BYU women seek recovery from husbands’ porn addictions

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LDS Church leaders raise a warning voice against pornography, but the voices of women who deal with a husband’s addiction are not often raised.

Its taboo nature leaves many women feeling isolated when dealing with secondhand trauma of their husbands’ addiction. But it doesn’t have to.

BYU student Katherine (not her real name) shared how she feels when her husband views pornography. “When my husband messes up, it’s so hard. It hurts so much,” she said. “I want to be there for him, but when he relapses and he pulls away … it’s like, what is going on? … it makes me feel he regrets marrying me.”

It affects women who aren’t viewing it, especially LDS women who believe that pornography means their husbands don’t love them or that they are not good enough.

Pornography means something different to each individual. Martin Erickson, from BYU Counseling and Psychological Services, a licensed family and marriage counselor, explained that pornography’s effect on a relationship depends on how the husband and wife interpret its use — the emotions and paradigms they associate with it.

“Porn use of any kind means different things to different women,” Erickson said. “So some women are kind of like, ‘It’s not a big deal,’ like he overeats or something … but to other women it might be very disturbing. … It really just kind of depends on their personality and relationship.”

Although each wife is entitled to her emotions about her husband’s pornography use, feelings of shame and fear might make the problem worse.

“How she views it can definitely make it worse,” Erickson said. “I’m not suggesting that women don’t care about it. It’s just the fear and the shame around porn … is a big part of the problem. … Fear and shame is a way to try to end the problem, but it exacerbates it.”

A better way to deal with it, he said, would be to not focus on the fear of what could happen in the future but on developing trust and intimacy in the moment by openly talking about it. “Shame and fear are not good motivators for change, not leading to growth spiritually, either,” Erickson said. “So (what helps the couple is) letting go of that … with communication, openness, connecting, focusing on good things, not assuming everything is bad because of this problem … developing greater emotional intimacy and connection.”

Erickson and other counselors readily admit that developing a stronger relationship is not easy for a woman who feels her husband has betrayed and hurt her over and over again. Women need their own healing in order to feel safe enough to draw close to their husbands.

Amanda Christensen, a BYU alumna who is now a licensed family and marriage therapist at Utah Valley Counseling, explained how women can gain that sense of safety: boundaries.

“Sometimes in these relationships, the wife feels powerless, like she has no options and she’s just floating along waiting for the next bad thing. Boundaries keep her safe when he’s not,” she said.

For example, Christensen said, the wife might tell her husband that if he views porn and hides it, she will ask him to not sleep in the same bed until she feels emotionally safe with him.

“That’s usually huge, and if that man is doing recovery, he will respect those boundaries, and the woman will feel safer. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be perfect or stop looking at porn, but the effects will be safer,” she said.

These boundaries are part of the process of healing — but no matter the healthy boundaries set, healing still takes time for women.

“For the wife, her recovery is a deadpan line going straight across,” Christensen said, “and then it’s going to go up. Because he’s going to make little steps up, and she’s going to say, I’ve been through this before, I can’t trust you … it just takes longer for wives to start that trust process again.”

Starting the process begins with the decision to reach out — not just to a bishop, but to a therapist.

“First of all, (you have to) decide this is serious problem, (that it) can’t just brush it under the rug,” Christensen said. “Call up a therapist, set up therapy appointments, and get right in it, and a therapist can help you know where to go … but you want to make sure you find a therapist with specialized training in it.”

The healing a wife undertakes occurs separately from the recovery of her husband, as Christensen explained.

“No matter what, she needs to do her own healing, and that doesn’t have to be contingent on him healing,” she said.

For more information about recovery, visit the following resources:

LDS Spouse and Family Support Group

SAUtah.org

SALifeline.org

AddictionRecovery.lds.org

http://utahvalleycounseling.com/boundaries-in-sexual-addiction-recovery/

http://utahvalleycounseling.com/pornography-addiction/

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