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3 Reasons Deception Is More Destructive than Porn for Your Wife

Last Updated: February 15, 2019

“I can’t keep doing this!” she screams with bulging eyes and face wrenched in a tormented mix of anger, fear, and pain. “I can’t keep going through this again and again. I feel like I am going crazy! How can I stay married to a man I can’t trust?”

This is the scene I encounter every week in my office as a counselor working with men and marriages devastated by pornography. Her hair is on fire, and he is in panic mode. Overwhelmed by his wife’s anger and pain, he resorts to the oldest trick in the Book (literally) in an attempt to fix the situation. He lies, minimizes, and blames. Adam did it in the Garden, and we have been doing it ever since–with grave consequences.

When I tell a couple that lying and deception are more damaging than looking at porn, the response is shockingly predictable.

The wife looks up to catch my eyes in an “a-ha moment.” “That’s it! You nailed it on the head!” She felt this truth but couldn’t put it into words. She is relieved to have someone understand this realization resonating inside of her.

He looks, well, shocked and confused. He gives me the head cocked “cocker spaniel” look, letting me know this is all Greek to him. “How can that be?” he asks. “I was just trying to protect her from details that would only hurt her more.” Another half truth no one really believes.

Here is what I share with the men and marriages in my office about why deception is worse than looking at pornography.

Violated trust cracks the foundation of your marriage.

A fundamental breech of trust in a marriage brings everything into question. Wholeheartedly trusting someone to love and protect your heart and to act in your best interest is foundational for marriage. Having that trust violated is an act of intimate betrayal.

“Et Tu, Brute?”

The violation of lusting after other women is painful enough. Lying about it makes things worse. Now she wonders if she can trust you about anything.

Read that last statement a few times, and let it sink in.

She isn’t just afraid you are lying about looking at pornography, she is afraid she can’t trust you about anything. The naive trust is gone–it is like a death. Now she questions if you are really at the store, at the gym, or if you were actually checking work email on your phone. It understandably creates a state of paranoia, and she feels like her hair is on fire

Related: Your Wife Has Triggers Too

She feels like she lost her best friend. Now your wife’s best friend, her most intimate companion, is simultaneously the person she fears the most. Wives tell me they feel like they are going crazy when this happens. It is torturous, and there is nothing you can say or do to make it all better in the moment.

Interestingly, the part of the brain that processes relationships is the same part of the brain that processes life and death experiences. Whether you hold a gun to my head, or my wife tells me she is leaving me, I will feel the same thing.

This gives you an idea of what your wife is feeling when you lie, deceive, or blame her to take the focus off of yourself. It feels like she has a gun to her head–it is horrifying. Solomon nailed it on the head when he wrote, “An honest answer is like a kiss on lips” (Prov. 24:26).

Lying after your first disclosure amplifies the betrayal.

Relapse is a part of recovery. This is hard for wives to understand, so they are predictably angry and hurt that you acted out again.

Relapse may take you back to square one, but lying, deceiving or blaming takes you to square negative 100. If you want to make a bad situation worse, this is a great way to do it. Lying after the first disclosure is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

When this process of relapse, deception, and getting busted plays out over and over again, it gets pretty raw for both of you. She is more angry and hurt, and he is tired of the emotional explosions.

Whether it is out of pride or fear, the worst type of deception is the fearful counterattack. Knowing your wife’s suspicions–that you have been looking again even though she doesn’t have the evidence–are dead on, your best defense becomes a good offense.

Attacking your wife and calling her “crazy.” Accusing her of never forgiving you. Thinking “you’ll never trust me, so why try.” These are toxic responses to an already bad situation.

The problem is your wife will take these words to heart and actually question her reality. Even if she doesn’t tell you or show you she is doing this, it is happening. When she questions her grip on reality, it is another experience of free fall–out of control and hopeless.

When, not if, she later finds out she was right and allowed herself to doubt what she knew to be true, the sense of betrayal is magnified. This isn’t pretty for either one of you.

Please, do not go down this road. If you have been doing this, stop it now. It is psychological abuse, and you are better than that.

Related: How can I prepare for my husband’s next relapse?

Repeated deception is death by 1000 cuts.

Listen closely to what I am about to say: when your wife first finds out you have been looking at pornography, she is in shock. This means she is not feeling the full extent of the pain and betrayal.

This is the best and most loving time to tell her everything and to really come clean. Shock is God’s anesthesia, so spill the beans and spill all the beans at once.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted. –Prov. 27:6

Every time you go through the process of rebuilding trust then lying to her again, it deepens the wound. Wives in my office repeatedly tell me, “If I let my guard down, I’ll just be devastated again. It is easier not to trust or to care anymore.” Hearing your wife feels this way is terrifying. It is hard to find much hope in those words, even if she doesn’t completely feel that way.

Related: Therapeutic Disclosure–What It Is and How It Can Help Your Marriage Heal

This trickling out of the truth is torturous–literally death by 1000 cuts.  Today, a wife whose husband has repeatedly gone back to porn put it this way, “I’ve been cut so many times that I don’t have any more blood to give.”

Around 75% of the time, the wife discovers pornography rather than the husband confessing on his own. Repeated deceptions drive home her belief: “I can only trust what I discover, and I am convinced there is always more to discover.”

Honesty really is the best policy. Not just for your wife and her recovery–it is in your best interest. Being honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly actually re-builds trust with your wife and helps her heal. That means less time on the emotional roller coaster of recovery.

Think of it this way: honesty creates emotional safety for your wife (and therefore for you). Emotional safety is the foundation for any type of close relationship. Honesty and transparency actually help repair a cracked foundation (i.e. using tools like Covenant Eyes and letting her see your phone, email, texts, and iPad without pouting).

I can’t overstate how powerful it is to tell your wife the truth, even when it is painful. Every wife I have worked with emphatically tells me how helpful and healing it is when her husband tells her the truth. It is a literal and visceral relief for her.

Even if she is upset because of what you are telling her, she will respect you and be more able to forgive you if you are honest with her. I beg you… no, I dare you, to try it.

The next time you feel the reflexive urge to lie to save your own skin, or “protect your wife” from further pain, picture yourself standing over a camp fire with a bucket of full of gasoline. What you are about to do will not help anyone. If you want to keep your eyebrows, I recommend telling her the truth.

  1. SC

    Reading these comments really helps me to stay focused in recovery. However, I have to say, as someone who was exposed to pornography at about the age of eight, I don’t know how that was a *choice*. I did not choose to find those magazines, to feel those feelings, to experience those chemicals running through my body and to have images that I will never forget emblazoned upon my mind. It makes me angry that Satan influenced my father and the innocence of a child was stolen as result. And don’t ever forget that this is a *sin* problem, not just a sex problem. All of us, including therapists and pure wives, continue in sin. The question is what kind, to what extent, and have we learned to “put to death” the things in us that are earthly since we ourselves have died in Christ (Colossians 3)? The church at Colossae had already died to Christ, but apparently needed to put to death some of the earthly things that remained. Sex and lust aren’t the only things in that list. Have you coveted anything that belonged to anyone else? If so, Paul lumps that together with sexual immorality. He also immediately follows it up with a continuation of actions that include anger and wrath.

    Please, I hope it is an encouragement to anyone reading this who is tempted to heap judgment upon their spouses. Judgment belongs to God. We all, including you, are worthy of death because of the sins we have committed and the sins that you either have already committed or will commit today. Draw boundaries out of love. Ask seeking questions. Plug all the digital holes and physical holes. Refuse to allow an unprotected and unaccessible device in the house, but also refuse to allow a week to go by without speaking about how he or she is growing in Christ. Start a Bible study together. Do positive things that contribute to spiritual health rather than living in fear. He will relapse at some point, and depending on your past response he may or may not feel comfortable opening up. Don’t forget that it is the *kindness* of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), not his reminders of our broken promises. If you want men to “confess so that they may be healed,” (James 5:16) then you should be ready to pray with him as it is also a component of that same passage.

    God bless you all in your continued efforts to fight a *spiritual* battle not against flesh and blood.

    • Rob

      AMEN! SC, that is the best response I have read yet! Brad Bigney has a saying in his “When Marriage and Mercy Collide” it goes “My sin first, my sin is worse, and I need to focus on my sin most!”
      We all find it easy to find faults in our spouses, regardless if they are the offender or the offendee. Christ tells us to focus on our own hearts, and LOVE our neighbor. Your neighbor is your spouse. We all make choices. With God’s help we can even break the addictions! He gives us each other to HELP, not to toss your spouse out because its too hard. I have read so many responses talking about how we need to give ourselves some peace and comfort…I don’t see that ANYWHERE in Scripture. Most men and women with sexual addiction have been exposed to it when they were children. They are still suffering from that early hard-wiring. But nothing is too hard for God…He chooses to use those who are willing to be His servants to help each other.

  2. Sav

    This article is spot on from the wife’s perspective from what I personally experienced. I do wish it spoke to the husband’s lies as not only destroying the wife’s heart, but first and foremost their relationship with God. When they are playing God they can’t attenpt to be the men they were called to be for their wives. I’m a born a again believer… my husband is Catholic, and he lied to me through 3 years of dating and 14 years of marriage. I experienced psychological and spiritual abuse as I tried over and over again to accept someone who was burning me, claiming they were walking with God and telling me I should be a good, forgiving, Christian wife each time. He never got help though I begged him to throughout our relationship. At the mention of internet protection he said simply, “you can get it for you but I don’t need it.” Two years ago I asked him to leave. His dad told him to go to my church’s support group and he did. I have not seen a new spiritual walk. He’s been living with his parents and I’ve been raising our 3 young kids. If anyone who is reading this has any Godly discernment on how to navigate these waters I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

  3. RICHARD

    As a recovered sex addict I find the article fascinating and very helpful in identifying exactly how exacerbated my Wife’s trauma. The problems I have are:
    (A) telling the truth. I lie by default. I always deny. Ok you say – stop it. As a person who has had this trait since childhood it is very very deeply ingrained. And I do it without thinking. Any ideas for stopping
    (B) how do I respond when my wife is hurting after being triggered. I just don’t seem to get this right.

    • Kay Bruner

      Richard,

      (A) Go to therapy and work on the lying. Work on what you’re protecting with the lies. Do the deep work that truth-telling requires.
      (B) When your wife is not triggered, ask her how you can best respond when she’s hurting. What does she want? Here’s an article about building relational trust, with research-driven information from John Gottman that might help.

      Hope that helps,
      Kay

    • Sav

      I hope this is received as intended, in love. I felt nudged by God to respond. As a wife of a porn addict I ask you to first look at your relationship with God. This is key… All of your questions will be perfectly answered by Christ as he speaks to your heart. Are you a believer? Are you pursuing God’s call on your life? Do you wake up each day and ask God to guard your heart from Satan’s arrows and give you the courage to protect your wife’s heart? God has created you to be her spiritual warrior. Do you believe in spiritual warfare? Satan is using pornography to corrupt your mind and win your soul, and your lies to destroy your wife and cripple her walk with God, rendering you both ineffective to being useful to help in God’s kingdom on earth. When you realize you are in an actual battle for YOUR LIFE and commanded to protect your wife’s, your perspective will never be the same. God wants you to first seek Him, and seek Him constantly. He wants you to surrender all you are and all you do to Him first… yes, before you are accountable to your wife. He even asks for you to surrender your sexuality to Him. When you consistently lay down your life and ask God to forgive you for misuing your sexuality that he gave you and for hurting your bride that he gave you, he will open your eyes. He’ll enter your daily walk, convict you of certain things and guide you into deeper relationship with Him primarily and secondly grow in you an empathetic heart for your wife.

    • Sav

      A) & B) solutions offered by Kay will never work without a fully surrendered heart & deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

  4. Carol

    Worthy of her trust was the first book my sa husband brought home read and asked me to read. He said trust is most important and that he was worthy. 2 and a half years later he still lies. And just says he is making progress not profection. He may not be paying prostitutes or having affairs anymore ( of course I can’t be sure) but i still catch lies. When will it end. Less and less Love left

    • Sav

      It will end when he finds God… when he fully submits to God and His purpose for his life.

    • Rob

      It will end when you realize that you are a sinner too and give grace and mercy. If you are saved, look at what Christ forgave you? Will you turn around and be unforgiving for such a smaller amount? Matthew 18:21-35
      I encourage you, and everyone, to listen to Brad Bigney “When Marriage and Mercy Collide”
      https://www.graceky.org/sermons/series/when-marriage-and-mercy-collide/

  5. Wren

    Shaun….”Worthy of Her Trust” by Jason Martinkus is one of the best resources.

    Kerri…Your comment was so insightful. Maybe you should write a blog for CE.

  6. Ronel

    How do you get your husband to tell you the truth, I have tried everything and nothing works. I goes well for a couple of months or weeks and then its back to squire one. I have given him all the articles in this website to read and then it goes better. I talked to him, cried, yelled set ultimatums and its like he doesn’t care what it does to our family or to our marriage and honestly I don’t know if I can take it any longer……….

    • Kay Bruner

      You can never control another person, or force them to be honest and healthy. That is the sad reality we all have to face at some point.

      However, you CAN control your own choices. Look honestly at your situation, at the impact it has on you and decide: what do I want my life to look like? Then create healthy boundaries for yourself that build the kind of life that works best for you. Here and here are some articles on boundaries to help you start thinking in that direction.

      When you make changes in your life, you need support! Find a counselor who can help you, find a group, and check into the online resources at Bloom for Women.
      Whatever your husband chooses, you can make wise, healthy choices for yourself.

      Peace to you,
      Kay

    • Sav

      I agree, boundaries are key for a person in an unhealthy relationship. The book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend is a good place to start.

      I asked my husband to leave the house and gave him over to God. I then took my focus off of my husband for the first time and put all my energy into pursuing God. I’m putting on the armor of God to fight this spiritual battle, and He is bringing peace and protection over my life. I would also encourage you to take your eyes off of your husband and focus all of your attention on your walk with God. Your husband is falling for Satan’s tricks, and Satan happy to use him as a puppet to bring about pain and destruction. It’s Satan you need to take up arms against. Satan doesn’t want you to realize this, he wants to keep your husband in a dark tailspin and you in utter frustration. Ultimately he want to keep this divide between the two of you and this repeting cycle of faults and hurt and mystery propelling all involved in a downward spiral… Eyes off of God. When you see the spiritual battle you’ll rely completely on God to fight this battle for you… The only way to overcome this type of warfare. Trust God, as you “be still and know that he is God” ask him to intercede for you, pray his angel army will come down and break Satan’s stronghold, and be steadfast in asking for restoration so that you and your husband can not only heal but be used for a mighty purpose to further God’s Kingdom. When you let God go to work on what only he can do he will honor you and the desires of your heart.

  7. True- God Himself put the desire to have sex in us..and He called it good. Waiting for marriage puts you in an unfortunately small category. Longing for this kind of connection and being demonized and rejected after waiting for it cuts to the core.

    In all of my work with sexual addictions, I have learned that nothing happens in isolation. It is never as easy as “stop doing that”. You have to address the wounds that lead us to escape into these dark areas. You have to address the wounds for the wife AND the husband.

    Praying for healing for you.

  8. Alan

    Being constantly lied to about practically everything and being constantly rejected/rebuffed and made to feel like a rapist or a pervert because of a physical need and desire which
    1.) GOD Himself put in me, and
    2.) I waited for until marriage also = death by a thousand cuts. Just saying.

  9. AD

    Reading this actually made me cry tears of relief. Relief that what I’m feeling and going through is not absolutely crazy!
    I’m feeling so much of this and I’m just so relieved to know that other women feel the same as I do.
    I wish there were more resources for women out there and from some different perspectives. I’ve been reading a lot of books, even ones from the wives’ point of view and while I’ve found some of the information helpful, I’ve always felt that much of it didn’t pertain to my situation.
    May I be completely honest here? I have a hard time identifying with many of these women because, frankly, it seems as if they’re all very pure, sexually speaking. Not one of the women whose stories I’ve read have admitted to having sexually impure thoughts or having struggled with any of it themselves. I realize it’s more about her feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt and I definitely still feel all of those things, but many of them have given the very strong impression that sex is something her husband wants and needs, but for her, not so much. It’s pleasant when it’s happening with an attentive and loving husband, but not something she thinks about much or needs in any real way. And, she certainly doesn’t have any temptations with porn, herself; she’s simply disgusted by her husband’s desire to indulge in it.
    My story is a little different. I’ve never been sexually pure, so I don’t know what that’s like. I was sexually abused as a very young child and my entire childhood is colored with sexuality. As a teen I was very promiscuous and my husband and I were married when I was 16 due to my pregnancy. So, I was “damaged goods” going into our marriage.
    I can’t tell the whole of it here, but my marriage has not been like theirs and I haven’t been pure like them. I’ve struggled with my own sexual sin while also feeling the hurt, anger and betrayal of my husband’s. The only difference is that he has continued to look at porn and hide it and lie to me while my acting out occurred while I was still young and immature. Our marriage was very rocky in the beginning – we were both just kids and we acted like it. We were absolutely awful to each other. It’s a wonder we’re together at all! However, I confessed my wrongdoing to him many years ago, but he still doesn’t confess to me until he’s caught, when it comes to porn. So, I really understand the “…there is always more to discover,” feeling.
    But my recovery is impeded by the added guilt of my own sins. Not only do I have the normal anger, hurt, resentment and sense of betrayal, but also a strong sense of guilt. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, feeling ugly, fat, undesirable, unwanted, wondering what is wrong with me that he has to look at porn, but underlying all of that is a deep feeling of shame and questioning whether I brought this on myself. Am I being punished for not being a good, pure and faithful wife? Maybe he’s never going to be able to stop because I’m not like the women I’m reading about; their husbands can recover because they’ve been good, faithful and virtuous wives while I’ve been impure from the beginning. Guilt and self-loathing have become my constant companions along with this gnawing feeling that there’s more that I’m going to find out.
    I didn’t actually intend to write all of that – I just wanted to say that this post was very meaningful to me in terms of helping me to see that many of my feelings and thoughts are the same as other women have felt and it helps to know that, at least in that respect, I’m not alone. I hope I can find more resources geared toward women in general and maybe some things that I can identify with a little more.

    • Kay Bruner

      Hey there.

      Your story just breaks my heart. I want to say first of all that being a survivor of child sexual abuse does NOT mean you’re an impure person. I do understand that you acted out as an adolescent, but as a therapist, I would see that as simply a continuation of the abuse that you suffered as a child. Did you make choices? Yes, I know that you did. But you were a CHILD, an ABUSED CHILD.

      And more than anything else, A PRECIOUS CHILD.

      You are still a precious child today.

      And none of your choices diminish your worth or make you undeserving of love and support.

      I think therapy would be enormously helpful to you. Find a counselor in your area who’s experienced in treating the trauma of child sexual abuse. Look for a trauma-focused support group. Check out the online support resource, Bloom.

      You might also like to read Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s wonderful book on trauma: The Body Keeps the Score.

      Peace to you, Kay

    • Wow- thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad the article helped provide some relief. Coming out of a home where you experienced ongoing sexual abuse beginning at a young age really messes with the mind. The shame of the abuser is absorbed by the one being abused- and it becomes a constant companion.

      I have great respect for telling your husband when you fall short- that you have control over. I hope that he will risk to do the same for you.

      Patrick Carnes has a great book that may be helpful in untangling some of the damage from growing up in an abusive home: “The Betrayal Bond”.

    • Rebekah Griffin

      Shaun,

      Thank you so much for your honesty! I am one of those wives. It hurts. But honesty is what we need to heal.

  10. Anna

    This article is truly amazing to see in words. It’s everything I have felt for the last 6 years finally put into words in one article. Too bad it’s coming too late for me and my husband, I’very already requested a divorce and I could never trust him again. I wish, out of the list of 13 counselors we tried, someone would have said some of these things.

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