Knocking the lid off some dumb ideas that keep hurting spouses!
On January 2, 2013, a four hour conversation with my husband changed my life forever. I knew within the first 10 minutes that our marriage hung by a thread and whether or not we made it was primarily up to him. That was the night that it became clear that my husband’s “porn problem” was actually an addiction.
For us, the diagnosis of addiction also brought us direction and resources. For the first time in our 16 years of marriage, we realized that the years of madness and insanity actually showed cycles and patterns. In the months that followed, we isolated ourselves in a world of recovery and spent every spare second of our days reading books, blogs and forums. We found therapists, 12 step groups and group therapies. We learned that this addiction has very little to do with pornography and everything to do with Internalized Shame. As my husband dove into his recovery, I dove into my own. I learned that the wife of a pornography or sex addict, experiences Betrayal Trauma. Betrayal Trauma is often misdiagnosed as Codependency. It causes the wife to feel crazy, insane and out of control. The emotions and symptoms are very similar to PTSD. The wife of a pornography addict usually feels with the same intensity triggers, fears and trauma, as does a soldier returning home from war.
I realized early on that recovering from this deep and intense trauma was not something I could do alone. I needed help. I began to reach out. I started with a friend. Then I turned to my sister. Next was my dad and after that was a woman from one of my support groups. One by one I built my network of support, always be prayerful and cautious about who could be trusted. Today my network is extensive and each one plays a vital role in helping me receive what I need to recover.
As I have reached out and depended on the people around me who love me for support, I have come to understand that just as I needed information and education about the nature and effects of this addiction so do they. The people around me love me and hurt when they see me hurting, but sometimes because they do not understand the delicate nature of the circumstances, the advice they offer can be damaging, harmful and even traumatizing. Well intentioned clergy, therapists, family and friends, in an effort to help, using their best, but uneducated judgment offered advice that was not in the best interest of my recovery or my husband’s.
Recently, I received some of this bad advice. Due to the nature of the source and circumstances, it was intensely traumatizing to me. It sent me into a downward spiral that I had to fight tooth and nail to climb out of. As I pulled myself out of the Insanity that held me captive, I turned to my support. As a result of my recovery efforts, my network of other recovering spouses (often termed WoPAs for Wives of Porn Addicts) has become extensive. Their examples of similar experiences were validating to me, yet at the same time utterly shocking. I came to realize after surveying these brave women, that we are sometimes taught and advised on the same myths. Over and over this incorrect and often traumatizing advice was given to us as factual. You can paint a donkey and present it as a zebra, but it will in fact, always be a donkey.
I would like to dispel some of the most commonly advised myths that are given when sexual/pornography addiction is present.
1. You should protect your wife/yourself from the more damaging details and effects of the addiction.
“I’m not sure that she needs to know all of the serious details, it would just hurt her.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t tell her everything.”
“You don’t really want to know all of the details. It would be too painful.”
Often times the wife is treated with kid gloves and given the impression that she is weak and fragile. As if too much information may be irreparably damaging to her. Maybe a wife shouldn’t know every detail, but that is her place to decide that. Not her clergy, not her family or friends and it is certainly not her husband’s decision. No one knows her strength and capability better than she does. Listen to the advice you are given, feel it out in your heart and make the choice that is best for you. When deciding how much information you need, one therapist recommended asking yourself, “How would knowing this information help me heal?” And if you choose to leave out details or receive less information, which many women do, that does not make you weak or fragile, it makes you self aware. Self awareness is strength.
2. The spouse’s job is to be forgiving and be a support to her husband.
“You need to put this behind you.”
“It is ideal for the wife to be the husband’s main support person.”
“You need to forgive and forget.”
The spouse’s job is to heal from the trauma inflicted upon her first and foremost. She should never at any time sacrifice her own recovery for the recovery of her husband. She should not be pushed or pressured into forgiving him too quickly but rather should be open to allowing it to happen as she turns to the Lord to heal her. Forgiveness is a gift she gives to herself, not her husband and should sometimes be reserved for after some healing has taken place. There is no ideal or main way to heal, there is only the right way for you. You should never feel pressured to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. If you do not feel like it is in the best interest of your healing to be your husband’s main support person, and many women feel it is not in their best interest, then that is the right answer for you and not a reflection of your lack of recovery. It is a reflection in the strength of your self awareness.
3. You need to keep the secret.
“You shouldn’t tell your friend/clergy/family member. That would betray your husband’s confidence.”
“It’s his secret, you don’t have the right to share it.”
“Telling people would shame the family.”
“We keep these things ‘in house’”.
When your husband brought addiction into your marriage, he made it your secret too. And that secret brought pain and trauma into your life. Trauma that can be healed from. But, it is a burden so intense and deep that it is usually unmanageable when tried to handle alone. We don’t have to suffer in silence and isolation. There are forums and support groups, blogs and group therapies filled with women who are supporting each other as they heal from this trial. Reach out and allow others to support you and help you heal. My life is filled with strong, loving, capable people who love me and I would be foolish and judgmental to think that they can’t be trusted with this trial in my life. That doesn’t mean that I should tell everyone I meet but it does mean that the Lord will place the people in my path that can be the most support to me and He will tell me who they are if I but ask Him. A safe person is non judgmental, respectful and won’t betray your trust. Ask the Lord who is safe for you.
4. Your response to his addiction is an over reaction.
“All guys do this.”
“Why are you so upset about this?”
“Its just porn (or masturbation or news websites). It only happens every few months.”
“You are over reacting.”
It doesn’t matter if it was once every few years or every day, the effect is the same- Deep Trauma. Diagnosable Trauma. The pain is so intense because when you chose to marry, you were on even playing fields, but the moment he chose to allow addiction into your life and marriage and hide it from you, you lost that even playing field. He had the upper hand and he hid that upper hand from you. There is nothing that you can do to even the playing fields. Nothing. It is all up to him and whether or not he chooses recovery and that reality is terrifying. It is traumatizing. So, the month you spent on the bathroom floor is normal. The showers you took, fully dressed, so your kids wouldn’t hear you cry? Normal. The time you freaked out in the grocery store and had a panic attack because the other women in the aisle was showing major cleavage? Normal. Your inability to watch regular TV without crying? Normal. Obsessively checking computer histories? Normal. Crying through church? Normal. It is all normal and a result of your Betrayal Trauma. It is what you actually feel and that is not an over reaction. One therapist said, “You are not crazy, you were betrayed. Your feelings are valid.”
5. Sex will solve the “problem.”
“You need to have more/better/more intimate sex with your husband so that he doesn’t need to look at porn.”
This was the most commonly advised myth by far. We are physiologically designed to crave a loving, emotionally, intimate connection but an addict in his addiction doesn’t crave this kind of love or true connection, he craves lust. Advising a wife of a pornography/sex addict to have more sex with their spouse to try to help with his addiction is like advising the wife of an alcoholic to drink more wine with her husband to help him get better.
Some think that porn addictions will just stop with marriage and the ability to have sex, but this is also a myth. Having a pornography addiction has absolutely nothing to do with the frequency or spiciness of sex. More/better lingerie or creativity in the bedroom won’t work. This addiction will never be solved with lust filled sex, and unfortunately, lust-driven sex is usually all the addict knows.
Sexual addiction is an emotional and intimate connection disorder and throwing more UNHEALTHY sex at it won’t solve anything. Lust is only about physical appetite, where love/true marital intimacy is a whole-self (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical) connection. The addict has to start back at the beginning and learn how to have true connection and emotional intimacy, and then physical intimacy when both partners feel things are healthy and safe.
Telling the wife to have more/better/spicier sex will only put the blame and responsibility on her, which will cause deeper trauma. The wife didn’t cause this problem and she can’t fix it.
If any of these myths sound familiar to you and cause you to recognize that addiction is in your life, I plead with you to reach out. If you have been given advice that feels off to you, trust yourself. There is a huge community of women that are healing by learning from and leaning on each other. You are not alone. You are SO NOT ALONE. Come and be a part of us and heal.
And if you are placed in a position where you are the support person to such a tender heart, before you offer advice, please do some research. Pornography addiction is a plague that is sweeping the globe and ripping the hearts and souls out of our marriages and families. It is unlike anything we have ever seen and will never be solved or fixed by the ways of the world. Help us heal by learning about the true nature of this addiction and the rippling effects that is causes. Together we can overcome this. Together we are strong.
To read more from Shay go to her blog