Women & Pornography

Porn and Marriage: How Do I Support My Wife Who’s Using Porn?

In the last post, I addressed wives who struggle with pornography and how they can tell their husbands.

This week, I want to address those husbands whose wives struggle with porn.

How can you support your wife in her struggle?

You are one of the most underserved demographics in this entire field. It’s not surprising, because when we don’t really talk about women struggling with porn, we’re not really going to talk about their husbands being affected by their porn use.

When I spoke for the S.H.E. Virtual Summit an old college classmate reached out and said, “It would be really nice for a conference like this to have a track for husbands, because I have no idea how to help my wife.”

Almost any advice you see about addressing porn in marriage is aimed at a using husband and a betrayed wife, which leaves you in some uncharted waters.

You may have a history with porn use yourself and your wife’s confession dredges up old memories.

You may be currently locked in your own struggle with pornography and now knowing your wife does too leaves you wondering how you’re supposed to help.

You may even be wondering if, since you both use it, you should just use it together.

You may be a man who has never really gotten into porn so your wife’s use alarms you and confuses you.

You may be a man who finds his wife’s porn use absolutely disgusting and now you can’t even look at her and you want a divorce.

The possibilities are limitless. For today, though, we’re going to assume you’re in the majority of men and porn use is part of your story but you’ve overcome it in your marriage. I know this isn’t the case for every man. Some of you never struggled and some of you still struggle. Regardless, I think the steps for supporting are still going to be the same.

And we’re going to assume that you aren’t being entitled, rude, or abusive.

We’re also going to assume that your wife has willingly shared this information with you and it hasn’t been discovered some other way- like catching her.

So assuming your wife has initiated a conversation like the one in this post here, what can you do? How can you respond?

Extend Grace

Your initial response is crucial. This is the case for anyone a woman shares her story with- pastor, best friend, parents, or husbands.

Because of the level of shame and stigma surrounding this struggle for women, many fear immediate rejection or repulsion. Responding in that way to this level of vulnerability could cause her to retreat and close off. Her worst fears are coming true.

That’s the opposite of what the goal is here, which is connection and intimacy. She’s telling you because she’s tired of living in shame. Congratulations, you get to be on the front lines of grace.

But, I’m going to assume you’re reading this after that conversation happened. And I’m going to assume that you had whatever reaction it is you had.

You may have felt shocked, confused, disappointed, even disgusted. You may have gotten angry, told her to stop talking, or walked out of the room. You may feel confused or even frustrated. After all, what does she expect you to do?

The good news is, there’s grace for you too! Relationships need a lot of grace.

If your initial reaction wasn’t exactly supportive and gracious, it’s not too late to repair that rupture. It’s ok that you had a reaction. The important part in this moment is that she knows that you still love her and that you are on her side. This is a very practical way for you to love her like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25).

You can love and still be confused. You can love and still feel hurt. You can love and still feel lost.

You can support and still feel wounded. These aren’t mutually exclusive.

It might be worth it for you to process your own reaction. You can do this with a counselor, a trusted friend, or you can use the porn and premarriage questionnaire I created. It might help you unearth and answer why her confession impacted you the way it did.

Practical Ways to Help

But how can you actually help?

Remember that this isn’t your fault and you can’t fix it.

She shouldn’t be asking you to. If she’s just dropped this mess in your lap, I’m sorry. Give it back to her.  Your goal in supporting her is just that- support. You can’t do this for her.

Since we’re expecting our second child in the coming days, I’ll use the analogy that it’s a lot like childbirth. My husband can’t birth our child for us. When I am in labor, he can’t fix my pain. But he can support and encourage me in that journey as well as in the recovery after. He can pray with me before. He can practice supportive techniques. He can rub my back or my swollen feet. He can’t take any of it away, but it means the world to me to know that he is here with me.

You aren’t her rescuer- You are on her team. In fact, as her husband, you are her “forever” teammate and get a front row seat to watching God set her free.

Keep her confidence

Your wife has shared something very vulnerable, personal and often shame-filled with you. She has let you into her heart and soul. Cherish that. It is sacred.

Do not go to church and submit this as a prayer request. Don’t go to men’s group and tell all of your buddies. Don’t call up your best friend and say, “You’ll never guess what my wife just told me!”

She is trusting you with her naked soul; you need to treasure it just like you would her naked body.

If you feel like you need to process through this with someone, ask her first. Talk about what that conversation can look like and who it will take place with. I’d personally recommend talking to a counselor but you may have a trusted friend or mentor that you respect.

Assure her that this isn’t going to be made public knowledge but ask for permission to get support for yourself from one person. Then choose that person wisely and confirm that you have confidentiality with that person. If you don’t trust them to keep their own mouth shut then you don’t tell them.

Ask her if she has any ideas for how you can support her.

This is something I encouraged wives to consider when they share their struggles. Again, it’s about approaching this as a team but not letting her expect you to fix it.

Yes, it may be part of your past and you may have tips and tricks that helped you. By all means, bring those to the discussion. Also realize that her struggle isn’t the same as your struggle. What worked for you may not help her in the slightest. Don’t expect it to.

We all respond differently to different types of encouragement and intervention. Does she need prayer? Does she want you to be her accountability partner on Covenant Eyes? Does she need you to create a screen time password on her phone?

What does she need from you as far as support?

Encourage her to build her team

As her husband, you are a no-brainer team member. You are the one most affected by her struggle and you are the one who can most often encourage and show grace. After all, you live with her. You sleep with her. You parent kids with her.

That’s also why it’s good to encourage her to build a team that includes other people. Perhaps a counselor, a pastor’s wife, a close friend, a recovery group, or all of the above. You may even be able to build this team together. There may be another couple that you can go to together and you both can receive encouragement and support. Maybe you go see a counselor together.

However it looks, you don’t want to become a one-man support system. That outside set of eyes can help give perspective and shoulder some of the weight of the journey. Encouraging her to share her story with others helps her walk in grace and community.

Shame and pornography are isolating. Plugging into community helps eradicate shame and if you are encouraging it, that communicates to her even more strongly that you have your back. This isn’t some dark secret just between you that no one else can know about.

Be willing to make changes to help her avoid triggers.

This is perhaps the most vital thing for you to choose as her husband.

No, you can’t fix it, but if you insist on watching rated-R movies with steamy sex scenes for your Friday night date night, you aren’t helping. You aren’t supporting.

If you try to coerce her into doing something sexual that she’s uncomfortable with because of a connection to pornography, you are not supporting her or loving her.

Are you willing to make sacrifices in order to help her win, heal, and walk in freedom?

An example from my own marriage is that my husband and I don’t bring our cell phones into our room except in cases of emergency (for instance, if he’s on call or if one of us is traveling). This is a request I brought into our marriage because I found it helpful to avoid temptation in my own journey.

My husband very graciously jumped on board and agreed to support my desire to keep our bedroom free of tech. So, we have no TV, no computers, no tablets, no phone, nothing like that in our room.

He didn’t have to do that. He “has the right” to have his cell phone wherever he would like it. But he chose, out of love for me and support for my journey, to join me in keeping our bedroom a sacred and sweet place, free from the pulls of technology. I’m grateful to him for that and I think he would say it’s a small sacrifice and one that we’ve actually come to enjoy.

Are your “rights” worth her healing? That’s the question you need to ask yourself.

Small changes you make to your everyday life could have a huge and lasting impact on your wife’s journey and your relationship. Supporting her communicates grace, partnership and is how you can love her the way Christ loved us.

Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Even while we continue sinning, He loves us. He knows we’re weak and imperfect and He doesn’t demand perfection of us. Instead, He offers us Himself. He offers us communion with Him. He is full of forgiveness and mercy. He gave up His own rights so that we can know freedom.

Encourage her to find community. Put roadblocks where they need to be. Share what needs to be shared, but ultimately:

The best way you can support your wife is to love her like Jesus.

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