What is a woman to do if her husband is using pornography?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—Resources to help men deal with pornography addictions are common, but how should a woman deal with the devastating pain of knowing her husband has been ensnared in one of Satan’s most lethal traps?
Dr. Rebekah Land, a Southern Baptist psychotherapist in private practice in Nashville, Tenn., told Baptist Press that Internet pornography is considered the “crack cocaine” of pornography these days because it’s so addicting and easily accessible. Pastors are not immune to its deceitful allure, tearing apart families every day.
“It used to be that if a guy wanted to look at pornography he’d have to go to some seedy, XXX theater and watch awful B-grade or C-grade films,” Land said.
But today, the most common pornography users wouldn’t dare go to a theater or creepy bookstore; the average man can be swept up and his marriage shattered without even leaving his office.
In this kind of environment, it’s all the more necessary that wives become armed with the knowledge of how to react to such potential infidelity before they’re taken down by despair.
“A lot of times the first thing that happens when a wife finds out, they’re just devastated,” Land said. “Before they can even get to what they need to do as far as their husband is concerned, they need to deal with it themselves. They have to deal with the hurt, the devastation, the embarrassment, the anger. It feels like a betrayal, it feels like he’s had an affair. Probably the first thing they have to do is try to get their own head together and identify their feelings and what it means to them.”
Land said pornography use is not an instant justification for divorce because God says in His Word to forgive no matter how hard it seems. Situations vary, she said, and something a woman needs to consider is the reason why her husband has turned to pornography.
If the husband’s sin is an indiscretion, Land said, that’s different than if it’s an indication of a pattern of addiction. Some men simply fall into the trap of lusting after multiple women, while for others their addiction is the result of a deeper, lifelong pattern of sin, she said.
“If you uncovered what looked like maybe a lifelong pattern, it would be a little harder to accept that he’s going to get over it because that’s one of the issues,” Land said. “The behavior has to stop. So if you realize that he’s got maybe multiple addictions and you didn’t realize he did, if it looks like a pattern that’s been there for years and years — I’m not saying that justifies you leaving, it’s just realistically you may have a whole lot bigger mountain to climb than somebody else.”
Women almost automatically think that if their husbands use pornography it’s because the wife doesn’t measure up physically. But Land said that’s not always the case.
“That may not be what he’s saying. The problem with Internet stuff or just print pornography, what happens is it’s easier to do that than to work at a relationship with your wife,” she said. “It’s not necessarily that it’s more satisfying than she is, that may not be what he’s saying. It’s more convenient, a picture doesn’t talk back to you.”
One factor that can lead men into pornography use as adults is if they were exposed to it at an early age, Land said.
“If he finds a stack of magazines that his dad has under the bed or in the closet or something, what can happen is that awakens sexual feelings and attaches them to a picture as opposed to a person,” she said. “That is a very difficult thing to pry loose.”
Land said that in today’s culture pornography is so prevalent that often it’s hard for a woman to notice warning signs that her husband is keeping the secret from her.
“Sometimes what will happen is maybe the husband stays up later and is on the computer or he goes upstairs to his study and the rest of the family is downstairs,” she said. “But that wouldn’t necessarily tell you a thing.
“Sometimes you’ll see clues on the surface like maybe it seems like a guy has an eye for women, like he goes to a football game and he’s watching the cheerleaders or he seems to look too long at waitresses, something that tells you there’s an issue there,” Land added.
Once a woman realizes that her husband is using pornography and once she gets her own head together, Land said the next step is to confront the husband — something that will take different forms for different personalities. And if a husband wants to stop his addiction, he must first tell his wife, she said.
“There is no way to start the process of working on that and your wife not know about it,” Land said. “But that’s a difficult thing because you know there’s a real possibility that that’s going to blow things open and she’s not going to be too happy with you.”
An exception, she said, would be if a woman had been sexually abused as a child and such knowledge of her husband would reopen wounds.
“But in general, he would need to be aboveboard about that and show her the steps that he was going to take and involve her in the process of him overcoming that,” she said. “Ideally, if that was dealt with well, they could grow through that just like anything else.
“A lot of times I think when things hit the fan in a marriage, the potential is if they work through whatever it is, the relationship will be stronger than it ever has been because something was wrong that it got to the place where whatever it is happened,” Land told BP. “So it was an illusion that they were happy and everything was OK. Everything wasn’t OK.”
Some steps toward healing that a couple can take include contacting their pastor and asking him to recommend a reliable Christian therapist. The couple doesn’t even have to tell the pastor what the problem is, Land said, and the therapist can then refer the couple to someone who may specialize in the field of pornography addiction if that therapist does not feel qualified to take them on as patients. By that point, the couple’s names don’t even have to be mentioned, Land said.
From there, a Christian therapist can help the couple walk down the road to recovery. Also, Land recommended two resources couples could consult. The first is a book for women by Marsha Means called “Living with Your Husband’s Secret Wars,” and the second is a workbook for men by Mark Laaser titled “Faithful and True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World.”
The bottom line in guarding a marriage against pornography, Land said, is open and honest communication between a husband and wife.
“Very often it’s the nature of this kind of thing to be secret. So if you had a marriage where it felt safe to be vulnerable or safe to acknowledge what was going on with you or struggles that you were having, that would be ideal,” Land said.
It also wouldn’t hurt for a husband to do all he can to avoid images that could cause him to lust, she added, because today’s culture is saturated with sensuality.
“It’s a matter of having a filter on your computer, not watching certain programs, not going to certain movies and not thinking that you’re not susceptible to it,” Land said.