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TheRelationshipCafe 08/28/08

Myself, My Wife and Porn

I was reluctant to write another column on pornography, however, the emails keep coming in about the absolutely devastating impact this addiction has on marriages.

In my book, Breaking Everyday Addictions I note how sexual addictions are more rampant than anyone realizes. From men who have serial affairs, to those who are addicted to pornography, sexual addictions are particularly malignant and destructive to marriages. 

As with all forms of addictions, sexual addictions become secretive, are fraught with denial and minimization, and are progressive. Destructive behavior continues in spite of the positive intentions of the addicted person. No longer free to choose their behavior, they are instead driven by secret, shameful compulsions.

One of the most difficult aspects of sexual addictions concerns the issue of “coming clean.” The spouse of the sexual addict often wants to know the full extent of the addiction, and because of the very secretive nature of the addict, that information is either not forthcoming, or is not believed. The couple is left with rampant distrust.

Consider this recent email on the issue:

Dear Dr. Hawkins.  I am forty years old and have been married to the same woman for twenty years.  I went in and out of pornography for the first fifteen years of our marriage and was caught repeatedly at it.  I finally had victory over it because a friend of mine and I formed an accountability group.  That helped me immensely.  However, people stopped attending the group and it sort of fell apart.

Unfortunately, my oldest son got hooked on it, brought it into the house and the subject of porn became a constant subject between my wife and me.  We ended up asking him to leave the house.  But the temptation started again and I started viewing it on the web.  For six weeks I would view it, save sites and then erase the whole thing.  I even viewed bondage porn.  My wife caught me and as can be expected it was like dropping a hand grenade into our marriage.  I ended up going for counseling, contacting a very strong Christian man and asking him to allow me to be accountable to him, to which he agreed and put a Covenant Eyes program on my laptop to track what sites I looked at.  That all happened at the end of April.  The man who agreed to make me accountable told me that I had to put up with whatever she wanted to dish out for six weeks, the approximate time I'd spent dipping into and out of porn sites.  I did.  However, since then, she has vented in loud screaming, swearing at me, throwing books and plates, not at me, but across rooms and even now we have arguments that last for a day or two.  I was reading your articles on 'Crazymakers' and I think that some of the characteristics apply to both of us.  However, we just don't seem to be able to communicate calmly or respectfully.  She claims that I'm not interested in what she has to say. My perspective is she wants to be able to say anything, whether it is true or not, and not let me have a say.  She clings to every mistake I make and then whips me with it.  I know that I probably do the same things she does, but our arguments sometimes last for days and I feel emotionally drained. Help!

First things first. You need to deal with your sexual addiction. Take whatever steps are necessary, including the possibility of an inpatient program, or a community-based program such as Sexual Addicts Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery to deal effectively with your sexual addiction. You found some success with an accountability partner but this is not likely enough. Consider taking dramatic steps to recover from this serious problem. Until you do, your wife will remain distrusting, angry and resentful. 

Once you have dealt honestly with your addiction, complete with accountability, then you can work on your marriage. You cannot expect your wife to act rationally when there is incredible chaos, deception and destruction occurring in your home.
I’m also concerned that you talk as if you’re the victim, while expecting your wife to act like nothing terrible is occurring. She is the victim of incredible betrayal, deception and disrespect. You have relapsed again and again, undoubtedly making her feel betrayed again and again. Part of your recovery will be to make amends to her for your actions and assuring her you are serious about recovery.

This principle, incidentally, fits for any addiction. Wherever there is addiction—and our homes are plagued with everyday addictions—there is deception, excuse-making, rationalizing and other forms of unhealthy communication. Addiction breeds bondage, idolatry and “crazymaking.”

After you have fully faced the severity of your addiction, and taken steps toward healing, then I recommend marriage counseling to learn effective communication and conflict resolution skills. There is absolutely no reason to be fighting for days. Your wife may need to be involved in her own recovery program as well, simultaneous to your program.

Unfortunately, finding psychologists and specialists in this field may be somewhat difficult. Don’t give up. As you suggested, you may have to start your own chapter of SAA. Remember, half measures don’t change anything.
Addiction impacts everyone in the family. Both of you need to heal from the years of betrayal, and develop strategies for keeping your home free from pornography in the future. Understand that it will take time for your wife to trust you again, and she may need her own counseling to recover from your addiction and unhealthy patterns of communication she has learned. Thankfully, you both can recover and your marriage can be restored if you want it badly enough.

Please share your experience with this problem. Let others know what has been helpful to you. Are you aware of other programs helpful for sexual addicts and their mates? Feel free to contact me through my website for more information.

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