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2 Things Your Spouse Doesn’t Need to Know About Your Porn Use

Last Updated: January 21, 2019

Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

If there are certain things you shouldn’t tell your spouse about your porn addiction, it must mean there are important things s/he does needs to know. First and foremost, that you are using pornography.

Confessing to your spouse, either before or after you’ve been caught, is crucial for your recovery and for your marriage to be healthy and whole. Secrets like this kill relationships. They breed darkness and shame. One of the greatest things in life is to have relationships where we are fully known and fully loved. If we harbor our sins, we will never be fully known and will always doubt whether or not we are loved because of who we truly are or for the image we project.

Honesty is of prime importance, but so is knowing what is appropriate to reveal. Here are two things you can plan on leaving out of this conversation.

1. Your Spouse Doesn’t Need the Gory Details

In our situation, I first found out about my husband’s addiction alone in a room on his computer when I started typing in the URL bar. Though the title of the webpage very clearly indicated that I would be taken to pornography, my disbelief and shock compelled me to check it out.

I wish I hadn’t.

I can still see those images when I recall the circumstances, even though this event happened seventeen years ago. The truth is, however, one doesn’t have to actually see something in order to form an image in our mind. If that was the case, books would be incredibly boring, right? When you tell your spouse about your porn use, you can leave out the gory details. She doesn’t need you to recreate the scene or let her in on what you like in your fantasy world. She definitely doesn’t need you to actually show her what you’ve been viewing.

What this does to your spouse:

  • These details can create unpleasant mental images, which can lead to traumatic flashbacks and increased distress.
  • It’s been well documented that social media and pornographic images of women have distorted both gender’s views on what constitutes a beautiful, sexually-appealing female. The last thing your spouse needs is to come face-to-face with unhealthy expectations and unmeetable standards. She is already feeling insecure in herself and in your relationship and this will only exacerbate the situation and lead to even worse consequences.
  • When her world has been rocked with your confession, a myriad of thoughts and emotions will pass through your spouse’s mind. One of those thoughts may be that not only does she needs to conform herself to look like these images, but to be pleasing to you, she must also act in the same ways. But physical intimacy within the context of marriage is the opposite of what happens in pornography. You don’t truly want her acting like the porn star on the screen, nor do you want her to feel the pressure of her doing something doesn’t want to do.

What to do instead: 

  • Affirm that your pornography use is not about her—who she is, what she does, or what she looks like.
  • Share (if you know already) what is behind your addiction, i.e. “I’ve been looking at porn since eighth grade and I haven’t yet been able to cut it out of my life” or “Every time I get stressed, I’ve turned to porn to try to escape because I didn’t know how to talk about it.”
  • Validate her feelings of betrayal, shock, anger, sadness, or whatever else comes out and don’t justify your porn use with something like “All I’m doing is looking at pictures.”

2. Your Spouse Doesn’t Need the Half-Truths

When you do tell your wife about your addiction, it may be tempting to only tell her pieces of your story in an effort not to overwhelm her. But think about it this way: if you were majorly injured playing your sport and had to have surgery, you’d be a little hesitant to perhaps engage in your sport in the same manner after you’ve begun to recover. You’d be more protective, tread a little more lightly. You’d ease into doing things that you used to take for granted because you felt safe and secure doing them before the injury. Overtime, though, with the right physical therapy and support, you’re pretty likely to get back in the game.

One injury is traumatic. But what if instead of one big blow, every time you got on the field, you hurt something—not bad enough to have surgery, but still incredibly painful: a twisted ankle, a broken forearm, a concussion. After every practice, something would go wrong and you’d feel more and more beat up, injury compounding injury. How long until you give up going to the fields?

Lest you’re considering expanding the sports analogy, I’ll tell you why we end it here. Sure, in sports, the more you train, the more you can do, the more your body can handle. But, confessing your addiction to your spouse is not an endurance sport. You may be tempted to think you’re building her resilience by giving her small things and that will help her work up and be able to handle the big things. But your brain is not a muscle and it doesn’t recover or process trauma in the same way as your muscular system.

What this does to your wife:

  • Half-truths only intensify her trauma. If you share part of your story and she thinks she knows the full extent, the next time you further reveal details or events surrounding your addiction, she will experience both the new trauma and re-live the entire first round. This is compounding trauma.
  • It makes her unable to begin to trust you again because she never knows when the story is really out. If you confess piecemeal, she will fear there’s going to be something around another corner down the road.

What to do instead:

  • Prior to talking with her, think through your whole story and what you need to tell her. For example, if your story includes watching porn AND corresponding with someone from a pornographic or dating website, make a plan on how you will stay the course of confession, knowing it’s going to be hard and you may be tempted to stop after her reaction about the first thing. It may be helpful to role-play this with a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor.
  • Know she will probably ask you a lot of questions. Pray and ask God to give you the strength to answer each one honestly and carefully. Pray also for your wife before you tell her.

 This is will be a difficult conversation for both of you. It will rock your spouse’s world and will feel like the foundation of your relationship is gone. However, through this conversation, you also have the opportunity to begin to lay a new foundation and to rebuild something out of the rubble. We serve a God of restoration and reconciliation and with Him, all things are possible.

  • Comments on: 2 Things Your Spouse Doesn’t Need to Know About Your Porn Use
    1. Doug VanAllen on

      You should NEVER tell your wife the whole truth on your own. You should only ever do this with the expert guidance of a therapist through the process know as therapeutic full disclosure. She will need more support and safety while hearing this and for some time following this than you will be able to give her. This is why the therapist is essentially, this process can be extremely damaging if done in the wrong way. Your wife has a right to know everything, and it needs to be done in a proper way. This is NOT something any couple should attempt on their own.

      Reply
    2. Lealie on

      Confess.
      Repent.
      Then stop sinning.

      Reply
      • Rebecca on

        Easier said then done, I suspect.

    3. Ella Hutchinson on

      I understand your intentions in writing this article and I know your desire is only to help couples find healing. But not all partners are created equal so please hear me out. For several reasons it is actually important for a partner to know the kind of porn her spouse watches. She doesn’t need gory details, but she does need and deserve details if she wants them. For example, if he is into violent porn, she needs to know this so they can work to understand why and how to heal the possible underlying causes. It may help her make sense of behaviors in the marriage. If he is into other fetishes, she may participate in these things without knowing she is reinforcing the unhealthy, addictive behavior and basically participating in her husband’s acting out. Besides that, the more secrets in a marriage the less ability to build intimacy. Shame about viewing certain types of porn can be more easily overcome if a husband no longer has to hide them from his wife. If a wife who wants to know the kind of porn her husband watched isn’t allowed that information she is likely to obsess over it. It is no different than learning her husband was unfaithful with another person but not allowed to know when, where, who or what behaviors were involved (oral sex, anal sex etc.). She deserves this information and without it will only create images in her head anyway. As you are surely aware, “unpleasant mental images”, “traumatic flashbacks”, and excruciating “distress” will be present no matter what. As a partner myself and a sex addiction therapist who has specialized in working with partners for nine years, I promise you that telling a wife what she can and can’t know will only further frustrate her, reinforce feelings of not knowing her own reality, and prolong or prevent healing. Your points about answering questions honestly and not telling half- truths align with what I am saying. Finally, I must emphasize the importance of a therapeutic disclosure with a skilled therapist (ideally APSATS certified) trained in facilitating disclosure, ideally with the use of polygraph.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Thank you, Ella.

    4. RickyB on

      Technically, this is actually just one thing your spouse doesn’t need to know since the second item is “half truths”. A half truth is not something you don’t need to know. It is actually something you DO need to know but accompanied by the OTHER HALF of the truth. HALF plus HALF equals whole. So the only thing your spouse does NOT need to know, are the gory details. But then that has been rejected by your previous commenters as well since they think all gory details need to be known.

      At this point, I guess maybe there is simply nothing that should not be known by the spouse. About porn anyway.

      As a husband whose wife has never disclosed the full nature of her pre-marital sexual relations that resulted in two abortions, I am wondering how far this full disclosure idea goes? Especially since it has clearly affected her (un)willingness to be sexually available to me, her husband, and the one person who actually deserves to have sex with her unlike the numerous past boyfriends.

      Am I entitled to know everything about that? Or should I just be a good little husband and not worry my pretty little head about it?

      Of course to be fair, even though I was a virgin when we married, I still had a history of masturbation and sexual fantasy so maybe I need to recount every time I ever lusted, fantasized, and masturbated. This full disclosure stuff sure could take a while.

      Reply
      • Krista on

        Maybe you should have asked her about her sexual past before you got married.

        Maybe her unwillingness has nothing to do with her past, maybe it has to do with you.

      • Sean on

        Krista’s comment is a cheap shot, because it reflects the availability heuristic: making a judgment based on available evidence alone, and not taking into account your partner’s viewpoint as well. Of course it is easy to point the finger of blame.

        I think it may be helpful to talk with your wife about your concerns and try to validate her viewpoint. Express your needs, listen to her needs, and find an arrangement that could make you both happy. Maybe it might involve a plan to increase intimacy, both emotional and physical. Look up sensate focus.

    5. joe on

      Being forced into a full and total confession isn’t always good. I know that if my wife new all then she would leave me.
      I am now being told that this is what I have to do, so rather than cause her more distress I am going to leave without trace.
      So just to let you all know sometimes it is better not to dig up all the dark secrets

      Reply
      • Epiphany on

        You are only as sick as your secrets. Your secrets and the damage done to yourself.. as well as to the people who participated (possibly non-consensually) will follow you every where. It can potentially kill you early too, this stuff can effect you ok a profound biochemical level.
        Don’t be a coward. You need to own up and give your wife the truth. Going the cowards way will damage her as well. Both will cause trauma. Running is furthering your abandonment of yourself and your wife.
        Sounds like you definitely need therapy. I hope you can heal.
        My heart goes out to your wife for peace that passes all understanding.

    6. Sean on

      Porn wouldn’t be considered bad if people didn’t appraise it as such. They are creating their own problems. People talk about “betrayal” and are willing to divorce their partner because they look at pictures. Is this really what relationships have come to? Is this how petty Christianity has become that people are investing so much energy into not masturbating and looking at pictures of the human body rather than acting kindly toward their neighbors and family? This is a human-created issue that they call sin, not sin itself. It is petty, pitiful, and one of the ways that well-meaning Christians shackle themselves from being effective in the world when they could otherwise be doing good. What nonsense.

      Reply

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