Is a Porn Addict

"Gaslighting" You?

Mark B. Kastleman, BCC, BCPC

If you have a spouse that struggles with pornography and/or other sexual addiction behaviors, it's virtually certain that at some point along the path of your relationship you've been the victim of "gaslighting."

 

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where false, deceitful or manipulative information is presented, usually repeatedly, as "true" causing the victimized spouse to doubt her feelings, judgment, reality and even her own sanity. The porn/sex addict uses this tactic to hide the truth about his hidden betrayal and secret promiscuous behaviors.

 

The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband convinces his wife that the periodic dimming of their home's gaslights is all in her imagination. Over time, his lies cause her to question her own sanity.

 

Porn/sex addicts often use gaslighting as a way of manipulating their loved ones into going along with or ignoring their addiction. They often lie to their spouses/partners for years, insisting that they really did need to work late; that they're not being emotionally distant or moody; that they're not viewing porn or cheating. The addict twists and manipulates until all fingers are pointing at the victimized spouse as just being paranoid and unfair.

"Why Won't Anyone Believe Me?"—

One Woman's Battle with Her

Spouse's "Secret Addiction"

A recent and ongoing experience of a family friend illustrates the extreme difficulty and frustration of dealing with a porn/sex addict who is highly skilled at disguising his addiction:

 

For many years “Diane” has been perplexed by her husband "Dave’s" behavior: highly controlling, extreme mood swings, increasingly isolated, demanding perfection of self and family, wanting sex but giving no affection or romance, demanding demeaning and bizarre sex acts. . . . In addition, he spends a lot of time away from the family (especially when things become “too stressful”). In public he appears to be the perfect husband and father, but he's quite a different man at home.

 

Dave’s odd behaviors alone point toward a very strong possibility of addiction. Add to this the fact that he was severely abused as a child, was introduced to pornography at the age of five, and was a full-blown porn and sex addict as a teenager.

 

Early in their marriage, Dave confessed to sleeping with a prostitute on a Las Vegas business trip, but claimed that it was only a “one-time slip” and that it would never happen again. He insisted that Diane was the source of their marital problems, that if she was a better sex partner, a better housekeeper, etc., their marriage would be fine. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to sum up all this information and predict with near certainty that Dave had an addiction of some kind—very likely a pornography addiction. Perhaps at that particular time he wasn't "acting out" in his addiction (which was highly unlikely, given the signs), but he was at the least "acting in" and deeply engulfed in what we call the Control Phase of porn and sex addiction

 

"My Wife is the Problem!" 

Dave’s secrecy techniques and controlling behaviors are very typical of the Control Phase. For instance, he has become an "amateur psychiatrist," reading all the books and constantly “diagnosing” Diane’s problems and advising her how to overcome them. The couple have been to numerous marital counselors, sessions that, surprisingly, always ended up focusing the lion’s share of the attention, diagnosis and remedies squarely on Diane.

 

Dave was the ultimate “actor on stage” and manipulated every counselor that they had visited. After all, he was a successful businessman, he gave service in the community, he was respected and admired by their friends—what more could she ask for? He’s truly a wonderful man; just spend a few minutes with him and you can tell right off how concerned he is about his wife and children. So the problem must obviously be with Diane, or so he wants everyone to believe.

 

Porn and Sex Addicts

Operate in "Stealth Mode"

The trouble with porn/sex addiction is that it’s the “stealth” addiction, the silent killer. There are no needle marks, no hangovers, no obvious physical signs. On the other hand, there are a host of emotional and behavioral signs that an experienced pornography addiction therapist can discern. (None of the counselors Dave and Diane have seen specialize in this area.) So how does Diane explain to these counselors about Dave’s mood swings, bizarre sex requests, overt control, isolation, depression, etc.? How can she possibly define the “feeling” she gets that sometimes he’s looking at her like she’s an object rather than a person? She just ends up sounding like the proverbial nagging wife, obsessed with picking at the little things.

 

Her husband works hard, provides for his family and is respected in the community. Why doesn’t she just stop complaining and be grateful for what she has? Why can’t she lower her expectations to a reasonable level? Maybe if she was more open and comfortable about sex, her marriage would improve (all bits of wisdom received from counselors).

 

Diane has come to believe that there is something wrong with her. Perhaps her expectations are too high. If only she would perform better sexually, the marriage would improve. If only she could cook better or clean more thoroughly, be more cheerful, lose a little weight or do her hair differently—be more like the fantasy women Dave secretly yearns for—then he might change. But it seems the harder she tries, the worse he gets. Her husband’s secrecy has everyone fooled (including the counselors they met with), and Diane doesn’t know who to turn to for answers.

 

What a Porn Addict Will Do

Can Be Unpredictable

How this situation will turn out is up in the air. Because of the close family friendship, Diane is certain that Dave will refuse to meet with me. Fortunately, I have a number of close colleagues who specialize in treating various kinds of addiction, including pornography and sexual addiction. Without really knowing why he and his wife are going, Dave has agreed to meet with one of these therapists. The outcome of the session is unpredictable.

 

In the presence of a skilled therapist, Dave’s addiction may be unmasked; or he may become angry and storm out of the meeting, refusing to reveal his charade; or he may simply lie his way through the session. He may decide it's time to do whatever it takes to deal with and overcome his porn addiction. Unfortunately, long experience suggests it most likely will take a crisis for Dave to end his denial and secrecy: a moment of truth with the therapist, an instance where Diane catches him viewing pornography, a time when he is arrested for sexually acting out, or the threat of divorce.

 

The point is, there are many spouses out there who feel like no one believes them or understands what they are going through. Some imagine they’re going insane. Like Diane, they may sense that something is wrong but be unable to unearth exactly what that something is. They may be aware that their spouse uses porn or goes to strip bars, but discount it as “no big deal.” Or their husband may be open and even arrogant about acting out sexually, yet the wife desperately holds onto the marriage anyway.

 

Don’t Ignore Your Intuition

Virtually every spouse I’ve ever worked with expressed that, even though they couldn’t prove it, they sensed that something was “wrong” long before they discovered the truth. In many cases they ignored or discounted these feelings until finally the truth revealed itself—the addicted spouse was caught red-handed or came forward and confessed. However, in too many cases, by the time this happened, the porn addiction had severely expanded to acting out­—affairs, prostitutes, incest—and the wife and children had suffered greatly. Don’t ignore your intuition. I believe this is the spirit of God prompting and warning you. The Holy Spirit is often a “tattle-tell. And remember, your FIRST priority is YOUR safety, wellbeing and healing your own betrayal trauma

 

If you're being "gaslighted" by a loved one trapped in pornography and/or sexual addiction, we can help. Contact us and schedule a time to talk.