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Marriage Damaged by Porn: A Pastor’s Reflections

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

Dr. T. C. Ryan

marriage damaged by pornRecently I was asked about a very difficult situation.

A woman has been married to a man with a long-term addiction to pornography.  The last few years he’s been trying to stop, but by his own efforts alone. When she asks him if he’s struggling he will deny it. She finds out he’s using again and then has the double-hurt of his use and his lying.

At one point, with her husband’s permission, she talked with their pastor (who is also her husband’s brother) about this situation. He told her that her husband had to seek help (true) and that there was nothing he could do (not necessarily true). He then said a prayer. If her hope was for anything more than that, she was disappointed.

She concluded this part of her story (there is another piece of the story we’ll take up in subsequent post) by saying “this problem has gone on for so long I don’t talk to my husband about it anymore.”

This woman is in a terribly difficult situation, one that is not of her own making.

The realities of porn use and marriage

The use of pornography by a married partner does serious damage to genuine intimacy in a marriage. By using porn all these years, the husband has tolerated and developed a use of his own sexuality in relationship to another entity. It is neither a healthy nor redemptive relationship (the husband and porn). It is much as if he were having an affair.

Further, though he’s tried to stop using porn these last few years, it appears he is not acknowledging the magnitude of his problem. He is an addict; he is genuinely powerless over the attraction porn has for him. Until he admits the depth of his problem he’ll not do whatever necessary to move to health.

Finally, in this case, the husband is clearly aware that his wife knows about his porn use. They’ve had conversations about it. His refusal to take the necessary steps to deal with it is a hurtful statement of how little value he has for their marriage.

What can she do? Well, there are a couple of things she cannot do; no matter how hard she tries they won’t work.

What the wife cannot do

She cannot be his accountability partner. Pornography use for sexual gratification by one partner is personally belittling and hurtful to the other. So knowing the details of his usage will keep her unnecessarily exposed to a painful aspect of their relationship.

Further, if the husband does ever start working on this problem, he will be less likely to be honest and forthcoming with his spouse than with someone else.

Finally, he’s not asking her for her help, anyway. She is the one who recognizes the problem and is wanting things to change. Not him. So trying to hold him accountable is not going to work.

The other thing she cannot do is make him want to get well. Talking to her husband hasn’t changed anything. It’s only added to her frustration and pain. Going to talk to the pastor/brother—even with her husband’s permission—didn’t help either.

So, what can she do?

She can take responsibility for her own well-being. She needs not to be alone, and in this day and age she doesn’t have to be. Here is one of the upsides of the Internet age:  resources are available to her that weren’t available to her sisters a generation ago.

She can learn if there is anything in her upbringing, self-understanding, and faith system that leads her to remain in such a personally demeaning situation. Porn is toxic. She must detach and objectively evaluate what is really happening in her marriage. Then establish appropriate and healthy boundaries.

She can find online support systems for spouses of addicts. Find safe people and develop as many healthy friendships as she can.

And pray. I mean genuinely develop her daily conversation with her heavenly Father about who she is in His eyes and how to realign her own view of herself with how the Lord actually sees her. Ask him to help her rearrange her own thought patterns and behaviors. And she can ask the Father to intervene in her husband’s soul.

None of this will be easy. Becoming healthy never is. Her husband’s pornography use has cruel costs for both of them. She, at least, is aware of the hurt and the lie.

There is grace and mercy available to them both, and to their marriage, even yet. Sometimes the mercy of God for us feels severe. But it is often in that severity that we find the mercy of God and the path to healing. I hope she will move herself into the light even if he won’t.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alainbachellier

T. C. Ryan is the author of Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction (InterVarsity Press, 2012) and is a speaker about life in Christ, genuine spirituality and Christ and recovery. He can be found on Facebook (T. C. Ryan), tweets (@tcryanone) and his website is tc-ryan.com.

  1. Jocelyn Sophia

    I want to say that I am super against porn, but I do not like people telling stories about their spouse looking at it and using the actual name or telling the story in such a way that a lot of people might figure out who the person is. It is very important, if you want someone to be healed, to not spread their bad business, and deal with them in a forward but non smearing way.

    • Lisa Eldred

      As a policy, we only post specific details with the couples’ permission, and for imagery we only use stock photography or Creative Commons-licensed images from Flickr. Was there something that flagged you about this particular post?

  2. Larry

    One has to wonder if the wife is actually interested in sex at all. How many “headaches” does she have? If if she is, is it once a week? Once a month?

    if she is not stepping up to the plate then she should be glad he’s not stepping out on her.

    • Lisa Eldred

      Actually, we’ve found that in many cases of porn use, the wife initiates sex and the husband refuses because he prefers the false intimacy of porn.

      We have a post scheduled for next week about building intimacy in marriage. It features the story of a pastor and his wife. The wife points out that her interest in sex has increased dramatically as a result of working on intimacy in other parts of their marriage. So speaking on a general level, if a wife seems uninterested in sex, it may be a symptom that something else is wrong.

    • Deborah

      He stepped out on her, was unfaithful to her, broke his marriage vow, when he viewed pronography. The very word means “martial unfaithfulness, written down.”
      If she’s not responsive sexually, he still has no excuse for adultery. Marriage counseling is in order, but not unfaithfulness in any form.

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