When your spouse is struggling to overcome pornography use, it can be difficult to know what to do. We may not know how to offer the support he or she needs. While it is our spouse alone who has the responsibility to change, as we are willing and able to help, we can potentially strengthen our spouse and our marriage.
It’s important that our spouse have a desire to change and that he or she ask for help. We cannot force or control a spouse who is unwilling to change. We need to be prepared with how we will respond if our spouse is unwilling to change. This can be a very difficult time as we make decisions, set boundaries, and decide what is best for us. (Read more in Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery.)
You can best help once you are emotionally ready. A spouse’s use of pornography can be hurtful, and we may need time to find our own recovery before we are ready to help them.
As we feel more stability in our lives, we are more likely to be helpful in offering support. Identify your own support people that you can turn to for help, such as a support group, Church leaders, a friend, or a family member. (See “Where can I turn for support?” or find a spouse and family support group at arp.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.)
The following information may be helpful as you seek for ways to support your spouse:
Determine when and how to help. There may be moments when we do not feel emotionally able to offer support, and that’s OK. Feeling obligated to always be available to help isn’t helpful for your or your spouse. This is especially true if you are struggling with feelings of betrayal and insecurity.
If you are not ready to help your spouse yet, you can encourage him or her to identify others who can help. When you are unable to offer help, it is important that your spouse identify a support person of the same gender as he or she.
Turn to the Lord. Seek to feel Heavenly Father’s love for your spouse and to see his or her divine potential. God has an infinite amount of love for each of His children. Those who struggle with pornography may feel unworthy of God’s love. We can be an instrument in God’s hands as we seek to encourage our spouse to strengthen his or her relationship with Him. (See “Am I a Child of God?” Ensign or Liahona, May 2018, 12–14.)
Help your spouse understand what it means to be accountable. No matter how much you want to help, your spouse is responsible for changing his or her behavior. Be cautious of trying to control what he or she does. One of the most important aspects of supporting your spouse is to help him or her take responsibility for changing. As your spouse learns to take responsibility for progress, he or she will feel greater accountability for success or failure. (See Principle 5: Be Accountable.)
It can also be helpful for you and your spouse to discuss what accountability looks like in your marriage and how you will communicate it consistently.
It can be important for your spouse to have a plan for change (see “How do I make a plan that will actually work?” in the Individuals section). It may be helpful to discuss this plan together. You might ask questions like:
- What are the details of your plan?
- How can I support you in following your plan?
- What do you want me to do to support you?
- How does your plan address your biological, psychological, social, and spiritual influences?
You should also consider whether this help is something that you are emotionally available to do.
Establish healthy boundaries. It’s important to have healthy boundaries in your relationship. This includes setting boundaries around the type of support you can offer. Learn more about setting healthy boundaries by reading “How can I best help my spouse? Healthy boundaries.”
Help your spouse know he or she is not alone. Those who struggle with pornography use may feel ashamed and isolated from others, or they may believe that they are the only ones with this problem. Help your spouse understand that many people struggle with pornography use and find ways to recover and move forward.
Many find comfort in attending a support group. This is something your spouse might consider. (See arp.ChurchofJesusChrist.org for information on Church support groups.)
Listen with empathy. Seek to establish trust and compassion in your relationship by truly listening. This means giving your spouse your full attention and listening to understand rather than to judge. We may feel that in order to give support, we have to give advice or take action. Sometimes we can best communicate support by simply listening. As we listen and seek to understand, we show our support. Listening may be painful at times. Be clear when you need to step away or take a break from difficult conversations. Learn more about empathy in the article “Developing the Empathy to Minister” (Ensign, Feb. 2019, 8–11).
While it is important that we maintain confidences, when there has been abuse, possession or viewing of child pornography, or other illegal behavior, we need to inform civil authorities.
Have healthy communication. Your spouse should be honest and communicate his or her progress to you. Be clear that you expect this. While it’s important that your spouse be honest with you, disclosure of the details of use may not be necessary. (Read more about disclosure in “How can I find hope when coping with a spouse’s pornography use?”)
Growing in your ability to have healthy and honest conversations may help each of you as you seek healing. It’s important that you discuss all aspects of life and not just the pornography problem.
Get educated. We live in an oversexualized world. If this is your first time offering support to someone with a pornography issue, it might help for you to spend some time getting educated.
Some couples may want to develop a common point of view by learning more about healthy marital sexual norms. As you seek to learn more about healthy sexual norms, it is important to use resources that align with gospel teaching. Talking about and learning how men and women differ in sexual expression and experience may also be helpful. Healthy and open conversations about marital sexual relationships may strengthen your efforts in making progress toward lasting change.
To learn more about the effects of pornography on individuals and couples, read credible books or articles on trusted websites. Spend time learning about the support and strength you may need as well. (See “Resources.”)
Learn about Influences
Many people who use pornography often have other biological, psychological, social, and spiritual influences affecting them. Learn more about what influences may be affecting your spouse, and encourage him or her to address these influences. (See “What influences are contributing to my pornography use?” from the Individuals section.)
Help your spouse understand the difference between guilt and shame. Many people who struggle with pornography feel shame about their behavior. This includes feeling unworthy of love and forgiveness from God and others. He or she may need help overcoming these negative feelings. Affirm to your spouse that he or she is loved and valued by God and how you are striving to be receptive toward his or her efforts to rebuild trust. Understanding how shame differs from guilt can assist in this process. (Learn more about shame and guilt by reading “Why do I feel so bad about myself?”)
Encourage your spouse to seek help if needed. Your spouse may need additional help to overcome this issue. Encourage him or her to consider getting help from qualified sources, including support groups, ecclesiastical leaders, and health professionals. Getting help from the right professionals who are qualified to offer support can make a significant difference in cases where pornography use has been frequent, intensive, or prolonged. As a spouse, we don’t have to provide support alone. (See “How can I find the support I need?” from the Individuals section.)