When Karen discovered her husband’s pornography addiction, her world seemed to fall apart.
She felt deeply hurt and betrayed. Suddenly the man she had been married to for fifteen years was a total stranger to her. She felt she could never trust him again. She did not feel safe with him. She moved into another bedroom and wouldn’t allow her husband to touch her.
Emotionally, Karen cycled through many painful emotions: anger, sadness, fear, shame, embarrassment, etc. She sought professional help because she couldn’t understand what she was going through and it scared her. What Karen was experiencing was trauma.
A person experiences trauma when they encounter a dangerous situation where they have no control. Their ability to feel safe has been shattered and they will go to great lengths to regain that control – even if those lengths are unhealthy. Barbara Steffans and Marsha Means in their book Your Sexually Addicted Spouse list four general symptoms of trauma related to sexual addiction.
Note that there is much overlap among the symptoms:
Here the traumatized wife will avoid activities or other reminders of the traumatic event. Some wives may choose to look at porn with their husbands to avoid conflict and hoping that he will turn to her for sex. Others will avoid sex altogether. Still others will numb their feelings or deny the situation. They will detach from their husbands emotionally.
Recurrent and intrusive thoughts and memories of the traumatic event that cannot be controlled. A wife may be plagued with constant thoughts about what her husband has done. These thoughts can consume a person’s energy and intensifies the anxiety.
3. Avoidance and Arousal
A wife may ignore her “intuition” or new evidence that her husband is acting out again. On the other hand, she may become hyper vigilant in trying to control her environment. She may try to control when her husband uses the computer, how long and what websites can be accessed.
This is intense emotional pain. This can include feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, and shame. Some women have panic attacks and/or uncontrollable crying. She may wonder what she did wrong to cause her partner to turn to pornography. The shame and embarrassment may keep her from telling others about her situation. She might try to control every aspect of her husband’s life to prevent being hurt again.
These behaviors are meant to protect the wife from being hurt any further. The goal is to ensure safety. While Karen experienced all four reactions to trauma, Re-experiencing, Avoidance and Arousal, and Arousal were the strongest. She would have “flashbacks” of when she discovered her husband’s pornography addiction and the weak excuses he provided. She would also try to control him by limiting his access to the Internet and would scour their credit card statements and phone bills to identify any additional pornography use. This left her feeling deeply depressed and anxious. Karen realized what she was doing was not helping her recover.
She felt as if she were going crazy.
In therapy, Karen learned that her reactions were normal. She also agreed they were not healthy. Through individual and marital therapy, Karen was able to find healing for her trauma. By understanding pornography addiction as a disease and not simply a moral failing, Karen could begin to forgive her husband. In their marital sessions they discussed his painful childhood and how he had used porn to self-medicate deep emotional wounds.
Her husband took full responsibility for his addiction and actively participated in his recovery program. He was totally honest and transparent with Karen. All of this helped her rebuild trust in her husband and heal their marriage. Joining a women’s support group helped her realize she was not alone. This fortified her recovery process.
Seeing how his pornography use affected Karen strengthened her husband’s resolve to recover from his addiction and restore their marriage. He never wanted to hurt her so deeply, and he was determined to never do it again.
Hope for Wives
If you are struggling with trauma because of your husband’s pornography use, there is hope for healing. With professional help and God’s healing power, you can recover from the trauma. You can restore your life and your marriage. God won’t leave you alone in this process. He will walk with you every step of the way guiding you to the people and the resources that can help you!
A Word to Husbands
While society portrays pornography use as a “victimless crime,” husbands need to realize the truth about it. There are many victims of pornography use. Wives are prime victims. As you can see above, your pornography use can be extremely traumatizing for your wife. God calls men to be strong leaders, providers and protectors. You need to protect your wife from anything that could harm her. This includes your pornography use. By making the commitment to never view pornography, you are protecting your wife from severe harm.