Boundaries, the Spouse and the LDS Pornography Addict

Like border, boundaries keep some things in and some things out. The big question is what stays in and what stays out.

Addicts and spouses need to set boundaries. But they first need to understand the purpose of boundaries.

The idea of boundaries in connection with addiction recovery is one that interests a lot of people–the wives of addicts in particular. My wife and I have discussed it quite a bit. I know she discusses boundaries with her sponsor and the women she sponsors in S-Anon.

I have my own thoughts about boundaries. These are just my musings and I’ll readily admit that I’ve done almost no reading on the subject. I’m not sure why. Boundaries are actually very important to my addiction recovery.

The first thing I’ve noticed about boundaries is that they often get confused with rules and punishment. Marriage therapists will often encourage the wife to set “boundaries” for her porn-addicted husband. Those “boundaries” end up being things like: “If you act out, you’ll tell me within 24 hours” or “If you act out, you have to sleep in the guest bedroom for a week.”

Like I said, I think these aren’t so much boundaries as they are rules and punishments. I think it’s very easy for the spouse of an addict to use the idea of boundaries as another effort to control the behavior of the addict.

So what kinds of boundaries should be set? Here’s what I think: I need to remember that the boundaries I set are my own boundaries and not someone else’s. My boundaries determine what I will and will not do, and what I will and will not live with. My boundaries depend on me, not on someone else. My boundaries are not rules for someone else and they are not intended to punish, control, manipulate, guide, influence, suggest to, badger, beg or do anything else to anyone else. My boundaries are my own.

So how does this apply practically in the case of an LDS man with a porn problem and his wife. I know I’m coming from the perspective of the addict and maybe that’s a fatal position to start from. Nevertheless, I’ll take a stab at it. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and responses in the comments below.

These are the boundaries I think all LDS wives of addicts should consider:

1. I will not allow my husband’s addictive behavior to dominate my life and I will get whatever help I need to ensure that it doesn’t.
2. I will not sleep in the same room with a husband who is not sexually sober.
3. I will not be sexually intimate with a husband who is not sexually sober.
4. I will not live with a husband who is not actively and enthusiastically working on a recovery program that includes therapy and an effective 12 Step group such as Sexaholics Anonymous.
5. I will not remain married to a man whose continued sexual acting out destroys my self-esteem and sanity.

You’ll notice that all of these boundaries are ones that the wife sets for herself. They dictate how she will live and what she is or is not willing to live with. They are all within the wife’s control. She decides whether she will observe her own boundaries or not.

These are the boundaries my wife has set. It took her a while to get there. And thankfully she has not acted on boundary number 5. I pray she never will.

I can tell you, however, that there came a day when she acted on each of her other boundaries. There came a time when I was not sexually sober, she knew it and therefore she was no longer willing to be sexually intimate with me. It was not a punishment. It was not intended to control or manipulate my behavior. It was simply her boundary number 3. For her emotional safety and sanity, she was not willing to be sexually intimate with me until such time as she did once again feel safe and sane.

That was also around the same time that she acted on her boundary number 2 that she would not sleep in the same room with me if I was not sexually sober. Again, while my behavior put her in a position to choose to observe her boundary, she was the one acting on the boundary, not me.

There also came a time when she determined to act on boundary number 4. I was not sexually sober. I was losing traction in my recovery. I was struggling with my own co-addictive behavior. I was not enthusiastically working my recovery program. My wife said she was unwilling to live with things the way they were and we concluded that I needed to move out. She needed her boundary for her safety and sanity–not to control or manipulate my behavior.

So what’s the big deal about me setting my boundaries and my wife setting her boundaries? It all comes down to co-addiction. If my wife’s happiness and sanity in this life are dependent upon what I do or don’t do, she’s in big trouble. See, I’m an addict. My brain is broken. I take anti-depression medication. I’m prone to bouts of lethargy and debilitating procrastination. Why would a sane woman hitch her wagon to that horse? She wouldn’t.

In the same way, I now have my own boundaries. They have to do with the way I interact with my wife and live my life. One of them is that I will not interfere in her recovery from her own addictions and co-addictions. Another of my boundaries is that I will not engage in lust-driven behavior. Another of my boundaries is the Sexaholics Anonymous definition of sexual sobriety: No sex with self or any person other than spouse; and progressive victory over lust. These are only some of my boundaries.

What’s important is that none of my boundaries have anything to do making my wife think or do anything. I do not act with the hope or expectation of making her feel a particular way. That’s not to say that I don’t care about her or her feelings. To the contrary, they are very important to me. But my boundaries simply dictate what I am willing to live with or not. They are not dependent on or an attempt to manipulate her to feel a certain way.

Again, let me know what you think.

Image 1 credit: Bill Morrow

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.


Boundaries, the Spouse and the LDS Pornography Addict — 24 Comments

  1. I’ve seen many wives ask about this. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I will say that some *couples* have come up with some of the boundaries you mentioned at the beginning. I think if the choice/consequence boundaries are decided by both, then it’s less about control and punishment, and more about figuring out what makes sense in their situations.

    But so many times, couples aren’t at that point when they can make that decision together. Ultimately, each person, too, has to own his/her own recovery.


    • I read many of the blogs by the wives of LDS sex and porn addicts. It seems they’re trying really hard at something, but what I often see unfortunately is a whole bunch of co-addiction. “Consequences” in so many blogs is just a euphemism for “punishment” and the punishment is intended to incentivize the addict to stay sober. “If you act out, you don’t get to sleep with me for a week.” “If you act out, you don’t get to have sex with me for a week.” “If you act out, you have to move out for a week.” A sane, rational guy would see these consequences and adjust his behavior accordingly. Unfortunately, addicts are neither sane nor rational so punishments in the guise of “consequences” don’t work.

      One thing I like to do to stay on track in my recovery is to substitute “alcohol” for “sex” when considering consequences and see if they make sense or sound crazy. So if I’m an alcoholic and I act out with my drug, does it make sense for my wife to say “No beer for you for a week–that the consequence of your drinking”? No it doesn’t. But that’s exactly what we’re doing with all this “consequences” talk. Look at porn–no sex for a week. Drink tequila–no beer for a week. That’s just not helpful.

      Part of the problem arises when there’s a timeframe associated with the “consequence.” That’s what makes it a punishment or manipulation rather than a boundary. This is how a boundary should be expressed: “If you act out and I find out about it, I will not be able to sleep in the same bed with you because I will not feel safe. I will continue not sleeping in the same bed with you until I feel and Heavenly Father confirms to me that it is again safe for me to sleep in the same bed with you. That is the consequence of your acting out.”

      Or “If you act out and I find out about it, I will not be able to have sex with you because I will know that you are objectifying me as you objectify the women in the pornography you’re consuming. That destroys my self-esteem and I will not live like that. I will not permit you to treat me like a sex tool. That is my boundary. And I will not have sex with you again until such time as I feel and Heavenly Father confirms to me that it is safe for me to be sexually intimate with you because you are solidly in recovery. That is the consequence of your acting out.”

      Admittedly that’s quite a bit more complicated to deal with than just saying, “If you look at porn, you will sleep on the couch for a week and can’t have sex with me for a week.”

      I have another problem with all of this: I talk a lot about what’s at the root of addiction–character defects and debilitating emotions. I talk about how we can’t get rid of the C (porn consumption) if we’re not directly addressing the B and the A (lust and negative emotions).

      When I read blog posts like the ones I’m talking about, I note that they seem to be focusing almost exclusively on the C. If the husband’s acting out, it’s because he’s lust drunk. If he’s lust drunk, he’s trying to self-medicate for some reason. If he’s trying to self-medicate with his drug of choice, his emotional equilibrium is completely screwed up. And they’re talking about no sex for a week or sleeping on the couch for a week!

      Do you see my point? Are we going to keep slapping band-aids on the gaping wounds or are we going to clean them out, stitch them up and let them heal?

      Again, I think that for the co-addict, “boundaries” and “consequences” are just different names for “punishments” and “attempts to control.” And the more I experience addiction through the lens of recovery, the more I’m convinced that recovery for both addict and co-addict has to be more on the individual level more than on the couple level.

      My wife and I are discovering more and more that a lot of what we thought was “couple recovery” was really just a couple of co-addicts crazily playing off of each other’s crazy behavior. We did a lot of good things, but we also did a lot of damage that we are only now recognizing and dealing with.

      The more I experience, the more I think boundaries need to be personal. “This is what I’m willing or not willing to live with.” “Couple boundaries” just seem like rules, like a mommy trying to control her naughty little boy and every once in a while, the boy gets to participate in the rule making. What’s more interesting to me is knowing what the addict is doing to get at the root of the act-out behavior and the co-addict to get at the reality that she can’t cure, control or manipulate the addict into “behaving himself.”

      Like I said, we’ve got to quit focusing on slapping bandaids on C behavior.

      • Your example of boundary setting has been helpful. However, I have a difficult time with the term “co-addict.” Current research for spouses of sex addicts are treating spouses using the trauma model. This approach identifies the source of the spouse’s pain – betrayal. When I first started this journey, I was labeled a “co-addict” simply because I married someone who was a great liar. I was quickly turned off by this approach. However, understanding that my responses to my husband’s actions and choices are a normal reaction to trauma, I have been able to understand my reactions and to identify my feelings. Hopefully, this model gains more traction within the therapeutic community and women have more choices when trying to recover from their relational trauma.

        • Diane: I’m not very satisfied with the “co-addict” label either. I think I’ve used it too casually in the past. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. This was excellent. It was a real eye-opener for me as to how to make boundaries. I do have some some questions though. I am married to a man who usually denies there is a problem or blames me for his choices when he does admit to there being a problem. He has no desire to seek outside help, seek recovery, or communicate with me about his addiction.

    I usually make discoveries about every six month or so. I don’t check up on him or monitor him so it’s just his carelessness that lead to discovery.

    How am I supposed to know if my husband is sexually sober if there is no open and honest communication. Also, while the #5 makes sense – it almost seems like it could turn an addict to “fake” recovery–to go through the motions to keep his or her marriage intact. I have a friend who finally divorced after realizing her spouse’s “recovery” was not genuine.

    And one more thing, sorry, but it sounds like your wife had to act on #4 at one point and it was discussed and you moved out. I can tell ya I am already there with #4 and I am pretty sure he would never move out. What then? Am I supposed to move out? Our children too? I think it makes sense and yet in a way – quite difficult – it’s easier for one person vs. 3 or 4 to move out. Love to hear your thoughts.

    • It’s really a tough thing to understand and accept that boundaries are not something that you employ to get your spouse to do something or to stop doing something. Boundaries are only intended to protect your sanity and self-esteem.

      If your husband is not enthusiastically working an effective recovery program, then you can know for certain that he is not sexually sober and it doesn’t really matter if you have “evidence” of acting out or not. I know of no one who has ever successfully recovered from sex addiction just by “stopping” or “exerting will power.” It just doesn’t work that way.

      As for moving out (either you or him) or getting divorced, you don’t do those things (or threaten them) to get your husband to work on recovery. You do those things because your safety, serenity and self-esteem require you to do them. You do those things because continuing to live with an active sex addict is poisonous to you and to your children.

      I need to be clear here: I’m not suggesting that your husband is somehow sexually dangerous to your children. I have no way of saying whether he is or not. What I am saying is that addiction goes way beyond porn consumption and a little lust-driven behavior every now and again.

      Addicts are miserable and that misery permeates every facet of their lives. It makes them liars and spiritual blackholes from which the Spirit of God cannot radiate. It makes them self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-indulgent, critical of others, short-tempered, angry, bitter, mean, spiteful, manipulative, backbiting, disloyal, indifferent to the feelings of others and spiritually numb. All of this must of necessity damage the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the spouse and the children. That is what you are currently living with.

      The question is what you and Heavenly Father decide to do about it.

    • Having dealt with this issue for over 20 years with my husband who is also a recovering alcoholic, I decided for myself that this can be very complicated or very simple. I had a boundary before marriage that I would not marry him if he was not “sober” from alcohol for one year prior to marriage. He sought counseling and praise God has been sober for 24 years. However, as Christians, since we were not sexually active prior to marriage I did not know of his sexual addiction until after we were married. The worst incident (but not the first) was when my entire family was gathered for Thanksgiving and we went to turn on the TV for the games and there was a porn movie in that he had apparently been watching the night before and forgot and left it in the video machine. This was 8 months after we had been married. So, I have felt all of the emotions of the hurt spouse. The addiction for him continues. May it always be understood boundaries are for you and not for him. They are not punishment but your way of coping with your husband’s addiction.
      I had to make a decision at that time and still to this day. I knew I would not divorce him. I had just married and vowed before God to stay with this man through sickness and in health. So, the short of it all is this ladies – you are either committed or not. You stay or you don’t. I have ultimately chosen to live a sexless marriage. My husband is my best friend, confidante, provider, he cares for me deeply and as my mother puts it, “does everything for you except go to the bathroom.” He loves me as no other. Oh, I threatened to divorce, etc., etc., and it is really so useless. You either love the person or not. We cannot change them. If you are friends and love them unconditionally, you will make yourself happy. As I have matured and grown and watched as all of my peers have entered and left their 2nd, 3rd and 4th marriages, I think to myself, “what is the difference?” If you find a soul that accepts and loves you unconditionally and you do the same back, isn’t that what love is really all about?” So, if you don’t feel comfortable in bed with your husband don’t sleep with him. We haven’t shared a bed since 1999. We love each other, we dance, we cuddle, we hug. That is it. He knows the limits. I don’t have the energy or time to keep talking about myself and fixing myself around and for his problem. There is nothing wrong with me. I am content. I don’t think he is so content but too bad, it is what it is. He asks for sex sometimes and I just make a joke and keep moving. It’s not worth the anxiety or stress. It doesn’t feel good to me spiritually so I leave it alone and I am OK with that.
      Keep it simple.
      Do what makes your soul feel good with God…with your commitment to your spouse and God. If you know your husband is absolutely NOT the man God intended for your life soul partner, then leave. But, I encourage you to NOT make yourself miserable for the rest of your lives “working” through this for your own sanity. You know you are OK or you are not. If you are co-dependent then you need to work on that. Settle your own mental health issues. Let your husband settle his within himself, with God. We became one with marriage – better or worse – and we have to live with the worse unless, of course, it is abusive. His addiction is not abusive to me. It is not fulfilling, but I am the one who chose to live a sexless marriage. If he would ever choose to leave, that is his soul’s decision and not mine. If a man has sexual addiction issues and he is still a good father, provider and husband otherwise I would not recommend life outside of his presence. If he is not a good father, provider, husband otherwise, than seek the proper channels for divorce.
      The joy of the Lord is our strength. Seek joy, appreciate the goodness. There is no perfect and why do you think they call it “Every Man’s Battle?” Trust me, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Divorce is ugly. It’s destructive to children. Absolutely weigh the pros and cons. It is not impossible to live without sex if you can be happy with that.

  3. Hm. Interesting thoughts. I think if you had seen other posts, you would see that the wife is wanting intimacy, so maybe this is something that she does feel is working for her because she doesn’t want to lose that part of her relationship with him. She IS trying to define her boundaries by saying she doesn’t want to lose that. So that’s where I start to get confused.

    But what I’m hearing you say is that unknowingly, that could be like giving beer to a drunk, yes? Sounds like you see more room for more stringent separation of the drug from the relationship altogether, and in essence, then rebuilding?

    Hm. I’m glad these discussions are happening because so many women are trying to figure this out. And I still can’t fully wrap my head around it all. I read that post and thought it was amazing that they found something that ‘hurt’ for him and still respected what she wants now in the relationship (not severed sexual contact but something that ‘hits where it hurts’ for him (in this case, TV). It seems like more than just mommying…that he’s choosing something that sort of allows him to parent himself?

    But I think I’m starting to understand more what you mean about really focusing only on what one can control, not on any ‘consequences’ for the other. But again, if what the spouse wants is not to lose that element of the relationship for a while, but the relationship may need such a line drawn (do you think all relationships do?), then is that really respecting her own wants and needs (which are allegedly part of healthy boundaries, no?)

    I guess my short question is do you see that there is ever a place for some negotiation in terms of intimacy, or do you see it more as a situation where lust just IS the problem, always, and therefore abstinence must be part of the recovery?

    I’ve seen different perspectives on this in the professional world, so that is part of my confusion as well.

  4. Got ya, Andrew. Basically – any kind of boundary I set need to be for my well-being and that of my family and needs to have nothing to do with him.

    • I think there are two schools of thought about boundaries. One is “What boundaries can I set so my husband doesn’t act out?” The other is “What boundaries can set so I can maintain or recover my sanity regardless of what my husband does with his addiction?”

      Women who understand that they are truly powerless to stop their husband’s acting out focus their boundary setting on their own personal sanity. This is not an admission of failure. What all wives of addicts need to understand is that no woman has EVER successfully kept her addict husband from acting out. While it’s true that her vigilance may have disrupted a few of her husband’s opportunities to act out and it may have made it possible for her to discover some of his past acting out, no amount of boundary setting by a wife has ever cured a husband of his addiction. And it never will. Women cannot cure their husband’s addictions. Only the husband himself can find recovery by coming out of the shadows, putting his hand into Heavenly Father’s hand and then doing whatever it takes.

      Too many women want to set up some boundaries (rules) that will somehow guarantee that their husband will not act out–and then go back to “normal.” They think boundaries will make things “normal” again. But they don’t. There is no such thing as “normal” in the world of addicts. That’s not to say there can’t be joy, serenity, happiness, spirituality, the companionship of the Holy Ghost and eternal life for the addict and spouse who find recovery. It’s just that things will never be “normal” again. And that’s not a bad thing.

      Turns out that “normal” for most addicts and spouses wasn’t so hot. It was replete with lies on both sides, denial, guilt, shame, humiliation, pretending and constant anxiety. I never want to go back to “normal.” My boundaries maintain my sanity. My wife’s boundaries maintain her sanity. I can’t fix her. She can’t fix me. Heavenly Father can fix both of us, however, and it turns out that he does a lot of the fixing by way of my participation in Sexaholics Anonymous and my wife’s participation in S-Anon.

      And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that boundaries have nothing to do with your husband. They do. It’s just that your boundaries need to be about what you can do to feel safe. Not what he can do to make you feel safe. If you’re in charge of your safety what can you do if you know or suspect that your husband isn’t sexually sober? Getting him to admit his acting out doesn’t really do it. Protecting yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually does. I hope that helps.

  5. I’ve been talking boundaries with my spouse for a few days now. We keep hitting brick walls. Thank you for this post, it really gave me a new perspective to consider.

  6. I wish I’d read this a month ago when I first was learning about boundaries.. it makes a lot of sense. I have been confused by this same attitude of punishment/attempts to control disguised as boundaries and have been guilty of them too. Thanks for clarifying.

  7. I love what you say about boundaries here. My husband has always lied about everything, so I have had to set boundaries that aren’t dependent on me knowing what choices he is actually making. It’s hard, but I feel like I have been able to make several that at least restore a sense of sanity in my life. My question is what kind of boundary to set for myself when I do discover that my husband is lying (again – because I am sure he will). I don’t want to just set a punishment, but I really can’t handle the lying and don’t want to just accept it and do nothing. It’s got to stop if our relationship is going to survive.

  8. I found out a week ago today that my husband has been viewing porn as he puts it “4-5 days a week” the past 11 years of our marriage, and beyond. He says he became addicted when he was little, and can’t remember not having a problem.

    He went on a mission, but he engaged in the activity even during his mission. During his mission he worked with his Stake president and other people, and for some reason, they let him remain on his mission.

    Since my discovery I have felt so spiritually sick inside. I feel like I have had the guilt of what he’s been doing in our marriage for the past 11 years thrown upon me all at once. I pray for peace, but I just can’t find it.

    Anyway, I have a question that I desperately need answering. I found out on Thursday, and from Thurs-Sun I swore 2013 would be a sexless year. Then by monday I found myself wanting to have sex with him so bad. So that night, we had sex twice, and then tuesday night, we also had sex. In our marriage, we have rarely had sex, I have always wanted it, but he has rejected me…finding pornography a more desirable outlet.

    I feel so confused as to why I have had this reaction. I feel like it is me trying to feel close to him, trying to feel loved by him. My question is, SHOULD I be having sex with him? Am I making things worse? He is also unable to achieve orgasms 99% of the time during sex, because of the masturbation. Does having sex with him when he isn’t able to achieve orgasm, or having sex with him at all make things worse?

    He says he thinks it helps, but is it helping because he is turning his lust to me instead of the computer? Or is it helping because he is feeling love from me in an appropriate sexual setting? Can he even have sex with me in an appropriate way (this early in the game)?

    He says he is glad he got caught, we immediately went to the bishop. He has told me about a few times that he was able to re-direct his brain when inappropriate thoughts came to play, he has told me about temptations that have occurred in the week that I have known.

    We are planning on doing counseling, church group meetings and sexual addiction groups as well. He really, truly seems in it 100% But is having sex harming or helping? Thank you so much for your blog, words can not express how grateful I am for it, and for you in taking time out to help people.

    • I also had the same reaction when my husband told me about his addiction. At the time I couldn’t imagine him ever coming near me again. But after a very hard week and a few terrifying panic attacks, I just felt like I needed to be close to him. I needed some reassurance of how he felt about me. We had talked a lot and shared many tears and feelings but I still needed that physical closeness. And while it makes no sense in my head, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. He is my best friend, and he is still my husband. We have had sex a few times in the last month or so with mostly positive experiences. It always made me feel better at the time because I felt like I was feeling the words that he couldn’t fully express to me (that he loved me, had always loved me and was sorry).

      But without fail, the day afterwards I start to feel like “Did I really do that, what was I thinking?” I think I just feel myself getting to a more vulnerable place and feel afraid to get hurt again. I’m still not sure if it’s a bad or a good thing, but I feel like those first initial times it was sort of a healing experience for both of us. It was good for me to feel that he loves me and he is committed to our marriage and it helps him to feel that I still love him too and that I still think he is worth fighting for.

      I think it comes down to how you feel about it and obviously the extent of the spouses addiction. I think if my husband’s addiction had been more severe I would feel a lot differently. But we have always had a good physical relationship and that has always been something that has brought us closer in the past. Although I realize that some of the time his (and maybe my) intentions were more-lust driven, I feel like he was still capable of making real love to me and seeing me as a person and respecting me (on some level at least).

      Andrew, what are your thoughts? Is that even true or am I just fooling myself. Is it possible to have a good sexual relationship with someone who also has a pornography addiction? Ok I realize that the relationship could not be entirely healthy because of what he was doing, but I feel like most of the time, we were intimate because we loved each other and wanted to connect. Is it possible on some level to separate the two?

      My husband and I have been married for five years and during that time, there has been two periods of about three months where he was viewing about once a week. If he is being honest with me, the last six months or so, he has only been viewing 1-2 times per month. Is it possible that he has ever seen me and sex with me in a healthy way? I have never felt disrespected or been pressured to do anything I am uncomfortable with. I feel like I would have known, like I would have felt that he was not all there with me. I would have felt used, and I never did. I’m probably in denial, but I always felt like he loved me. It seems so sad to accept the alternative. I always thought we had a great physical relationship. Now I’m just really confused and not sure where to go from here.

      Obviously the sexual aspect of our marriage has become really tender after learning of this kind of problem. But if he comes near me, is it because he truly wants to connect with me or is he trying to get a fix? All at once this website can make leave me feeling educated and confused.

      • Kate: Thanks for the great insights. There’s no way I’ll ever suggest directly to someone whether his or her spousal intimacy is on the right track. I have no way of knowing and certainly no training to counsel people about that aspect of their lives. That’s for them to decide as individuals and couples along with advice from trained professionals and God.

        Also, I hope what I’m doing is helping addicts’ spouses who feel crazy understand why they’re feeling crazy and see that there are ways to stop feeling crazy. If someone is feeling completely OK about how things are in their marital intimacy, I don’t want suggest they’re wrong for feeling that way. I’m just trying to provide explanations to help the spouse when things “just don’t seem quite right.” I’m also trying to help addicts realize, “I’ve got a problem and I’m not going to overcome it on my own! I need help!”

        That said, however, I’m working on a second post that goes into more detail about marital intimacy. If you haven’t read the first one, you can find it here. The idea that I want to get out there is that, in my experience and opinion, the proper role of sex in a marriage is one where the couple could stop having sex (a temporary period of abstinence) for any reason (or no reason) and the other parts of their relationship, friendship and intimacy would naturally expand to fill the void left by sex. If sexual behavior, including porn consumption, is a problem for one or both spouses, then maybe, just maybe, they might consider stopping the sexual intimacy for a period of time just to get an idea of how healthy their relationship is without sex in the equation.

        Most people would snicker and sneer at that idea of temporary abstinence. “Why on earth would we ever want to do that?” It is pretty clear our culture has been brainwashed to believe (1) that the only way to be truly healthy is to have sex and (2) that the healthiest people are the ones having the most sex. Care to guess who’s at the source of that lie? The truth is that the healthiest individuals and the healthiest marriages are the ones who are free to decide when and if they’ll be having sex, and they are completely free to choose not to have sex for any reason or no reason.

        I want to live a life where sex is optional for me. If something is a need for me, that means I’ll die if I don’t get it. Food is a need. Water is a need. Shelter and clothing are needs. Healthy connections with Heavenly Father and other human beings are needs for me. I will die if I don’t have those things. In contrast, I will not die if I don’t have sex. If I believe that I will die, there’s something wrong with me.

        • “most people would snicker and sneer at that idea of temporary abstinence. “Why on earth would we ever want to do that?” It is pretty clear our culture has been brainwashed to believe (1) that the only way to be truly healthy is to have sex and (2) that the healthiest people are the ones having the most sex. Care to guess who’s at the source of that lie? The truth is that the healthiest individuals and the healthiest marriages are the ones who are free to decide when and if they’ll be having sex, and they are completely free to choose not to have sex for any reason or no reason.”

          AMEN!!! Sexual abstinence for a time was essential for my recovery as well as my husband’s.

  9. How do I confront my husband if I suspect something has been happening or has happened? I don’t want to put him on the defensive, or be a helicopter. I sense something is off occasionally. I guess I have this feeling that I can’t bring it up because then I’m not trusting him to be honest or that he’s overcoming it. How do I open the dialogue?

    • fly mommy, even AFTER I found porn ALL over our computer, I still didn’t want to confront my husband, because even though I had PROOF that I couldn’t trust him, I didn’t want him to think that I was snooping on him because I didn’t trust him. Does that even make sense? Anyway, maybe go on the lds pornography site, and look up the ‘signs your husband is viewing porn’ and see if that seems like him, and tell him examples of why it seems like him. Tell him about the statistics that 70% of men look at porn, so odds are, he is one of the 70%. Show him an article, (their are MANY) that say how addicts can’t overcome it without help. Don’t accuse him, but in a loving way, tell him that from how you feel, and what you sense, you are concerned that he may need help, and you want to help him before it gets worse. Chances are, that if he IS addicted, he is doing it but doesn’t want to, and you showing concern might be a relief to him, to prompt him to confess and get help. If he is not ready to get help, then maybe he will deny it, but you have opened the door for future dialogue when he is ready to change. Maybe stress to him that being honest with you is more important that if he is even looking at porn or not. I know my husbands lies are more of a betrayal than the actual viewing of porn.
      I know that you weren’t asking me, but I felt prompted to answer. I caught my husband almost a month ago, I wish so badly that he would have just told me, instead of lying to me for 11 years. Something always felt off in our relationship, I just thought it was us, and not porn. 🙁

    • I have a couple thoughts and maybe others will have more and better thoughts to share as well. First of all, is your husband working an active, rigorous and effective recovery program specific to sex addiction? If he’s not, then you don’t need to do any confronting because you already know the answer: He’s not sexually sober and never will be unless he starts to work a recovery program. If he’s willing to do that, his prognosis of overcoming sexual addiction is actually quite good. If he’s not, he’s got a big problem and so do you.

      If you already know the answer and the answer is that he’s not sober, it’s not like a confession is going to change things that much. When you sense that something’s off, you’re probably right–and even if you’re not, you have the right to be wrong. So what do you do? Check out the latest post “The Single Most Important Secret About Sex that Every Mormon Needs to Learn Now.” That post contains some ideas about where you can go from here.

      Also, regarding trust, I don’t think you have any obligation to trust a man who has demonstrated through repeated porn consumption and whatever other acting out he’s done that he’s not trustworthy. If you sense something’s off, that means you don’t trust him. You don’t trust him because he’s not trustworthy. That’s not your problem; it’s his. You haven’t done anything wrong; he has.

      I’m not saying that what follows is necessarily your situation, but often porn-addicted husbands get this sense of entitlement and start trying to negotiate. “I’ll stop looking at porn if (1) you’ll tell me how wonderful I am for not looking at porn; (2) you’ll continue to have sex with me as if my porn consumption and acting out have had absolutely no effect on our marriage; and (3) you’ll trust me unconditionally from here on out–because I’ve stopped acting out–I promise! Pinky promise even!”

      How to start the dialog? I’d say you could give him a paperback copy or email him a PDF copy of Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship and ask him to read it. If he refuses, that a pretty big confirmation that he’s not sober. Sober husbands are contrite husbands; they do what their wives ask them to do. They understand the damage they have caused to their wives and are trying to repair it.

      If he reads it, that will give you a whole bunch of stuff to talk about in connection with his recovery and your own recovery. You should also consider contacting S-Anon to find a local meeting. If they don’t have one locally, you can do phone meetings. Get their literature and start reading it. Get a sponsor. Find other women with experience in recovery and ask them how they’re dealing with their husband’s addiction and it’s destructive influence on their families. I wish you all the best! We’re praying for you.

  10. Setting boundaries for me at first was a confusing thing to do. I had a hard time understanding what boundaries I needed to have. I learned from my support person just what you stated that my boundaries needed to be about what I needed to feel save and what I need to heal. My boundaries are not there to punish my husband but to protect me emotionally, spiritually and physically. If I am making boundries to punish my husband for what he is doing then I am just actioning on the need to control him and it just makes me and my husband miserable and it is not very helpful.

  11. A lot of comments have already been made, and this may have already been said.

    I loved this post! I like how you clarify that boundaries are for ME not to control. The same boundary in one case can be for my safety and another person could use the same behaviors for control. It’s all in the attitude.

    I do want to say that boundaries do need to have an If, then statement and a follow through on the then. May people say, “I will not sleep in the room with someone who is not sexually sober.” But there is not a clear action- just a clarification of desires. “If you are not sexually sober, then I will sleep on the couch” tells the person where the boundary is and what they will do. It is respectful to provide a “WHY” too. “Because I don’t feel safe and connected when you’re not sexually sober and if I stay in the room I’ll feel crazy.” Then of course there HAS to be follow through- other wise the boundary is just smoke and mirrors.

    I agree with all comments above, working together on setting boundaries is great, but if someone has to set them alone that’s important too.

    Finally as a WOPA I have to say- that it is ESSENTIAL for the addict to set boundaries too. “If you call me names or put me down, then I will go for a walk. Because when I am put down I am more likely to relapse and go into my shame place. Also I love you and I don’t want to do something I regret if I’m triggered to anger.” I think these kind of boundaries are essential in his recovery too.

    Love your post!!! Thanks!

  12. I need help. My husband has quite a typical history with porn for an addict. I had asked him prior to marriage about it, he said he’d been involved in it, but was really good at not doing it because he didn’t need it. I was silly enough to believe having him commit to not bringing it into our marriage would be enough. It wasn’t. I’d ask from time to time if he was sober. He swore he was. I was also convinced that lingerie, sexy pictures, and regular “awesome” sex for him would keep my husband loyal. And he swore they did! He was deceitful and constantly acted like he was above that, and that he felt proud around weaker men because he actually had a “good enough” sex life with his wife. After 3 “small” discoveries and 1 very big discovery, we’ve had a rocky couple of years. Each time I had to not only catch him by finding evidence, I dealt with a liar until he was sure I actually had something!!! The last time I threatened to leave, went down a horrible path as far as confidence and trust goes, etc.

    I didn’t know what to do. We saw a therapist. He said he’d do anything and everything to keep me. So, as per the suggestion of the therapist, my husband did the usual things (giving up his phone at night, reporting where he was at all times, not browsing the internet, no social media, no YouTube type stuff, no masterbation, and no lusting after other women.)

    Slowly but surely my husband turned this on me. He has access to all of the stuff he gave up initially. He treats me like he loathes me every time I even act like I’m affected by anything. I have to pretend I don’t notice the millions of temptations around and absolutely not ask him about anything. In the beginning I wasn’t asking him about it “nicely enough,” and that demand changed as soon as I fixed it and only ask nicely.

    I’ve tried everything to feel sane. But he argues over just about anything that would bring me comfort. He thinks I’m controlling or that I was already insecure to begin with (yes, I was, but I was also blissfully unaware and confident that my man was sober and faithful until the final encounter.)

    I have struggled because my husband wants things I feel uncomfortable with in the bedroom, wants to treat me like an object, says “making love” doesn’t do it for him. Says that’s my problem that I want him to want sex to be the same for him than it is for me. I don’t. I understand men are wired differently. I don’t want him to feel the same way about it, but I’d like to feel like I’m not perpetuating the problem or feeling like just an outlet.

    I’m in pain. I can’t help myself. I don’t trust him and he is at the point where he is offended by my distrust and is sick of trying things to help. He says I don’t deserve a man like him because he’s 100 percent faithful and I’m still unhappy.

    He claims, the worst that will happen is if he’s having a bad day, or is upset with me, he’ll let himself check out other women, feel bad, and stop. Is it too much for me to expect that he doesn’t rationalize thoughts of infidelity when he’s having a bad day, or is upset with me? It seems like he feels like that is perfectly normal, especially given the enormity of this problem in most men.

    I admit I go through periods of being positive and strong, and periods where I let doubt get the best of me! He tells me he wants just a happy confident wife, and I feel like I was that before I was blindsided! I understand this isn’t about me, that this is about him having an addiction. But I’m human and it has felt personal even with that knowledge.

    After reading this blog, I felt a lot of hope that I hadn’t felt in a long time! Like others, I have looked up how to fix this, how to fix myself, how to trust again, if I should trust again, if this is a hopeless marriage, questions about divorce, etc.
    I shared these articles with him, and he wasn’t happy. Because once again, I’m not just “getting over this.” He doesn’t want to try a group, he doesn’t want to do therapy, he’s tired of me finding information like this to support my beliefs. Basically I get a very annoyed and cynical vibe from him.
    interestingly, that is one of the only things I have asked him for, is to be humble and loving toward me. I tell him I want to trust him, but when he’s rude and defiant, it does the opposite for me! But each time I bring it up, I am punished with unkindness for days.

    I like the idea of setting boundaries, but at this point I don’t think it will help. He likes to tell me that he could live forever without sex, but I want that connection with him, and I just highly doubt that he could live without it.
    I don’t feel like I could leave him. I feel like we’ve received so much confirmation that we’re supposed to be together.

    I think we’re at a pretty low point now. Since I’ve started setting boundaries (sex should feel meaningful, let’s go to therapy, both join groups, etc) and now I’m in the doghouse AGAIN. He doesn’t want to act happy or like things are working, when we’re still at a disagreement with how things should go. He wants me to let it go, he committed to never messing up again, but I want more than that. I want tools so that if (and when) this becomes bigger than both of us again, I’m not left in the same place I was when this first blew up. At times I believe he’s doing what he says he’s doing, and at times I believe HE believes this problem doesn’t need further attention because HE feels he has kicked it. But in all honesty, I don’t think he has. And his negativity and rude behavior only makes me feel he’s lying so he can keep this in his back pocket for the next time he needs his fix.
    I believe he will give up on our marriage if things don’t change. And right now, he only wants to be left alone and to be trusted. I don’t feel he’s being honest, and I don’t trust him.
    Am I wrong to believe that as he is the one who messed up, he has the responsibility of the consequences that go even beyond his claimed sobriety point? If he’s been sober for 2 years, is it irrational for me to still not feel safe and still not trust 100 percent?
    Please help!