The first step in moving forward is to understand and accept that your spouse's pornography use is not your fault. It is not your responsibility to fix the problem. (See “Am I to blame for my spouse’s pornography use?”)
You can move forward by first helping yourself. Then you can choose how to support your spouse in overcoming his or her behavior. Your emotional needs are important and real. It can be difficult to help someone else until you are on emotionally stable ground yourself. As you move forward, seek to understand the problem and your emotional response, focus on what you can control, and turn to the Lord for help.
Understanding the Problem
The next step in moving forward is to have an honest conversation with your spouse about the extent of the problem. This will help you determine future steps. As part of this conversation, encourage your partner to fully disclose the extent of his or her pornography use. It is often best to have a full disclosure in one sitting rather than discussing new information over several conversations.
Your spouse may want to write down his or her disclosure beforehand to ensure it is complete while also being sensitive to your emotions. A complete disclosure is one of the first steps to rebuilding trust. Ask questions and encourage disclosure regarding:
- The type of pornography being used.
- How long your spouse has been using pornography.
- How often your spouse has been using pornography.
- Any other type of infidelity or betrayal of trust.
Be aware that delving into specifics of your spouse’s behavior may not be necessary or helpful to you. Your goal is to understand what’s been going on.
Understanding Your Emotions
You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions including anger, shame, betrayal, fear, disgust, and humiliation. These feelings are common. For more information on accepting and working through your emotions, see “Why am I feeling such strong emotions?” and other content in the spouse section of the Addressing Pornography website.
Healthy thoughts can help us work through our emotions. However, it is common to struggle with unhealthy thought patterns, such as:
- Jumping to conclusions.
- Catastrophizing things or imagining the worst possible outcomes.
- Overgeneralizing the situation or comparing your situation to another in a way that may not be accurate.
- Getting stuck in all-or-nothing thinking.
These behaviors or thoughts will rarely lead you toward any healthy decisions. Take time to slow down, seek to understand your emotions and your spouse’s behavior, and allow yourself emotional time and space to make decisions.
Avoid discussing difficult issues when tempers and emotions are high because this may lead to physical, emotional, or verbal attacks. You may find it helpful to include a Church leader, mental health professional, or trusted friend to help mediate during difficult conversations, including the disclosure described above.
Focusing on What You Can Control
It is difficult to watch someone you love make choices you know are hurtful. As a result, it can be tempting to try to control your spouse’s pornography use. However, your spouse is responsible for making changes to his or her behavior and is the only person who will be able to find a solution that works for him or her.
Seek to focus your attention and efforts on what you can change. For instance, you can work to improve your own physical, psychological, social, and spiritual self. Taking care of yourself will give you strength and help you adjust as you move forward.
Likewise, seek to understand your own biological, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. You may consider seeking the support of friends, family, Church leaders, mental health professionals, and support groups. Learn more by reading “How can I take care of my needs?”
Building and Regaining Trust
In your pain, it may be difficult to forgive your partner for his or her pornography use and betrayal of your trust. It may take time for you to be ready to forgive. Be patient and give yourself the time you need. As you work toward the goal of forgiveness, recognize that extending forgiveness is not the same as restoring trust. A person can repent and be forgiven long before he or she earns trust again.
Keep in mind that being patient and understanding does not mean condoning, accepting, or enabling your partner’s behavior. Learn to establish and communicate clear, healthy boundaries as well as what kinds of behaviors will not be tolerated.
In certain situations, you can seek divine direction and inspiration to know if divorce should be considered.
(Learn more about setting boundaries by reading “How can I bring some stability back into my life?”)
How You May Be Affected by Your Spouse’s Pornography Use
Your spouse’s pornography use may cause you to question your own self-worth. You may find yourself:
- Feeling responsible or guilty for his or her behavior.
- Feeling a deep sense of shame.
- Questioning your ability to meet your partner’s needs.
- Believing yourself to be unattractive.
- Wondering “What is wrong with me?”
These feelings are common. You may feel insecure about yourself, your physical appearance, or your relationship. You may feel that you are to blame for your spouse’s pornography use. Remember that your spouse’s choice to use pornography is his or hers. Your spouse likely has other personal issues causing his or her pornography use. Read more about these possible issues in “What influences are contributing to my pornography use?” in the Individuals section.
If you are experiencing abuse, seek help immediately from civil authorities, child protective services, or adult protective services. You may also seek help from a victim advocate or medical or counseling professional. These services can help protect you and prevent further abuse. (See abuse.ChurchOfJesusChrist.org.)
The Lord Will Help
The Savior’s power is real. You can draw upon Him and our loving Heavenly Father to feel the strength, direction, and clarity you need to move forward in your life.
Ideas for Taking Action
- Journal about your feelings. What emotions are you feeling? Assess your current needs. What type of support do you need as you move forward?
- Reach out for support. Identify individuals such as friends, Church members, your bishop, or a mental health professional that may be helpful to you. You may also consider attending a support group such the Church’s Spouse and Family Support Group. (Find a meeting.)
- Consider how to approach your spouse about discussing his or her pornography use. What types of questions will you ask to learn what you need to know? How can you do this in a way that will allow your spouse to speak openly?
- Learn ways to manage your emotions. Discuss your needs with your spouse, including establishing safe boundaries.