Surviving Your Partner's Porn Addiction

Surviving Your Partner's Porn Addiction

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I was young and in love–a good, christian girl marrying who I thought was a good, christian man. Sure, I knew what pornography was, but I never imagined it would soon play a role in not only one, but two divorces, leaving me a single mom of 3, or that it would later become the focus of my career.

As a wife whose husbands struggled with sexual addiction, I was hurt, broken, paranoid, and angry. I felt violated. I didn’t understand how they could do that to me or why it kept happening. Now, as a speaker and recovery coach, I view it differently and want to share what I’ve learned to bring you hope, clarity, and healing. I’ve had honest conversations with hundreds of men in recovery and want to give you the tools and insights that will help you and your partner in this process. 

YOU ARE ENOUGH

The most important thing for any woman in a relationship with a partner suffering from a sex-related addiction, is that: it is not your fault. You are NOT the reason they turn to PMO (porn, masturbation, and/or orgasm addictions). If your partner has tried to blame you in the past, let me clarify for him: it is not about how attractive you are, it is not about your weight, and it is not an emotional connection issue on your part. It is not because you got angry at him or made him feel insecure, and it is not because you refuse to engage in his fetish. His addiction problems are his alone. 

The truth is, most men started watching at a young age (in high school or even before). They were doing it, and possibly even trying to quit, for 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years before meeting you. About 70% of divorces involve pornography, and if you or your partner decide to leave they will likely bring the habit into their next relationship and the next, until they choose to quit for themselves. It has little to nothing to do with you. 


SO WHY DO THEY DO IT? 

There are a lot of other factors involved with why men turn to masturbation and pornography.  The most common reason, like substance abuse, is using PMO as a coping mechanism. Whether triggered by stress, emotional pain, insecurity, emptiness, or physical discomfort, PMO is an easy out. Men’s brains, as opposed to women’s, tend to think in terms of finding solutions to problems and staying comfortable. Let’s be honest, quick-fix solutions are tempting in any situation (think: tv for kids, pills for weight loss, take out instead of cooking etc.) Well that’s exactly what porn is for a man: a quick-fix solution to the problems, triggers, and stressors of life. Of course, the benefits of using PMO are only temporary and can lead to a host of problems, but in the moment, it’s a hard choice. 

Once a young man learns of this powerful, temporary tool for achieving pleasure and mental focus, it’s incredibly hard to give it up. Other factors can come into play too, further influencing the addiction, including trauma, testosterone cycles, and false perceptions. We will talk about each of these individually. 


Testosterone & Urges

One factor that plays heavily in relapse is testosterone. Seven days after ejaculation, on average, men experience a 40% increase in the hormone testosterone and with it, symptoms like discomfort, anxiety, increased frustration, shifts in energy, sexual urges, and unwanted sexual thoughts. This can make resisting more difficult and lead to relapse, especially if he isn’t tracking his hormone cycles. As women, we experience similar hormone cycles each month with symptoms including sexual urges, sadness, discomfort, and fatigue, so you can understand men’s need for compassion and support on their harder days.

Predicting men’s cycles is a little tricky, but it's an important tool for recovery. Men who have been heavily addicted might experience severe symptoms as soon as day 4 from their last ejaculation or relapse, others on day 7. There is also a 21-day testosterone cycle that can come into play. For now, it’s just important that you understand men have hormonal cycles too and that these cycles can trigger intense physical responses that play a role in urges and relapses. 

As a man tries to quit (especially if he is not sexually active), he will likely experience pressure build up that feels similar to engorgement or mastitis from breastfeeding. The more frequently a man ejaculates or experiences arousal, the more semen his body produces. If he quits ejacultaion cold turkey, the building pressure can cause major testicular pain. These physical symptoms are not necessarily an excuse for relapse (especially with porn), but I’ve witnessed men in tears over the physical intensity of their urges. As a support partner, it’s important for you to understand their symptoms and show compassion.   


Other Reasons

There are a lot of other reasons a man might use PMO including anxiety, atattchments issues, insecurities, shame,spiritual or religious complexes, trauma, fetishes, and more. If he decides to quit, it will be important for him to identify his specific reasons for watching/relapsing and the deeper needs they represent. All of the reasons I’ve mentioned so far can be alleviated in alternative, healthier ways if he so chooses. Figuring out the problems and new solutions is key. 

 

PORN KILLS LOVE & A LOT OF OTHER THINGS TOO

On my blog, there is an article titled “57 Hall of Fame Men Against Masturbation”. It’s a list of some of the greatest names in history with direct quotes from many of them explaining why they were opposed to porn, masturbation, or sex in general and how wihtholding contributed to their success. They explain many negative effects ranging from weakness, distraction, and fear, to loss of empathy, selfishness, loss of spirituality, and numbness. Although modern “science” may skew the numbers in support of PMO, when we compare the lives of successful individuals who abstained to those we know struggling with addiction, we get a very different picture. 

Porn and masturbation are mentally, spiritually, and emotionally numbing. Men who are addicted frequently describe this feeling of “numbness” and those quitting are often surprised by increased emotional sensitivity. Over our three year marriage, my ex frequently expressed that he “didn't love me like he should” or “didn’t have the right feelings for me” and that he didn't quite know why. I hear this often in my clients' relationships too. Whether they are single and dating or in a relationship, men struggling with addiction often can’t feel deep love and connection, even when they want to. 

This numbness can lead to a lot of other problems too. One of them is abuse. Because of their lack of “feeling” they may not understand your emotions or feel natural guilt for the things they say or do. This behavior is not your fault or your problem. It is the product of their choices and a brokenness that likely existed long before you were even in the picture. They simply aren’t able to love and connect the same way as you while they are in the middle of their struggle.

It is also possible that your partner has become numb to feelings of guilt surrounding self-pleasure or porn. While many men believe in theory that it’s wrong, some have been doing it so long that they can’t personally feel the effects. They have likely been through the guilt-shame-relapse cycle so many times they no longer see a problem with it. However, PMO is probably still affecting them physically, spiritually, and emotionally in ways they may not understand. As they quit, they will start to get this sensitivity back and feel the difference.  


THE PROCESS OF QUITTING 

In regards to the recovery process, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is if they decide to quit, recovery and reversing the negative effects is totally possible. The bad news is nothing you do can make them quit. They have to want to quit for themselves. Period. Although some men may “quit for their partners”, they do so only when they are ready, and not out of force or obligation. This is because, unlike you, they don’t see it as a relationship issue. They see it as a personal problem and they have to be ready to change it. 

As a coach I am largely disconnected from the successes and failures of my clients. I love them and want the best for them, but I don’t take their relapses personally and it doesn't affect my family. It’s not that easy for you though. If you’re trying to help your spouse or partner quit, their habits affect you in countless ways–financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in how you plan your future. 

Being a supportive partner requires emotional sensitivity and understanding. It requires you to be focused, disciplined, patient, and wise. As a wife, I thought that logical arguments, counseling, and micro-managing would somehow solve the problem. Well, it didn’t, and if anything it exasperated it. Next, we will look at the common mistakes partners make and what you can do to be a positive influence instead. The following are the most important tips I’ve learned about communication with men in recovery and what things you will want to work on personally.


Personal Work: 

The most important thing you can do in this process is focus on yourself. Use this time to grow as a person, to conquer your own fears and emotions, and to become a more loving partner. If you focus your time and efforts on yourself, you won’t regret it regardless of the final outcomes. Here are a few things to study and work on:

  1. Do not allow your anxiety and fears to control you. Instead try focusing on self care, inner peace, and emotional work. 
  2. Practice meditation and other mental exercises that will help you find deep inner calm. 
  3. Don’t dig deeper than you can handle. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, but what you find out might.
  4. Resist feelings of jealousy by remembering your worth.
  5. Stay focused on your life, goals, talents, and plans. 
  6. Also, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek out help and support, especially if you feel your situation may be emotionally or physically abusive. 

There are two books I highly suggest you read that will help with the above: Real Love by Greg Baer and Practicing The Power of Now (or The Power of Now original version). These two books can help immensely in overcoming emotions and becoming a more wise and patient partner. 

Remember, you are a woman with valid feelings and experiences. If you are struggling because your partner views pornography, you are not alone. Even on the hardest days, there are tools available that can help you learn, change, and grow together. As you continue reading, pick a few things that you can implement from your end of the relationship to help you feel more on solid ground. 


As A Support Partner: 

A loving accountability partner can make all the difference, but being one is hard. How you choose to communicate with your partner (spouse, child, friend, etc.) can be extremely influential in their recovery and in your own healing. Here are some of the tools I use as well as some of the biggest mistakes to avoid:


Things you should do:

  1. Respect him (for trying to quit). 97% of men struggle with this. Allow him to become the top 3%.
  2. Listen more than you talk. A loving, listening ear is your greatest tool for support. Plus, the more you understand his experiences, the easier it will be for you to make progress in your own healing.
  3. He already has what it takes to quit. It is inside of him. He knows how to do it. Remind him of this and let him step up to it. 
  4. Be a cheerleader, not a probation officer
  5. Thank him. 
  6. Express empathy for the physical and mental withdrawals. 
  7. Do your best to create an environment where he feels comfortable being open with you. Honesty is difficult, especially when he feels embarrassed about his struggles. Creating a relationship of empathy and forgiveness - on both sides - will encourage his honesty and increase your trust. 

Things you shouldn't do:

  1. Guilt trips–they won’t make him change. 
  2. Stalking–it won’t prevent relapse and it can even be emasculating and counter productive. Some men even get a high from “getting away with it”. If your partner ASKS for help setting up content blocking, limits, etc. that’s different, but you shouldn’t force it. 
  3. Long interrogations and mandatory confessions. These can lead to more shame and less intimacy/openness in the future.
  4. Shaming. Don’t shame him, rather build him up and help him develop a more kind inner voice. Shame is one of the most common reasons for relapse, so if he is already disgusted by his actions, shaming him more won’t help. If he doesn't see a problem with it, however, your opinion won’t matter. 
  5. On the other hand, don’t give into it or overly enable/normalize the practice either. (Most of my clients aren’t okay with porn or masturbation either despite doing it and I’ve been told by multiple men that they wouldn’t respect a woman who was okay with it.)  
  6. Try to approach these difficult situations and conversations calmly and with a clear head. Intense emotion from either party will limit your ability to find solutions and understanding. 
  7. Avoid engaging in long arguments about his weaknesses or mistakes. Your feminine logic, while valid and correct in your mind, won’t necessarily work to solve the problem in his mind. 
  8. Avoid bringing up the past. No one likes to be continually reminded of their shortcomings. Forgiveness may take time, but it’s a critical part of the process for both of you. 
  9. Finally, avoid sexually teasing and leaving him hanging. Arousal increases his semen production and therefore discomfort. If he goes unsatisfied, he will only experience worse symptoms like unwanted sexual thoughts. The more he thinks about sex, the more difficult it is and so on. 

SHOULD YOU LEAVE?

Though our ultimate goal is to help individuals and couples recover and have successful, loving relationships, you may be already asking the hard question of “should I leave?” You probably have a lot of questions and fears regarding which direction you should take and how to cope with it all. Through the pain and emotions of betrayal, dishonesty, sexual issues and other problems, you may be contemplating separation or divorce or already started the process. Around 97% of men masturbate or watch porn regularly, but that does not mean all men have to. Recovery is possible, but how do you know when to keep fighting or throw in the towel? Here are a few questions to guide your decision:

  1. Has he admitted openly that it’s wrong and he would like to quit or is working towards it? 
  2. Would he be willing to work with a counselor, coach, or accountability person other than you to further his progress? 
  3. Aside from relapse and sexual issues does he treat you well? 
  4. Is this something you can live with or possibly give him more time to sort it himself? 

While you may have other problems and differences in your relationship, the above questions might bring you clarity regarding recovery and your ability to maintain a healthy relationship in the process.    


MAINTAINING HOPE

Pornography and sex addictions are devestating millions of lives and families. It is one of the biggest battles we have to face regarding families and mental health today. Of course supporting a partner through addictions may not be what you want or deserve, but your loving patience can make all the difference in your partner’s journey to freedom, in your growth as a couple, and in your own healing. It may not be romantically easy, but the personal growth and results are worth it. As you practice and study the skills we have discussed, you will develop a deeper love and friendship. Afterall, what is love, but to lift another in their weaknesses and to accept them in their struggles? 

_________________________

 

Join our free women's partner support group here.

We wish you the best on your journey with your partner and hope to support and connect with you! Fight the Beast is a recovery organization helping men overcome sexual addiction. For support groups, partner resources, and recovery tools, please visit FightTheBeast.org and FightTheBeast social media pages. 


Also in collaboration with “I Stand At The Door” Podcast.




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