I discovered that my husband watches porn, what should I do?

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In very short...

It is best that the man understands what is truly going on here. Pornography is deeply hurtful to women. It has the capacity to greatly undermine the most important underpinning of a romantic relationship and it has the potential to deeply wound the core foundation of a marriage.

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This is a difficult issue to address, as it brings up raw emotions. Whatever I write is at risk of being misinterpreted or misunderstood. So that we all get the most out of this interaction, I ask the reader to give me the benefit of the doubt and make an extra effort to think through the points presented below.

One more significant point: This article is focused on the issue of a married person watching porn; it is not addressing people (married or not) who are addicted to porn. It is true, that pornography is among those things that are more liable to become an addiction. People can become addicted to chocolate cake, but those are far and few between. Much more likely is that someone would become addicted to alcohol or gambling.

Pornography is not as addictive as heroine, but it does have a higher potential to become addictive – much like computer gaming. Most people who consume porn never become addicted, and it is in relation to such individuals that this article is focused. Another article addresses the question of addiction.

The Prevalence of Porn Does Not Lessen the Hurt

Let us begin with two seemingly inconsistent facts. They are both facts, but despite what they seem, they are not contradictory. That they seem so is part of the reason why this subject is so delicate. Fact number one: hundreds of millions of people consume pornography on a regular basis. We need to be honest and recognize that this is not something only heard of among the margins of society. This is not said to normalize it or to justify it, but simply to recognize its prevalence.

Fact number two: when a wife (typically) discovers that her husband has been watching pornography – and especially if he has been doing so for an extended period – she is liable to be deeply hurt and offended, and may have a very strong reaction. The reason these two facts seem contradictory is because some may think that if it is so widespread, why would women react so negatively to it? Indeed, that is the reaction of many men to being ‘found out’: “it is not big deal; everyone does it.”

When a man has his ‘secret’ discovered, he is likely to be deeply embarrassed and ashamed. A traditionally religious man, in particular, recognizes that what he doing flies in the face of his own deeply-help religious values. There is no real way of excusing this from the perspective of Torah teachings, and having this reality brought out into the open creates a deeply uncomfortable situation.

Accepting or Deflecting

When confronted, some men will accept their fault and apologize profusely. They will not look to downplay the indiscretion, not try to minimize the offence caused. This does not necessarily make it easy for the wife to accept and move on, but it does provide the reassurance that the ‘transgressor’ is fully accepting of his transgression and that there is no crisis of values – both husband and wife agree on what they think is right and wrong.

Some men will seek to deflect blame. They may do so in a wide variety of ways. We shall not list them all. They may blame stress at work, the impact of having children of the marriage, boredom, and so on. There may even be some truth in what he is saying. Those things and others can have an impact on a couple’s intimacy and relationship more widely. Other men take a dangerous and utterly foolish path of blaming the wife. She, he argues, has been insufficiently attentive, has put on weight, or is not making an effort with her appearance.

There may be truth to those claims too, but this is now opening up a pandoras box. Doing this amount to blaming the victim, and is liable to greatly deepen the crisis. Such a tack is extremely inadvisable. Cutting to the chase, this type of reaction is folly. Whatever legitimate issues there may be in the marriage, this is not the time to bring them up. It will only deepen the wound, further undermine trust, and open up a whole new world of hurt for everyone.

It is best that the man understands what is truly going on here. Pornography is deeply hurtful to women. A husband’s desire for his wife is central not just central to her sense of the relationship, but also to her identity and self-esteem. Showing great interest in other women cuts very deep, and is capable of being profoundly psychologically destabilizing. It is not realistic to expect a calm reaction to something she is likely to perceive as deeply offensive. Any effort to play it down, deflect blame, or offer excuses is only going to worsen the hurt. The only three things to be done at that time are the same three things that all the great halachic authorities make central to the mitzva of teshuva:

One – acceptance of guilt. No excuses, no deflection, no minimizing the seriousness. Just holding up your hands and fully admitting the fault.

Two – regret over what happened, fulsome acknowledgement of the hurt caused, and how sorry you are that it happened.

Three – a sincere promise to alter course, change behavior, and never repeat the offending behavior.

Why it Hurts

This article is not the place to exposit the problematic aspects of pornography. Suffice it to say that it has the capacity to greatly undermine the most important underpinning of a romantic relationship and it has the potential to deeply wound the core foundation of a marriage.

For a start, all relationships are based on trust – but especially a marriage. In marital terms, the trust required rises way beyond that necessary in other types of relationships. It is not sufficient that the other person can rely on you not to betray them; in a marriage the wife needs to feel secure that she is the only romantic and sexual interest in the man’s life. Feeling this is central to her emotional wellbeing. Hiding from one’s wife an indulgence in pornography is not just a basic violation of trust, but has the uniquely damaging impact of her not feeling that “she is the only one.” This is a seriously traumatic experience for the wife.

A long-term romantic relationship – and marriage is that, if nothing else – depends on emotional intimacy. This requires exclusivity on every level. A wife is not “chief among equals” or “the most important woman in your life.” In a very real sense, she needs to feel that when it comes to intimacy, she is the only woman in your life. Anything that undercuts that is chipping away at the marriage. Allow that to happen too many times, and the marriage could crumble.

Making overly complimentary comments about another woman’s appearance could easily undermine intimacy. Getting too close to another woman at an event is almost certainly going to damage intimacy. Each event may be brushed aside as minor, but taken together the husband is contributing to the disintegration of his marriage. Pornography has the same effect, just more so.

Research shows that in many men – especially younger men – viewing pornography produces distorted conceptions of what intimacy should be. It has numerous negative effects on what men think is appropriate to expect of women, and on how they approach the whole area of sexuality. Sex and intimacy are separated, leaving both bereft and wasted. But worst of all, it dramatically twists the notion of a women to empty the idea of all its beauty, depth, and sacredness. It foregrounds self-gratification over mutual comfort and pleasure, and in so doing reverses the core sensibility of intimacy. It turns the proper notion of human sexuality on its head.

But there is one more reason that in my opinion and experience is greater and more insidious that all the other issue just mentioned. Sexuality is not a limitless capacity. Both physically and mentally, it has quite strict limitations. It has limited bandwidth. It is easily spent, and not so quickly replenished. It is not an elastic band that can be stretched. If someone is directing their sexual energies towards one direction, inevitably that means it is not available for be directed elsewhere. This is not a matter of debate; it is just how it is. Devoting one’s sexual energies towards women uploaded onto a website will almost certainly come at the expense of the woman to whom one is married. If this continues for a prolonged period, the marriage is likely to wither.

Open Communication is Vital

So, back to the question: what do to if one discovers that one’s husband has been watching porn. First thing is not to panic. As said, this is a widespread thing and many men, while recognizing it is inappropriate, do not appreciate just how hurtful it is to you. In almost all circumstances, it is not worth harming your marriage over this. Hopefully, your husband will not deflect blame or make excuses. If he does, you need to explain that this reaction, while understandable (he is shocked and ashamed), is not appropriate or acceptable.

You need to realize that is all likelihood he still loves you and is still attracted to you. The overwhelming chances are that he is still strongly committed to the marriage and to making you happy. He slipped and now has hurt you deeply. But he is most likely still your loving husband – even if it does not feel like that at this moment.

If you husband turns the blame on you and wants the issue to be your failures in the marriage, you should end the conversation there and seek external professional help. Do not go to family and friends, however angry and distraught you are, as sadly in the overwhelming preponderance of cases they cannot help you – but they can make things a whole lot worse. Instead, get professional help.

Trying to reason with your husband is not going to work, and the damage that could be caused may be destructive to your marriage. Moreover, such a reaction may be an indication that he has an addiction problem. If so, this is something that needs to be handled by a seasoned professional. There is no reason to assume or suspect addiction in general; but persistent denial is a warning sign that something is not right.

On a Positive Note

Let me end on a bright note. It is incredible what good communication in a marriage can accomplish. 99.9% of couples get through these travails. Not only that, they continue on with no noticeable long-term damage to the marriage. This has to be talked through. There may have to some painful conversations, but out of this the trust and intimacy can be refreshed. Women need to understand that men and women are not the same.

Your husband (wrongly of course) is quite possibly oblivious to how you may be impacted by his behavior. Women, as we discussed, are likely to be acutely aware of how such behavior affects them. But most men are open to being enlightened, and to putting in the effort to become a better person. I realize the upset that this discovery involves, but we all have to play our part in making a marriage work. The payoff is enormous and well worth it.

 

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