I know that I say this in every interview and write it more than once a day as one of the moderators of the Porn After Love subreddit, but it bears repeating to the partners of pornography addicts: It’s not your fault and it has nothing to do with you.
My porn addiction was 12 or 13 years old by the time I met my wife. How could she possibly have anything to do with the formation or continuation of it? Addiction is a brain disease. It’s in the head. A porn addict isn’t addicted between the legs, an alcoholic isn’t addicted in the liver and a food addict isn’t addicted in the stomach. It’s in the brain and it’s a real disease. Blaming my wife for my porn addiction would be like blaming her for my bipolar disorder. It’s not her fault.
In a nutshell, gaslighting is the process of turning an accusation around on the accuser. If you can make them think that they are crazy in the process, it’s bonus points. Think of gaslighting like a magic trick. Most magic trick presentations are basically the same. The magician is vague on what he is going to do. He gets you to expect one thing, then pulls the rug out from under you by doing something that looks impossible. You know it’s a trick, but it leaves you scratching your head. Gaslighting is the same, except you’re not let in on the fact it’s a trick.
Lately, it seems like “gaslighting” has become a catch-all term in mainstream society for any lying. It comes from a so-so movie from 1944, Gaslight. In the film, a husband turns down the lights in the house a little bit every evening and when his wife — who he is trying to undermine — mentions it’s getting darker, he makes her believe she is slowly going out of her mind.
Addicts are fantastic gaslighters and I believe the more an addiction affects a partner, the more the addict learns the subtle art of gaslighting. I probably gaslit my wife and friends more about my drinking than my porn. It’s easy to turn things around on people when you practice it often. Partners of pornography addicts barely stand a chance.
An Example of Gaslighting
While this exchange never happened to me verbatim, it’s a good example of gaslighting. Let’s imagine a husband comes home an hour later than he said, stinking of liquor:
Husband: Hi, how are you? Did you have a good day?
Wife: You’re an hour late! You said you’d be home at 6 p.m. after your meeting.
Husband: I’m sorry. I was with a potential client.
Wife: Couldn’t you have called?
Husband: It would look bad to the client. I need to project strength and independence.
Wife: You’re full of it. How much did you have to drink?
Husband: I had three drinks over three hours.
Wife: That’s not true, you smell like booze.
Husband: I ran to the car after I finished, so I’m probably sweating it out. I also had three different drinks, so the mixing probably makes it smell worse.
Wife: You should have called.
Husband: I probably should have, but I need to land this client. Do you like this house? Do you like your car? It’s not like it all comes from nowhere. I have to make money.
Wife: I have a job, too.
Husband: Yes, but you don’t pay for all of this. I do. You spend your money on what you want. I have to make sure that the roof stays over our head.
Wife: But you don’t have to be drunk to do it.
Husband: I actually sometimes do, because that’s how the business world works. You’re not part of it. You don’t know. I don’t tell you about your job, so don’t tell me about mine.
Husband: But nothing. I need to be able to earn money and sometimes that means I stay out an hour later than I said I would. It’s an hour! Don’t you think that’s overreacting?
Wife: But you were drunk driving.
Husband: Give me a breathalyzer! I’m fine! And I see you drink half a bottle of wine while you’re watching your horrible shows.
Wife: But I’m not out drinking and driving.
Husband: And you’re not bringing any money into this house either! Maybe your drinking would be OK if it helped us. I bust my butt and then come home to someone nagging me. Don’t you think if that’s what I have to look forward to that I would want to stay out late. Instead of coming home and hearing ‘Thank you doing what you need to do to provide for us,’ I hear, ‘You should have called.’ That doesn’t make me want to come home and when I do, you’re on the couch with your wine. What am I coming home for? A wife who doesn’t provide and is half-drunk on the couch.
The above example could be any addiction. I made it drinking and not porn so more people could relate because I think drinker or not, we’ve all heard a version of the above conversation. But, if you’re one of the partners of pornography addicts, I’m sure you can easily adapt it.
Easier to Project Than Look Inward
As a former addict, I can tell you it’s so much easier to simply lash out at those around you than look inward at the addiction. With pornography, 90% to 94% of addicts have some kind of trauma in their background and even though almost all of mine was repressed, I still had an inkling it was there. I knew getting healthy would be hard. On a day-to-day level, it was easier to engage in the pornography (and drinking), blame the world around me, and not get too introspective.
Since pornography addiction involves viewing naked people, sexual activity and quite often, masturbation, it’s very easy to mistake it for the intimate act of intercourse with a partner. For me, and most addicts I know who have recovered, we’re now very honest and upfront the addiction had nothing to do with intimacy. It had nothing to do with wishing to replace our partner. In most cases it had nothing to do with what was on the screen. Viewing pornography was about quieting whatever demons are ravaging around in the addict’s head. For me, it was about creating the illusion of control in my life.
The partners of pornography addicts who don’t understand addiction, or the specifics of porn addition, can easily make the mistake that porn is a surrogate for the love, both mental and physical, they wish to give their addict partner. The addict knows this, so it’s easy to turn it around. “I wouldn’t have to look at porn if we had sex more often or if you were more wild in bed,” is a common theme among gaslighting addicts.
Nothing you do in the bedroom will ever fix his addiction. If you think a three-way is going to fix things, he’ll just request a four-way the next day. I do believe there are non-addicts who are dissatisfied with their sex life, but that has nothing to do with addictions. Nonetheless, a lack of excitement in the bedroom is an easy excuse and makes the accusing partner the scapegoat.
You’re dealing with a sick human being. You didn’t make him sick and you’re not making him better or worse. Like most illnesses, if left untreated it will get worse over time, but like most illnesses, you can’t heal someone if they won’t take the proper steps to get better. It’s frustrating to be sure, but it you’re not responsible for the cure, you’re certainly not responsible for the cause.
I’ll write more about betrayal trauma in the near future and the mental anguish that partners go through. If you’re having issues with a partner who is a porn addict, I urge you to check out my inexpensive book or course that will help you get footing in dealing with this problem.
You’re not alone and you’re not the cause of this. Partners of pornography addicts don’t need to suffer alone.
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5 thoughts on “Partners of Pornography Addicts: It’s Not Your Fault, Ever”
Splendid article. Your example of gaslighting was brilliant.
Joshua, before I began my recovery from porn I had never heard of gaslighting. Little did I know that I had been guilty of this offense for decades. My wife had no idea what was going on behind her back. Only after I confessed my addiction to porn did the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.
I’d love to say that I only did it to my wife, but my world was a house of cards built on gaslighting. I’d do it to my wife, my kids, my parents, my employees… whatever I needed to say to get through the day and take the spotlight off my addiction was said. And like you pointed out, until recovery, I never saw just how prevalent it was in my day-to-day life. The world is so much easier to cope with when you don’t have to remember your lies.