The following ten tips were submitted by a Mormon wife who has been married for several years to a man with a pornography/sex addiction. She found out about his addiction before they were married. She shares ten tips for women whose husbands or husbands-to-be are struggling with pornography addictions.
10 Ways to Deal with Your Spouse’s Addiction
1. Acknowledge the problem.
You might think it will make you feel better if you just don’t think about it, pretend it’s not so serious, or if you wish you hadn’t married him. It won’t. For whatever reason, this is a trial you have to face. You can’t even begin to face your emotions until you acknowledge what’s going on.
Your husband has a serious problem, and it hurts. You don’t like it, but that’s the truth. His problem causes you pain. And because of his addiction, you’ve grieving. You fee like you’ve lost the man of your dreams, whether you knew about his addiction before you were married or not. You’re scared because you don’t know what it will mean for you and your family in the future. It’s okay to cry.
2. Get educated.
You need to understand pornography addiction. [Find a list of FAQs and answers to many commonly asked questions about pornography addiction.] You’re fighting against a fierce enemy, so arm yourself with knowledge. You can’t fight an enemy you don’t understand. But if you know what actually works, you won’t waste energy using ineffective techniques. Learn about how addiction changes the brain, how it starts [personal stories vary], the effect it has on families, how pervasive pornography and sex addiction are, and more. If you’re operating with some misunderstandings (and there are plenty of myths about pornography addiction), it won’t help. But if you understand what’s going on, your expectations will be more realistic. You can even educate others about the problem.
3. Encourage him to get help.
You and he cannot fight this one alone. Pornography is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome, and you wouldn’t expect a drug addict to get better by himself. Heavenly Father has put some smart people and some great resources on this planet, so take advantage. The bishop can help, but he’s not specifically trained in addiction recovery, so ask him to refer you to someone who is. If you need help to pay for treatment, don’t be afraid to ask. [Editor’s note: See footnotes for a list of possible recovery program options, for both the one who is addicted and the loved one/spouse. A qualified sex addiction therapist is also often recommended by both addicts and spouses who have experienced recovery.]
Remember, though, that he has to do the recovery himself. In other words, you can’t make him go to a therapist. If he hasn’t admitted that he has a problem and that he needs help, he may need to hit some kind of crisis before he does. But if he gets to that point, his treatment will be that much more effective since he’s the one who sought it. And if he won’t go with you, you can always go by yourself. The tools you will receive will help you deal with his addiction and move forward. Your needs are important, too!
4. Stop blaming yourself.
Repeat after me: It is not my fault. Repeat. Now ten times. Repeat.
You cannot make it better by having sex more, being more patient, reading your scriptures more, losing ten pounds, being prettier, keeping the house cleaner, getting plastic surgery, or anything else. His addiction has nothing to do with you. For many men, his addiction began long before he even met you. He may not have learned healthy ways to deal with his emotions. It is not your fault. You cannot fix him.
For many, it takes a long time to separate their actions from their husbands’ actions. It’s scary to feel powerless, so sometimes we try to take control. “If I just was a better wife, he wouldn’t need to watch those movies.” We like to think we can do something to make it better. But the truth is, he’d still be addicted, even if you were a perfect wife. It may sound scary to admit you can’t change him, but it’s actually liberating. You can choose how you will react and to make decisions for your life. You don’t have to let his problem rule your life. That’s real power.
5. Stop treating his addiction like your problem.
This is closely related to #4. Of course, you are a nice wife, and you want to help him. You feel powerless and frustrated and angry. You want to change him.
He needs to take responsibility for his own addiction. You don’t have to monitor him, check his email, check his phone, or check his history. You don’t have to become an internet security policewoman. If he asks you to password-protect his computer, then great. He’s come up with a step that will help him on his own, so why not support him in that? But you are not his babysitter, so let go. He’s not a child. He’s got to stand accountable before God for his sins. You won’t.
6. Stop the secrecy and shame
Pornography goes through a cycle. People who study it call it the “shame cycle.” Addicts know what they’re doing is wrong. They feel ashamed of what they did. They think if they just repent hard enough, they won’t do it again, so they beat themselves up. All the scriptures and quotations they can find are evidence of how bad they are. But pretty soon, they’re feeling so rotten that they can’t stand themselves. They seek out a way to make themselves feel better, to numb the pain for a while. And what is that way? You guessed it. [Editor’s note: Read this article about why addicts cannot stop using pornography and what true recovery can look like. Here’s a short article exploring the question about why they can’t stop.]
Another thing pornography addiction thrives on is secrecy. Most of the time, addicts act out alone. They view it in private, and they don’t tell anyone about it. This is related to their shame, of course, but it only feeds the addiction, because if no one knows, the addict isn’t accountable. They don’t have to answer to anyone, and they believe it when they tell themselves they’ll do better next time.
It doesn’t help the spouse, either, when we pretend these issues don’t exist or shame the addict for their problem. Pornography is a very common problem in the Church, but if we don’t talk about it with someone, when it happens we feel like we’re all alone. We don’t feel like we can confide in anyone, and we feel like we’re leading a double life when we’re not even the ones who are addicted. [If you are a spouse facing this problem and would like some women to talk with, see this forum. We also encourage you to seek a support group of some sort.]
7. Reach out to others.
This one’s closely related to #6, but it’s more for your well-being than his (and yes, your well-being matters just as much as his, if not more so. Don’t you have kids to raise, callings to fulfill, etc.?)
Talk to someone else. You could start by attending a group meeting. You could tell someone in your family, his family, or your visiting teachers. It doesn’t really matter who you tell. But find someone. Someone female would be best. If your confidante doesn’t deal with this, she’ll at least empathize as a woman, and if she does, she can tell you what’s helped her. It helps to know other people carry the same burden. It can affect anyone. And it also helps to meet people who have recovered. It’s possible!
8. Take care of yourself.
An addiction like this one can seem relentless. It isolates you, burdens you, and wears you down. For the sake of yourself and the people around you, you need to take care of yourself. You might not feel like it, but you need to do things for yourself. You need to take a break once in a while. Write down some things you like to do, and do them. It could be a hobby, or it could be something as simple as a bubble bath. You could get a babysitter and go somewhere. Get in touch with what makes you unique, apart from your burdens and apart from your family. Find some simple joy in your life.
9. Be patient with him. And yourself.
His recovery is going to take a long time, and you’re going to have to live with that. He can’t just stop, though it would be nice. It will probably take months or years until he’s “clean”, and even then, he will still have to fight temptation, though the fights get easier. It will most likely be a gradual process, where his slips become less and less frequent with time. It’s like a journey, and even when his slips hurt, if he’s improving overall, he’s moving forward. [Read this article about what recovery looks like.]
It will take time for you, too, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re still working on getting back to normal while he recovers. You won’t be able to forgive and trust right away, nor will you get over it quickly. You’re going to hurt for a while, but you can heal, too.
10. Find hope.
The scriptures alone won’t cure everything, but even so, there is still tremendous power and healing in the gospel. The Atonement isn’t just for your husband, after all. Find the solace and peace and answers you need however you can. You can’t fix anything alone, but if you find the courage to turn your husband and his addiction over to the Lord, He can work miracles in both your lives.
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Addiction Recovery Programs:
LDS Addiction Recovery Programs. http://providentliving.org/content/display/0,11666,6629-1-3414-1,00.html
They also have a self-help manual, A Guide To Addiction Recovery and Healing:http://www.providentliving.org/familyservices/AddicitonRecoveryManual_36764000.pdf
To find a support group near you check here: http://providentliving.org/content/list/0,11664,4177-1,00.html
The LDS Church has a new recovery manual for spouses/parents/loved ones of addicts. Many of the LDS family support groups are using the draft of this manual (which we think is coming out soon) in their family support meetings. Email us for more information.
S-Anon Meetings. National 12 step program for spouses of sexual addicts and partners of sexual offenders, with a spiritual focus (principles are similar to the LDS addiction recovery program, both of which are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program). Primarily married women in attendance. Companion program to SA. National: (615) 833-3152. — http://www.sanon.org/meetings.htm (There is also a new online S-Anon group that has formed. We have contact information for the facilitator of this group, but want to keep that person’s email address private. Email us for more information.)
LifeStar Network: http://lifestarnetwork.org/for_the_spouse.html
COSA Meetings. National 12 step program for partners and significant others of sexual addicts and sexual offenders. Both men and women in attendance. Companion program to SAA. National: 612-537-6904. — http://www.cosa-recovery.org/face2face.html
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) Meetings. A national 12 step program for sexual addicts and sexual offenders. Mostly males in attendance. National: (615) 331-6230
Sexual Addicts Anonymous (SAA) Meetings. A national 12 step program for sexual addicts and some sexual offenders. Scattered meetings have female attendance. National: (713) 869-4902. –http://www.cosa-recovery.org/face2face.html