What to Do When Your Partner Is Addicted to Porn

Not much is known about addiction to pornography, not the numbers of people affected; even the definition is hazy. There just isn’t a body of research surrounding the issue.

"There is a real dearth of good, evidence-based therapeutic literature," says Dr. Valerie Voon, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Cambridge in this article.

The relatively recent advent of the Internet has revolutionized the world of porn, serving up  raw, unfiltered, hard-core, and nonstop stimulation. The result is a cohort of (mostly) men who have become addicted and desensitized to the dopamine rush of a constant barrage of online porn. Occasional porn consumption is common, but therapists and doctors are seeing more relationship and sexual performance difficulties among heavy porn users—behavior that looks a lot like addiction.

Discovering that your partner uses porn addictively is a crushing, confusing experience. Women compare it to the betrayal of discovering an affair, except that the “other woman” is a computer screen that is available 24/7 and that doesn’t look or act like a normal woman.

A partner’s initial response is often denial: Is it really so bad? Doesn’t everyone view porn sometimes? Is this normal?

The morality or “normalcy” of porn use is a different conversation, but when a partner becomes secretive and withdrawn, when he can’t stop the behavior even at work or, as one woman discovered, during a weekend visit to her parents; when porn use creates difficulty in real-life sexual performance; when it causes pain and conflict, then it’s an addiction and it isn’t normal.

Porn addiction is socially anathema—people don’t talk about it or easily admit to having a problem with it. Support groups for partners of porn addicts are rare. And research-driven treatment for porn users themselves is also rare. The most common treatment is called a “reboot” in which porn users are counseled to stop masturbating to online porn until their brain chemistry and ability to engage in real-life sex is regained, which may take months.

The behavior of porn addicts is similar to other addictions. They minimize their porn consumption or outright lie about it. They may accuse the partner of causing the problem. They withdraw and hide what they’re doing. They may gaslight—a newly vogue term that refers to undermining the partner’s grasp on reality by lying, evading, bullying, and blaming.

This dynamic is devastating and toxic. Partners of porn addicts are often recognized as having symptoms of PTSD-like trauma.

The non-porn-using partner may try to control “the addict’s access to porn through anger, snooping, crying, guilt tactics, threatening, shaming and blaming the addict. This destructive behavior was once considered co-dependent, but those of us who work with partners of porn addicts now view these actions as symptoms of trauma,” writes Mari A Lee, sex addiction therapist and co-author of Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts.

As with any addiction, the path to recovery is difficult and riddled with relapse. The harrowing challenge to a partner of a porn addict is to maintain her own integrity and emotional health while offering her partner forgiveness and the space and support to manage his recovery, if he so chooses.

Women who’ve been there say:

  • This isn’t about you. Your partner’s behavior has nothing to do with how you look, how much you weigh, or your performance in bed. Don’t take the blame. “[P]orn addiction is not about [the non-addicted partner’s] worth or value, it is not even about sex; instead, porn addiction is about soothing pain,” writes Lee.
  • “You did not cause it. You cannot change it, and you cannot control it.”
  • Try not to let your partner’s addiction take over your life or consume your thoughts. Set goals. Stay active. Stay healthy.
  • Try to find support—a therapist, a group, a trusted friend.
  • Respond to your partner with as much compassion and forgiveness as you can muster without becoming sucked into the addiction.

A partner’s addiction may be one of the most painful and difficult knuckle sandwiches that life can smack you with. It attacks the very foundation of trust, security, and intimacy that a relationship is built on.

However, there is hope, both for your own healing and the recovery of your partner. “When each person makes the choice to end the destructive dance of addiction, blame, shame and hurt, and instead chooses to move toward healing and recovery – miracles can happen and relationships can heal,” writes Lee. 


Dr. Barb DePree MD
Dr. Barb DePree MD

Author



7 Responses

Dr Barb
Dr Barb

October 09, 2020

Jacqueline, I am glad that you have been able to talk about this with your partner. It may be helpful to find a couples counselor to talk with together about this issue and your expectations for your marriage. If he does not have a therapist helping him manage his PTSD, this would also be beneficial.

Jacqueline
Jacqueline

October 09, 2020

we are going to be married in 7 months. we live together and have a beautiful relationship, without sex. i need to discuss this with him before we marry. he is a very intelligent man, and quite composed. how do I approach this ? he is 66 years old. I am 70 and very fit. he turns on his porno when I am sleeping or out. we both have separate bedrooms. he suffers PTSD. this is his excuse.

Dr Barb
Dr Barb

September 17, 2020

Diana, if you and your husband do want to work through his addiction, I would recommend finding a couples counselor to speak with. Here is the referral page for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists https://www.aasect.org/referral-directory, this may help you find someone in your area who can work with you. Many therapists are using telehealth at this time, so if you do not see someone local, you can perhaps find someone who can meet virtually.

Lyte42
Lyte42

September 17, 2020

Gr8 advice! However my boyfriend addiction to porn has not only damaged our relationship but cost him his freedom! Ppl dnt realize the extent pornographic websites entraps the mind of weak lost & damaged souls! Its more than just sickness or trauma its demonic! That entity controls every fiber of their beam, he’s not him anymore,. I felt like am living with 2 different people,, its not abt the lies or denial its The evil Control. Question is can he break free of that?? He’s not him anymore. I love him dearly but there’s no way I could ever look at him the same ever again.

Diana
Diana

September 17, 2020

I need help! My husband is a porn addict, I’ve known this for a couple of years. He started going to a 12 steps group, and that gave me hope. But last night I found out that he hasn’t stop. I don’t know what to do. He said that he wants help for good, but I don’t think I can deal with this pain anymore

Mmatseke Meta
Mmatseke Meta

September 01, 2020

My husband is porn addict and that lead him to have many affairs, he gets angry when I’m trying to talk about it. I don’t know what to do now he want to marry another wife

Gary
Gary

October 30, 2019

Not disagreeing with any of the great points in this article. But there’s another side to this coin which is just as unfortunate in another way. I know of a couple where the husband has turned to porn because his middle-aged wife is no longer interested in sex, in spite of marriage counseling and several years of his trying to fix the problem. And, apparently, she is apparently quietly preferring it to his “incessantly pestering [her] for sex” (as she worded it to her husband), or going out and having an affair.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.