4 minute read

Your Wife Has Triggers Too

Last Updated: January 31, 2022

Carl Stewart
Carl Stewart

Carl Stewart is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestseller, The Porn Antidote: God’s Secret Weapon for Crushing Porn’s Grip, and Creating the Life and Marriage You Dream Of. Carl is a counselor and coach in an overflowing private practice where he works with men and marriages devastated by pornography and sexual addiction. He has advanced training and supervision in Emotionally Focused Therapy–the most empirically validated marital therapy which is uniquely suited to restoring marriages affected by sexual betrayal. Carl is a speaker at men’s events, marriage retreats, and parenting seminars. Check out Carl Stewart’s website and blog at www.thepornantidote.com.

He picks up his phone to check e-mail, respond to a few texts, and see who’s winning the game.

It’s happened thousands of times before–but this time is different.

He glances up and catches his wife’s eyes. She looks like an angry bull just before it charges.

Now come the accusations: “I know you are looking at one of those filthy porn sites again. After all the damage you’ve caused with that stuff, I knew you wouldn’t quit!”

The defense: “You’re crazy! I can’t even check work e-mail or reply to a text from my boss without being accused of looking at porn again! I’m not going to be treated like a little kid being monitored by ‘mommy.’”

This scenario happens all the time after a wife discovers that her husband has been looking at pornography. Since she discovered it, and that he had been hiding porn for quite some time, she won’t be made a fool of again.

Now she is convinced he is always looking at pornography. Like killing a cockroach, she knows there are a lot more where that one came from–and she is intent on finding them.

Your Wife Has Triggers Too

Maybe it isn’t looking at your phone or tablet. Maybe it is a sex scene on a TV show, a news story about pornography, or another leader caught in a sexual scandal. All of these trigger the pain of finding out her husband has been looking at porn. They trigger the fear of being deceived and betrayed again.

You know the saying: first time shame on you, second time shame on me.

As a counselor working with couples recovering from sexual betrayal, I see this every day.

He gets angry and indignant–for once he actually wasn’t looking at pornography, and she gets upset. He begins to think, “Fine, why bother trying if I’m going to get in trouble anyway.”

Yes, it is frustrating–but that is a cop out.

The husband in these situations feels like his wife is doing this intentionally to punish him. He thinks that all she has to do is not think about it all the time and she will be fine.

“We were having a perfectly good evening until she got triggered by…” If I had a nickel for every time I heard the statement, I could retire in the Bahamas tomorrow.

“Why Can’t My Wife Just Get Over It?”

Let me share the other side of the story with you. Her side of the story. It isn’t as cut and dry as you think it is. This is what the wives in my office have taught me. Whenever I share this–their eyes get big, and they shout, “That’s it! You nailed it!”

First, let’s start with the obvious. Because she has likely caught her husband looking at porn on several occasions, she is hyper-vigilant. Trust has been demolished so he loses all benefit of the doubt–even if she really wants to believe that he isn’t looking at this stuff anymore.

It is safer to assume that he is looking at porn since he has lied so much in the past. This is a way of protecting herself from being caught off guard again–from being devastated all over again.

Wives that I work with describe these thoughts as “invasive,” “tormenting,” and “I can’t turn it off.” Once that trip wire is hit, she reexperiences some of the fear, pain, and anger from past betrayals.

Reexperiencing something is different from recalling something. I have worked with a lot of guys who fought in the Gulf Wars. They reexperience a lot of the horrors from over there when they recall certain events.

They would love to “turn it off” or “just choose not to think about it.”

How to Respond When Your Wife Reexperiences the Betrayal Pain

So what do you do when your wife’s trip wire goes off, and she is convinced that you are looking at porn all the time?

Here are a few steps that have really helped the guys I work with. Take a deep breath and have a bite of humble pie:

Acknowledge that you have given her a good reason to suspect that you are looking at pornography. (This is not pleading guilty). She can’t trust your words, so affirm that her fears are based on what you have done. This will end a lot of these arguments really quickly.

Do not argue with her. You are not going to convince her of your innocence by telling how you are a grown man and deserve to be trusted. Telling her that she is paranoid or crazy will only add fuel to the fire.

Genuinely apologize for lying to her and hurting her in the past when it comes to looking at porn. Check your ego at the door–this ain’t easy.

This will help her brain downshift from panic and anger, to fear and hurt. This one alone can save you hours of bickering.

Wives, Tips for When Your Betrayal Pain is Fresh

Accept that you are afraid to trust anything he says. That doesn’t mean that he is always lying–it means he is like a politician to you. You never know what to trust.

Own your fear and pain. The anger that screams you need to protect yourself, or shutting down to protect yourself from being hurt again are based in reality. That doesn’t mean you can say and do whatever you want when you are triggered. Tell him that it truly feels like he is hiding something–and that this sets off all of the alarms.

Accept that you will not be able to police his behavior. You can’t keep him from looking, or catch him every time he does. Accept the risk–you are choosing to risk staying in a relationship with someone you love, who hurt you, and could hurt you again. From that place, ask him for what you need to feel safe: access to his phone, computer, tablet, emails, etc. To not check these when you are trying to enjoy time together as a couple or family. Asking tends to work much better than demanding.

With time as you both are able to respond to each other in these ways, these triggers die down. It is really hard to do when the pain is fresh–so try to give her some extra grace for a while.

The brain is a funny organ. Using these strategies gives you proven tools you can use to get off the “crazy train” where everyone is coming unglued. Give them a shot, then leave a comment below to let me know how it went.

  • Comments on: Your Wife Has Triggers Too
    1. Wren

      The description of the author states he works with “Emotionally Focused Therapy”. I would hope that therapy includes in the FIRST few sessions the husband writing down a COMPLETE history of his sexual sin & then reading it to his wife w/therapist present.

      Then the wife takes her time in writing out a response to the husbands letter. She has permission to vomit ALL her feelings, emotions, hurt, pain to her husband w/ therapist present.

      Sadly many couples leave therapy frustrated that the MAIN problem (here Porn/Adultery) was not addressed first in therapy. This MUST be done if the couple has a chance at healing. Yes every marriage has problems but when there is a MAJOR SIN that must first be addressed .

      The husband in this article would have benefited from such an approach because he would have a better understanding (hopefully) of ALL the pain he has caused his wife.

      “Worthy of Her Trust” by Jason Martinkus is one of the best resources I recommend. It’s blunt, & written to men who really want to rebuild trust.

    2. Bev

      It’s been almost 2 years since the addiction and years of lies and betrayal were exposed and confessed and we began working on recovery and rebuild our 28+ yr marriage. I chose to stay and forgive and try to honor him. He has done most of the things his accountability partner has suggested. Things have been moving along well with the exception of the Internet accountability. Covenant Eyes is installed on all his devices but not active. He claimed it was because it prevents him access from much of what he needs for work and research and slows down the speed of them. I was ok with scaling it back to unfiltered yet I could review his history. Then he got a new computer thru his work and it was to have all the tough restrictions in place. One day a month or so ago he had problems logging on and the IT guy at work walked him through ways to bypass their restrictions. While I was on a business trip with him, I stepped out of the hotel room to grab us breakfast and returned at the moment when he was “actively” involved with Internet porn. I could see images and his back to me and the door as he was caught off guard and totally embarrassed. It DEVISTATED ME AGAIN! We had just had several great sexual encounters yet that was not enough?! I was only gone for 20 min! WTH? He admitted he had found the way around the protection and had accessed it “a few times over the past week or two”. This betrayal ripped open wounds again that I thought had healed over the past year and half. His sin of viewing in the past led to seeking out women on backpage and other sources which he paid for sex with hundreds of times over the past 10 years. Needless to say, I’m back fighting this demon again and all the thoughts rush back like floods. Especially when he has to travel when I can’t go too. But obviously when I’m with him or not doesn’t stop bad behavior and I fear him fully relapsing and acting out. He swears that won’t happen but how can I trust him? He told his accountability partner but it was too late. The damage has been done and right now he is out of town on business without me for two nights and I’m a wreck. Everything triggers me! I don’t feel the comfort of him doing everything in his power to make me feel secure this time. Something feels off and I’m in a grumpy mood and he knows I’m upset but I’m not getting the assurance I need to trust him. What should I do? When will this nightmare end and I can no longer concern myself with whether he is using porn or acting out with others? I’m drowning in mistrust and fear.

      • Kay Bruner


        It sounds like lots of effort has gone into “stay and forgive and honor him”–but I wonder if there’s been much attention paid to your trauma recovery?

        I would suggest finding a counselor JUST FOR YOU, someone experienced in trauma treatment, someone who can help you process your emotions and decide on healthy boundaries. Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries for you to consider.

        You might also want to find a support group, and there are wonderful resources online at Bloom for Women.

        There’s a great book called The Body Keeps the Score that explains what repeated trauma does to our bodies, and how we can find healing. Highly recommended as you consider where to go from here. Whatever he chooses, the most important thing is that YOU choose to be healthy for YOU.

        Peace to you,

      • Julz

        Leave him. Surely there comes a point….

      • Shirley

        First off I want to say, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR GUT! Any trust he gained he lost again when you walked in on him. With that being said I will say now you can come into reality. I been on this train for 4 years, and in the beginning I trusted him when he said it was not happening anymore and always to discover it was still going on and bigger than I thought it was. my false expectations that came from believing him and that he was following a 12 step recovery that I was under the impression meant full honesty turned out to be “a process” that comes with sex addiction recovery. That process with real expectations is. Expect lies, he is still doing it until he can prove otherwise. Sex addiction recovery is very complicated and unlike any other recovery. I will say neurofeedback, emdr and being diognosed and treatment of ADHD has done wonders in his process. I am still waiting for honesty and support from him but my recovery will not allow me to enable the lies and BS. And yes it is difficult sometimes but it has brought him a little closer to self awareness. Take care of your recovery and it will be opposite for a while and very slowly he will begin to grow down a pure path that will meet you. Unless you give up on the slow process.

    3. J Sophia Poesnecker

      I thank the author for the good advice. Pornography is a great evil deed that has been done. I work to educate people as to the sinfulness of making it, filming it, looking at it and selling it. For sure our Beloved Creator, GOD, Sees us and Knows what we have done and what we are doing now. I ask God humbly to Bless the author.

      • I really do think that if most men understood the deep evil involved in the whole culture of the porn industry,( the torture, mind-control, slavery, drugs, under-aged women/girls, forced, kidnapping, etc.) they would be thoroughly disgusted and see that only Satan can be behind all of it, they would flee from it and HATE it just as the Bible says to “hate evil you who love the Lord.” We wives and mothers HATE it. Its such a no-brainer, but my own husband STILL cannot understand why it hurts so bad. I would like to know how you educate people like you mentioned because I have a deep burden to do this also.

    4. A tormented wife

      Well I did all this and he claimed complete freedom from this addiction for 5 years. Covenant eyes on all devices but he found a loophole, Facebook had videos of borderline pornographic content he would view almost daily (God led me to his Facebook activity log)…that paired with life must’ve triggered the 4 hour relapse that he knew would show up on my covenant eyes report the week of Thanksgiving..but selfishly he didn’t care. Worst part, I was 20 weeks pregnant at the time with our 3rd boy. Fast forward, baby is 7 weeks old..husband seeking some help but I’m just now coming to terms with the depth of the fact our entire relationship, over 10 years has been plagued with lies. I love him, Jesus died so I could forgive him and have the strength to get through this, but him acting like it’s a nuisance when I get triggered or emotional isn’t fair. I hate this addiction. I have 3 boys with this man, this has to stop. I don’t trust a word he says and despise that I can’t just enjoy my last baby without worry and fear. That he stole my joy and all I can do is fake a smile for everyone and try to stay afloat 😔

      • Kay Bruner

        I’m so sorry for the pain you’re enduring. I would encourage you to find a therapist just for you, who can help you process this pain and work on healthy boundaries. Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries. You will also really appreciate the excellent online resources at Bloom for Women. No matter what your husband chooses, you can choose to be healthy and whole.

    5. Moll

      It’s been six months since I discovered my husband of six years’ porn addiction, along with his searches for old crushes and money hiding. The first few months after the discovery were terrible, I just wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay with him. Between the crushing blow to my self esteem, constant anxiety over his lying to me, and burning anger, I just didn’t know if I would ever be able to move past it. It seems like everything triggered me, from half-naked girls in beer commercials to watching his eyes dart back and forth at restaurants at young ladies sitting behind and around us. He says he didn’t know the porn would make me so upset or he wouldn’t have done it, and I feel like he was being kind of honest about that (he hid it from me and lied straight to my face about it, so I know he knew it was wrong and that it would hurt me- now I wonder how much “hurting me” he would be willing to go) because since I caught him I’ve seen nothing to lead me to believe he’s been acting out- I am finally slowing down on checking and rechecking all his online stuff. But the triggers are still there. I can’t sit through a movie where there’s nudity or sex or even sexual references with him. We created some boundaries, “absolutely no porn”, “no looking up women online at all unless they are family members”, “I have full access to everything”, “absolutely no lies about anything no matter what”, “no ogling other women”, “turn off the tv or change the channel is anything makes me uncomfortable”, “No sexual jokes or inuendos at all”, and “any friend that sends porn through social media or email or whatever must be warned to never do that again and cut loose if they continue.” These seem to be working- I feel better than I did last month and hopefully will feel even better next month. I do not have any forgiveness in my heart yet, but I feel like we are on the right track towards rebuilding the trust in our marriage. I’m curious about how long that takes- I know it’s probably different for everyone, but it seems like there would be some standard length of time.

    6. Cindy

      I am so lost right now.
      I found put 7 months ago that my husband of 42 years has been hiding his pornography addiction from me. I’m sick to my stomach, and have this overwhelming anger I Have never experienced EVER in my life. I want to run away , and divorce him. I’m just so lost !

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Cindy,
        I’m so sorry for the pain you’re suffering. As Harriet Lerner says, “Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” What is your anger saying to you? There’s good information in our emotions, things that need to be heard.
        If you haven’t found a therapist just for you, that’s a great way to listen to that anger and any other emotions you’re experiencing. A group is another great resource. And you’ll really appreciate the online resources at Bloom for Women. All great places to get support and consider a healthy way forward.
        Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries that might be helpful as well.
        Peace to you,

      • Meg

        Hi Cindy.
        I’m sorry this has happened to you. This is not your fault. The extra decades of being deceived by the one person you were supposed to be able to trust only compounds your pain. This is something I know from experience.
        The best resource I found was ‘bloomforwomen.com’
        I wish I’d found it years ago. I hope it helps you.

    7. Kim

      After many many incidents, the last one left me devastated. I suspected and questioned, which in the past was enough for him to come clean (partially clean anyway). This time he bold face lied. After many more months of sure-tell behavior, I questioned again. Yes, he had dove to the bottom of that septic tank. Finally he said, “It’s who I am. It’s what I do and I’m going back.” It’s the first honest thing he has said to me.

      So I’m left with the realization that porn is his first love. It is the one thing he will pursue, provide for, and protect to the destruction of his faith, his marriage, his character, and his family.

      Where do I go from here? I don’t want him touching me. He doesn’t understand and acts hurt that I don’t trust him. We live parallel lives.

      • Kay Bruner

        Of course you don’t want him touching you. Of course you don’t trust him. He has clearly stated that he is not trustworthy. He should understand: he is the person who made these choices and these statements!

        I think you examine your boundaries and decide if this is okay with you. Is this the way you want to live your life? Here, here and here are some articles to help you think about that.

        I would also suggest that you find a therapist just for you, someone who can help you process this reality and make healthy choices for yourself. A support group might be a good idea, and there are wonderful online resources at Bloom for Women.

        Unfortunately many of us have been taught to think that no matter what our husbands do, we’re required to remain the victims of those choices, when in fact the Bible is very clear that we are no longer slaves to sin, and that includes the sin of other people, even our husbands. No matter what he chooses, you can choose to be healthy and whole.


    8. Repentant Husband

      Wow! Everyone is a therapist, but not many choose God’s word as their primary guide! I refer to comments-not the article itself.
      I am a husband whose God was gracious enough to ensure I was caught by my wife. I was not simply caught. I actually repented to God and to my wife after a few days, and some guidance from Covenant Eyes and Focus on the Family resources.
      I am currently on day 25 of the 40-day recovery app called Overcome, which is produced by Covenant Eyes. I have not yet experience failure. All my sexual energy is going to my wife. I am not being prideful. Any success is of the Lord. I take my daily lessons and activities seriously, read them twice, and often share with my wife the new insights gained.
      I have Covenant Eyes on device I access, which is known to NOT be perfect if someone seeks loopholes. My Pastor is my accountability ally, and we now meet for 2 hours each week for accountability review and a Bible study. I recently purged YouTube and some games I played. Games themselves were OK, and therapeutic, but they had seductive or straight out indecent ads that would pop up. Some even looked geared toward kids, but had sensual themes. YouTube was my place for documentaries, fail videos, and gun stuff.
      The Overcome program strongly warns not to simply purge, but to replace with GOOD. I have my new studies with Pastor and wife. I am going to start a regular workout program with a new friend who is a strong Christian ( also my Pastor). I am learing ukulele, and playing old board games with our son. I replaced games on my smartphone with cheesy LCD screen handheld games of Yahtzee and Solitaire (no internet access and no ads).
      I am dedicated to overcoming this sin because:
      1. I love the Lord and want to please Him.
      2. I love my wife and want to bless her, and never cause her to feel betrayed or insecure ever again.
      3. I knew something about the industry, but have learned much more, and I am disgusted that I had any contributions to perpetuate the demand for it.
      4. I know the Lord orchestrated the unveiling of this sin, and I will allow Him to use my failure to help others overcome this wedge in marriages, some can all become more glorifying witnesses for the Lord.
      Please pray for me and all the wives and husband who have taken the bait, hurt or been hurt, and who still love and want to rebuild trust. Thank you!

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