My Husband Can Watch Porn, but Can’t Apply for a Job? Help!

I have been with my husband for 17 years. We don't have children. I have always been close to my parents. The last several years they were very ill. They both passed away last year. I was consumed with caring for them, or trying to, last year. I knew my husband was drinking. He has a bad shoulder, and that was his excuse so he could sleep. I knew that he would look at porn, and I thought it was a somewhat healthy thing to do. Two weeks after my mom's funeral I find that he has been calling strangers for several years, masturbating. He also had a secret email account for the last four years. After six months of arguments, he still spends all night looking at porn and touching himself. We had a huge fight yesterday, and he slept with me all night, but I am so angry. I don't trust him at all. The thing that pisses me off the most is he hasn't had a job in over 10 years. He asked me to help him fill out a job application, and it just enrages me that he can spend all night watching porn but he can't fill out a job application! What do I do? I love him with all my heart. We were best friends. Now I feel so alone, with no one to turn to. I don't know how to fix this. —Angry and Alone
Dear Angry and Alone,

Thanks for your question. I think the first key point can be found in your last statement, as far as “how to fix this.” To cut to the chase: you cannot. You can only help your husband “fix” himself or support him through a therapeutic process via a professional; and I honestly think that, given the severity of his issue and the (unfortunately low) level of his functioning, he will need professional help sooner rather than later. By this I literally mean you can take the “horse” to water (i.e., drive him to a therapist’s office), but he has to partake of the solution himself.

This idea of “fixing” is a dangerous one. I believe it’s akin to playing God, and we know how well that goes. Even the most competent of therapists cannot really “fix” a person. A therapist can only facilitate a process that enables a person to stop harmful behaviors and work through the pain of surrendering old behaviors and dealing with painful emotions for the sake of healthier living. Childhood trauma is tragic (which I would bet your husband has experienced, given his current behaviors; one often finds early abandonment or abuse with this addictive-type use of pornography and abdication of responsibility); the tragedy lies in the fact one cannot “re-do” childhood or literally “re-parent” themselves or have someone else do that. A loving partner can come close, if the other partner is willing to receive and give in the name of mutuality. Just taking or just giving leads to deep frustration for both partners, so that one fumes while the other self-medicates (with porn or booze, etc.).

Waiting for the “perfect” rescuer to show up, or to be that rescuer and be acknowledged as such, leads only to futility. The one true rescuer is, in the case of early trauma, the parent or caregiver who wasn’t there—that will, tragically, never be there, at least in a way that will circumvent all suffering and grieving. Authentic suffering (where destructive behaviors are surrendered) leads to actual change; addictive suffering (where these behaviors perpetuate and worsen) leads to the same old, same old. Authentic suffering can transform into wisdom and courage; addictive suffering perpetuates fear and resentment to both the person and those who love him or her. Addiction is such a powerfully destructive process that, after a while, one begins to wonder if the addicted person is “actually” suffering due to actual pain or merely because he or she needs another “fix.” At any rate, as the old saying goes, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” I believe this is where you are now: a very unhappy place to be.

My sense, and I could be totally wrong here, is that perhaps you, too, have experienced some kind of neglect, that this neglect and/or abandonment became “normal,” that you were taught it is to be tolerated rather than confronted or ended, that pursuing your own happiness feels “selfish.” Ten years is a long time to live with a partner who will not, or cannot, pull his own weight. I’m sure some would be tempted to tell you, “just ask him to get it together or get out,” but this is easier said than done, especially since someone living with an addicted person has similar challenges, in that they are saddled with belief systems which hold them overly responsible for the situation (whereas the addicted person often acts as if everyone else is responsible). I suspect you are in this painful position, where you can’t win for losing; if you confront your husband, he may retreat or resent you, and you may feel guilty. If you don’t, you may feel taken for granted and angry or hurt. The best thing for you to do is to seek help yourself, in building the strength to confront his behaviors. Fortunately, there are options.

I recommend finding, ideally in person but at the very least online, a support group such as Al-Anon, CoDA (Codependents Anonymous), or COSA (Codependent Women in Relationship with Sexually Addicted Men), a recovery program for partners of those with sex or porn addiction. You may need to try meetings in each program to see which fits. But any change in a relationship affects the entire relationship; your seeking help is an action that will, I hope, show your husband you are serious and not willing to live with the status quo any longer.

Because of the abuse or abandonment underlying the belief system referred to above, I suggest you also seek out counseling and learn to focus on what you need, and that the best thing for your partner would be for you to set boundaries. This is hard to do with someone we love, because putting ourselves first often feels like abandonment of them, followed by soul-crushing guilt. In these cases, our basic needs for security and nurturing were violated or neglected in early years; one often sees this with children of alcohol-addicted people, for instance, or children of parents who were overly self-absorbed, had mental health issues, or were just plain absent. In these cases, children feel compelled to care for caregivers, and put themselves second, to the point where it starts to cripple their developmental growth. It parallels the addicted person’s psychological challenges, in a different manifestation.

I do believe you can love the person but hate the abusive behaviors, that you can confront someone’s addiction or dysfunctional behaviors to protect yourself. I think it is fair to say something like, “I am not trained or capable in stopping this destructive cycle, and it pains me to say that is no longer OK to live with you while you continue to abuse my trust and yourself. I’m not going to stand by idly while your issue kills our relationship. I fear that if I don’t do this, there won’t be any love left when or if your healthy side emerges. I’ll support your health and recovery all I can, but I will no longer support your destructive or neglectful behaviors.” The point is, you have limits. It is not a failure or shortcoming to have limits. You will find your own words, but they need to be said. It’s easy to forget that your husband is an adult; if he cannot act like one, he needs to get proper help. The greatest danger is continuing without change, because love too has limits; I’ve seen too many wait too long, seeking help only after all trust and tenderness are destroyed. Rebuilding trust is a long, difficult road. At some point, it is simply too late.

Best wishes,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • Dell

    Dell

    August 22nd, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    There is obviously something holding him back… any ideas what that could be? He uses porn as his crutch and health issues as his excuse, and you get left out in the cold.

  • Petra

    Petra

    August 22nd, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    I do not mean to be critical but you have enabled this for a long time now. This is what he thinks that he can get away with and clearly this is no longer acceptable to you. I say good for you!

  • brenda

    brenda

    August 23rd, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    It’s not that he can’t apply for a job, but he won’t. He has clearly set his priorities and this is not one of them. I know that you probably love him, the two of you have been together for a very long time now. But think about the hurt that all of this is causing your family and think about how much more of this pain are you willing to accept just to keep him in your life?

  • Darren Haber MFT

    Darren Haber MFT

    August 24th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Thanks all for your comments!

  • Teera

    Teera

    August 28th, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    I am curious as to whether this was a new fixation for him or if you think that it is a pretty recent development?
    If this is how he has been handling most of his problems for a while now, through this kind of escapism, then I would think that it would be even more difficult to get him to change.

  • Judd

    Judd

    August 30th, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    There are a lot of support groups out there that are available to you, you might just have to work at finding one that fits all of your needs and concerns. You might be better with doing one in person, or maybe one that is online will suit your personality a little better but you have to know that you are not the first person to go through this and you are not alone.

  • betsy mc

    betsy mc

    August 31st, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    This is so hard for you because I can tell that you just want your life back to normal but with him there may not ever be that normal that you are looking for. I am in no way an advocate or voice for divorce but there comes a time when you have to start thinking about what the right choices for you will be. I wish you peace as you start working through much of that and finding what you really want and who you really want to be.

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