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What Do I Do If I Discover My Spouse Has a Problem with Pornography?


By LDS Family Services

Pornography is not just insidious—it is also pervasive and extremely addictive. Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Cognitive Therapy, called pornography the “most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today.”1 She said pornography addicts have greater difficulty recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts. When drug use ceases, the body rids itself of the harmful chemicals, but people cannot erase pornographic images from their brain.2 Abstinence from pornography will result in images becoming less available for retrieval, but the images remain stored in the brain.

Alma 41:10 reads, “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.”

Using pornography is not a behavior to be taken lightly, nor should you think that your spouse can cure it alone. Pornography use can taint your spousal relationship with mistrust and suspicion, and it can deaden love as well as family solidarity. If unresolved, it can cause marital difficulties and dissatisfaction the entire time you are married. This does not mean that pornography addiction is incurable. Although your spouse will not be completely free of temptation to use pornography, he or she can obtain self-mastery and increased joy. With self-mastery, a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem will improve. The once-powerful grip of this “huge, ugly monster” can shrink to a “buzzing fly.”

Jeffrey Satinover, psychiatrist and advisor to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, said: “Pornography really does, unlike other addictions, biologically cause direct release of the most perfect addictive substance. . . . That is, it [leads to] masturbation, which causes release of the naturally occurring opioids. It does what heroin can't do, in effect.”3 He said the Internet removes inefficiency of distribution, making pornography much easier to find than in the past.4 Internet pornography is also free and creates an atmosphere of secrecy and anonymity.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Research carefully your suspicion of your spouse’s pornography use.

    Make sure that no one else is responsible for pornographic material in your home. Do other people who enter your home use your computer?

  2. Recognize your pain. Do not try to hide or mask it.

    With the discovery or disclosure of your spouse’s pornography addiction, you may feel immense emotional pain, grief, and shock. If in shock, you will feel numb and not believe this is happening to you. You may also enter a phase of denial, in which you feel sure this is a mistake and that your spouse does not have a problem. You may also think your spouse's use was a one-time occurrence and not a serious issue.  

    If you are not in denial, many thoughts may temporarily consume your mind and spirit. “Will this destroy our marriage?” “Why did my spouse do this to me?” “I have lost my dreams.” “How can my spouse look at that?” “Is he or she attracted to somebody else?” “Have our children been molested?” “What will happen to our family?” “My trust has been destroyed!” “Am I not attractive enough?” “I have failed my spouse.” “This is my fault.” “I thought we loved each other.” Your pain may turn to anger (“I hate my spouse!”), and you may generalize your pain (“All men [or women] are disgusting!”) These are normal thoughts and feelings. Be assured that this is not your fault. Your spouse’s problem is not a direct result of your choices and behaviors. This is something your spouse most likely struggled with before you were married. If not, this is something he or she chose to participate in after marriage. 

  3. Cry.

    Crying is a good release of emotional pain. The relief achieved by crying helps prevent bitterness that can be associated with “drinking a bitter cup.” To heal, you must allow yourself to feel the emotional pain. You must not allow yourself to dismiss the pain, to mask it, ignore it, or to pretend it does not exist. The intensity of your pain will decrease with time and with positive actions toward recovery. 

  4. Spiritually prepare yourself to approach your spouse about his or her pornography use.

    Pray about your feelings; seek for wisdom, understanding, courage, and emotional strength to support a person toward whom you feel so unhappy. Pray that you will not see him or her as an evil person but as Heavenly Father sees your spouse—as His child trapped in an addiction. Pray that you can say the right things to be encouraging and that you can appropriately express your feelings about pornography use and the violation of trust between you.  

    Pray that your spouse's heart will be softened as you approach the problem. Pray that your spouse will respond honestly to your questions and concerns without becoming defensive and angry. Pray for recovery.  

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned: “Some involved in pornography apparently minimize its seriousness because they think no one will know of their involvement. . . . Patrons of pornography lose the companionship of the Spirit. Pornography produces fantasies that destroy spirituality. Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others. . . . But the good news is that no one needs to follow the evil, downward descent to torment. Everyone caught on that terrible escalator has the key to reverse his course. He can escape. Through repentance he can be clean.”5

    President Hinckley taught, “The excuse is given that it is hard to avoid, that it is right at our fingertips and there is no escape. Suppose a storm is raging and the winds howl and snow swirls about you. You find yourself unable to stop it. But you can dress properly and seek shelter, and the storm will have no effect upon you.”6

  5. Approach your spouse about his or her pornography use.

    When approaching your spouse, try not to criticize, put him or her down, or make judgments. Collect information. If you feel too emotional to talk with him or her without losing control, try again later.

    Begin by asking your spouse if he or she is using pornography. If the answer is yes, consider these additional questions: 

    • When did it first begin?
    • How often does your spouse view pornography?
    • How and when was pornography viewed?
    • Is there masturbation involved?
    • Does your spouse realize how using pornography affects you? Express your feelings. It is appropriate to show your pain.
    • Were their periods of abstinence? If so, how long did these periods last? How was abstinence achieved?
    • Is there a plan to stop using pornography?
      1. If the answer is yes, is a plan in place? Is talking with the bishop and even a professional counselor part of the plan? Would he or she like to learn more about pornography addiction and attend a 12-step group?
      2. If the answer is no, you and your spouse need some time to think. End the conversation. Take the matter to your Heavenly Father and to your bishop.
      3. If the response is, “I only use it sometimes. I am not addicted,” inquire when the last pornography use occurred. Discuss the last two years and discover the frequency and duration of use. If your spouse claims the ability to stop any time, ask why the problem has not stopped. Try to listen to your spouse’s answers without becoming appalled or irate. It is suitable to explain that you do not understand. Present the challenge to stop today and arrange how your spouse can report back to you successes and/or struggles. Emphasize the necessity of being honest.
    • If your spouse is willing, request that you pray together, pleading with Heavenly Father to change and heal your hearts.
    • If you find that your spouse is compulsive in his or her pornography use, seek professional assistance.
    • Do not accept blame for your spouse’s addiction. If your spouse blames you, try to remain calm. If you cannot contain your emotions, rather than escalating and making a bad situation worse, discuss the problem later. Letting your spouse see your hurt and pain is acceptable. Refrain from verbal attacks.
  6. Learn how to combat pornography addiction together.

    There are numerous books, classes, articles, and groups. The more assertive one is in addressing the problem—no matter the level of addiction—the greater the recovery. For example, a 60-year-old woman said that her husband struggled with the problem of pornography “on and off” since he was a young man. It was a constant problem in their marriage. She said that her husband could never become free from it until he went through a 12-step program. She claims he is now freer, happier, more confident, and nobler than he has ever been. 

  7. Plan to support your spouse in recovery.

    Schedule time to support your spouse's attendance in meetings with the bishop, counseling appointments, and 12-step groups. Some programs provide groups for the spouses of the one addicted. You will want to attend these if possible. If you do attend the group for spouses and if you find that the group makes you feel more depressed, you may decide that this group is not what you need. Focusing on what you can do and developing yourself is an excellent focus while your spouse struggles with recovery. 

  8. Make good and careful media choices.

    Elder M. Russell Ballard stated: “If we do not make good choices, the media can devastate our families and pull our children away from the narrow gospel path. In the virtual reality and the perceived reality of large and small screens, family-destructive viewpoints and behavior are regularly portrayed as pleasurable, as stylish, as exciting, and as normal. Often media’s most devastating attacks on family are not direct or frontal or openly immoral. Intelligent evil is too cunning for that, knowing that most people still profess belief in family and in traditional values. Rather the attacks are subtle and amoral—issues of right and wrong don’t even come up. Immorality and sexual innuendo are everywhere, causing some to believe that because everyone is doing it, it must be all right. This pernicious evil is not out in the street somewhere; it is coming right into our homes, right into the heart of our families.

    “To be strong and happy, families need to be nourished by the truths depicted in the thirteenth article of faith—by a belief ‘in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.’ [A of F 1:13] Gratefully, there are many like-minded men and women of all cultures and faiths who also seek that which is ‘virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy. . .’. The time has come when members of the Church need to speak out and join with the many other concerned people in opposition to the offensive, destructive, and mean-spirited media influence that is sweeping over the earth.”7

  9. Establish with your spouse appropriate boundaries and safeguards in your home.

    • Install monitoring software. Monitoring software records ALL of the activity that occurs on the computer, including websites visited, e-mails sent and received, chat room conversations, and instant-messaging conversations. Some programs even record snapshots every 30 seconds of what is on the screen. When these programs record computer activity, computer users are far less tempted to view pornography.
    • Use Internet filters. Internet filters block inappropriate content. You can install filtering programs on the personal computer or use an Internet service provider (ISP) that does the filtering before the content ever reaches the home. Filters installed on a personal computer are flexible enough to allow an administrator to override the filter when an appropriate website is mistakenly blocked. You may even want to have both adults set half of the administrative password so that both adults must be present to override a filter or to review a usage report. Some Internet filter programs allow you to share your usage logs with friends or extended family across the Internet. Having an accountability “partner” is a great way to diminish the temptation of pornography. If all else fails, you can remove the Internet from your home. 
    • Use the V-Chip. Television’s version of an Internet filter, the V-Chip allows you to customize television programming. Every television 13 inches or larger made after January 2000 comes equipped with a V-chip, so there is nothing to buy. Simply pull out your television owner’s manual and your remote control and follow the instructions to enable the chip. 
    • Establish time restrictions. Most monitoring and filtering software solutions can allow you to manage the times when someone can access the Internet. The temptation to access pornography is greatest when no one else is home or awake. Limiting Internet access to specific periods of the day has the added benefit of helping families use their time wisely. You can also override the time restrictions with the administrative password as needed.  
    • Have clear communication and understanding. Technology-based tools help eliminate pornography from homes, but clear communication and the expression of true feelings are also necessary. A spirit of understanding between husband and wife is crucial. This may be difficult, as your feelings may still be sensitive due to deceit and secrecy. Family home evening lessons open dialogue about why pornography is harmful and establish clear guidelines for appropriate use of television and the Internet.8

    Be aware that no matter what you do to protect your home from pornography, it can always be accessed elsewhere. The only foolproof filter is the individual’s internal filter—desiring not to view pornography because it is against one’s principles. If your spouse currently lacks this desire, realize that it can come with the proper help and with effort on the part of your spouse. 

  10. Let your voice be heard.

    “The time has come when members of the Church need to speak out and join with the many other concerned people in opposition to the offensive, destructive, and mean-spirited media influence that is sweeping over the earth.”9

Notes

  1. Single, R. (19 November, 2004) Science: Discoveries:  Internet porn: Worse than crack. Wired Magazine. Retrieved September 21, 2009 from http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2004/11/65772. 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Ibid.
  5. Oaks, D. H. (May, 2005). Pornography. Ensign, 87. 
  6. Hinckley, G. B. (November 2004). A Tragic Evil among Us. Ensign, 59–62. 
  7. Ibid. 
  8. These suggestions were adapted from “Protecting Against Pornography,” Newtown, NY Stake, 2009. Received at LDS Family Services, in an e-mail to Michael Gardner, September 21, 2009. 
  9. Ballard, M. R. (November 2003). Let Our Voices Be Heard. Ensign, 16–19.