My wife discovered my internet porn habit – what do I do now?

A Look Down The Road of Recovery

As a sexual addiction specialist, I’ve heard many men ask this question Internet Porn - Buttonafter being discovered by their partner, “What do I do now?” Usually, when a man calls to discuss getting help with controlling an undesired or destructive form of sexually acting out, he is making one of the most difficult phone calls of his life. This man often has had periods of abstinence from porn for weeks or perhaps months, even years, but somewhere and somehow always seems to slip back into it. The man that asks this question has already tried every means possible to handle this in his own way and has a part of himself that feels like a hopeless failure. Well, before I answer the, “What do I do now?” question, understanding the perspective of your family can change the way you move forward.

While many people are somewhat familiar with the recovery path of addicts (e.g. the first step is moving out of denial,) fewer are knowledgeable about the recovery path of the partners of addicts, which I will refer to simply as “partners.” Dr. Patrick Carnes, PhD and the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals (IITAP) have identified six stages that a partner is likely to experience in the process of recovering from a relationship tainted with addiction.

One of the more difficult stages in treating a family following the “discovery” of a pornography addiction is called the “crisis” stage. This stage follows the “discovery” of the addiction and is characterized by an incredible need by the partner to gather information and make a decision about how to move forward. The partner has endless questions streaming through their mind that demand answers: Can a person really ever recover from this? What kind of porn were you watching (are you gay? a pedophile?) What about the kids?

As the now exposed addict, you may find yourself facing one of the largest episodes of emotional turmoil you have ever faced. For many addicts, and their partners, this is the critical intersection. This is the stage where critical decisions are made. The “crisis” stage is when she will first ask herself the Big Question: Should I stay or should I go?

The addict interested in reconciling their relationship will greatly benefit by quickly accepting that they will need to communicate their desire for their partner to stay in the relationship with their actions, as their words are no longer trustworthy in this stage. This process is like navigating a road riddled with land mines or, as in the case of those familiar with Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices (IED’s). Avoiding a few critical emotional IED’s can help you communicate your intentions. Here are a few big mines you need to avoid:

Mine # 1: Denial. Like pouring salt in the wound. Remember, you just got “discovered”. You are the one with the secret life and you have very little, if any, credibility now and for some time to come. While I am not saying that your partner has no part in developing a better overall relationship in the future, this first mine has the potential to blow everything away. Denial makes the betrayal worse. So, end the charade and get real with yourself for five minutes and accept the reality of the situation and the certainty of the assured destruction that awaits you if nothing changes. You can reduce the emotional turmoil by moving out of denial, but, for the sake of the partner’s healing and safety, I urge you tp wait for the help of a trained professional before you disclose everything to your partner.

Mine #2: Avoiding Responsibility. Waiting for her to decide if she is going to go or stay. Classic error. Here are some common responses I hear from those who choose to embrace this strategy and what they are actually communicating to their partner:

An Addict Says:
“I don’t want to waste the time or money if she doesn’t want to stay together”
Translates to:
“I’m not quitting if she isn’t staying”

An Addict Says:
“If she’s not around, what’s the big deal?”
Translates to:
“I don’t care about how this might affect the kids”

An Addict Says:
“If she cares about me. she’ll stay”
Translates to:
“I don’t want to take responsibility”

An Addict Says:
“I was hoping that she would keep this a family secret.”
Translates to:
“Will you stay in denial with me?”

This is a time to take responsibility for your part in the condition of your relationship, regardless of your partner’s response. For many, this means seeking out a qualified sexual addiction therapist who has experience in treating both individuals and families.

Mine #3 Over-Reacting to Your Partner’s Need for Accountability. Most never saw it coming by themselves. Ok, you’ve moved out of denial and taken responsibility by making an appointment with a qualified therapist. Congratulations, brother! You are almost through that mine-plagued road, right? Wrong! Many addicts expect that the most difficult moments are over, once discovery is completed and therapy begins. They are usually wrong. The “shock” stage that usually follows, and is known to overlap with the “crisis” stage brings new challenges in coping with typical partner reactions.

Typical Partner Reactions during Shock Stage:

  • Numbness or avoidant behavior
  • Retribution or victimization
  • Hyper-Suspicion
  • Fear of relapses
  • Hopeless feeling about the relationship
  • Demands for excruciating disclosure details from addict

While it is difficult for anyone to conduct a healthy relationship under this duress, the bottom line is that you will need to expect and endure the periodic unhealthy reactions of your partner as the new reality of your relationship is absorbed and processed. This is normally accomplished in therapy by improved communication skills, expanding problem solving options, as well as developing internal coping tools.

Navigating the road to recovery after the discovery of a pornography addiction is a difficult process. Having insight into the hazards of the road ahead and how you and your family members are apt to respond while on this journey can greatly affect the entire family’s recovery potential. You and your family can gain the edge in establishing a new healthy and happy relationship when you choose to end the denial, accept responsibility, and prepare for the work ahead. So when answering the question, “What do I do next?” I say, avoid the land mines and know that it’s easier when you don’t do it alone.

See you on the couch.

Roy

Related posts