Vivian writes, “What should I do when I discover my husband has been viewing porn again after promising not to? Talking to him about it never works. He immediately gets very upset and defensive. He says this is HIS problem and HIS addiction and he will deal with it. He claims that he is more upset and disappointed in himself than I could ever be. Then he stops talking to me.”
Vivian, I wish I knew the key element that helps us as men reach the magical point where we allow ourselves to take off our armor and lower our guard. What exactly enables us to say “I’ve had enough of the @#!*% of battling this habit alone. The way I’ve been doing it’s not working. It’s time to go into therapy, do an online program, read about this problem. It’s time to deal with it in a more open way with my wife.”
Fortunately, most of us do get there… eventually. At various times this past week, three different men who had reached this point sat in my office with their wife or girlfriend. I told each of those couples that I wished I could share what they had with the women who email me and come up and talk after every presentation I give on the topic of pornography.
It’s probably the most common question I hear. Certainly the most earnestly asked. “My husband knows I know about his porn problem. He swears he wants to quit. But he refuses to talk with me about it. He wants me to leave him alone and let him deal with it on his own. I’ve left it alone for years but that doesn’t seem to be helping. He has relapsed as many times this year as he did four years ago when I first discovered the problem. I don’t want to give up what we have—what we could have. He’s great with the kids. He works hard to support our family. But the emotional connection between us is dying.”
It’s enough to make a woman wonder if her partner is as committed to her as she is to him. Or convince her that he just doesn’t care.
He is committed. He does care. Almost always, in my experience.
Here’s what he’ll say later once he’s being more open with you. I know because I’ve heard it before—and heard three new variations of it this week:
“I’m used to dealing with hard things on my own. I don’t like to see her upset. That’s not all. It feels so awkward to face this problem. So uncomfortable. When I read your blog, it’s like throwing on a bright floodlight. I read a case and think, ‘That’s not me.’ Then I read a little further and think, ‘That’s sort of me.’ Then I finish reading and realize, ‘Crap. Me all the way.’ I don’t want to be the guy I’m reading about. Yet I’m the only one in the bright room and that floodlight’s revealing everything. I don’t have the option of running from how I feel. I want desperately for things not to be so bad between us. Yet it’s in my face again that they are.
“So I tell her ‘I’m a textbook case, I guess.’ I push through the embarrassment and commit to keep working on it. Not just to her but to myself. I commit to God, even.
“As the days pass, it fades from the forefront of my mind. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I tend to forget about things—especially if they’re inconvenient or troubling. I don’t even call the dentist to set up an appointment. She’s been reminding me for three weeks to do it. At night I complain to her about the pain in my jaw, and then during the day I don’t call to make the appointment. There are two texts on my phone from her, one from this week, one from last, reminding me our dentist’s phone number. I still haven’t called.
“I want to forget about my pain. Pretend it’s not there and hope it goes away. And her pain? I hate it. It scares me. I’m afraid she might get tired of this and walk away from the relationship. That would kill me. She means everything to me. So you'd think that would motivate me to read and write about my recovery like she has asked me to do. So why do I put this out of my mind, go on with my life, and try to live like a normal person again? Pretend I’m someone who doesn’t have this serious problem? I know it doesn’t make sense, but I fall back into it even though I know it doesn’t help. I want to turn away from this and focus on other things. For years I have been wishing that would be the way I would finally overcome this problem.”
Here’s the good news: talking about the temptation to avoid the topic is as helpful as talking about the topic itself. Talking about the fear of being abnormal and unacceptable (to someone who’s willing to listen) somehow helps us feel more normal and acceptable. As reluctant as we are to talk, especially at first, talking really is a key element of healing. Eventually we find that we feel better when we talk, and that makes it easier for us to keep it up.