To the Spouse of a Porn Addict: It’s Not Your Fault

I’ve thought about writing this every time a post on pornography shows up on social media. Not because they make me feel inspired, but because I always feel there is something missing.

The articles I’m talking about are sometimes written from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t like pornography, but who has no personal experience with it. Others are written from the perspective of the spouse – or other loved one – of an addict, instead of the addicts themselves.

If you are the spouse of a porn addict I think it’s great that you can share your perspective with others. It’s an important perspective, as there are lots of people in the same situation who need advice/comfort. There are even support groups specifically for the spouses of addicts. Clearly it’s a voice that needs to be heard, and I wouldn’t want to downplay the struggle that you have been placed in by saying your perspective isn’t important.

Also, if you don’t like pornography, even though you haven’t experienced it, I’m glad you can stand up for what you believe. You don’t have to personally experience something to see the effects in others, and, if what you have seen has given you such a strong opinion, I’m proud of you for being willing to speak up.

The reason I get a little frustrated is simply because I think a very valuable perspective – the perspective of the one with the addiction – isn’t shared enough.

And that’s probably because it’s so embarrassing to admit. There is such a biased and unhealthy image attached to anybody who struggles with pornography.

A person admitting that they struggle with cigarettes, alcohol, or other substances will be congratulated for recognizing their weakness, and supported in their attempt to get better. However, a person admitting that they struggle with pornography will be mocked for not being able to stop, and left to themselves while they try to improve.

Because of this negative view, I didn’t want to be the one writing this article.

I didn’t want to be “the porn guy.” I didn’t want people to wonder how they’re supposed to act around me.

I didn’t want to be different…

But I think instead of waiting for somebody else to come forward and share their perspective, I should probably just do it myself. See, I struggled for over 10 years.

Before I really get going, though, I need to explain a few things about the way this article is written…

  1. I’m writing this directly to the spouses of porn addicts, but I understand this could be valuable information regardless of your current situation.
  2. For the sake of this article I’m going to write as if the addict is a man. However, both men and women struggle with pornography addictions.
  3. This article isn’t about pornography being good/bad, right/wrong. Instead, I simply wanted to share my thoughts on the addiction itself.

First…this is not your fault. Your husband isn’t going to pornography to make up for something you aren’t providing.

You don’t need to do things you are uncomfortable with to compete with things he’s seen.

You don’t need to modify your body to compete with the bodies he’s seen.

You don’t need to become somebody you hate to compete with the people he’s seen.

I know that being the spouse can be difficult when the person you love most seems to be replacing you, especially when he appears to be replacing you with women who, I imagine, look and act much different than you.

But one of the mistakes I see most often is assuming your husband is going to pornography because you aren’t enough for him. You believe that your husband has seen too many things – or has access to too many women – to ever be satisfied with what you have to offer.

A common misunderstanding is that because pornography is sexual in nature it must be somehow connected to intimacy or sex. It’s not.

It’s a mistake to believe that more/better sex will stop your husband from going to pornography.

He’s not going to pornography to satisfy his sexual needs. He’s going there to escape something emotionally that he doesn’t know how to manage any other way.

Everybody – with or without an addiction – has emotions they don’t like feeling. These emotions might include stress, boredom, loneliness, fear, hopelessness, sadness, etc…

Throughout our lives we all develop responses to these emotions, both healthy and unhealthy. Some healthy responses could be running, yoga, or reading. Some unhealthy responses might be smoking, overeating, drinking, or self-harm.

Addictions form when we become dependent on that response, whether it be healthy or unhealthy.

For example, I would use pornography to escape feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. It wasn’t about what I was seeing. It was simply a response to a negative emotion I didn’t want to feel anymore.

Like most young people I started looking at pornography simply out of curiosity. I didn’t know what a naked girl looked like, and where else was I going to see one as a kid?

After the curiosity wore off, my brain learned – without me even noticing – that whenever I was watching pornography I didn’t feel lonely or hopeless. Of course those feelings would always come back, but at least it was a break.

And guess what…

It worked every time. Pornography was 100% effective at giving me a break from feeling lonely or hopeless.

At that time I didn’t realize I was using it as a response to those feelings, so I made the mistake too many people make by focusing only on the outlet…the pornography itself.

I tried everything to keep it away from me. And that’s what I see you trying to do.

You create passwords, filters, blockers, curfews, etc…

You do anything you can think of to keep your husband away from pornography.

But pornography isn’t the problem. It’s simply his attempted solution to the problem.

If you make pornography the problem, and simply try to remove it from his life, your husband will either find a way to get around whatever blocks you’ve created, or he will find another way to deal with whatever emotion he’s escaping…and this new response probably won’t be any better.

In case you want to see how this looks in real life, here are some examples…

  • In college my roommate had me create a password for his laptop so he’d only be able to use his computer when I was around. I didn’t know about his own personal struggle, I just figured he was trying to be safe. One day I came home earlier than expected, and I found him watching pornography on my laptop since he couldn’t get on his.
  • A few years later I had a friend of mine create a password for my laptop in my own attempt to stay away from pornography. Because I didn’t have the password I actually learned how to hack into a computer so I could hack into my own computer.
  • A girl I know was able to stop watching pornography as a response to her negative emotions, but because she didn’t deal with the actual problem she started cutting herself instead. The pain gave her a distraction from the negative emotions she was feeling.

Your husband has a better chance of staying away from pornography if he focuses less on pornography itself and starts focusing on his emotions. He needs to figure out what emotions are driving him to pornography, and then he needs to develop healthy outlets for those emotions.

Find a counselor.

A counselor would be extremely helpful in figuring out what emotions your husband is struggling with, and with helping him develop these new outlets.

Another fear you might have is what life will be like for you two moving forward. You’ve probably heard things like “once an addict, always an addict” or “pornography will be a struggle for the rest of his life.”

That can be pretty scary, and you might even be wondering if staying with him is the right thing to do.

While I can’t answer that for you, maybe I can help a little by telling you what it’s like inside my head. Like I said before, I struggled with pornography for over 10 years.

What’s life like now? After a year and a half of not using pornography as a response to loneliness or hopelessness…do I still crave it?

No, I don’t.

Because I’ve been able to identify what emotions drove me to pornography in the past, I’ve been able to find other ways to deal with them. My brain still knows that pornography always worked when I needed a break from my negative emotions, but my brain also knows that there are other ways to do the same thing.

There was one time during an anxiety attack that I told my wife “I don’t want to watch pornography, and I’m not going to, but I can at least identify this as a moment when I would have in the past.”

I knew that I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling in that moment, and that would have been a moment pornography would have given me a break.

But was I tempted? No.

I wasn’t white-knuckling it. I wasn’t barely holding on. I simply identified the situation as one I wanted to escape, and I knew that in the past I used pornography to do that.

There have been times, and there will be times, when I remember how effective pornography was. But it isn’t a matter of choosing between pornography or something else. I know there are other ways of dealing with feeling lonely or hopeless.

Another thing that helped me was learning that I didn’t have to escape my feelings. It is OK to feel lonely or hopeless. It is OK to cry for a while. It is OK to wonder if things are going to get better.

That willingness to feel really helped me because it gave me a reason to stay in the moment. I didn’t need to take a break. I didn’t need to escape.

And, yes…I recognize that I am not your husband. I had my reasons for using pornography and your husband has his. Heck, maybe your husband doesn’t even want to stop, and if he doesn’t I’m so sorry.

But regardless of where he’s at mentally or emotionally…it’s never been your fault. You’re not the cause of his struggle, and, quite honestly, you’re not going to be the one to fix it.

You don’t need to change. He does.

 

P.S.

Some of you have probably heard about dopamine, and you may think I left something out by not talk about it.

In short, if you don’t know what dopamine is, it’s a chemical released in the brain to signal when something is pleasurable.

People often talk about how watching pornography releases dopamine in the brain the same way certain drugs do, and therefore it’s addictive.

While dopamine is a real thing, I didn’t really want to focus on that side of addiction.

Yes, watching pornography does release dopamine in the brain. But do you know what else does? Eating chocolate, hugging somebody, winning the school spelling bee, seeing somebody you love come down the escalator at the airport arrival section, etc…

Attributing your husband’s pornography addiction simply to dopamine being released in the brain is insufficient or maybe even inaccurate. It may be a contributing factor, but if dopamine were the only thing he needed you’d simply have to stock up on his favorite candy bar.

If that didn’t do it, having sex with him sure would.

(I do realize this is an over-simplification of how the brain works. Don’t give your husband candy and sign him up for spelling bees expecting some miracle.)

Also, relying solely on dopamine to explain pornography addiction does nothing for creating a solution other than encouraging an addict to fight the craving until it goes away. It’s basically the same idea as letting a drug addict go through withdrawal symptoms until he doesn’t crave the drug anymore…and that doesn’t build a foundation for long-term sobriety.

 

4 thoughts on “To the Spouse of a Porn Addict: It’s Not Your Fault

  1. This is very well written and I commend you for sharing your story with people. As a fellow recovering porn addict, I know the potential for shame, judgment and embarrassment that comes with letting people know about your struggle. I also know what the partners go through and you said what they absolutely need to hear.

    I agree with 95% of what you say, especially about needing to get to the root of the problem, but I diverge a little bit at the very end during your PS.

    First, it’s serotonin, not dopamine that is released with chocolate in the average person. Serotonin is one of several brain chemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin that are released when one engages in their addiction. These are known as the “pleasure centers” in the brain, with dopamine being the one that gets the big hit. The main difference is dopamine makes you feel good, while serotonin makes you feel calm. I won’t get into the deep molecular and chemical weeds, but they serve two very different purposes.

    There’s enough science out there to show that while substance-based addictions (i.e. drugs) will have an additional adverse effect on the physical being, all addictions, be them substance-based or behavioral, basically have the same effect on the brain’s pleasure centers. The hit that a gambling addict gets is the same that a heroin addict, porn addict, food addict, alcoholic, video game addict, etc., gets when they engage their addiction.

    The porn addict won’t get that buzz from a piece of chocolate — but a food addict will. Conversely, you can show that food addict porn all day long and it will not touch what food does for them.

    We could then get into side discussions of why we develop certain addictions over others and how to best address them, but I think we’d be on the same page there. Again, a really well written piece and I look forward to seeing more of your story as it reflects a lot of my struggle. Well done and thank you.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your input. The whole candy bar thing was me just expressing my frustration about people talking only about dopamine (among other chemicals) without offering up much of a solution. Anytime I’ve read or been taught about brain chemistry I leave thinking “ok, so that’s what’s going on…now what?”
      Obviously doctors and scientists know a lot more than I do about how the brain works, so I’m not trying to challenge them at anything. I just know that the emotional side of things helped me a lot more than information about brain chemistry. I suppose others might say the opposite, but hey…what can you do?

      Liked by 1 person

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