Help! My husband is a porn addict!

When Jenny discovered her husband Tom was visiting porn sites on the internet, trust was broken, and their relationship was suddenly on the rocks.

That’s when she cried out for help.

Jenny’s desperate cry is shared by many married partners today.

Although “internet pornography addiction” does not officially exist as a mental health disorder, recents studies are showing more and more of the effects of its compulsive nature.

One survey revealed 73% of women and 98% of men used internet pornography in the last six months (Daspe, Vaillancourt-Morel, Lussier, Sabourin, and Ferron 2018).

According to an earlier study, 17 percent of pornography users are compulsive, leading to distress and dysfunction (Cooper, Delmonico & Berg, 2000).

Is all pornography bad?

Arguments go back and forth over whether all pornography is has ill effects, and some experts are proposing that there may be some benefits to viewing porn in certain situations.

I know of relationship coaches who tell wives they should be grateful that their husband chose pornography when that choice kept them from an affair.

But many wives I talk to feel that sexual fantasy with an image IS an affair. An affair of the heart even though the social consequences may be not as severe.

A friend of mine, who considers herself a modern and progressive woman, shared her opinion with me that, “We should keep an open mind about pornography”.

This was fine and good until her husband started using pornography. Suddenly she had mixed feelings and admitted she was jealous.

There is growing evidence that suggests that pornography robs a couple of the potential of a more satisfying sexual relationship.

Studies have also shown that internet porn use may mis-wire reward circuits of the brain causing sexual dysfunction and reinforcing dependence on porn. For men, lower sexual satisfaction correlated with greater frequency of porn use (Park et al., 2016).

Some successful female porn stars claim they entered the profession fully conscious of what they were doing, and that there have been no ill effects in their lives.

Yet experts tell us that for every successful porn star, there are thousands of young girls lured or forced into the industry whose lives are destroyed.

But Chuck, women are more liberated today, and society is more sexually liberated. Right?


And yet internet porn almost always promotes male domination and female subjugation.

According to Ron Gavrieli, boys and men (btw, he claims 90% of 12 year old boys watch internet porn) are programmed to believe that their value resides in a large penis and an eternal erection.

Women are portrayed as objects just to please men.

While viewing pornography, nothing is learned of what it means to be truly connected with an intimate partner in the kind of long term relationship that gives you the real approval you need.

You learn nothing about a relationship that gives you the lasting feelings of full-aliveness you’ve longed for all your life.

And on top of that pornography doesn’t teach your how to have a mutually satisfying sex life no matter what hardware you possess.

Studies of the brain tell us that just surfing the internet itself might be addicting. Everytime you click on a link or respond to a social media notification you get a shot of dopamine. That’s why we keep doing it.

Add pornographic images to that mix, and the result is a supercharged release of dopamine that causes the brain to respond in the same way it would if you were using a drug like cocaine or heroin.

The result over time is decreased grey matter, decreased motivation, significant feelings of loneliness, the loss of contentment in the everyday normal things that used to bring joy. Those things just don’t make you happy any more.

In many cases this results in more dependence on pornography.

In this article, it’s not my purpose to debate the issue in the broad context. I’m concerned with its effect on you as a couple.

Based on Jenny and Tom’s story, I’d like for us to consider four steps that can help us overcome the effects of internet porn in our relationship.

1. Identify the real problem

Tom and Jenny discovered was that pornography was not Tom’s problem. Viewing porn was a behavior Tom was using to medicate and mask his real problem.

And what was the problem?

It was Tom’s need for approval.

Pornography was the way Tom was trying to satisfy his deeper need for approval.

Whenever Tom felt rejected by Jenny, old feelings of rejection from his dad would be triggered, and he would feel depressed. Whenever he got depressed, he looked for something to make him feel better.

One night, during an argument with Jenny, he left their bedroom and went to the living room sofa where he opened his lap top. In just a few clicks he found himself feeling much better.

The rush of dopamine that came as he viewed dozens of pornographic images brought immediate feelings of relief from his pain. He was hooked. This became a regular pattern.

This “illusion of acceptance” he experienced through porn turned out to be a cheap substitute for what he really needed. It became increasingly apparent, because every time he used porn, he always felt even emptier afterwards than he did before.

What he most needed was to feel Jenny’s approval. To be connected with her in an intimacy that would meet this deep need for approval. This would, in effect, eliminate the need for a substitute.

2. Close the “exits” you’re BOTH taking from each other

Internet porn can be an “exit” from intimacy with your partner.

Tom said his lack of intimacy with Jenny was one of the reasons he took this “exit” from the relationship.

But then he admitted that porn became the place he went instead of turning to Jenny for what he needed.

It was important for Tom to close this exit, and seek to have his needs met through a deeper connection with Jenny.

Keep in mind in these kinds of situations, both partners are taking “exits” from the relationship.

In Jenny’s case, it wasn’t pornography or an affair.

It was a focus on their children whenever she didn’t feel connected with Tom. That’s not bad in itself, but it was her “exit” from their relationship.

These exits were keeping them from getting the love they needed from each other.

3. Build an intimate connection with each other

Through a tool called The Commitment Dialogue, both Tom and Jenny agreed to close their exits from their relationship in order to spend more time together building closeness with each other. (Download your copy of this tool by clicking on the link.)

Tom made a commitment to not use pornography as an exit.

Rather, he would use Safe Conversation skills to “talk it out” rather than “act it out” everytime he felt the need to go to a porn website.

Tom realized, that through this connection with Jenny, his deeper need for approval could be met, thus eliminating the need for porn.

In the same process, Jenny made a commitment to close her exit as well in the interest of a closer relationship with Tom.

Instead turning to their children to escape the pain of the disconnection she felt, Jenny committed to move toward Tom.

She pledged to work with him to build the kind of safety that would help her feel more connected, more sexually alive, and more available to him.

So after closing the exits, they began building closeness with each other.

4. Ask for what you need from each other

In the context of a safe and connected relationship, asking for what you need becomes a powerful tool.

Tom realized that Jenny was not a mind reader. She had no idea of his need for approval. And she was never aware of when this need drove him to pornography.

Therefore it became important for Tom to become conscious of his feelings, and to ask for what he needed from Jenny rather than letting his feelings drive him back to the internet.

Tom’s freedom didn’t come from just getting rid of pornography. It came when he dealt with those feelings of rejection.

This happened when he became proactive, asking Jenny for things that made him feel loved and accepted.

As a result Tom became more equipped to handle any rejection he experienced at work or in other areas of life.

This is how marriage, when done well, can become a great source of healing you need.

What about you?

Feeling disconnected in our relationship can make us vulnerable to powerful exits like internet porn.

It can became a dangerous compulsion, because it gives us an escape from reality and a false sense of approval. Whenever we have an approval deficit, we can become compulsive seekers of whatever makes us feel approved, even if it is a fantasy.

Is this kind of thing happening in your relationship?

If so, let me encourage you to take some time to read this article with your partner, and talk openly and honestly about it together.

Then follow Tom and Jenny’s lead by taking these four steps to reconnect with each other, and to rid yourself of the problem of internet porn.

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How can my marriage survive an affair?

Does an affair mean the end of my relationship? Betrayal runs deep. Can I ever recover from this infidelity?

Here are five steps that I’ve seen couples use, not only to recover, but to discover a whole new relationship beyond the crisis of an affair.

1. Agree that it was an affair

You can’t even begin to move forward if someone is denying that what they did was cheating.

How do you define cheating or “an affair”?

In our digital age, the definition of cheating is expanding.

When experts are asked what percentage of people cheat,they say somewhere between 26% and 75% depending on how you define cheating.

Is it cheating to engage in sexting? hooking up? a one night stand? secretly going on dating websites? watching pornography? or…?

Whatever your belief is, the definition of infidelity is expanding today.

Esther Perel says that infidelity consists of three elements.

(1) A secretive relationship – which is the core structure of an affair.

(2) An emotional connection – to one degree or another.

(3) A sexual alchemy – based on fantasy.

Here’s my definition:

Infidelity is any emotional intimacy or sexual activity outside your relationship that causes your partner to feel that trust has been violated.

If you want to repair your relationship, you must start by validating your partner’s feelings, even if you don’t fully agree with their definition.

So, step one, agree that it was infidelity. Or at least validate your partner’s feeling of betrayal.

2. Let your partner know what the affair did to you.

I’m talking about letting your partner know the depth of your pain.

You gotta unpack what this impropriety did to you. You can’t just keep it all inside. You have to let it out.

And it must be expressed in a safe conversation, where you feel heard and validated. If the conversation is not safe it will not work.

And the person who needs to hear it is the one who hurt you.

Jim and Cheryl’s relationship was devastated after Cheryl had a “one night stand” with a man she met in a bar.

I suggested that Jim let Cheryl know what this did to him in a structured couples dialogue.

He said to Cheryl, “I feel like everything I value as a man has been ripped out from under me. I thought we were lovers and partners parenting our children. I thought we were best friends.

“And now I don’t even know who you are or what ‘we’ are.

“I felt like I was your ‘only one’ forever, and that I was irreplaceable, and that I could confide in you, and tell you all my secrets, and have you tell me yours. Now I realize like none of that is true.”

Cheryl was able to mirror these painful statements back to Jim without feeling judged. And this enabled her to validate his feelings, and empathize with him in the deep pain of betrayal.

The key was “without being judged”. This made the conversation safe so that Cheryl could empathize and feel the pain Jim was experiencing.

That’s when the healing process began.

3. Listen to what the affair meant to your partner.

Just as you need your partner to see what the cheating did to you, you’ll also need to know what it meant to her.

Was it love? Is he better in bed than I am? Does it mean I’m not enough? What did this person give you that I could not?

Things like that.

So after Jim had shared with Cheryl what her unfaithfulness did to him, we switched roles and Cheryl told Jim what the affair meant to her.

“For most of our marriage I have not really felt like a wife, but more like a child. I know you mean well, but from the very beginning, you’ve taken charge in a way that feels more like my father than like a husband.”

Cheryl went on explaining how she always had to do what was expected of her and be a “good girl”.

This was how she grew up and this is what she brought into her marriage.

She felt like she was never able to break out of the constraints and find who she really was.

It became clear that her affair was about the freedom she never had.

She said, “For that moment, I felt alive again like I haven’t felt in years.”

As painful as that was for Jim to hear, he was able to empathize with Cheryl.

He began to see that she wasn’t turning away from him. She was turning away from the person she had become.

She wasn’t looking for another person. She was looking for another self.

For years she stuffed the anxiety, loneliness, and isolation she felt within her. But one night after a few drinks, it all came out, driving her to do something she never imagined she would do.

As Jim listened over a period of weeks, and continued to mirror Cheryl’s feelings, there was a slow shift in his heart.

Instead of seeing her as someone trying to hurt him, he saw her as someone who was hurting.

Jim said something like this (I can’t remember exactly, so I might be embellishing a bit, but it went something like this).

“I don’t justify what you did. And I don’t minimize the pain it has caused me. But now that I see you, it makes sense how this would happen.”

Before this step, Jim declared that he could never forgive Cheryl for what she had done.

But at this point, forgiveness came. Forgiveness came as Jim experienced tremendous empathy and compassion for Cheryl.

4. Acknowledge that you both have been having an “affair”.


We tend to want to label the “victim” the good spouse and the “cheater” the bad spouse.

But the reality is

Both spouses are guilty of taking “exits” from the relationship.

An exit happens whenever we look to something outside the relationship to meet a need that should be met inside the relationship.

One partner may be having an affair with a person. And of course this is socially unacceptable and emotionally threatening.

But the other partner, who is not having an affair with a person, is having an affair with something. Could be the children. Could be the career. Could be the internet. Could be a hobby.

Affairs happen when couples collude to manage their intimacy outside the relationship because it’s not safe inside the relationship.

They stop using the relationship as intimacy’s primary expression because it’s too dangerous. Because the relationship is not safe enough, they go outside the relationship.

The one who had an affair with a person has done damage in the social context, but the one who takes a relatively “innocent” exit has also done damage by leaving the relationship.

For years, whenever Jim would feel the unconscious anxiety of his disconnection from Cheryl, he would turn to nights out with his guy friends.

And although he never crossed a line, he admitted that he’d often fantasized about it. He also admitted that in times of frustration, when Cheryl pulled away from him, he had turned to pornography.

My dear reader, this is so typical!

Whenever a couple is not living in a safe, stable and secure connection, both partners will become guilty of an “affair”.

Whether this affair is with a person or not, it drains the relationship of energy that should be put into the relationship.

So, not only did Cheryl commit to “close the exits”, Jim did as well.

Having understood what the affair did to Jim and what it meant to Cheryl, they made a commitment to take the energy they previously expelled through various activities outside the relationship and turn it toward the relationship.

How? By “closing the exits”.

There’s a final step that will help you move from healing into an entirely new relationship.

5. Turn “crisis” into “opportunity”

For some couples an affair is the last “nail in the coffin” of a marriage that was already dead.

But for others,

The affair is a crisis that opens up new possibilities.

For Cheryl, it was an opportunity for her to say, “I love you Jim, and want to be with you. But I do not want the relationship I’ve had with you.”

For Jim, it was an opportunity to hear that, and be open to changes that he would have never been open to before.

They shared their dreams with each other as they worked on their “relationship vision” together.

And as they envisioned the relationship they always wanted, they were now more than willing to give up all the “exits” that would prevent them from living this dream together.

For Jim and Cheryl the affair was an opportunity to ditch the status quo that really wasn’t working well for either of them, and to enter into a whole new relationship.

As a result, over time, they discovered a relationship that was far more intimate and exciting than they ever had before.

This is what you call turning crisis into opportunity.

Later, Jim and Cheryl shared an insight I want to pass on to you.

“When you’re finally getting the love you want from each other, you’ll be amazed at how trust is rebuilt and infidelity is inconceivable in our path forward.”

How about you today? Has your marriage been shattered by an affair? Take these steps and begin to turn the crisis into an unprecedented opportunity.

And I can help.

Do you know a marriage that has been shattered by an affair? Forward this blog to them.

And post your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Until next week!

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