Dr. Peter C. Kleponis, a Licensed Clinical Therapist with 20 years of experience in family counseling, travels throughout the United States and internationally educating Catholics on how to win the battle against pornography. In this article, which appeared on Those Catholic Men, he describes the deep emotional traumatic wound a husband’s use of pornography can cause in a wife.
Known as Betrayal Trauma, the impact is similar to that of any other trauma, forcing her to experience fear, helplessness, confusion and a feeling of a loss of security.
“[T]he safe and secure life she once knew disintegrates, and her world is turned upside down," Dr. Kleponis explains. "The man she thought she knew thoroughly is now a complete stranger. The marital vows she thought he had upheld since their wedding day were actually broken on many occasions. The sacred gift of sexuality she thought they only shared with each other has been desecrated.”
As a result, a woman will begin to “cycle through” a variety of strong emotions, ranging from feelings of deep sadness to incredible rage. These emotions can not only affect her ability to function in daily life, a woman can also experience debilitating physical symptoms such as insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches, weight loss or gain, muscle aches, and chronic fatigue.
This is all the result of trying to cope with the impact her husband’s use of pornography has on her beliefs about herself, her husband, and their marriage.
“She might believe that she was somehow responsible for her husband’s pornography use. She might come to believe she wasn’t pretty enough or that she is no longer sexually desirable. These beliefs intensified her feelings of rejection. This deeply damages her self-worth. She can begin to believe there is nothing about her that is attractive or worthy of being loved. Some wives will question whether their husbands ever really loved them. They begin to believe their marriage was a sham. They began to wonder if in the Church’s eyes they ever had a valid marriage.”
In his 20 years of practice, Dr. Kleponis has found that many traumatized wives struggle with intrusive questions about their husband, their marriages, and themselves, such as “How long has this been going on?” “How could I have missed this?” “How often does he view pornography?” “Does he think about the women in pornography while he’s having sex with me?”
These wives will often ask their husbands the same questions over and over again regardless of his answers.
“Even though her husband claims he is telling her the truth, she will have a difficult time believing him. This is because his betrayal damaged her ability to trust him and anything he says. They find themselves in the same vicious cycle of asking the same questions over and over again and receiving the same unacceptable answers over and over again.”
Husbands need to realize that this cycle of questioning is a wife’s way of coping with her trauma.
She may also delve into detective work as a way of dealing with the situation, such as scouring phone bills, credit card and bank statements, computer histories. They may install monitoring software on all devices that have access to the Internet and/or demand to know where her husband is at all times.
“This is also a way of protecting themselves from future hurt and betrayal,” Dr. Kleponis explains. “Unfortunately, instead of alleviating her fears and helping her feel safe, most wive’s detective work only intensified the pain. While a wife may need to know this information, the way it is discovered only adds to her betrayal trauma.”
This kind of hyper-control is yet another way in which a wife will try to protect herself from getting hurt again, even though many believe reactions are irrational.
“Many will admit these behaviors make them feel crazy, but they can’t help but do them. What little protection they offer outweighs the feeling of total vulnerability they would feel should they give them up. One of the reasons they seek professional help is to find a better way to cope with the trauma. They want to feel safe and secure again,” Dr. Kleponis writes.
Husbands whose wives are experiencing this trauma are advised to encourage her to seek professional help.
“A therapist who is trained to treat trauma can help her recover and experience peace in her life. Counseling can also help to heal and restore your marriage.”
Those men who are struggling with pornography use should see a therapist who is certified in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual addiction.
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For more information, read Restoring Trust: A Couple’s Guide to Getting Past Porn (2018, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing).
In this Women of Grace® program, Dr. Peter Kleponis explains how destructive the use of pornography can have on families and why there's hope for the addict and his family.