Marriage Damaged by Porn: A Pastor’s Reflections

Marriage Damaged
Recently I was asked about a very difficult situation.

A woman has been married to a man with a long-term addiction to pornography.  The last few years he’s been trying to stop, but by his own efforts alone. When she asks him if he’s struggling he will deny it. She finds out he’s using again and then has the double-hurt of his use and his lying.

At one point, with her husband’s permission, she talked with their pastor (who is also her husband’s brother) about this situation. He told her that her husband had to seek help (true) and that there was nothing he could do (not necessarily true). He then said a prayer. If her hope was for anything more than that, she was disappointed.

She concluded this part of her story (there is another piece of the story we’ll take up in subsequent post) by saying “this problem has gone on for so long I don’t talk to my husband about it anymore.”

This woman is in a terribly difficult situation, one that is not of her own making.

The realities of porn use and marriage

The use of pornography by a married partner does serious damage to genuine intimacy in a marriage. By using porn all these years, the husband has tolerated and developed a use of his own sexuality in relationship to another entity. It is neither a healthy nor redemptive relationship (the husband and porn). It is much as if he were having an affair.

Related: Can Porn be Used Responsibly? – by Kurt Willems

Further, though he’s tried to stop using porn these last few years, it appears he is not acknowledging the magnitude of his problem. He is an addict; he is genuinely powerless over the attraction porn has for him. Until he admits the depth of his problem he’ll not do whatever necessary to move to health.

Finally, in this case, the husband is clearly aware that his wife knows about his porn use. They’ve had conversations about it. His refusal to take the necessary steps to deal with it is a hurtful statement of how little value he has for their marriage.

What can she do? Well, there are a couple of things she cannot do; no matter how hard she tries they won’t work.

What the wife cannot do

She cannot be his accountability partner. Pornography use for sexual gratification by one partner is personally belittling and hurtful to the other. So knowing the details of his usage will keep her unnecessarily exposed to a painful aspect of their relationship.

Further, if the husband does ever start working on this problem, he will be less likely to be honest and forthcoming with his spouse than with someone else.

Finally, he’s not asking her for her help, anyway. She is the one who recognizes the problem and is wanting things to change. Not him. So trying to hold him accountable is not going to work.

The other thing she cannot do is make him want to get well. Talking to her husband hasn’t changed anything. It’s only added to her frustration and pain. Going to talk to the pastor/brother—even with her husband’s permission—didn’t help either.

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So, what can she do?

She can take responsibility for her own well-being. She needs not to be alone, and in this day and age she doesn’t have to be. Here is one of the upsides of the Internet age:  resources are available to her that weren’t available to her sisters a generation ago.

She can learn if there is anything in her upbringing, self-understanding, and faith system that leads her to remain in such a personally demeaning situation. Porn is toxic. She must detach and objectively evaluate what is really happening in her marriage. Then establish appropriate and healthy boundaries.

Also by T.C.: Sexual Brokenness in the Church – Confessions of a Pastor and Sex-Addict

She can find online support systems for spouses of addicts. Find safe people and develop as many healthy friendships as she can.

And pray. I mean genuinely develop her daily conversation with her heavenly Father about who she is in His eyes and how to realign her own view of herself with how the Lord actually sees her. Ask him to help her rearrange her own thought patterns and behaviors. And she can ask the Father to intervene in her husband’s soul.

None of this will be easy. Becoming healthy never is. Her husband’s pornography use has cruel costs for both of them. She, at least, is aware of the hurt and the lie.

There is grace and mercy available to them both, and to their marriage, even yet. Sometimes the mercy of God for us feels severe. But it is often in that severity that we find the mercy of God and the path to healing. I hope she will move herself into the light even if he won’t.


Dr. T. C. Ryan, author of Ashamed No More, is a speaker and pastor, retreat and seminar leader. He leads two recovery groups, one for clergy and one for men in the church he and his wife currently attend. He blogs at tc-ryan.com, and you can learn more about his ministry on his Facebook page, T. C. Ryan or on Twitter @tcryanone

This article originally appeared at Covenant Eyes

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About the Author

T.C. Ryan

T.C. RyanDr. T. C. Ryan, author of Ashamed No More, is a speaker and pastor, retreat and seminar leader. He leads two recovery groups, one for clergy and one for men in the church he and his wife currently attend. He blogs at tc-ryan.com, and you can learn more about his ministry on his Facebook page, T. C. RyanView all posts by T.C. Ryan →

  • jonathan starkey

    Why can’t we replace porn for homosexuality? Or do you just say the husband is normal and the wife is being a bigot?

    Another thought:
    Is this why Exodus shut down, because it can’t be gay societies accountability partner. Because gay society refuses help. And it becomes hurtful and counter productive.

    And the church needs to take the role of the wife, and work on herself.

    You can work on yourself, but still there is an issue of justice.

    • jonathan starkey

      Sorry for being a Johnny one note about gay issues. But in light of the recent articles, I find an inconsistency to this one.

      Why is homosexuality accepted and normal, but pornography detestable and destructive?

      • jonathan starkey

        Is the whole sin about betrayal to the covenant relationship, and not about destruction to the family and the broader community?

        • jonathan starkey

          For me does this site have anymore credibility to address sexual sin?

          Though I am thankful for an article that does.

          I ask for more of these types of articles.

  • Anonymous Christian

    You contradict yourself and you just spout off ideas with no supporting facts. Limited and very poorly formed ideas and concepts in this article.

  • Eric

    What clinical studies support the claim that pornography is addictive or that some (men) suffer from addiction to pornography?

    • jonathan starkey

      Give me a break.

      • Eric

        Sorry, do you find facts and evidence annoying?

        • jonathan starkey

          I just find the idiocy mind boggling.

          • Eric

            What idiocy would that be?

          • Frank

            I cant answer for jonathan but anyone who does not think porn is addictive and damaging has not experienced the damages caused by it.

          • Eric

            Frank, I suspect that would be a rather large number of people. After reading your cite and doing a little digging, it seems porn addiction is a debated topic, but there also seems to be a growing recognition of it as a psychological condition. What I haven’t yet found, though, are numbers, stats on what percentage of porn “users” are addicts, etc. That’s a separate issue from this article, but knowing that would help put the problem in a larger perspective.

        • jonathan starkey

          The above story itself is evidence. A man in a marriage despite the damage and consequences to his wife, himself, his family, seemingly does not have the power within himself to stop looking at pornography inspite of all efforts to quit. It’s called insanity.

          Then to know that this story is an everyday story.

          • Eric

            An anecdote is not evidence. The situation might be quite real, but it doesn’t really provide a basis for making general, scientific claims about addiction. Like whether or not this is an “everyday story” or a anomaly.

          • jonathan starkey

            OK why do you think there is a program called Sexaholics Anonymous and whole sections of study devoted to the subject.

            I’m done talking to you.

            So logical, but can’t even see.

          • Eric

            Nothing I said denied it was real. I was only talking about Jonathan’s failure to see the difference between a story and a fact.

          • jonathan starkey

            Eric your an a-hole.

          • Eric

            Jonathan, please don’t reply to my comments unless I ask you a question directly. Every word you type lowers the collective IQ and makes baby Jesus cry.

    • Frank

      Excessive use of online porn can be thought of as a manifestation of both Internet addiction and sex addiction. In fact, porn addiction is one of the most commonly reported sex addiction problems, especially among younger individuals and among what Dr. Carnes calls “Phase 1″ sex addicts, or the lighter version of sex addiction that doesn’t involve others.

      Porn addiction develops much like a drug addiction. After an initially rewarding experience with pornography (a common experience given the cycles of sex we’d mentioned in an earlier post), individuals may experience uncontrollable urges to obtain sexual satisfaction through that form of entertainment (1). The connection between internet porn and sexual gratification is positively reinforced, and the urges become more frequent and more powerful. These connections can become so strong that simply sitting down at a computer elicits a sexual response.

      - Adi Jaffe, Ph.D.

      Citations:

      1. Griffiths, M. (2001) Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction, The Journal of Sex Research, 38(4)

      2. Cline, V.B. (2002) Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children

    • Frank

      Here is an infographic:

      • jonathan starkey

        Nice disqus allowed you to post an info graphic.

  • Nanaverm

    A good friend of mine separated from her husband and finally divorced him after many years. He was into pornography and spoke to her in a demeaning way, always comparing my friend to the fantasy women. I hope the author doesn’t suggest that the woman stay with the husband if he makes her life an emotional hell.

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