Living according to what you hold dear

Sex and Intimacy

Whenever I’ve run a post on pornography, both extremes are vocal in the comments. Several come out in favor of while others come out against. This post is a rewrite of a previous article from 2009.
In my experience as a marriage therapist, this topic comes up a lot. Most of the time, one spouse uses porn while the other spouse is against it and feels betrayed.
Interestingly, for the couples who used pornography as a tool or enhancement in the relationship, as therapy progresses, one or both of them didn’t really like the effects of it on themselves or the relationship. They were simply appeasing their partner’s desire.
Or put another way, they were trying to fit into a certain role in order to receive their partner’s love and affection.
While this is not true in every instance, more times than not, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are many things we do in relationship that go against the things we hold dear. It’s during these times that we are presented with a tremendous opportunity to grow, both as a individual and closer to another.
Allow me to explain where I’m coming from.
Marriage is designed to help us grow up – and growing up involves anxiety, discomfort, and sometimes pain.
Often, due to the cost of growth it’s easy to turn to other things in order to find relief and comfort.
One of the most common things turned to is sex.
Notice the paradox here, sex is turned to for relief and comfort of insecurities from wanting to be closer to a significant other, while it’s this closeness to the significant other that is increasing the anxiety and discomfort.
To wrap up our pornography discussion, porn is often used in lieu of dealing with the anxiety of exposing one’s sexual desires to one’s spouse – where it may or may not be well received. The solution involves making choices between equally anxiety provoking options – the anxiety of wanting sexual gratification versus the anxiety of wanting your partner.
Wanting always involves no guarantee that the one you want will want you back.
Pornography is directly correlated with lust – and lust cannot be satisfied with sex.
Whatever you focus on grows – lust is a great example. The more you pursue lust, the more intense it becomes, which is why it easily escalates to a higher level (violence, no strings attached sex, etc). It’s just like drugs – the more intensely the brain fires, the more drugs it takes to get to that level the next time.
Here’s where I’m coming from – I believe that pornography is destructive to myself and my relationships. I believe that my own struggle with pornography skewed my marriage and my life. This belief, which is largely based on my spiritual relationship with God, has led to me to work towards keeping porn out of my life and my marriage.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a relationship where something is present that you don’t want? This could be pornography, drugs, alcohol, even affairs.

  1. Be honest with yourself and your spouse. Let them know the things you hold dear. This involves putting more of yourself out there and being willing to have them agree or disagree.
  2. Realize that your partner’s actions and behaviors are a reflection of them, not you. Look at it this way, if you believe your spouse turned to porn in order to hurt you, why are you gratifying them by acting hurt. Their actions are about them, period.
    The issue for you then is no longer “How could they do this to me,” instead it becomes “If porn (or fill in the blank) is going to be part of their life, I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do.” The process of working through this is an act of self-definition: Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? What kind of relationship do I want to be in?

This process is very powerful, but also painful.
The whole nature of marriage changes when you raise your emotional maturity level and grow up.
You can approach everything in marriage differently.
In a couple with low levels of emotional maturity, the agreements about what will go on in the relationship often mean that one person will give up something (in this case porn, but it could be drugs, alcohol, even extramarital affairs) in order to deprive their partner of whatever is given up.
For example, one person wants to be in a monogamous relationship so they give up extramarital sex in order to deprive their partner of sex with other people. It’s a classic exchange based agreement.
The only problem is that five years from now, when you (either partner) are ticked off, you turn to your partner and you say: “You owe me because it’s your fault I haven’t screwed anybody else. I gave it up for you.” The partner’s become emotionally fused.
At higher levels of emotional maturity, these agreements go like this: “I want to be in a monogamous relationship so I’m not having an affair. You don’t owe me for it. Because I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. Now if you have an affair, the only thing I ask is that you tell me.”
Monogamy, or more appropriately everything in the marriage, is no longer based on exchange and reciprocity. It results from a unilateral commitment to oneself.
You no longer feel controlled by your spouse. You relinquish your spouse as an extension of yourself and your own gratification.
And what happens, oddly enough, is that you end up having all the intimacy and eroticism, mystery and novelty that you can handle, and it’s right at home.*

*Schnarch, D. (1993). Treating affairs in the sexual crucible. Contemporary Sexuality. 27(9), 1-4.
(photo source)