Relationship Rescue for Wives and Girlfriends of Internet Pornography Addicts

Featured Expert - Rory C. Reid, LCSW

Rory C. Reid, author of Confronting Your Spouse's Pornography Problem.  
Rory C. Reid, LCSW, is a licensed therapist who specializes in the
treatment of sexual-impulse behavior.  He is the program director for
sexual impulsivity at the Provo Counseling Center in Utah.  He teaches in
the behavior science departments at Brigham Young University and Utah
Valley State College.

PAH: What are the most common triggers that make men turn to porn?
Rory Reid: Just like with alcohol, there are some people that can drink alcohol but are not alcoholics. Some men can look at porn and not be compulsive, obsessive or preoccupied with it. If we are talking about the guys who become preoccupied or obsessed with pornography consumption on a daily or weekly regular basis, one of the most common triggers that we see is stress. Specifically, stress when it pertains to their inability to cope with uncomfortable, awkward or unpleasant emotions. A lot of times people misconstrue pornography problems in the sense that they cast pornography problems as somebody is horny or has a sensational sexual appetite. Although pornography involves sex and sexual behavior, in my experience clinically, pornography problems are no more about sex than an eating disorder is about food.

PAH:  Why do men who use porn regularly stop initiating sex with the wife?
Rory Reid:  There are two patterns. One pattern is they actually start to engage in a lot of hyper sexual behavior with their spouses. They start to demand additional types of sexual behaviors. Some of them might be influenced by something seen in the pornography consumption and they actually start wanting more and more sex in their relationship. Unwittingly, some wives who are aware of the problem, have this belief that if I give him more sex, that somehow that is going to satiate and diminish his appetite to turn to pornography. Really what it ends up happening is they become a substitute for pornography and in the end it doesn't really work anyway. Another pattern is they have a diminished sexual appetite. That happens for a couple of reasons. One is because of the variety of pornography on the Internet, they become desensitized to the sexual arousal in general. They are masturbating, they are satisfied, they don't really feel the craving, the urge, the desire to be close and intimate with their spouses in a sexual way. There tends to be a withdrawal and disconnect from people in general, especially on an emotional level. In essence, they become emotionally numb.

PAH: Why is there a long recovery after all night porn binges?
Rory Reid: It could be they have a resolution after an all night porn binge that I'm not going to do this again. They recommit and do alright for awhile but then they end up in old patterns after awhile.

PAH: Why do they prefer masturbation to live sex?
Rory Reid: Some people are seeking sexual release whether it is masturbation or sex; it's not really either/or. Sex has a lot of demands with it. If they are looking at it for a little quick stress relief, the idea of 30 minutes to an hour of foreplay, they may choose masturbation. Women in pornography are often portrayed as an insatiable sexual appetite, and also they don't place demands. You don't have to shave, you don't have to shower or put on underarm deodorant. One of my patients said your favorite porn site never rejects you. Sex with my partner becomes this big chore verses the quick fix mentality on the Internet.

PAH: Why has it become man vs woman on this subject?
Rory Reid: Men are a little more hard wired then women to be more visually stimulated.  Men attach different meaning to pornography consumption than women. For women, they see viewing pornography as a form of infidelity.  Men don't view it, or attach that meaning to it.  Right there the meaning that gets attached to pornography consumption is very different on average. Also, women's bodies are being objectified in pornography, more than men. Therefore women perhaps have a greater reason to take offense to pornography. Women feel they have to compete. They are in this relationship with their spouse or partner and all of a sudden there are these numerous unnamed persons who tend to capture the attention of their partner more than they can. They feel they have to compete with the pornography in order to win the attention of their spouse.

PAH: In your experience, what percentage of addicts seek recovery with urging from their wives vs. seeking help on their own?
Rory Reid: A significant portion of them. There is a good follow-up question to this. If they are in treatment because their wife coerced, forced, manipulated them to be there, can treatment really be effective? The treatment outcomes are actually greater positive outcomes than if people self refer. The person that self refers, they can miss here and there. They really don't have to do follow up assignments that can help facilitate a process for change. They guy that is court-ordered, or cornered by his wife, may initially resent it. But once he gets into it, there comes to a point where he accepts it and is still compliant with therapeutic direction.

PAH: Often it is difficult for women to start the discussion of confronting her husband’s online addiction to porn. What would you say to these women facing this necessary and important first step of recovery?
Rory Reid:  We did a really good job of addressing this in the book. This first step is to get empowered with some knowledge. If you react to your spouse in a way where you're anxious, you're yelling, crying and screaming, he will much more likely focus in on your emotional reaction rather than the content of
what you're trying to say. The first thing for women to do is to get some clarity as to what your role and responsibility is in helping him. Also think about why they want a marriage or relationship that is void or free from pornography. This then empowers them to confront their spouses in a way that is assertive yet can offer some compassion as well.

PAH: After a man discloses his addiction to his wife, he often feels a huge release and lift of burden. Reciprocally, the wife now feels the shame, secrecy and weight of the problem.  On it is called the Porn Healing Paradox. Does this happen in every case? Why does this happen?
Rory Reid: I don't like the use of absolutes like every and all. For the guy, it reduces the shame - I'm not hiding anymore, I've lifted this burden. It's this release of this big secret I've been keeping. All of a sudden, just the fact that I'm able to talk about this problem with my spouse creates this huge relief for the guy. Of course for the women, they tend to experience it a lot differently. Wives come to the table with their own personality and their own issues. Let's say a woman is healthy. She might be resilient enough to lean into it, to talk about it and address it and tackle it. Let's say the woman struggled with depression in the past. This problem is much much more likely to send her back into a cycle of depression than a woman who has never experienced depression at all. There are these preexisting conditions that are going to influence how resilient a woman is to not only this problem but also her appraisal of the severity of this problem. Another factor is how the women found out about this problem - Disclosure vs. Discovery. Women who had this disclosed to them tend to do significantly better than wives who discover it.

PAH: Disclosure is important but how much should a woman need to know about her husband’s past indiscretions?
Rory Reid: Each case if different - it depends on what behaviors have gone on. As a bare minimum, wives have a right to know how long the problem has been going on, how frequently it occurs, the scenes that are involved, type of pornography, (example: is it homosexual pornography, child pornography, bestiality, aggressive themes like rape) etc.  I don't think it helpful to ask questions like what positions were the actors in, etc. Inadvertently you get exposed to the very material that is problematic.  I don't think it is healthy to do that.  It's not necessary to track back website by website.

PAH: Many women speak of ultimatums including leaving the home for a week to give their addicted husband a taste of life without them.  Do you recommend this?
Rory Reid: If the guy is in recovery and he is going to therapy and he is trying to address these issues, I'm not convinced that an ultimatum of 'If he has another slip I am going to break up' is healthy.  By the same token, I invite women to be mindful in terms of what prompted the slip up. You want to see longer periods of time between the slips and quicker bouncing back. Provided the men are working on the problem, I think it is up to the women to decide what their personal threshold is. Everyone has their personal level of tolerance.

PAH: Over what period of time is trust between a husband and wife reestablished in most cases?
Rory Reid: Six months to a year. That being said, it depends on how you are defining trust. I don't look at trust as an all or nothing phenomenon. I may trust that my husband is not going to molest my kids. I trust that my husband is going to earn money and pay the mortgage. I trust that my husband will go to church on Sunday. But I don't trust him further than I can kick a dump truck in Las Vegas. Forgiveness is a wholly separate issue from trust.  I think couples can have a very harmonious relationship if for example the wife forgives him, but not ever trusts him again in this area. Thats OK. 

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