What should I do if I catch my husband watching pornography?
First of all, don’t panic.
You are probably shocked and distraught, and that’s totally understandable. It can completely turn your world upside down to find your husband has been visiting inappropriate websites. (Note that I am speaking to women because it is more commonly men that get stuck on pornography, but it can certainly happen to women as well.)
You may be thinking you don’t know this person who you thought you knew and trusted. You may be disappointed and disgusted with their behavior. You may be worried about your children.
These are all legitimate reactions. Frankly, any emotional reaction you are having is legitimate for you to be having, whether it’s numbness and indifference or rage and revulsion. (I’m not saying that you can behave any way you want, of course; the fact that someone has done an aveirah doesn’t mean you can call them names, throw things, etc.)
Let’s understand the reality of the situation, and then we can take a look at what you can do at this very difficult time.
What’s Going On
You should know that there are, unfortunately, many people who have fallen prey to taivah and have looked at inappropriate websites, developed a habit of it, or even become addicted. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem for many people, who may be stuck at home, stressed, depressed, and in front of a computer all day. Many of these otherwise upstanding people have been kollel avreichim, talmidei chachamim, even roshei yeshiva. Your husband is not the first and, regrettably, won’t be the last.
This means that there are also many women who are married to men with this problem. You are not the only one with this problem. (In fact, there are forums at GuardYourEyes.com specifically for such women; I certainly encourage joining such a forum as a way of coping with your situation.)
There are other women who have been through this and come out the other side. As terrible as you may feel right now, you can get through this.
It’s also important to understand that getting caught up in the “online shmutz” does not make your husband a terrible person. The lure of this particular yetzer hara is recognized by Chazal as the strongest challenge a person can face. And these websites are designed specifically to lure people in and keep them stuck there.
A person can be a shomer Torah u’mitzvos and mean it, can daven to Hashem and be genuine, can be a maamin and still mess up in this area.
Everyone stumbles. Everyone makes mistakes. This one seems particularly shameful, but can we really know which sins are worse in Hashem’s eyes? Does Hashem hate shmutz more than he hates lashon hara? I don’t know that we can be sure of that.
Everyone stumbles. That is why Hashem created teshuva. No matter how bad a person’s actions, they can always clean their souls off and return to Hashem. Your husband can still be a good person even though he is failing in this area.
If you are grappling with the awful feeling that “I don’t know this person,” it is certainly understandable. The truth is, he probably isn’t so different from who you thought he was. You just didn’t realize the extent of his struggle with this yetzer hara. (And how would you have? Would you have expected him to come out and tell you on a walk through the park that he’s battling this taivah?)
You probably knew somewhere in your mind that, like all men, taivah is part of his human makeup. You just never thought it could pull your husband in like this. But he’s not a monster, and he’s not a fraud – he’s just human, and he failed to overcome the taivah. (If you truly knew how many respectable people in your community he is in the company of, you probably would not be as shocked that he is among them.)
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be upset, shocked, angry, etc. I just want to reassure you that your whole life is not a deception, and that the future is not bleak. He is not irredeemable. He can change. And your marriage can survive this.
I also want to emphasize that your children are not necessarily at risk. I know this is something some women are worried about, so I want to address this if it’s on your mind. Viewing inappropriate websites is not an indicator that someone is a pedophile or that they are going to violate other people, especially children. (However, if your husband has been viewing inappropriate images of children, there is much more to worry about, and you should absolutely reach out to a rav for help immediately.)
Let’s talk about how to handle this.
What You Should Not Do
1. Don’t panic!
This is worth repeating. Panic usually does not lead to positive outcomes. Take a few deep breaths and do what you need to do to avoid flipping out [in general, and also on your husband in particular]. Flipping out, panicking, and the like are unlikely to do much good.
2. Don’t go it alone.
Of course, you may feel terribly embarrassed and ashamed and would never want to talk about this with anybody ever. But trying to deal with big problems in isolation is much more difficult. If you can find one friend whom you can trust with this, that person can be a very valuable source of moral support. It has to be someone who also will not panic (see #1), and who you can be absolutely sure will not share this information further.
But even that can be too frightening or uncomfortable (or you may simply not have such a person in your life). The support groups at GuardYourEyes.com are again a great source of comfort and support for people in your situation (and they are totally anonymous).
3. Don’t tell your family members.
Unless your mother or your sister is someone you 100% trust to keep the secret, to be objective, and to support you unconditionally, this is a very risky idea. It’s likely that your mother will never look at your husband the same way again; it could impact your family dynamics permanently. It takes a special person to be able to hear from you what’s happening and then carry on as normal.
That’s not to say you have to put on a front in front your family. You can tell them that you and your husband are going through something right now, without getting into the details. You may be close to your family, but consider carefully the possible consequences before sharing the particulars.
4. Don’t judge.
Nobody knows how any person appears in the eyes of Hashem. You can’t know the extent of the struggle your husband has had, or the nature of the kochos and challenges he was created with.
Let Hashem be the judge, and you can be the wife. You don’t need to determine just how bad this aveirah is or try to predict how negative the impact on your future will be. You need to take care of yourself, manage your own emotions, and then be supportive of your husband’s teshuva process to the extent that you can.
5. Don’t sweep it under the rug.
If this is upsetting to you, ignoring it is a bad long-term strategy. You can and should talk about the issue with him. If you’ve discovered what he’s been doing but he doesn’t know it yet, you should absolutely bring it up when you are ready to do it calmly. (We can offer some coaching around how to do this.)
You should also not ignore the problem by simply accepting a promise from him that he’ll never do it again. For many men it has become a compulsion and they are unable to keep such a promise. Some kind of further intervention is probably needed, and although you both certainly wish it could be gone just like that, it’s likely that it won’t be.
What You Should Do
1. Get your own support.
First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. If you are freaking out, you aren’t going to be able to help the situation. Get support from a friend, an online group, a rav, a therapist, a coach. (We’re happy to be a support as well if you’d like to reach out to either Raffi or Chana.)
You are an important piece of this puzzle, and even though you are not responsible for your husband’s failings, you can have a positive role to play in things getting better. So making sure you’re doing okay is critical for your own well-being and the well-being of your marriage.
(I should emphasize here that it is not your fault that your husband is doing this, regardless of what has or has not been happening in the bedroom. And you cannot fix it by changing things in the bedroom. Trying to control his behaviors by offering yourself physically is not going to work. It will likely just make you feel worse about yourself and the situation.)
2. Be kind to your husband.
It is totally fair for you to be angry at him. That is not a license to be cold or nasty. Hopefully your husband is embarrassed, remorseful, and willing to work at this. He is probably feeling pretty bad himself.
You can help him do his work by being kind and supportive. You may not feel like being so affectionate right now (and certainly you have a right not to be intimate if you don’t want to), but deliberately punishing him by withdrawing or by attacking is not the way out of this. And it’s certainly not what Hashem is expecting of you in a challenging time.
3. Be firm about your needs.
As mentioned above, promises to stop are not a guarantee of anything, and they certainly don’t undo the damage to your relationship. Consider what you need to feel comfortable that the problem is being addressed and discuss it with your husband.
For example, you may want to see him taking concrete steps to address his problem, such as signing up and participating GuardYourEyes.com, setting up filters on his phone and computer, going to a marriage counselor with you, or anything else you decide is important for you.
As for the best ways for your husband to overcome his yetzer hara, that is going to be up to him to decide. Just as you are not responsible for what he has been doing, you are also not in control of it – you can’t make him stop if he doesn’t choose to do the work necessary.
(This is why I didn’t mention seeing an individual therapist in the above list of concrete actions to take. People who view illicit materials are not necessarily sick, and a therapist may or may not be what they need. So while it might be helpful, forcing him to go see one may not help either of you.)
4. Take on your own avodah.
How can you grow from this situation? Is your avodah going to be remaining calm for your family even while you feel totally out of control? Are you going to work on remaining respectful to your husband even though you are absolutely disgusted with him? Are you going to focus on taking proper care of yourself so you can make it through this?
You want to come out of this knowing you did the best you could for yourself, for your family, and for Hashem. Pick something you can do that will help you get through it, and recognize it as the avodas Hashem that it is.
Whatever you decide to do, know that this problem can be resolved. Your husband can pull out of this. The marriage doesn’t have to be over. Your life doesn’t have to be ruined by this. It is a major challenge for you to get through, but you can do it.
You’ve already begun to look for what you can do by finding this page. If we can be of any help to you at this difficult time, please be in touch!