How Pornography Addiction Can Impact the Entire Family – Learning How to Support Your Loved One

Upset couple having an argument

Contributor: Paul Loosemore, MA, PCLC, and writer for Addiction Hope.

Yes, pornography addiction will have impacted the entire family. Don’t give up ready yet—once you understand how the family is impacted, you have a good start in recovery. This article outlines difficult impacts on the family, and then critical parts of a family’s recovery plan.

Family systems

Sad Depressed Depression Sadness Young PersonFamilies are systems. If you think of each person as a cog in a machine, then when one shifts its function, or ability, then everyone else has to adjust as well to keep the machine going.

Likewise, if one family member is disrupted (emotionally, physically, socially, economically) by pornography addiction, then the whole family will feel the effects.

Often these shifts within the family go unspoken and therefore can leave younger or weaker members of the family taking too much of the emotional burden.

It has long been recognized that we can soothe our own needs by using others—having them listen to us, care for us, pick up the pieces or take on extra responsibilities.

If your family is struggling through the impact of a pornography addiction, please take time to consider how everyone in the family system is adjusting—in seemingly helpful, but potentially harmful ways.

Emotional disengagement

Pornography addicts often become emotionally distant to the family. They can appear jolly and light, yet it is a depth of connection and substantive communication that is missing. Spouses might feel this as “they don’t care how I feel” or “I am so lonely in this relationship”.

Children may not have emotions met with empathy or learn to develop an emotional vocabulary. The lack of emotional engagement also causes children to think that sharing this critical part of them isn’t acceptable. They may start to withdraw or act out as they hold in their reactions.

Not engaging emotions as a family then becomes a “rule” and surface level interaction can abound—which is isolating and doesn’t promote healthy relationships.

Alternatively, the addict may just become external to the emotional life of the family and the effect is to almost “loose” the addict from the family.

Insecurity and doubt

Person holding wedding ring on index fingerAll members of this system may be riddled with insecurity and doubt. A spouse of an addict may question if they are attractive, do a good job, failed in some way, could ever compete with porn, or if the addict ever loved them.

These are painful thoughts and feelings that can lead to hyper vigilant (paranoid checking) behaviors that can cause anxiety and frustration for everyone in the family. Spouses may doubt the security of their futures and feel overwhelmed.

The children of the family will notice the marital tension and the parents’ distraught reactions. The family’s stability is rocked and change appears pervasive. The younger the child, the more disruptive this usually tends to be.

When the rule of keeping emotions to yourself hasn’t fully set in, children may verbally express insecurity in a number of ways. Look for shifts in your children’s behaviors, sleep, communication and questions.

They do not know how to soothe themselves and make sense of the shifts around them unless they are helped to do so by an adult.

Financial impacts

Job loss or debt that is incurred from an addiction can greatly affect a family. They may have to move, stay with relatives, loose privileges (vacations etc), and if divorce occurs have a significantly reduced resource pool.

When an addiction has compromised an employee they may also have forfeited opportunities for promotion or other advancement. This inevitably affects the family in the long term.

The cost of healing

Conceptual image of female and male hands togetherHealing from an addiction requires stability and change, and doesn’t happen over night. The ripple effects last much longer than an addict’s behavior. Both addict and spouse are likely to expend great energy, emotion and finances to make a full recovery.

This may mean less time and resources for the family during a period that feels restrictive and frustrating—it may often seem easier to move on (especially when children aren’t in the family).

Children too, have to adjust to the differences at home and feel safe before they start to integrate their new world and emotions. They need plenty of time and emotional support to do this. They must also be protected from, and removed from roles they aren’t designed to play as children.

Support that doesn’t compromise

To help the addict and the family in recovery it is important to build an environment that is supportive of positive events and changes. Good things in the family should be recognized and used to galvanize the new structure.

Clear boundaries

Boundaries for acceptable, expected and off limit behaviors from the addict should be set, discussed and enforced. The more this is planned out, the more effective it will be. These boundaries extend to the roles family members will and will not be allowed to take in the family—a counselor may be helpful in defining these things.

Intentional intimacy

To the extent possible within the boundaries, intentional efforts should be made to spend time together and build connections.

Consider ways the family can facilitate drawing closer together and share their emotions with one another.

For more on this subject, see this article: How to Create a Supportive Home Environment for a Family Member Dealing with a Pornography Addiction

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What steps have you or your loved one to foster a supportive home environment in pornography addiction recovery?

Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Written by Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—He is the founder of

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 23, 2016
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