Affair healing Blog
Question: I think my husband has an addiction to pornography. Is there a relationship between using porn and having an affair?
This article is a summary of our answer to a question posted by a caller in an Open Care Session.
Tim: Has he always been secretive about his use of pornography?
Caller: He has always been secretive. We’ve been married 23 years and I didn’t know about it until I started searching.
Tim: Couples have various opinions about using pornography and I don’t want to turn this into a moral debate, but when porn use is a secretive behavior it gets in the way of intimacy. Science and relationship research gives clear indication that the habitual, secretive use of pornography is damaging to healthy intimacy and sexuality. If its use is open in a way that is agreed on by both partners, then it is not betrayal and may not affect the relationship in the same way.
Caller: I’m not terribly interested in watching porn, but I did ask him, “Why don’t you share this with me? Why don’t we do it together?” He agreed, but continues to watch it privately.
Tim: That’s what he’s use to. Porn has probably become a substitute for intimacy. You are going to have an open conversation and come to a agreement concerning what is or is not acceptable. If not, your relationship remains vulnerable and you will not be safe. Trust needs to be restored.
Caller: I feel like porn was a slippery slope for him. Maybe if he hadn’t been watching so much porn, he wouldn’t have had the affair. It desensitised him and made sex more of a physical issue than an intimate one.
Tim: So, if you say to him, “Listen, I don’t know what choices are best to make right now, but I know that being shut out of this secret place in your life isn’t what I need.” Would he respect that, or ignore it?
Caller: When it came up in counseling, he just said, “I’m not doing that anymore” and refused to do anything else to address the problem.
Tim: You’ve talked about what he’s not willing to do, but one of the clearest indicators of effective affair recovery (the re-establishment if connection and trust) is the betrayer’s willingness to assume responsibility for changes necessary for healing. They may not do it perfectly, but they demonstrate a clear intent to move in that direction. If they are not willing to do that, if they just want the injured spouse to “get over it,” the relationship is neither safe nor secure.
Caller: His opinion is, “Well, I’m not cheating anymore.” It feels like we’re stuck.
Sharon: That’s like an abuser saying, “I’m not hitting you anymore” while continuing to verbally and emotionally damage them, and then the hurt partner says, “Well, at least they stopped hitting me.”
Caller: Just not having an affair anymore isn’t enough for me.
Sharon: No. You’ll need to establish some boundaries. You will have to let him know that even if it’s not a big deal to him, it’s a big deal to you.
Caller: Do you find a correlation between porn use and infidelity?
Tim: I believe there is a significant correlation. I would be cautious about drawing strict cause-and-effect conclusions, but for some people the use of porn becomes a progression of sexual secrecy that makes it easier for other boundaries to be crossed, including having an affair. For many, instead of being a cause, porn use is a symptom of the person’s inability to establish vulnerable, intimate connections. Pornography becomes a substitute for those things.
Caller: And it’s become a hindrance to our re-connection now.