4 minute read

In Case of a Porn Relapse

Last Updated: June 22, 2022

Joe Dallas
Joe Dallas

Joe Dallas is the Program Director of Genesis Counseling. He is also the author of several books, including, The Game Plan: The Men's 30-Day Strategy for Attaining Sexual Integrity. He is a pastoral counselor and a popular conference speaker. For more than three years Joe taught and conducted the nationally recognized Every Man’s Battle conference as the originating Program Director, and from 1991 to 1993, he served as the President of Exodus International. Joe and his wife Renee reside in Orange County, California, with their two sons.

“Great effort is required to arrest decay and restore vigor.” –Horace

“Relapse” means “deterioration after a period of improvement.” It’s an enemy to avoid in addiction recovery, and a porn relapse can make life hard if it happens.

But in the long run, people who successfully stay off porn aren’t necessarily those who never relapsed. Rather, they’re people who knew how to handle their porn relapse after it happened, then got back in the saddle, and prevented it from happening again.

Anytime you make changes for the better, you risk relapse. Anyone who’s ever dieted, quit smoking, or given up a bad habit can confirm this. To strive for something better is to risk going back to old ways, since we’re creatures who are inclined to deeply ingrained patterns.

We default back to what is familiar, a sad fact especially true of the person who has turned away from porn and is striving to stay on course. That person should accept the fact that there will be temptation from day one to relapse. And that means he or she needs a relapse contingency.

Remember: Relapse Is Always Possible, Never Inevitable.

A relapse contingency is by no means a statement that you plan to relapse. Although porn relapses or setbacks are common, they are not inevitable. So a relapse contingency isn’t a way of giving yourself permission to relapse. It’s what you put in place because of what could happen, not what will happen.

In the New Testament, John said something along these lines when he wrote, “My little children, these things I write to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

Notice the wording: “I write to you so that you may not sin.” He’s saying, “Don’t sin. You don’t have to. I’m writing to help you avoid it. But if you do sin, there’s hope, so don’t give up.”

So no, you don’t have to return to using porn, and you should, in fact, presume you won’t. But if you do, here are some steps you can take immediately.

3 Vital Steps in a Porn Relapse Plan

1. Notify an ally of your relapse.

Decide now who you’d call in the event of a relapse. In most cases an ally–someone you regularly talk and pray with who holds you accountable to your commitment to purity–is your best bet. A trusted friend, pastor or mentor will do as well. What matters is that you decide in advance who to call in case of relapse.

Tell him what happened, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. There’s power in that, maybe more than you realize. What gets brought out into the open gets dealt with. What is kept in the dark stays uncorrected.

2. Identify what went wrong.

With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong. I think most relapses aren’t mysteries. They frequently happen because people slacked off on the basics–prayer time, reading the Word, accountability, fellowship–but there can be other reasons.

Spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again. Human error is a terrific textbook, so you may as well use it.

These articles will be helpful in assessing what happened:

3. Get back on track!

Get back on track immediately. This means confessing the sin in prayer and holding tight to John’s promise in I John 1:9 that when we confess, He cleanses and forgives.

It also means taking the needed steps to help prevent it from happening again, and trying to learn from the relapse.

Then move it. You’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief over a relapse, and there’s no reason to delay beginning again. Because if you refuse to start moving, you’re likely to yield to something more severe, which is despair. Sexual sin you can repent of. But despair? Give in to that, and you’re really finished.

You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect anything valuable. Recognizing its worth, you’ll work hard to keep it, and to reject anything which threatens it.

  • Comments on: In Case of a Porn Relapse
      • NISK

        What about confessing to your wife?

    1. Stevie

      Yes, ALWAYS tell your spouse. Don’t ever hide anything from them. This is the same as lying and deception is harder to heal from than the actual relapse itself with the wife.

      • Dan

        No, don’t always tell your spouse.
        It is good if you can and should be the goal but get counseling to know how and when to address it. Now, if only talking relapse notification this should not even apply because that should have already been addressed and that plan of action in place. If you don’t have that plan of action you’ll need good wisdom to have best results.

      • Allie

        So true

    2. Bob Jones

      I slipped again and viewed Porn after 41 days of sobriety yesterday. For the past year or so, I have slipped maybe once every month or two. I am in great despair and anguish, because I hate what this is doing to me and to my family, and I hate porn with all of my heart, but it seems I cannot stop. It seems impossible to let go of the shame and despair. I am only prolonging reunion with my wife and daughter (legally separated) through my slips. God help me.

      I want to tell my wife but because of this separation we are taking a hiatus from communicating from each other so that we can both focus on our own healing. But part of me wants to cry out and beg for forgiveness from my wife who once again I have defiled by looking at pornography.

      Will I ever be able to be free of the slavery of this addiction?

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Bob – I can hear the anguish in your typed words. But, do you hate it enough? Consider this tirade from a man who spoke at a men’s retreat. Which device is causing the issue? Get rid of it. Or get rid of them. Your wife might not be ready. Maybe telling her is more for you and not in consideration of her. Maybe find someone else. Even if you’re not Catholic, go to the sacrament of confession and cry out to the priest, if that’s more comfortable. Most Christians find that they struggle with an issue over and over. Phillip Yancey said, “Many Christians have one issue that haunts them and never goes silent.” I heard someone else say, “What you fight, fights you.” Both are proving exceedingly true in my own life, and it sounds like the same is true for you. Don’t let the thing that tailgates you, derail you. Pick yourself back up and start again. Fall down seven times but get up eight (Japanese proverb).

        God is for you, Bob. So am I.
        Chris

      • Bob Jones

        Thank you Chris for your kind and helpful words. I am a Christian (but not Catholic), and I do have a confession father. I will read your article you linked.

        I am back to re-read the above article because I slipped again yesterday, after 59 days of sobriety. Thanks be to God, this slip did not go as far as last time. Progress, by God’s great grace, but slipping to me is still unacceptable, and a heavy sin against my Savior.

        That said, I still struggle with despair and shame, even after repenting to my confession father.

        I suppose I have fallen 263,487 times, and have gotten up 263,488 times…

        To go through the three steps outlined in the article:
        1. Notify. I did that successfully.
        2. Identify. I got lazy, and worst of all, over-confident in my OWN strength (of which I have none), and I gave in to a small temptation, which lead to another, and another…
        3. Move it. I am trying. But the self-loathing is very strong with me, and the anger at myself for once again impeding reconciliation with my family.

      • My husband is a porn addict and can never admit anything he does that is wrong. The best thing u can do is just be honest tell ur wife just what u said in this post don’t hold back any feelings tell her u want to beg her, but u know it wouldn’t change the situation. But it might let her see how much she means to u. Im sure her self esteem has taken a huge hit. It couldn’t hurt right.

      • Godlove

        Hello bro get in touch with me we can help each other.

    3. I am just now reading this excellent article for the first time. As a partner of a sex addict and a sex addiction counselor, always tell your wife of a relapse if the goal is reconciliation. There may be rare exceptions to this, such as if your wife is in a high risk pregnancy (where you’d postpone confessing) or terminally ill. But in the majority of cases, confessing now is so much better than your wife finding out later. Even if she never finds out, a secret places a gulf of a barrier between the two of you, preventing real intimacy and setting you up for future sin. Secrets give the devil a foothold. Real intimacy in a relationship is about doing what is uncomfortable (or terrifying) now (rigorous honesty), in order to create a space that is more safe and comfortable later.

      • LynnAnn

        Right on! I am a wife and what hurts and destroys the rebuilding of trust is the lies. When my husband immediately told me he slipped, my heart could stay open to him. But when I find out on my own, or ask him because his behavior indicates a possible slip, it makes the whole days, week or month that he didn’t tell me into a lie for me. And then I am back in betrayal trauma and PTSD. For the partner of an addict, that lie feels like complete disregard for me. Going through the deception over and over is what leads me to have to ask myself when is too much pain too much.

    4. Godspeach

      Ella, You hit it spot on!!! Discernment and Discretion are so important. I particularly have been beaten down with the Club of Trickle Truth for 4 of the past almost 6 years. Had my husband told me everything ( sparing me nasty details of course), I wouldn’t be such as mess now and our marriage would’ve been better

      • Kay Bruner

        When you get a fuller picture of reality, it’s good to reexamine your boundaries, taking into account what you now know. Here, here, and here are some articles that may help.

    5. Allison

      I was addicted badly to porn for a long long time. I would cry out to God, and eventually it was one of those things I just didn’t do anymore. I had a couple problems, but they were isolated incidents, and for the past four or five years I’ve been free. I failed twice in a week this week, and I’m afraid it will all come back. It was God’s grace the first time, and I’m afraid I’ll fall back into a bad addiction.

      • I’m not giving up

        It’s going to be ok. God is going to help us through this I believe it. A righteous man falls down several times but he picks himself back up again. We may fall but we don’t have to stay down. We can allow God to pick us back up again no matter how many times we screw up. I messed up twice today. I repented twice. Always repent no matter what and keep doing it. Even if you screw up repent and keep asking God to give you the help and strength you need to turn away from this ugly thing. I’m praying for you all. I’m starting over again.

    6. Steve

      I struggled with porn since age 13. I thought I got free from it after a 3 year battle to deal with the effects of anger, pride and porn. I was free for about 4 years until I fell back into it again. I remarried about a year after those 4 years. I thought I would regain my freedom and did for about 2 years. That was 2 years ago. I go back to it every 6 – 8 weeks. I want to eradicate it from my life. I’ve kept it from my dear wife to the detriment of our marriage. I fear disclosing to her because of all the trauma she has endured in her past. I fear that this will break her and us. How do I tell her that I am a weak man – again – and have hope that our relationship will survive? I am formulating a plan and want to have that all in place prior to disclosing. I was a fool to think that I could gut it out and do it on my own. Comments welcome.

      • Katie

        I know this is weeks after your comment, but PLEASE TELL HER. Everything. Right now. No secrecy. No dishonesty. Sit her down. Tell her you love her and what she means to you, and that’s why YOU are coming to her with this.

        I say this all from a place of very very recent understanding. Literally 2 days ago, I caught my husband in the act – an act that has been reoccurring every 1-4 weeks of our entire marriage. It’s a struggle he’s had for his entire adult life – literally 10 years now. I can’t even begin to describe to you the pain that this addiction has brought me as his wife. But what hurts JUST AS MUCH is the fact that I had to catch him, and that he’s been hiding this secret for years. He never told me, and admitted he wasn’t planning on telling me for another few years. It makes me feel as though he never loved me enough to tell me.

        Now that I know, I am so ready and willing to be his biggest advocate and support. Long story short, tell your wife NOW. Get her on your team with this. You need that ally and that motivation more than you know.

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