Your Conversation Blueprint

Relationships are complex, and porn can definitely complicate things. If your partner has struggled, or currently struggles with porn, there are ways to bring up the subject and gain understanding. But, how and when do you talk about it? We hope this information helps you start an ongoing conversation in a way that is healthy and productive for both you and your partner. Through this journey, you might decide to work through this together, or you might decide that this relationship is no longer what is best for both of you. Know that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” outcome, and we encourage you to do what is best for you in the long run.

What To Do

Set the tone.

How you start this conversation will set the tone for this and any future conversations about porn. This is why we’ll talk more about how to start this conversation once you’ve had a chance to think through your goals for this conversation. What things do you want to learn, or gain understanding about? What open-minded questions will you ask?

Listen.

Once you express yourself, give your partner a chance to respond. They might open up about their current and/or past experiences with porn, or they might need more time to process this. If they’re not ready to talk quite yet, set a date and time when you’ll revisit the subject when you’ve both had more time to think and process. Whether or not they currently struggle with porn, it can be helpful to try to gain a better understanding of their attitude about porn. Try to listen and be understanding as they express how they feel about their experiences, past and/or present.

Express love.

This is likely a difficult conversation for you both, but you’re having it because you care about your partner. If they open up to you, try to thank them for their honesty, even if they say things that are difficult for you. If this becomes an ongoing conversation and if you choose to work through this with your partner, expressing how you feel about them can be an important part of working through this together.

Let yourself react.

This news is often shocking. Sometimes it’s healthier for both of you to take time to process everything than it is to discuss it all right in the moment, and that’s okay. When your partner tells you they’ve been struggling with porn, a variety of emotions can be triggered. Allow yourself time to feel and process these emotions. You might feel hopeless or out of control, but remember that you do have control. Not over your partner, but over how you react and what you do moving forward. That reassurance can be calming and empowering.

Be honest.

Try to help your partner understand how their struggle with porn makes you feel. If you’re sad and disappointed, it’s okay to express that. Your feelings are valid and deserve to be respected—by both you and your partner.

See the good.

While research shows that it’s unhealthy to consume porn, research also shows how the brain can heal and recover from porn consumption over time. Try to remember that your partner is more than their struggle, and that this is something that you can work through, if you both decide and agree to. Do you believe there’s hope for them? If you do, tell them.

Acknowledge the significance of disclosure.

Many partners of porn consumers express that a porn habit feels like cheating, and the lies and secrecy sometimes involved can be extremely painful to deal with. While this can absolutely be true, it can help to remember that being accountable is a significant step toward recovery. Disclosure can signal to you that your partner is willing to change! So while disclosure might feel like a huge setback right now, it can also be a significant step forward.

Recognize what is best for you.

While we are here to help you navigate this conversation, we can’t tell you whether or not it’s right for you to be in a relationship with someone facing an active struggle with porn. That’s something only you can decide. The truth is, circumstances vary from relationship to relationship. Your friend’s relationships won’t look like yours, and vice versa. Take the time you need to evaluate whether this relationship is healthy, and whether you can both be respectful of each other’s perspectives and feelings. Try to be honest with yourself about what would be best for your own emotional health, both presently and in the long run.

Create a plan.

External motivation can be helpful, but ultimately this has to be a decision your partner makes, if they are truly going to be able to overcome their porn struggle. If you and your partner choose to work through this try to set clear expectations, be supportive of the concrete measures your partner is taking, and educate yourself on the issues surrounding porn. Establish boundaries, then work together to set goals for recovery, and don’t forget that this will be a journey for you as well. How can you prepare for it?

Utilize recovery resources.

When your partner is ready to make a change, know that there are resources to help. Fortify is an online, video-based recovery resource that helps break the cycle of going back to porn. Learn more about Fortify and talk to your partner about trying it today.

Identify healthy ways to help.

Accountability partners can be extremely helpful to those ready to leave porn behind. Know that your partner may prefer their accountability partner not to be you—set them up for success by being open to what they need. If the two of you have agreed upon it together, identify healthy ways you can support your partner while also supporting yourself. An honest and open channel of communication can help your partner stay accountable. What they do is ultimately up to their own self-control and motivation, but knowing that you are in their corner can help immensely. Are you willing to ask them directly what they need?

Ask yourself tough questions.

Ask yourself the tough questions. While we can provide tips and tools for you to utilize, we can’t tell you exactly what to do in your specific situation. If you are experiencing abuse, we urge you to prioritize your safety, and find individuals in your community who can help you. If you are safe, recognize that in relationships where both individuals are safe and willing to try, fighting porn together, as a couple, can actually strengthen your relationship in the long run. Plenty of couples choose to stay together, and build an even stronger bond as a result. For others, parting ways is what is best for one or both individuals, and that’s okay. We know these are difficult things to consider, but we’re confident that only you can decide what is best for you, even if it’s the more challenging option.

What Not To Do

Try not to force disclosure.

There’s a good chance your partner wasn’t anticipating this conversation, and they may not be ready to fully disclose right away. That’s okay. Simply opening up the door to having this conversation is a great start. This should be an ongoing discussion anyway, so remember that you can always come back to the conversation at any point. If they’re open to it, set a reasonable future date and time to revisit it so you both can prepare as best as possible.

Don't ignore your needs.

While you’ll want to respect your partner’s boundaries and give them the space they need, don’t be afraid to voice your own feelings and concerns. You are just as much a part of the relationship as they are, and you deserve to be heard. Again, this will be a journey for you as well, whether you choose to work through it with your partner or not. Know that, whatever you choose, you’re not alone. There are resources that can help you start healing from the emotional pain you may be feeling, which you can find here.

Don’t brush it off.

Porn shouldn’t be an accepted part of any relationship. Educate yourself, then help your partner understand the harms of porn. Express to them how it makes you feel when they consume porn. As you assess what is best for both you and your partner, try to have an open and honest dialogue.

Avoid shaming—it won't help.

It can be easy, when we’re hurt or disappointed to intentionally or unintentionally shame the person we’re upset with. What does shaming look like, you may be asking? It’s like humiliating someone to make them feel like a “bad” person or unworthy of love because of something they’ve done. It’s important to keep in mind that shaming someone who is struggling with porn usually does not help, and does not push them toward healthy change and motivated recovery. In fact, research shows that shame only makes things worse. Shaming—whether that be the consumer or the consumer’s partner—can wound relationships and discourage progress in recovery. Keep in mind that, many times, most porn consumers may not have chosen to see porn the first time. They may have seen it by accident, or been forced. They may have been so young that they didn’t understand, but it sparked a struggle all the same. All in all, avoiding shame will likely lead to a better outcome for all parties.

Don't blame yourself.

No matter what, know that your partner’s struggle is in no way a reflection of you or your desirability. You may be experiencing feelings of inadequacy, but know that you are enough, the way you are. Try to notice if you’re putting in a lot more work into their recovery than they are. If so, you might be enabling rather than helping, and that’s not great for either of you. Some Fighters have worked together with their partner to mend their relationship and some have felt it would be best if they parted ways with their partner. This decision is ultimately up to you, and as long as you are safe in your relationship, you can take all of the time you need to decide what’s right. Do you understand that their struggle is not a reflection of you?

You are not responsible for setbacks.

Someone with a severe pornography struggle might not be able to quit cold turkey. Relapses don’t mean that your partner is starting from square one or that they aren’t making any progress. Relapsing can happen as a part of recovery, but it should be handled as a step forward instead of a setback. If you choose to work through this with your partner try to be there for them, but remember that your feelings are also a valid part of this fight, and their setbacks aren’t your fault.

You are not a substitute for porn.

Your partner is making a decision to quit porn so that they can better themselves and, as a result, maintain a healthy intimate relationship with you. Because of this, it’s important that you don’t become a replacement for their porn habit. Changing who you are, or doing things you’re uncomfortable with won’t result in a healthy intimate relationship. You are not their personal porn performer.

Try not to make this a one-time talk.

Talking about porn in your relationship isn’t just a “one and done” thing. Check in with your partner periodically in ways that are best for both of you. Ask what that looks like for them—would they prefer you text them every once in a while? Have regular, scheduled conversations? What works for both of you? Try to be supportive in a way that works for both of you and creates an environment of honesty and trust in your relationship. Confide in your partner when you’re having a difficult time, and help them feel that they can confide in you, too. It goes both ways.

Success Stories

You can find more success stories and tips on our site, including this amazing, true story from Elaine Bradley, the drummer for Neon Trees. She tells her story and talks about the importance of having loving, shame-free conversations when talking about the complex issue of pornography in relationships.

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