Note: I was asked to post about this question based on something else I wrote. If you’d like to have a question answered, contact information is at the end of the answer.
QUESTION: Could you please post about how a wife should focus and respond when her husband is addicted to pornography and will not admit it is an issue at all but blames her? I would love to know what to do. He apparently has been addicted since a quite young age but now prefers that to me. I fight to keep forgiving but do because God forgives me for things I do wrong. This just affects us and I want to hear your thoughts and maybe advice. His long-held denial is way too deep to see a counselor.
ANSWER: First, the sad fact about addiction you need to internalize is that it’s totally up to him at the end of the day if recovery is possible. You can threaten to leave, and you can even go ahead and leave, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s up to him, and I know what a powerless feeling that can be. The power you have in this situation is the ability to gather knowledge and the ability to understand he can’t MAKE you feel any certain way. You choose to feel that way.
You’ve got a lot going on here, so let’s break it down:
His addiction is NOT YOUR FAULT! In fact, IT HAS NOTHING DO WITH YOU. You could invite two sexy cheerleaders into the bedroom with you and it’s not going to cure him. He has the brain disease of addiction and it’s simply manifesting itself with pornography instead of alcohol, gambling, food, etc. You did not create his addiction, you’re not the reason he continues to be addicted, but you’re also not going to be able to do anything but be supportive if he tries to tame the beast. His addiction is a medical condition.
There may be other marital issues at play here that you didn’t delve into. It sounds like he’s blaming you for something he says he doesn’t have. It’s important for you to be able to put your marital issues into one column and his addiction issues into another. Some may indeed overlap, but these are two different problems.
Your husband may claim to prefer pornography to you, but what he prefers is having a proven no-maintenance outlet for stress and anxiety release. It’s easy to confuse the no-strings-attached release one gets when utilizing pornography as a surrogate for the intimacy one has with a partner. They are actually very different things that meet very different needs and I think both the addict and the partner confuse them because both scenarios usually end in orgasm. The porn doesn’t nag, the porn doesn’t say no, the porn doesn’t judge. Real-life partners do all of those things. Real life partners cause stress. His coping mechanism to deal with stress is porn, but that’s only one of the surface reasons he uses. His real issues probably run deeper than he even he can understand at this point. I made some of my biggest breakthroughs years into counseling, so if he says that there’s nothing wrong or thinks he understands why he’s addicted, he probably doesn’t have anything close to the full story.
You say that his denial is too deep to see a counselor. It sounds like he’d refuse, and you can’t legally make him go, but I caution you of jumping to that conclusion. Unless you’ve been to medical school or have been in counseling your entire life, you’ve reached a conclusion here that I don’t think you’re qualified to reach. How did you reach this conclusion? That may reveal a lot about how you view this situation, and perhaps life…but that’s another discussion for another time.
What can you do? First, take care of yourself. If that means church, great. But you need to release guilt and a sense that you have anything to do with his addiction. You don’t. You could be a horrible wife or a great wife…but the addiction isn’t your fault or responsibility.
Second, figure out your limits. How much are you willing to live with, really? I’m guessing you’ll fall back on the God thing as to why you should stay with him, and that’s fine, and a point I can’t argue, because debating God or religion is pointless since real debate comes from a point of logic and God/religion doesn’t. If you HAVE to stay because of your beliefs, try to take care of yourself and find a comfortable chair because you’re in for a bumpy ride. He will do what he wants because there will be no consequences coming from you. There’s not much more to say.
Third, if you’re not 100% tied to staying, it gives you a little leverage. You need to create some non-negotiables and boundaries…inform him about them and then follow them. If you say “I will X if you Y” but then you don’t Y, you’ve just lost all of your control. He will do what he wants because again, no consequences. Are you willing to leave if he doesn’t go to counseling or rehab? Are you ready to give some ultimatums? It doesn’t have to be that severe. Can you refuse to participate in any more fights about whose fault the porn is? Tell him you will walk away the next time he wants to engage in an argument about it. This may also be the opportunity to work on your other marriage issues.
It’s hard to tell you what the boundaries and ultimatums or the consequences should be in your case because I’m not living it, but you must be willing to follow through. Don’t make idle threats. Make promises.
The best thing you can do is to live the healthy, fulfilling life you deserve. He is not preventing you from doing that. YOU are preventing YOU from doing that. He is just causing a problem. You need to try to solve the problem, and if it’s unsolvable, you need to know you gave it your best shot and move forward. That could mean going. That could mean staying. You need to mentally move forward either way.
I would urge you to also talk to other women in your position and get support from them. If you go to the Resources site on this page, check out the two discussion forums that are mentioned along with the link to the Betrayal Trauma Recovery site. You’ll find women in all stages of the situation you find yourself in and I’m sure they can offer perspective I don’t have.
DISCLAIMER: I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page.