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Are Christian women overreacting to the idea of porn? Here are some common reactions I’ve heard from women who have discovered their husbands’ porn secrets:

“It felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. It was the most difficult thing I’ve been through.”

“It felt like my past was a farce, the future was completely uncertain, and the present was a nightmare to wake up to every day.”

“Everything I had built with him - our marriage... it all went down the drain.”

Why the strong reaction?

When a woman discovers that her husband has a secret porn addiction, she is likely to feel her world shaken to its core.

She is in pain because her husband has sought sexual gratification from images on a screen instead of her. This type of betrayal can spark plenty of concerns for any wife about her own sexual value and physical allurement.

But, there is much more to it than that.

Is it trauma?

Complex Partner Trauma (CPT) outlines the wife’s experience according to five layers of impact, similar to the layers of an onion. These layers unfold into compounding difficulty and even trauma for many wives, once the discovery of the unfaithful actions takes place.

First, there is the core of the initial betrayal—the wounds from the unfaithful, secret actions of porn use and masturbation. These violations of fidelity hurt and cause ruptures to the marital bond.

Staggered disclosure adds a second layer of trauma as the partner often experiences a series of lies and deceits from the porn user, in an effort to conceal the problematic behavior. Studies have shown that an addicted person will lie and deceive out of two general fears: fear of hurting his wife and fear of the her reaction.

But, no matter how protective the man feels his actions may be, lying generates another layer of trauma for the partner. It causes disorientation of her reality and dulls her ability to trust her own gut feelings. Sometimes, years of this covert emotional abuse take place before the partner truly discovers what is going on.

A third layer of trauma occurs for the partner in the form of relationship disrepair, wherein communication turns raw and trust erodes rapidly. The relationship functions off-kilter, and the partner often feels invalidated in her feelings and hunches.

Other relationships can suffer too. The wife’s connection to her children, friends, or family members can be jeopardized as she carries the secret of her situation, masking her pain and therefore limiting her own authenticity at a time when she needs support the most.

Out of this, a fourth layer of trauma develops: living in an altered life state. Feelings of isolation, confusion, desperation, and operating below her potential can occur as the current emotional state of the wife becomes incompatible with her hopes for the relationship or her dreams for her own life. Many women report sleep disturbance, chronic hopelessness, body soreness, generalized anger at the world, lack of motivation, and other traits that are otherwise not normally characteristic.

Sometimes then, a fifth layer of trauma envelops the partner—a layer of self-betrayal wherein she may find herself acting outside of her character and compounding the trauma as a result. Sometimes, this takes form in retaliative efforts, such as having an affair to give her husband a taste of his own medicine or the formation of her own maladaptive coping strategies, due to need for relief from such acute pain. Actions such as these, though understandable, still betray the self and add to the rubble heap.

Hurt to the Core

As you can see, discovering a secret porn habit and the lies surrounding it create more than just a wound to a woman's body image and self-esteem. It’s her very reality that feels stolen from her. The person she trusted the most has kept important information from her—for years, in some cases.

He has lived out every day with a huge secret in tow, creating the reality for her that she has been ruthlessly duped. It is here that women become desperately inspired to keep from ever being lied to again and meanwhile, fear of future lies puts these worried women on high alert. This is called hypervigilance.

Never Be Duped Again

A sense of hypervigilance may develop for her, which is part of living in that altered life state. Even in cases where the husband is on a healthy and sober recovery path, hypervigilance does not necessarily go away. In fact, it can even increase at this point, causing some frustration for her husband who is eager to rebuild trust. The hypervigilance is a protective defense for a partner that develops in an effort to never have the rug pulled out from under her again. And, while this can dissipate over time, it requires patience, integrity, and empathy from the husband.

The disorientation that can occur for a wife can cause a “twilight zone” state of existence. Picture a turtle on its back. Here is what one betrayed partner had to say as she explained her feelings of betrayal in poem form:

"I feel like a turtle on my back. I can’t flip over, I need someone to come and get me out of here; it’s getting dry and hot and I will die if I stay like this. I’m looking around, that’s all I can do. And what?! I’m just to supposed to be in this place and “feel my feelings?” No, I need an intervention. And where is the human who flipped me upside down like this? WHERE IS THE HUMAN? Why do I feel so different... I crawl into my shell... but it’s so hot in there. And I worry if someone comes along, they’ll pass my shell thinking it’s empty. BUT NO, I’M IN HERE!"

Self Betrayal

All humans require certain conditions to thrive. When the cornerstones of relationship safety, such as trust and security, are wiped out in a series of blows (or a single blow), survival instincts can kick in. This “make the pain stop” mentality can morph from a simple way of thinking to a visible behavior, as the wife makes relief from the pain of betrayal and uncertainty her daily approach. 


Sometimes, hypervigilance can lead to self-betrayal behaviors, such as secretly creating fake accounts to “bait” her husband without his knowledge, or devoting tremendous time to checking his device histories. Even though these behaviors may have initially assisted her in discovering his problematic sexual behavior, they ultimately steal life away from her as life begins to center around a great investigation, rather than her own needs.

Her needs are extremely important. She needs to heal from the unfairness of the wounds her heart now bears. Wise women must take heart to gauge if a certain pattern of behavior is not adding value to the healing. If a wife finds this to be the case, the best thing she can do is find a different channel for the painful energy inside her. A lot of women choose support groups, therapy groups, or spiritual directors for the support they need to redirect themselves back toward the best path of healing and wholeness.

Keeping an Eye on Him

Women need to feel empowered and supported to set aside behaviors that keep them dancing with their husbands’ addictions and develop eyes to observe demonstrations of a healthy recovery. When the focus shifts away from investigations and moves toward healthy information gathering, a partner builds her toolkit to stay safe. In her tool kit should be knowledge of addiction recovery, as well as a developed list of boundaries and needs going forward in the relationship.

When a wife chooses to communicate her needs to her spouse, she is able to live life with reduced anxiety along with careful observation of how her husband is coming to the table for her needs. An example of this may be a partner expressing the need for a weekly check-in. Another example includes stating, “I feel safer with a porn blocking software on your phone.”

If a man is not able to demonstrate understanding and follow-through for reasonable needs such as these, then the wife can look at his display of willingness (or lack thereof) and discern the message behind his behavior.

It goes to say that if healthy boundaries set by the partner are violated, or expressed needs go on not being met in the relationship, she has every right to take a look at that and determine a threshold for herself for how long she is willing to tolerate violations of that nature. Setting healthy and appropriate boundaries is not an overreaction, especially when done with guidance and support from wise people.

Heal for Real

It’s true: healing from betrayal is a lot of work. It’s also true that even if we didn’t sign up for the pain, we have to take an active part in the process of our own healing. However, women on this journey, albeit excruciating at times, can feel whole and empowered once again. There are merits to be prodded to introspect on this level, and the resiliency, strength, and faith that can emerge in the healing can be life-changing in beautiful, mysterious ways.

Resource
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Covenant Eyes: Screen Accountability™

Description

Be the best version of you.

Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability is designed to help you live with integrity on your devices by sharing your activity with a trusted friend.

Audience: Adults and supervised minors 
Language: English
Resource Type: Software 
Cost: $15.99 / month.  

Hope Ray (Michigan) offers tailor-made Intensives for couples and individuals surviving betrayal and infidelity. Working alongside Dr. Ken Adams, Hope helped design Michigan's first comprehensive treatment program for partners of sex addicts. Her Complex Partner Trauma model has also been used at The Meadows and across the US. A complete list of Intensives along with other helpful, hopeful resources can be found at Hope’s website. Hope is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), a Certified Hope and Freedom Practitioner (CHFP).