Jill knew she needed to talk with Todd about his most recent revelation during their counseling session. The counselor warned her about verbally attacking Todd, which was all she wanted to do. Make. Him. Hurt.
But how could she be kind?
Jill struggled to separate Todd’s choice to watch porn repeatedly with the man who sat before her today. He seemed broken, but was he? What else would come out during their sessions? Jill felt shattered, broken beyond repair. Yet she needed to know everything—the extent, type, and how often Todd watched porn. Was that all he did? Was there a physical affair as well?
Torn, Jill watched Todd.
“Do you get it? Do you understand how much this hurts, Todd?”
“I never meant to hurt you. It’s not like I visited a prostitute each time. But what Jim said in our session today got me thinking. It probably feels that way, huh?”
Todd watched Jill, fearing her response. He felt like a complete idiot while struggling to justify his actions. The inner battle continued. How would she respond to his question?
How do you talk with your spouse about porn use when you feel so betrayed?
Practice being KIND.
1. Know your emotional gauge.
Before you can hope for a healthy conversation about the devastation of porn, please understand your emotions. One positive way to do this involves writing out all your thoughts. Allow your jumbled thoughts to spill onto paper until nothing else comes. Read over what you wrote. Did you get it all out?
Making a decision when under heightened emotional stress isn’t advisable. Proverbs 3:7-8 cautions us not to trust our own wisdom. We must listen for God to speak into the turmoil and pain. As long as you aren’t in immediate physical danger, take time to process your discovery. If you need a few days away to do this, then figure out how to make that happen. You might also need professional help.
2. Invite your spouse toward health.
How often do you rush to converse with someone who tends to be antagonistic? Honestly evaluate how you speak toward your spouse. How would you evaluate your level of respect for your spouse? As the spouse of a recovering porn user, I’m learning to watch what I say to my husband and how I say it. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 16:24, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”
When you can separate the struggle from the person, you tend to invite the other person toward you. Yes, you have pain to work through, but your spouse is a real person with needs, desires, wants, and fears. How do you want to be treated when you hurt your spouse deeply? You might need to take your relationship back to the beginning to rebuild your friendship and trust. See your spouse’s struggle as a wound that needs professional help. Remember, your relationship is worth fighting for.
3. Normalize the topic.
Learn all you can about porn addiction and its effects on the brain, self-esteem, and relationships. Understand the addictive nature of porn. When I finally understood that his porn use was a way to deal with his inner wounds, I could separate my emotions from the problem. At that point, I became part of his “team.” We learned to work together to heal our relationship.
Talking with each other about what’s happened, the triggers, and how you can support each other in healing from this betrayal minimizes shame, fear, and embarrassment. The more you can discuss the struggles, the more trust you build. Talk about the science of why porn hurts the user, the spouse, and the relationship. Learn about God’s design for sexuality and intimacy. Discuss how you can build your covenant relationship and why that creates safety and intimate joy.
4. Deepen your commitment.
The success of the first three actions hinges on this decision. At some point, you and your spouse need to choose to work through the wounds and fight for your marriage. If one of you has a foot out the door, finding the courage to be vulnerable and open with the other is difficult. Without this decision, it’s too easy to walk away and find someone new to do life with.
Dave and I independently chose to remain married to each other. That mindset forced us toward a mutual goal–to survive the crisis intact. Every obstacle offered the opportunity to grow and become stronger people. Eventually, we re-discovered why we got married. When a bump in the road felt like Mt. Everest, and there were many, we remembered our commitment and pushed forward. Commitment provides the courage to face the struggle.
What if you start out trying to be kind, but every attempt to talk with your spouse about porn use ends in a fight?
Seek professional help. Judging your spouse creates more barriers between you. Check your motives for why you want to talk with your spouse about porn. What’s the purpose of the conversation? If you feel stuck in the blame game, your spouse probably feels more shame, which pushes you further apart. Dave and I needed assistance to move beyond the high emotions, fears, shame, and denial to a place where we could practice kindness through these actions.
The worst thing you can do is deny the problem and hope it will disappear.
When you reach out for help, you discover you aren’t alone. There is hope to recover and find the freedom to live a healthy life.