As an author and speaker about the inner thoughts and feelings of men, including the visual nature of men, I get a lot of questions from my audiences, like this very common one: “I just discovered my spouse is using porn and am devastated. What should I do?”
My team and I always want to have answers, but since we are social researchers and not counselors, we interviewed Michael Todd Wilson to get his take on this. Michael Todd (MT) is a licensed professional counselor and a certified sex therapist who we highly respect. He gives counsel and advice to men and women all over the country on these topics, and we wanted to tap into his wisdom for a series of articles based on our interviews with him.
What follows is professional and practical advice for the person who has discovered their spouse using porn. For simplicity, we wrote from the viewpoint of a wife discovering her husband’s porn habit, as that is the majority of cases, but the same advice would apply if the roles are reversed.
This advice also assumes the spouses in question have a personal faith in God. We know not all readers will share that personal faith, but we unapologetically believe no one can do this on their own. If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to God and see that you can rely on Him for help in all areas of life – starting with your own difficulties right now.
And that is vital because as you will see, it is essential to ask God to give you the ability to respond well before you tackle this topic with your mate, to have not only good, firm boundaries, but also a healthy dose of the grace and compassion that is so important to a good outcome.
How on earth do you do that in such a hurtful situation? Read on.
From Michael Todd Wilson:
The first – and single most important – piece of advice I have for someone who discovers their spouse is struggling with sexual integrity is to avoid the almost irresistible urge to charge towards them with confrontation and aggression.
Yes, you will be angry. But venting anger isn’t going to lead your spouse to be an appropriately broken person who’s willing to walk the difficult journey ahead. Instead, it will close them off and trigger a denial response, such as “You’re crazy, I am not looking at porn.” (Or whatever sexual integrity problem he is dealing with.)
While there is a need to grieve the loss of what you thought you had in your marriage before discovering the infidelity, it’s not going to help to believe the worst about your spouse, either.
If your husband is a Christ-follower, he knows he is not where God wants him to be. And even if he isn’t, he probably has felt guilty about his porn use; otherwise he wouldn’t have been hiding it.
No matter what, it is almost certain that, despite his actions, he deeply cares about you.
There is a very important need and opportunity right now to encourage your spouse out of the shadows of porn or any sexual infidelity, and towards the light. Which is the only way healing will come.
Encourage him to get help rather than simply demanding he get help ‘or else.’
Sharing the truth that this is unacceptable, and that you need him to seek help for change, and doing it firmly but gently, could be the catalyst God uses to redeem your husband’s behavior and protect your marriage and family.
Here are four initial steps to take:
1. Under no circumstances should you accept any responsibility for your spouse’s actions. Reject any impulse to feel you have caused your spouse to be unfaithful. However, just as you expect him to examine himself and do some hard work in his life, this is an opportunity for you, the offended spouse, to look inside and “own” whatever difficulties in the marriage may be on your side of the relationship. For example, I see that often (not always, but often), there has been marital conflict on both sides that has led to infrequent sex or sexual problems. Which is sometimes a contributing factor to a spouse’s pain. Again, though: These may be contributing factors, but how your spouse chooses to respond to these difficulties (by hookups or porn) is fully, one hundred percent, his responsibility.
2. Be gentle in the way you approach your spouse. I know this will be extremely difficult, but at the outset, refrain from expressions of anger and try to see that your partner is hurting on the inside, whether he admits to such pain or not. You can share those feelings of anger with your spouse at some point when it’s more beneficial. Initially though, it’s most helpful to take this anger to God and press into Him. At first, discussions about what’s happening with your husband’s porn use should be limited to your most trusted one or two friends, preferably ones who aren’t family (sharing with family now will likely have unintended, detrimental consequences on that relationship later).
3. Accept denial as a natural response of the spouse who is caught – i.e. “That porn website in the computer history wasn’t me – that was one of the kids.” Denial goes with the problem, and you may not be able to break it yourself. Pray for God to convict him and break through the denial. I have seen over and over again that the Holy Spirit will convict your spouse much more effectively than you ever could.
4. Don’t believe the worst in your spouse. Your spouse is actually in pain. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing in the first place. (Porn use, believe it or not, is often a means of coping.) Offer empathy and encouragement to get help. If your spouse is ready, help him to take the next step to get help (such as finding a local ministry or men’s accountability group.) If not, give him space and pray until he is. It can be so hard to wait, but he truly has to be ready to get help; if he is only “getting help” because you insist, it is not likely you will see the true life change you both need.
If you feel that you have already “messed up” in how you approached your spouse initially, it’s simple enough to go back and confess. After all, this is exactly what you wish your partner would do with regard to his own sexual mess-ups. You can model the same humility in confession that you long to see from him.
So if you spewed your anger initially, you can go back and confess that, and apologize, even months later: “You know, when I first confronted you I did it in a way that caused more harm than good. I was scared, angry, hurt … I turned that into punishment. I’m really sorry.”
All these steps will create a gentle but firm approach to make it easier for your spouse to move toward the light instead of running, hiding, denying or downplaying poor sexual choices.
Thanks. I hope this was helpful. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this piece.
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