Every week I receive emails from lots of readers (or listeners) who are looking for help with some aspect of their relationship. I am honored that Simple Marriage has become a trusted source of good, helpful information for marital issues.
One topic that keeps surfacing in these emails, and in the comments of older posts, is the impact of pornography on relationships.
In 2009, there was a series of posts on the subject. And towards the end of the series I wrote a post to sum it all up – My Partner Like ____ And I Don’t. This is a post I would refer many emailers too. But recently, when I attempted to find this post as a reference for a reader, I couldn’t find it. So this post is a recreation of it.
While this is specifically on the pornography topic, it also applies to every issue in marriage.
I’ll confess, the topic of porn has been a hot-button here. So much so that I’ve closed the comments on several posts on the subject.
I thought going into this topic that much of the comments and reaction would be about the pain pornography has caused in marriage or life. In my experience as a marriage therapist, this topic has come up a lot. And I’ve even worked with a few couples who mutually consumed pornography in their marriage, although a majority of the couples I work with would be in the “I don’t want porn in my life” camp.
Interestingly, for the couples who used pornography as a tool or enhancement in the relationship, 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.
Think of 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.
This is also where porn comes into the picture – 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 spouse.
Know this: 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.
For me, 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? Again, this could be pornography, drugs, alcohol, even affairs.
- 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.
- 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 spouse 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 spouse of sex with other people. It’s a classic exchange based agreement.
The only problem is that five years from now, when you (either spouse) are ticked off, you turn to your spouse and you say: “You owe me because it’s your fault I haven’t screwed anybody else. I gave it up for you.” The spouse’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.
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