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Healthy Ways to Support a Partner As They Quit Watching Porn

If you believe restoration is possible for your relationship, it’s important to remember that it’s not just your partner in recovery who needs to heal.

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This guest piece was written by Holley Jeppson, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, and Clinical Director and Director of Coaching for Fortify. 5-minute read.
Mindfully Supporting a Partner Seeking Freedom from Porn

By Holley Jeppson, LCMHC

She stared ahead as the words tumbled out. Her face said even more than her words as she detailed what it felt like inside to have experienced this betrayal from her partner.

Even compared with other challenging things in our lives, there is something especially intense about the pain of being betrayed by someone with whom we have placed our greatest trust and love.

Related: I Think My Partner is Looking At Porn After Promising Not To—What Do I Do?

This is more than just psychological hurt—it’s physiological and emotional, felt viscerally in the heart and body. The injury is not just an internal one, but also to our ability to relate to each other. That’s why scientists call this an “attachment injury.”

Formally, “attachment injury” has been defined by Dr. Sue Johnson and colleagues as occurring “when one partner violates the expectation that the other will offer comfort and caring in times of danger or distress” and is “characterized by an abandonment or by a betrayal of trust during a critical moment of need.”

Restoration in the relationship can, of course, still happen—if both partners want it.

Do you?

Partners mutually pursuing healing

You don’t have to want restoration. In some cases where an individual has become too attached (for too long) to pornography, they simply may not be able to give you the kind of tenderness and connection important to any nurturing relationship.

In other cases, where an individual is genuinely committed to moving their heart away from pornography—the process of change can make someone an even better partner, and able to contribute to an even more trusting and loving relationship over time.

Related: Why Quitting Porn Can Help Someone Be a Less Angry Partner

If you believe that is possible for your relationship, then it’s important to remember that it’s not just your partner who needs to heal. There are three essential recoveries here—all of which are important: yourself, your partner, and the relationship itself…in that order.

The desire for many—perhaps for you, too—is to place their partner’s healing first, which is understandable, because you love them, right? And in a healthy relationship, that’s what we all do: often choosing to place someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

That’s a wonderful thing in normal circumstances. But in the presence of active addiction or attachment injury, the relationship is—by definition—not an entirely healthy one.

Related: Is My Partner’s Porn Habit Harming Our Relationship, or Am I Just Insecure?

And this may call for different steps to protect your own heart and promote the healing you need. In practice, that means making sure not to overlook what your heart, mind, and body need right now.

How would you answer that important question?

When the burden of recovery feels heavy

Especially during difficult moments, consider other nurturing practices that have helped others when the burden feels heavy. That could include yoga, mindfulness, journaling, movies, good food, dancing, music, scenic walks, warm baths (or cold showers!), allowing yourself to cry, and expanding connections with people you trust and who can support your healing.

Certainly, many of these things can benefit your partner’s recovery, too—and you can always ask them what they need, as well. Then, you can choose to provide whatever support feels right and appropriate.

Related: I Think My Partner is Looking At Porn After Promising Not To—What Do I Do?

No doubt, a loving partner can be an important motivator for someone seeking deeper freedom from pornography.

But demanding that a partner should “stick with me” during recovery can also be unfair.

Each time you learn of another betrayal, the pain can wash over you again. And sometimes, it’s better for the recovering person to have space—especially when it’s just too painful to provide direct support.

BHW - The Heart

Partner: If you choose to stay

If you choose to stay in a relationship, realize that the tendency is to go in one of two directions:

  • Either the person struggling with compulsivity shares everything (all the details of each struggle—up to and including specifics about tempting thoughts and feelings day by day).
  • Or they share nothing. 

Neither is healthy for a relationship.

Related: Is Watching Porn Cheating On Your Partner?

In a very tangible way, partners who share every detail of struggle can quickly overwhelm a relationship—in a true case of TMI. If that’s the way someone you love has been acting, encourage them to connect with accountability partners, recovery groups, and even clinical support where they can go into whatever detail they need.

At the same time, make it clear to your partner what you need to know—and how and when that should happen.

While making clear what you do want and need, it’s also important to set boundaries on what you do not want, and what is not okay in the relationship. For example, someone might say “I won’t allow pornography in my home, I deserve to feel valued and loved, and I won’t allow funds to be spent on pornography.”

The value of setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is about laying a foundation of what you need, want, and prefer in the relationship in order to rebuild trust. Boundaries can relate to mental, emotional, physical, financial, and sexual well-being.

All this involves taking ownership over your part of the relationship, affirming your core values, and recognizing non-negotiables and deal breakers within the relationship. This is also about not ignoring when boundaries are crossed—and staying firm about taking steps when guidelines are not respected and followed.

Related: How These Women Supported Their Partners Through Compulsive Porn Habits

When partners gain confidence and the skills to implement boundaries, it can offer a strong sense of emotional safety within the relationship.

When partners are empathic, respectful, supportive and willing to listen to their spouse’s needs, boundaries can help to restore healing within the relationship. The relationship can become healthier as the inappropriate behaviors are no longer allowed to continue harming the relationship.

Fortify

These boundaries become especially important when challenging moments arise. For instance, it’s not uncommon to have to confront challenging issues such as dishonestly, hiding, minimizing, denying, blaming, anger, acting like a victim, being emotionally distant, or showing a lack of empathy.

Firm boundaries can allow you some degree of protection from behaviors, while encouraging the awareness of your partner to make changes.

Choosing your path

However turbulent the path may be, the end result can be worth it. When healing happens truly and fully, we often hear comments like, “I have my partner back; He is so much more loving and caring now and I feel like the only one in his life now.”

Related: Drew’s Story: How My Fiancée Inspired Me to Quit Porn Permanently

As many couples can attest, the depth of trust and love that can arise with deeper healing (for both individuals and the relationship too) is profound.

But, of course, only you can know if that’s the path you’d like to take.

___________

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

Fortify

Fight the New Drug may receive financial support from purchases made using affiliate links.

Help for partners

If your partner is struggling with porn, you are not alone—know that there is hope, and there is help. As you navigate this difficult situation, there are supportive communities and resources available to you. Below is a non-exhaustive list of several resources for those experiencing hurt because of their partner's porn consumption. Note that this isn’t a complete resource list.

Bloom    Addo Recovery

Disclaimer: For those who may find themselves involved in this sensitive situation, their responses can differ. This is why resources need to fit the specific needs of whoever is seeking them. Some of these resources are gender-specific, others are religiously-affiliated, others use a variety of approaches. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization hoping to provide access to resources that are helpful to those who need support. Including this list of recommendations does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug.

Here’s more support for people who are hurt by their partner’s porn consumption.

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About the Author

Holley Jeppson is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and has worked supporting people facing depression, addiction, and betrayal trauma for 25+ years. Holley has worked on several teams developing online science-based coaching, education, and training programs used worldwide to help individuals overcome mental health and behavioral challenges. She is currently the Clinical Director and Director of Coaching for Fortify and Impact Suite. Holley’s passion is people—especially watching people grow and overcome challenges.

Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.