“How can I best support my spouse?” Help for Spouses (2021)
“How can I best support my spouse?” Help for Spouses
It’s important that your spouse has a desire to change his or her pornography habit and that he or she is willing to ask for help. You cannot force or control a spouse who is unwilling to change. You need to be prepared with how you will respond if your spouse is unwilling to change. This can be a very difficult time to make decisions, set boundaries, and decide what is best for you. Read more in the manual Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery.1
You can best support your spouse if and when you are emotionally ready to do so and when you feel like you have your own support group to help you through the process. The following information may be helpful.
Determine when and how to help. There may be moments when you do not feel emotionally able to offer support, and that’s normal. Feeling obligated to always be available isn’t helpful for you or your spouse. This is especially true if you are struggling with feelings of betrayal or insecurity. If you are not ready to help your spouse, you can encourage him or her to identify a support person who is the same gender as your spouse.
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. 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. 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.
Discuss a plan for change. It may be helpful for you to discuss your spouse’s plans for changing his or her behavior. You might ask questions like “What are the details of your plan?” and “What do you want me to do to support you?” You should also consider whether this help is something that you are emotionally available to give.
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, and that could be helpful to your spouse as well. (See addictionrecovery.ChurchofJesusChrist.org for information on Church support groups.)
Listen with empathy. This means giving your spouse your full attention and listening to understand rather than to judge. You may feel that in order to give support, you have to give advice or take action. But you can best communicate support by simply listening. Learn more in the article “Developing the Empathy to Minister.”2 Be clear when you need to step away or take a break from difficult conversations.
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. Your spouse may need help overcoming these negative feelings. You might choose to 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.
Set appropriate boundaries. A boundary is a limit around certain behaviors that you do not allow your spouse to cross without consequences. The goal of having a boundary is to keep yourself safe from emotional harm. Boundaries aren’t intended to change your spouse’s behavior, although that may be a secondary effect. Setting boundaries may change the dynamics of your relationship, but whether they lead to the destruction or the growth of your marriage, boundaries protect you and help you remember your value. Follow through on maintaining your boundaries after they’ve been established. When enforcing boundaries, remember not to act in anger. Boundaries are not meant to be a punishment for your spouse but rather a way to protect you and your emotions.