Hannah writes, “Whenever I try to talk to my husband about his ongoing pornography problem, he immediately gets very upset and defensive. He says this is HIS problem and HIS addiction and he will deal with it. He says that he is more upset and disappointed in himself than I could ever be. Then he stops talking to me. I am starting to realize that he has never been ready for me to be the supportive wife that I’d like to be, that I’m trying to be. I’m not sure what to do. I am not ready to give an ultimatum—but sometimes is that the only way?”
My heart aches for you Hannah… and for your husband.
The other night my three-year-old son, Sam, had a cough. When Jenny tucked him in bed she put a humidifier on his nightstand and explained that he needed to sleep by it to help his cough go away. He seemed to get it. At two-thirty a.m., coming toward us down the hall we hear this little “cough, cough; slosh, slosh; cough, cough; slosh, slosh.” He staggered into our room with his little arms wrapped around that appliance. Not even pausing at my side of the bed, he trudged all the way around—cough, cough; slosh, slosh—to see: his mom. He knew what he needed when he didn’t feel good, and it wasn’t just a humidifier!
The most natural thing to do when we’re in need as humans (or any other primate for that matter), is to reach out to those who love us. It’s instinct, automatic, and there is not an age at which we grow out of this response. My aunt Ida, who died at almost ninety, lived with my parent’s at the very end of her life. This strong woman who was someone I could run to as a child, in turn, called out for my mom and dad when she hurt or got scared in those last weeks on her deathbed.
Deep down, your dear husband shares with Sam and Ida the same instinct: to reach out when he’s in need. However, there are reflexes that we humans can develop that cover over that deepest emotional instinct.
For instance, when I was younger I may have expressed needs and then felt ignored—and logged that experience away in my psyche as an important lesson learned. I may have discovered that when I talked about a struggle, that material might later be used to belittle me. I may have learned that, in our home, we don’t talk about what we feel, we keep it to ourselves. I may have learned that girls talk and complain, but we guys need to suck it up and tough out problems on our own.
My client, Darin, remembers sitting at the kitchen table doing his homework as his brother ran into the room with a picture of a nude woman that he had discovered in Darin’s room. Darin’s mom (bless her heart) exploded. From then on it seemed to Darin that she was the puberty detective: always hounding him, prying, and reminding him about the evils of sex.
My client, Jake, remembers starting to view pornography during the summer before his last year of junior high. His parents worked all day, his older siblings now had jobs, and his younger sister was always over at her friend’s. It seemed like everyone else had important things to do and people to be with. He felt left out, lonely, and most of all: that he was on his own to try to navigate the pull of this exciting and forbidden new world.
He didn’t do very well. Porn was such a potent and easy fix during that otherwise empty summer. He felt so guilty and ashamed about it that he concluded he would have to conquer it on his own.
Here’s the good news: whatever Darin and Jake learned when they were younger about how ashamed they should be about porn use… however firmly they concluded that they need to struggle on their own to get over it… however long they’ve been approaching the problem from that lonely mindset… they have a deeper instinct and they’ve had it for even longer! And, just like my Aunt Ida, they’ll continue to have it until the day they die. It’s the natural and automatic response of reaching out when we’re in need.
It may take a while to unbury it, dust it off, and trust it enough to start honoring it. However, I have seen tons of men do it!