“Support for Spouses of Pornography Users,” Counseling Resources (2020).
“Support for Spouses of Pornography Users,” Counseling Resources.
Pornography use often significantly affects the spouse of the user. A spouse may feel angry, powerless, and betrayed by the user. Additionally, feelings of panic, shock, intense pain, sorrow, and sadness, as well as anger or depression, are common. Spouses often feel intense shame and question their own worth. Some spouses even experience physical symptoms, such as illness, unexplained heart or chest pains, headaches, or inability to sleep.
They may also feel betrayed by God and wonder how He could let this happen. Not all spouses will react and respond in the same way. Other marital problems or the frequency and duration of the pornography use may influence their reactions and the magnitude of their response.
Spouses may be reluctant to tell anyone about their emotional and spiritual struggles and sometimes choose to suffer in silence rather than reach out for help or support. As they seek help, spouses often need someone to sensitively listen and provide support and compassion. Spouses often incorrectly assume the problem is somehow their fault, so they may need help understanding that they are not responsible for the user’s behavior.
Helping the spouse of the individual who uses pornography feel heard and understood may be just as important as any counsel you can give. Listening with empathy will send a powerful message to the spouse that she or he is loved, validated, and cared about. Seek to show love and empathy as the Savior would. Prayerfully consider asking questions like these to help you better understand the spouse’s situation and discern her or his needs. Be willing to take time simply to listen to the spouse express fears, doubts, and concerns.
A spouse may feel more comfortable talking about the situation if she or he has a friend, parent, or trusted Church leader present. Ensure that the spouse knows that she or he can have a support person present. Consider asking questions like the following in a sensitive and loving manner:
What is the current situation and what are you going through?
What is the most upsetting aspect of your spouse’s pornography use?
What are you most concerned about in your marriage right now?
How has pornography affected you and your family (family troubles, health issues, and so on)?
What sources of support do you currently turn to?
How open and truthful is your spouse regarding this challenge with pornography?
How open have you been or are you willing to be in discussing this problem with your spouse?
What else should I know about the situation?
How has the Lord helped you endure this trial?
If you become aware of any abuse, domestic violence, or the viewing, purchasing, or distributing of child pornography, contact civil authorities. Bishops have an additional help line they can call in these situations.
As you help the spouse, consider using some of the following suggestions.
Invite the spouse to study how Christ has ministered to those going through adversities and how He can help him or her heal.
Help the spouse understand and have faith in priesthood ordinances, especially temple ordinances.
Encourage the spouse to seek a priesthood blessing.
Provide support to help her or him manage painful emotions.
Express your love and concern for him or her individually, as well as for his or her spouse and children.
Help the spouse understand that the pornography user’s decisions do not change how God sees the spouse individually.
Clarify that she or he is not responsible for her or his spouse’s pornography use or poor behavior and is not expected to endure abusive behavior. If you become aware of any abuse, immediately contact civil authorities.
Remind the spouse of his or her worth and value.
Encourage the spouse to meet with the bishop, if she or he has not done so already.
Invite the spouse to review the resources for spouses and family on “AddressingPornography” on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Help the spouse understand she or he can receive her or his own inspiration to know how to set clear boundaries in the relationship and in the home.
Invite him or her to study “Principle 8: Be Firm and Steadfast” in the Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery (found in the “Addiction Recovery” section on ChurchofJesusChrist.org) to help him or her understand how to set boundaries that can help restore order to life and home.
Help the spouse understand she or he has a right to have complete honesty, no pornography in the home, and a number of other behaviors that facilitate peace and unity.
Help him or her understand he or she can decide and discuss with his or her spouse how much he or she wants to know about the pornography use (such as the nature, longevity, and severity of the issue). Full disclosure might contribute to the healing process.
Help the spouse find a trusted friend or family member who can provide meaningful support on an ongoing basis as she or he seeks to find peace and stability in his or her life.
When appropriate, encourage the spouse to speak with others who won’t disparage the pornography user or urge the spouse to make snap judgments or hasty decisions.
If available, spouse and family support meetings are often a good place to feel supported, heard, and validated and to find strength in Christ through the power of His Atonement.
Help him or her understand that forgiving his or her spouse is a process and that he or she can receive his or her own inspiration in knowing how and when to begin this process.
Encourage the spouse to be sensitive to her or his own emotional and spiritual healing process, which may take significant time and will be independent from that of the user’s healing. Do not try to rush or dictate the process. Allow her or him to work through his or her feelings and challenges related to the situation before discussing forgiveness.
Remind the spouse that extending forgiveness does not always mean extending trust. Trusting may come sometime later, or not at all, depending upon future choices and behaviors. Trust will be rebuilt as the pornography user works on his or her own healing and the spouse sees the user’s diligence and commitment to change.
Church leaders should be cautious not to infer that a couple’s past intimate relationship has any legitimate connection with either spouse being involved with pornography. However, pornography use can be detrimental to intimate relations. Church leaders should refrain from providing counsel on intimate matters and, when help is needed, consult with Family Services or other social and emotional support experts and refer the couple to an appropriate professional.
Determine the effect on the marriage and family and address any issues.
If marriage partners need additional help, encourage them to get the help they need individually along with help as marriage partners.
If there are children in the family who are aware of the issue, help their parents understand their responsibility to minister to them and help the children as needed.
Seek to support the pornography user in his or her process of spiritual recovery. The resources on addiction and pornography use, the “Addressing Pornography” section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org, and the Addiction Recovery Program website may be helpful as you help the person struggling with pornography understand her or his responsibility to resolve the behavior.
Encourage the individual using pornography to be accountable for his or her actions and support his or her spouse. See the resource on pornography use for more information
After obtaining permission from both the spouse and the individual using pornography to discuss the situation with others, consider coordinating with ward leaders or other trusted people to provide continuing support, guidance, and assistance.
Identify a trusted person who may be a support for the spouse of the pornography user. Ideally, this support person will have successfully dealt with a similar challenge, but any spiritually mature person with compassion could provide caring support.
Invite the spouse to attend a local support group for spouses and family members.
Visit the Addiction Recovery Program website (”Addiction Recovery” section on ChurchofJesusChrist.org) to find a local spouse support group meetings, which are held either in-person or through a phone-in meeting.
If no meetings exist, consider contacting the bishop to request that one be started or using community support groups.
Consider referring the spouse of the pornography user to professional help or counseling. Identify local resources that provide services in harmony with gospel principles.