Women & Pornography

Porn and Marriage: How Do I Tell My Husband I Struggle With Porn?

We’re winding down the Porn and Marriage series here and I’m going to close it out by talking directly to the wives, then the husbands (next week) and then summarizing some resources (the week after that).

Today let’s answer the question, “How do I tell my husband I struggle with porn?”

As Millennials and Generation Z females (who are more likely to use pornography than older generations) get married, they are running into this issue. It’s especially a struggle for Christian women.

Why?

Because for years, we’ve talked about porn like it’s only a guy’s issue. It’s how guys are wired. Perhaps you saw the recent viral video of a Missouri pastor telling women that their husbands are going to look because that’s just the way God made men. It’s just how things are. Boys will be boys.

All of which is extremely unhelpful and misleading.

Then we pair that with purity culture messages that really seem to want to cast the “ideal” woman as pure, white, and virginal.

So the ideal man is obsessed with sex and has out of control sexual urges while the ideal woman doesn’t even know how to spell the word sex. Not surprisingly, this creates a problem.

Lies tend to do that.

What ends up happening is that wives who struggle with pornography feel weird. They feel out of place, isolated, and alone. Many are terrified of their husbands finding out. Terrified.

We’ve told men they have the corner market on sexual impulse and we’ve characterized women with sexual struggles as some freak of nature. So the women hide.

What if you’re that wife?

What if you’re that wife who has a struggle with pornography that you have hidden from your husband? How do you tell him?

Let’s start with answering whether or not you even need to.

Short answer: yes.

This is a conversation you need to have with your husband. Ideally, you have it before he becomes your husband but we’re assuming today that wasn’t and isn’t the case. No problem.

Why you need to tell your husband

I always hesitate to use the word “confession” because it seems to go hand-in-hand with punishment. We just associate the two. If a suspect confesses to a crime, then we assume a court case and punishment will follow.

I think a lot of wives struggle with feeling that they need to confess to their husbands so that they can receive their punishment. It’s then obvious why we would be hesitant to share. If I think that telling my husband is going to result in some sort of punishment, even if it’s emotional distance in our relationship, then of course I’m not going to feel very motivated to tell him.

But that’s not why we “confess.” We share our struggles (how I choose to couch this) so that we can experience grace and reconciliation. You aren’t telling your husband so that he can get mad at you.

This is all about combatting shame. Shame is in opposition to grace and intimacy. As long as you don’t tell your husband, there is a part of you (a very very intimate part of you) that is unknown. There is fear of being found out. There is a feeling of lying, of being untrustworthy. He doesn’t know one of your deepest darkest struggles and you’re afraid to tell him.

Keeping silent might keep the boat from rocking, but it’s not going to help if there’s a hole in the bottom.

Shame loves to whisper to us, “If he really knew what you did, he wouldn’t love you.” It tells us that same lie about our families, our friends, even God. If people really knew who we were, they wouldn’t love us.

So we live in a perpetual state of believing that we are unlovable and that we need to lie about who we are in order to receive love. That’s not a recipe for thriving relational and emotional intimacy.

But how do you tell him?

How do you sit down and have that conversation? To be fair, it’s probably not a great date night conversation. Please do not spring this on your husband in the middle of some anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant. Please.

I want to preface all of this by saying I don’t know your marriage. I know my marriage, but you aren’t married to my husband.

There have been many times my husband and I have read marriage books and found the “this will definitely work” advice… and it doesn’t work.

For instance, due to my family background, I absolutely do not respond well to the technique of active listening. When my husband repeats back to me exactly what I just said, in an effort to show he cares and is listening, I get confused. Why did he just repeat that? Does he not understand?

So, I restate what I said using different words, trying to clarify my meaning, which he interprets as a completely different statement. Then he repeats that back to me. I think he’s still confused so I restate it again, using every toolkit in my teacher tool box to present a different angle or a different element to aid in understanding.  Rinse. Repeat.

We continue to confuse each other and, after a while, one or both of us gets frustrated. (Usually me.) What part of this don’t you understand!? Come to find out, he heard me and understood me the first time. The entire conversation could have been saved by a simple head nod as opposed to “active listening.”

So yes, the famous “active listening” technique pushed by relationship counselors around the world… doesn’t work for us. It just doesn’t. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. It doesn’t have to work for us. We don’t need it to work for us. We have other ways of showing each other we’re listening and our communication is much better when we do it our way instead of trying to cram ourselves into some “this is how it must be done” cookie cutter.

You need to tell your husband, but I can’t give you a script for exactly how.

When I first thought of this post last year, I thought, “I’ll write a letter that they can just give their husband.” But I’ve realized there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. There is no form letter. What I can encourage you to do is:

Pray

Pray for wisdom to know when the right time is. You know who knows your husband better than you? God. You know who you’re both going to need to be able to navigate this with grace? God. So, involve Him from the beginning.

When you do sit down to talk with your husband, ask if you can both pray together first.

Prepare

When I say prepare, I do not mean have your 20 different contingency plans and a tent pitched in the backyard for when the fight starts. Think of preparing less like preparing for the zombie apocalypse and more like preparing the ground for a garden.

This is not a conversation you want to have on the spur of the moment or when either of you are rushed for time or prone to distraction. Do not drop a bomb on him via text or via letter or via any other disconnected means of communication.

This is a conversation you want to carve intentional face-to-face space for. The idea is that you’re sharing your heart with him. You’re being vulnerable with him. Let him know that you would like to talk with him about something and find time together that is unhindered and undistracted. Make sure you’re not hungry and that the kids are preoccupied and the dogs have their toys.

Ladies, it goes without saying that men are not women. You might like to sit down with a cup of coffee and share your heart for hours on end (I know this isn’t just me). In general, women are nurturers. Many of us like relationships and getting to know people and venting and sharing and crying together.

Your husband is not a woman. If you don’t know how to have deep conversations with him, ask him. Ask him what he needs to be able to have a heartfelt and meaningful, potentially even difficult conversation. You can say something like, “Babe, there is something I need to talk to you about. It’s very meaningful/deep/important/personal (choose your adjective) so I want to have that conversation when you feel you’re ready. Can we talk about what that looks like? What would you need to be able to be fully invested in that?”

This could be challenging if your marriage isn’t full of heart connections and emotional intimacy. It’s a new skill you would both need to learn.

Purposefully share

Experts go back and forth about how much to “disclose” and when and to whom. My advice to you is to strike a healthy balance between, “Just wanted you to know I watch porn. kthxbye” and spending two hours rehashing your entire life story without taking a breath or giving him a chance to think.

To avoid two hours of word vomit, it may be helpful to process a little through this before you talk to him.

If it helps to write it out, do that. Journal or write him a letter. You can hand it to him to read or read it out loud to him. If it helps to share it with someone else first to process a little bit, that’s ok too! Maybe you have a best friend from growing up who already knows this is an issue. Maybe you go and see a counselor just so you can try to work through some of this and take some of the pressure off him.

If you want, you can fill out the questionnaire I created for pornography and premarriage to help clarify your thoughts.

This isn’t necessarily the time to process through all of the why’s and how’s with him, but consider sharing:

1- Your fears in sharing what you’re about to share/why you haven’t said something before.

2- Your struggle: when did it start, what does it look like now?

3- Your feelings about your own struggle and how it has affected how you’ve related to him in your marriage.

4- Your request for forgiveness for times you may have misled, deceived, or lied to him about this.

5- Steps you’ve taken to try to heal and find freedom.

6- Your hopes for your relationship moving forward.

7- What you expect him to do about this.

This may be an unfair generalization, but it seems that men like to fix things. Even my own husband gets confused sometimes about whether I want him to fix the issues I’m sharing or just stop and listen. Something that is helpful to him (I’m still working on this) is when I clarify up front that this is a “processing conversation” and I’m not asking him to fix anything.

In the next post, I’ll share ideas of how husbands can help. For now, it’s important to remember that the purpose of this isn’t to fix your problem. You’re not asking him to be your counselor, your accountability partner, or your savior. You’re really asking him to forgive you and keep loving you in spite of all of this. Your goal is to bring deeper healing into your relationship and eradicate shame.

Provide space

That being said, it is ok for your husband to have a reaction. In fact, it’s expected that he would. He may be upset or hurt or confused. This is the nature of sin. It’s upsetting, hurtful, and confusing.

He may lash out. He may clam up. He may need a minute to process. He may get up and start playing video games. He may want to go for a run. He may say absolutely nothing.

Our responses to things like this are going to be influenced by so many things. If he has been wounded by pornography in some way, your struggle might affect him differently. If he is currently struggling himself, he may feel a level of conviction at your vulnerability. Our personalities, our personal journeys, even how we feel any given day all feed in to how we react to things like this.

Acknowledge that. You can even say something like, “I know you might be disappointed or not know what to think.” In fact, give him the floor to ask questions. This is a conversation, not a monologue.

Invite him into the story. “Did you want me to clarify anything? Is there anything you aren’t sure about.”

Give him an out. “I understand if this is a lot to take in right now. If you need some time, let’s set up a different time to talk about this.”

Offer to involve someone else. “I’ve been talking with a counselor and want to invite you to do the same if you think that would help us both.”

If you feel like your husband is the kind of person that might overreact or fly off the handle or have difficulty processing, then I’d recommend trying to involve a marriage counselor from the offset.

Do you need to disclose everything?

A common question I get from women is how much do I need to tell? If I’m watching lesbian porn, does he need to know that? Should I explain the specific types of pornography I am using in graphic detail?

And my answer is, you need to uproot whatever is a source of shame. If you feel the specific type of pornography you watch is important to that conversation and that failure to disclose it will feel like there is still something hidden, then yes.

Because again, it is all about eradicating shame and paving the way for grace and intimacy. But if the information you’re debating doesn’t contribute to that, then no. He doesn’t necessarily need a play by play of every single porn video you watched last week.

That’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that the walls of shame that were keeping you cut off are coming down. The road is now open for your relationship to grow, and heal, and experience redemption, reconciliation and grace.

That’s the point.

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