Picture with me for a moment that you come home one night to find your partner engaging sexually with another person. Shock and rage consume you, yet there is no one but them to hear your cries. They are the only person in the room. This other person?? They are on the computer screen, completely oblivious to your presence. Your partner completely oblivious to your presence, this is the person you pledged your love, commitment, and fidelity to all those months and years ago, and now you feel like you’re competing with pornography for their love, attention, and affection. Where do you possibly go from here? While a portion of you wants to help him rid his life of this addiction, another part of you is reeling with hurt, anger, and betrayal. I know because I see these situations unfold in my office everyday, and yes it is extremely startling on the unset to find your partner deeply entrenched in the graphic nature of pornography. Although there is hope…
If you’ve just discovered your partner’s or a family members porn habit, you are probably angry and hurt. If, despite that, you are wondering how to help your loved one overcome and understand the habit and move forward, here are some steps you can take.
STEP 1: START WITH REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
There are a few things you can do in this situation and a lot of things you can’t do, because most of what needs to be done is up to your partner.
Point out to your spouse that his or her pornography use is unhealthy and unfaithful.
Express your feelings about your partner’s porn.
Recommend resources like this site, and suggest counseling and recovery programs.
Ask your spouse to stop.
Provide support and encouragement during the recovery process.
Make your partner quit.
Fix, heal, or otherwise change your spouse.
Serve as your partner’s only counselor, listener, or source of guidance.
Hold yourself responsible for your spouse’s struggles, setbacks, or relapses.
STEP 2: EDUCATE AND UNDERSTAND YOURSELF
As with any chronic illness affecting family members, you should try to develop a working understanding of the person’s situation and its treatment options. This is were I come into the picture. I strive to untangle the web and clarify the true nature of the situation. This will help you be a more knowledgeable, savvy source of support and give you some basis for evaluating what your partner tells you. Empathetically understanding how addiction works may also help you in processing your own feelings about the actions. Knowledge about the implications of this addiction can also empower you to make informed decisions about your own well-being if necessary. As a support system you must remember it’s not just about the act, their brain, their desires all are being affected.
STEP 3: TALK TO THE PERSON
This is the really hard part. You are probably still very angry and very deeply hurt, and our natural reaction in such an emotional situation is to yell. In my office I hear from the person inflicted by this pain, “my expected guess is they hate me and go into shame.” On the other side of the situation the partner thinking it is about them says, “My natural reaction is to yell a lot!” But that is not a productive approach. While you would be well within your rights to vent your anger at person, yelling is not likely to get your point through to your partner. Is your goal to vent your anger, or is your goal to get a particular response from your partner (an admission of guilt, an apology, corrective action, or another constructive response)? If you want your partner to understand your feelings, recognize the problem, and address it, a calmer approach will be more effective.
Here is just one way to gently confront and ask in a positive and non-threating way.
Let your spouse know that you are aware of his or her activities. Be specific, as opposed to making vague references. Factual in your mind is important.
Express your feelings about these activities. Are you angry? Are you hurt? Do you feel betrayed? Do you find pornography sickening? Do you question your attractiveness? Tell your partner these things, as calmly as you can.
Make clear to your spouse that you consider pornography use unacceptable in the relationship you share.
Ask your partner why he or she has done these things. This may give you useful information, and it may give your spouse something to think about.
STEP 4: RECOMMEND RECOVERY RESOURCES
If your partner is going to successfully give up porn and move forward, he or she will need help, more than you alone can provide. Recommend that your spouse seek counseling or therapy to help deal with the issues that led to the pornography use, its negative impact, and the process of quitting and recovery. Remind your partner that there is no shame in seeking treatment for an addiction or any other mental health issue, just as there is no shame in seeking treatment for a virus or a broken arm.12-Step and other kinds of recovery program are available in most areas, by phone, or online. Inspire your partner to pursue out one of these programs and participate actively and regularly if possible. If your partner is reluctant, encourage him or her to at least try the program with an open mind. I specifically offer a 30 min complimentary consult just to share this very information.
Step 5: REMEMBER IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Porn is not about you. It’s not about the size of your breasts, the size of your penis, or what you’re not willing to do in bed. The number one myth about porn is that it’s about sex. It’s not about sex. It’s about escape and fantasy. The brain begins to play funny tricks on the person and it becomes a conditioned response. It’s about engaging with a false world so one can disengage from all the problems and fears that come with reality. My hope is to offer space and engage in a meaningful conversation about this issue.
Above all else, there is hope, there is support and if you are willing to talk, engage in the journey that is the most important thing for your loved one. It is not easy and there is a place to heal.
Ryan is a Sex Therapist in Uptown Minneapolis where he specializes in pornography awareness, pornography addiction and other sexual behaviors, trauma and healing. Schedule a complimentary consultation or get him to speak to your group, at http://www.healingsoulsllc.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.