A lot of women have an initial knee-jerk reaction to internet porn: gross! If you have ever caught your partner watching pornography when you thought they were working on an important presentation, it may have felt uncomfortable, dirty, or like they were cheating on you. You may even feel like he lied or betrayed you, especially if it was a topic you two had already discussed was off-limits.

What should you do, though, in these situations? Is it that big of a deal, or should you be concerned more is going on? Each marriage is different, and appropriate boundaries should be set around pornography so that both parties feel comfortable, safe, and cared for. Here are some steps you can take to work through it as a couple.

Understand that it is not a reflection of you.

Pornography is incredibly off-putting to many women because it makes them feel that they are not worthy enough. Your husband should have already told you this, but you are not in direct competition with the porn he watches. Sometimes we forget that the people in porn many times are paid actors and are not representing what intimacy really is. His choice to watch porn has nothing to do with your appearance or competence in the bedroom. You do not need to engage in sexual acts that make you uncomfortable or get a tummy tuck for your husband to love you. He fell in love and married you because of who you are, not because he wants you to be someone else.

Expect to feel a lot of negative emotions.

You might be angry, scared, upset, and stressed out. All these emotions are okay and normal. It is essential to feel your emotions and work through them, however, to not blow up in your husband’s face. You cannot control what he did, but you can control your reaction to it. Take the time you need away from your husband to cry, scream, and let your rage out. Spend time with a trusted friend and confidant if you need additional support. As the initial shock wears off, you can then come back to your husband and have a conversation about the problem.

Ask the difficult questions.

These kinds of conversations are hard to have, but they are essential. Your husband may feel embarrassed, but he will need to identify the core issues that cause him to look at porn in the first place. Does he consider it to be a problem that he wants to work on, or does it see it as harmless? If the latter is true, discuss with him how it makes you feel. Try and share your feelings and perspective on the situation. He may not realize it is hurting you as much as it is. During these conversations, do not be condemning. Instead, show compassion. Consider how you would want your husband to treat you after you made a big mistake or were trying to overcome a weak area. If he was only harsh, critical, and angry with you, then you would be less likely to want to change. Your husband will benefit from your support.

Discuss boundaries and a plan.

Thinking that ignoring your husband’s porn problem will make it go away is naive. There is no right or wrong timeline for when you should confront your husband, but it is important to come into the conversation with clear expectations. What about porn bothers you? Is there any time that you find it acceptable for your husband to watch? Would you feel more comfortable if you watched it with your husband? Are certain types of porn more upsetting to you than others? Talk to your husband about what boundaries you want around porn so that there is no room for mistakes in the future.

Be a part of your husbands’ success.

Let him come up with his own process and ideas he thinks will be most helpful. This allows him to feel that he is taking responsibility for his actions and is making a real effort towards positive change, rather than being controlled or mothered (even if that is not your intention). Offer a listening ear and be sympathetic when you can. This shows that you are his ally and team member, rather than someone he needs to hide his weaknesses from. Society puts pressure on men every day to never show weakness, so make sure you create an environment where he feels he can be open and honest with you.

Every marriage goes through its troubles, and porn is a source of many couple’s pain. Having open and honest conversations about your husband’s porn usage will be uncomfortable but will set your marriage up for success in the future. It does not mean that you are not good enough and does not mean that your husband does not love you. Things can be worked through as long as you communicate with each other.

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