do it consumes me all I think about is what he’s doing if he’s lieing to me I don’t know what to do anymore I have talked to him about how I feel about it and he says he will stop but I always catch him in the act

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hey there.

        Sounds like it’s time to consider your boundaries. Here, here, and here are some articles that you may find helpful. You can’t change his behavior but you can decide what is okay and not okay for you.

        You’ll find great support for yourself at Bloom for Women as well. Fantastic online resources that will help you navigate through this.

        Peace to you,
        Kay

      • NaTasha on

        That’s not for you to decide. Sounds like another attempt to shift the blame. How dare you discredit anyone’s feeling’s!! I’m sure what you experienced was horrific and for that I’m sorry, but you nor anyone else gets to decide what hurt’s and what doesn’t. Just because you have different experiences, doesn’t take away the pain. Your experience was painful and that is yours you on that but what somebody else’s experiencing as the most traumatic thing in their life just because it’s not as traumatic of what happened to you doesn’t mean it’s not the same for them.
        I’m sick and tired of men hurting women and getting a free pass. You’ll never know how broken I am, I have absolutely lost the will to go on. I’m begging God at this point to take my life, anything to stop the pain, embarrassment and shame. I really believed that I was his girl, I was seriously so stupid thinking I was more than enough for him.
        I’m frantically comparing myself to others. I can get plastic surgery, I can gain or lose weight, I can be more relaxed and fun but I can’t be a 19 year old or in my 20s. I’m very beautiful and look ten year’s younger than I am. But I think he loves the thought of a fresh one.
        After having his children and worshipping the ground he walks on I’m still not enough. He has destroyed me, I’ve allowed this to continue. He was sorry at first… All an act. But now he’s terrible and telling me he should care and feel bad but doesn’t.
        That I either get over it or leave, I’m not allowed to speak of it.
        He laughed in my face as he repeated ” What are you going to do about it… Huh!!?” and laughed
        And exactly… What am I going to do?? Nothing I’m trapped and without a car, phone or money. He’s probably aroused at that thought alone. He’s control’s my everything and has demoralized my life.
        I’m begging for the end.

    13. CMan on

      I find it so insulting that anyone would suggest someone gets PTSD from their husband watching porn. Are you guys nuts? As someone who actually has PTSD, this makes me angry. You guys don’t know what it’s like to deal with an illness like that, so please don’t make light of it like this. Just because your guy finds women attractive, which btw, is a VERY NORMAL thing, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. In my opinion there is a big difference between wanking off and having an actual affair.

      I understand it can be extremely upsetting, you have trust issues with your husband/boyfriend, etc. but to say it’s PTSD is extremely insulting.

      Reply
      • HK on

        PTSD is a set of symptoms. If they have the symptoms, then they have the disorder. You’re not a professional to diagnose or disprove a diagnosis.
        The trauma they’re talking about here is resulting from the betrayal of trust. You’re not the one who decides what counts and what doesn’t. The person who has had their trust broken does.
        Is porn as bad as an affair? That’s also up to each individual to decide. Some people don’t mind their spouse watching porn. That’s great! You know what’s the difference? Those couples talk about it beforehand. They discuss boundaries and actually respect them. They make promises and keep them.
        To me you just sound like someone who wants to whine about their pain while invalidating others’. I hope you invest more of your time healing from your PSTD instead of feeling insulted by other people’s personal stories.

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