Having the “talk” with my significant other was the most terrifying conversation I’ve had: the “talk” where I revealed that I was a porn addict. The evil of my addiction was a contributing factor in the destruction of my first marriage. And though I had started my recovery, I had not shared my addictive past with my new love.
During my private therapy sessions with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, I realized that I needed to share it. It would require me to be vulnerable in front of a woman I deeply respected, loved, and planned to marry. Yet, I was hesitant for predictable and selfish reasons. Thankfully, the Lord and our Blessed Mother gave me the strength I needed for this important, necessary, and sensitive conversation.
Firstly, we can agree that having a happy marriage requires commitment, loyalty, and trust. You cannot keep pornography a secret since it’s an act of dishonesty, morally wrong, and an offense against one’s spouse as well as God (Matthew 5:27–28 and Exodus 20:14). As a pornography recovery mentor, I empathize with men who feel sick about disclosing their sexual addiction because it is a shame trigger. However, the right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do.
I also don’t believe anyone who knows about their spouse’s pornography use is truly “okay” with it. Our secular culture over the past decades has viewed porn as something normal and harmless.
But research has consistently shown that porn use has a wide range of adverse effects on marriages, the people viewing it, and those working in the industry. The negative consequences of pornography include reduced marital satisfaction, reduced marital commitment, increased risk of infidelity, reduced sexual satisfaction, and diminished intimacy. In short, pornography erodes trust and intimacy between spouses.
I knew that I did not want this to be a factor in my next marriage. I refused to allow this “crack” in my relationship—the marriage bond—that would be harmful.
That’s why I decided to tell my significant other. The conversation was difficult, but I’m thankful that I did it. And when I did, the cycle of shame was broken.
Again, I spent much time in Eucharistic adoration before telling my significant other, and so it’s important to be praying for God’s guidance and grace before having the conversation. And you should also seek the advice and support of trusted recovery and/or Catholic mentors and friends before having the conversation. They can offer support, advice, and encouragement leading up to the conversation.
With that said, here are my three takeaways for telling your spouse about your sexual addiction.
Be Sensitive to Their Emotional Pain
Revealing that you have been unfaithful to your spouse due to porn or some other sexual addiction can lead to feelings of betrayal and trauma, similar to the discovery of an affair. Expect your spouse to be angry. Do not be surprised by the severity of their emotional response. Let them have their pain and acknowledge it.
In my experience, it was healthy to witness the pain. Also, make sure you disclose this at an appropriate time, a time that allows your spouse to ask questions and process the information. For example, don’t have the talk before a family event or church!
Accept Responsibility and Reveal Your Commitment to Action
For me, I only truly began to recover once I took full responsibility for my actions. Without taking responsibility for your actions, recovery will likely remain elusive. When I told my significant other about my sexual addiction I did not justify my actions or minimize the significance of my betrayal. And while it did not apply to me when I had the conversation, definitely do not blame your spouse for your sexual addiction on their not having sex with you enough. Your addiction is your responsibility—not any fault of theirs.
Additionally, tell your spouse you have a plan (and if you don’t have one yet, come up with one with the help of others in your recovery group and parish before telling them). I shared what I was doing to keep myself sober. I shared that I had blocked access to porn sites, had an accountability partner (AP), was an AP for other men, completed a 12-steps program, and was a member of two Facebook private groups for those committed to combatting pornography.
Invite Your Spouse’s Feedback
Including your spouse in the plan is also a good idea. For instance, my significant other knows my computer and phone passwords, which allows her to keep me accountable and play a part in my recovery. However, it’s important to remember that your recovery is ultimately your responsibility—and not that of your spouse. You shouldn’t expect your spouse to shoulder the responsibility alone.
Still, being open to how you can better support your spouse—and listening to what ideas or thoughts they might have to help you—can be valuable.
In closing, it’s important to be sensitive, truthful, and open when speaking to your spouse about your sexual addiction. Remember, your spouse may or may not respond positively at first, but by taking steps to be honest and vulnerable and relaying what you’re doing to overcome your sexual addiction, you can help keep your sexual addiction from remaining a secret that continues to harm your marriage.
Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic and former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising, is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner. He is passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. You can connect with him at aaronwaltercoaching.com and on Instagram.