Note: I wrote a version of this on a Reddit post the other day, but thought it deserved repeating here.
I may not highlight this enough, but pornography addiction is absolutely insidious. It will destroy some relationships and lives, but being almost six years sober and having met and known so many porn addicts and their partners at this point, I can also tell you that if he is willing to do the work, you have a decent chance of turning things around. And yes, there are many relationships that survive and get even better. I was lucky enough to be in one of these.
Unfortunately for you, the partner, you’re dealing with an addiction that affects those around the addict worse than a lot of substances and behaviors. A husband with a gambling addiction may send you into bankruptcy, but you won’t be debating your worth as a woman. A boyfriend who plays video games 20 hours per day is probably irritating, but at least you know he isn’t masturbating to those games.
Success getting through porn addiction with a partner is hard work, but if I can do, anybody can. Those of you who have partners that self-admitted their addiction or who didn’t disagree when confronted are certainly in a better position than those who have partners that are denying it 100%, but even if he doesn’t want to face it, it doesn’t mean you are helpless and it doesn’t mean you have to leave immediately.
I learned in my two trips to inpatient rehab that it doesn’t matter what the behavior or substance — if there’s no incentive to change, there’s not going to be change. If your partner thinks he can continue to look at porn without any real consequences other than you occasionally nagging, why would he change? He’s gotten by on gaslighting, manipulating, lying and deceiving for this long… in his mind history proves he’ll get away with it again.
At this point, you should be getting yourself into therapy. Whether you are just mildly bothered or have a horrible case of betrayal trauma, it’s time to start working on processing your feelings and having somebody to discuss these things with who has experience. Taking care of yourself needs to be your new No. 1 priority…no matter what happens moving forward.
Before you make any grand pronouncements to your partner, figure out what you want out of not only the relationship moving forward, but also your life. You must decide what you can live with and what you cannot and how those goals can be achieved. A professional can certainly help you with this. The bottom line question is: Are you willing to continue on with this life, with his addiction likely only getting worse? If the answer is yes, buckle up. It’s going to be rough.
If the answer is no, you need to establish what are non-negotiable things that you want. Do you need him to change to a flip phone and put browser filters on his computer? Do you need him to start to see a therapist and attend 12-step meetings at a group like Sex Addicts Anonymous? Do you want him to go to rehab or join you at marriage counseling? Do you need his big box of porn destroyed or weekly trips with the guys to the strip club to end?
Now, ask yourself if it really is non-negotiable. What are you willing to do if he doesn’t comply? Are you willing escalate things and put your entire relationship on the line? If you’re going to provide him with these boundaries and ultimatums, you’re going to need to have consequences. They can start small, like you won’t accompany him to the weekly trip to grandma’s house or he’ll need to do his own laundry (if he doesn’t.) Consequences can escalate to things like you don’t want him to go to church with you or you won’t sleep in the same bed, but you need to be prepared to bring things up to the point of asking him to leave or being willing to leave yourself.
Next, is the second-most difficult part…you have to convey your wishes. Don’t beat around the bush. If you need to put it in writing to get through it, do so. There can be no miscommunication with this. He needs to know what you expect and what will happen if he cannot comply.
It doesn’t matter what you request: YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. You are an equal partner in the relationship and have complete control over your life. By that token, he has complete control of his life and will only change if he wants. Here’s the thing though…once a guy is willing to admit to himself he has the addiction (whether it involves prodding or not) he generally recognizes that you are far more important than the porn. Even the addict who is trying but repeatedly fails generally understands what his priorities should be. It’s the rare one who will never admit to the problem. They exist, though.
I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in your situation because everyone has a different story, but I would urge you take a step back with every decision you make and simply be sure it’s what you want to do because sending mixed messages does not help an addict. And if what you think he did was disgusting and you don’t approve…he knows it. If you create a judgmental atmosphere, it’s not going to help recovery. He needs to feel safe to open up to you, and making him feel as bad as you feel — while it may feel right in the heat of the moment — will hurt long-term success.
Now the most difficult part. If he doesn’t comply with your ultimatums and boundaries, you MUST go through with the consequences. It is a MUST. Otherwise, this is just another message he will twist in his head that you are not to be taken seriously.
I could ramble on. After all, I wrote a book, but I just want the women who read this to know that you are better than having to live in a horrible situation. That situation can change in many instances.
In those it can’t, you are not cast to a lifetime of misery. If you can say that you tried, there is no shame in walking away. Heck, there’s not even shame in deciding you can’t try and walking away if you feel that’s the best option for your self-care. Remember, this is about you and YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. No matter what happens, you can be a strong person.