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Can the Husband of a Porn Addict Experience Betrayal Trauma?

Last Updated: May 17, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. During that time, he also served as a worship leader, Bible teacher, and pastoral assistant. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Rexford, Montana with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Betrayal trauma affects many people, especially the spouses of porn addicts.

We hear much about the betrayal trauma experienced by wives. Entire ministries have been organized to support wives of those struggling with pornography. But with upwards of one-third of women regularly viewing porn, it raises the question: do husbands of porn addicts experience betrayal trauma as well? Is it the same? Is it completely different?

If you’re a husband who has discovered your wife’s porn addiction, or you’re a wife trying to understand how your addiction affects your husband, it will be helpful to examine these questions more closely.  

What Is Betrayal Trauma?

First, we need to clarify what we mean by betrayal trauma. Dr. Jennifer Freyd pioneered the study of betrayal trauma, and she defines it as follows:

Betrayal trauma occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’ s trust or well-being.1

So, close relationships, like parents, children, husbands, and wives, all have vulnerabilities to betrayal trauma. For our purposes, we’re concerned with betrayal trauma resulting from a spouse’s use of pornography. Can a wife’s porn use violate a husband’s trust or well-being?

Yes, it can.

On one online relationship forum, a husband writes the following:

She has always been apprehensive about sex and I assumed she didn’t want it and I accepted that as I cannot force someone to have sex with me and it is not essential in my life.

However since living with her I have noticed that she is addicted to porn and I have caught her on multiple dating sites and found messages and plans to meet up with men however I don’t believe she has met up with anyone. I think that she has only spoke to them and made plans to fulfill her erotica.

However, I find myself upset that this is the reason why we don’t have sex. Do I have a right to be am I over reacting or should I feel completely and utterly disrespected in my relationship?2

How It’s Different for Men

We need to acknowledge that it may feel very different for a husband than for a wife. For one thing, such a large percentage of men look at porn that there’s a good chance the husband is dealing with similar issues himself. This may make him sympathetic or even unconcerned about what his wife is looking at. Some women who struggle with porn do so because a boyfriend or their husband introduced it to them.

Furthermore, generally speaking, men tend to compartmentalize.2 Even if a husband does not look at porn himself and believes this to be a violation of the marriage vows, his wife’s porn usage may not affect him as deeply. Sex addiction expert Dr. Doug Weiss says, “In my 30 years experience, men tend to go in two directions with infidelity or even sex addiction, and it’s that, they either divorce their wives or they give them one chance and they move on. Men tend to process it differently.”3

This means a husband may not interpret his wife’s porn use as betrayal in the same way a wife typically does of her husband. However, Dr. Weiss adds, “There are men who feel very traumatized and they should also get professional help, grieve, and deal with the hurt, anger, and betrayal that they’ve experienced.”

This bears special attention. A husband may be more likely to repress his feelings of betrayal. Rather than voicing his hurt and disappointment, he may simply withdraw himself emotionally. This hurts the marriage and delays true restoration and healing.

A husband may experience deep shame and disappointment that he cannot fully understand or process. He may have no one to talk to. And because there are so few resources for husbands in this situation, it can further intensify his confusion and sense of betrayal.

What Are the Symptoms of Betrayal Trauma in Men?

Despite the unique circumstances of a betrayed husband, betrayal trauma manifests many of the same symptoms for men as well as women. Dr. Kevin Skinner, author of Treating Pornography Addiction and founder of the Addo Recovery writes:

Many of these individuals are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms. What does this mean exactly? The following symptoms are very common:

Dr. Skinner goes on to list the following symptoms:

  • 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 she wouldn’t do this. If I were taller, more attractive, or lost weight, she wouldn’t do this.)
  • Increased emotional arousal (intense anger, yelling, sleep problems related to a racing mind, anxiety, suicidal thoughts)

How to Help Your Husband When You Struggle

I read a comment from a woman recently who asked, “How do I help my husband during this time? It has been an ongoing struggle through our marriage, and before. He recently found the material on my phone.” 

Here are some pointers gathered from experts in this area.

Be Honest

First, if your husband doesn’t know about your struggle yet, telling him is a good place to start. Amy Riordan shares her story of when she realized she needed to tell her husband about her secret battle against porn:

“Little by little, this secret was destroying my life. It was destroying my relationship with my husband, my friends, and most of all my relationship with God. I wanted so much to stop, but I did not know how to tell anyone what I was doing. The shame I felt was so great.

If he already knows you look at porn, be honest about your struggle. Is it an addiction? How long has it been going on? Your openness and honesty can help him process it.

Listen

Admitting to a secret struggle with porn is challenging enough. But after opening up about your struggle, it’s important to give him time to respond. He may not know what to say. When Amy told her husband, he left the house for several hours to process what he’d learned.

The point is, try to listen to what he has to say, and don’t immediately rush to defend yourself.

Share Resources

It can be tough for a husband experiencing betrayal trauma to find helpful resources. However, we have resources that can help! Our ebook, New Fruit, was written by women for women who struggle with pornography. While it’s not addressed to husbands, it does a great job laying out the unique challenges of women dealing with porn addiction.

Second, share our article, Help! My Wife is Addicted to Porn. We wrote this for men in this situation!

Get Help Individually and Together

The wife struggling with porn and the betrayed husband need different kinds of help. A wife may need counseling or therapy to unravel the underlying emotional issues driving her addiction. But, she may need to encourage her husband to seek his own counseling or therapy as well. At the very least, he needs people whom he can discuss this with.

Couples counseling or mediation can also help.

What Should a Betrayed Husband Do?

If you’re a husband who has recently discovered his wife’s porn use, you may be experiencing shock and betrayal. You’re probably upset, confused, or discouraged. You may have bought into the lie that as a man you’re supposed to just shrug it off and move on.

What can you do?

Know You’re Not Alone

The experience of betrayal trauma by husbands may be less common than it is for wives, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone! Many other men have gone through the exact same feelings of anger, confusion, and despair. You need to find sympathetic individuals with whom you can discuss your situation.

A qualified counselor, pastor, or therapist can help you through the journey. But, it’s just as important to surround yourself with supportive friends. Men typically don’t have as many close friends as women, but we still need them!

Take Time to Process

Dealing with a spouse’s addiction can be a LOT. It takes time to process all the feelings that go along with it. Don’t assume you understand everything about your wife’s porn use. She may be dealing with addiction stemming from trauma or other complex emotional issues.

Also, don’t assume you immediately understand your own reactions either! Initially, you may be angrier or more confused than you thought you would be. You may feel grief or insecurity about your marriage. It’s important not to brush these feelings aside. They’re important and need to be processed for you to heal and move forward.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries bring critical stability to any relationship. They’re especially important when dealing with a spouse’s porn habit. Kay Bruner suggests this helpful list of boundaries from Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries in Marriage:

Here are some example boundaries from Boundaries in Marriage, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Verbal boundaries might sound something like this:

  • “If you speak to me that way, I will leave the room.”
  • “I love you, but I don’t trust you right now.  I can’t be that close until we work this out.”
  • “When you show me that you are serious about getting some help, I will feel safe enough to open up to you again.”

Physical boundaries might comprise:

  • Removing yourself from any situation that makes you uncomfortable
  • Taking time away to think through situations for yourself
  • Moving out for a period of time
  • Separating from an abusive situation

Emotional boundaries could include:

  • Bringing in a third party to help resolve conflict
  • Finding a support group for yourself
  • Attending counseling sessions for yourself 



1 Jennifer J. Freyd, “Betrayal Trauma,” Encyclopedia of Psychological Trauma (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008) 76. Accessed at https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/articles/freyd2008bt.pdf.

2 Sharon Shin Shin Tang and Jennifer J. Freyd, “Betrayal trauma and gender differences in posttraumatic stress,” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4 (2012): 469–478. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025765

3 Doug Weiss interview, “Do Men Get Partner Betrayal Trauma Too? What’s The Difference?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nussTjkgchY.

3 r/relationship_advice, https://www.reddit.com/r/relationship_advice/comments/g8jjbp/my_wife_is_addicted_to_porn/