I take seriously any book recommendation from a client, but when Elizabeth raved about Victoria and Gary Prater's book, Love and Pornography, my interest was really piqued.
That's because Elizabeth is a wonderful woman with a heart of gold and she's been through a hellish struggle over the last three years.
It all started when her daughter discovered her husband Charles's pornography stash on their computer and showed it to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth went numb, then she almost threw up. Into her mind reverberated something Charles had said to her in anger two decades earlier: "Our sex life is the pits! If it doesn't get better soon, I'm gonna get it elsewhere!"
Since then she'd been terrified that someday she'd discover that he'd been unfaithful.
That moment, there at the computer with her daughter, felt to Elizabeth like the realization of her worst fear. On the one hand, her mind knew that these were just images on the computer. But her heart was screaming, "He is getting it elsewhere! From these knock-out, anonymous women who freely offer their perfect bodies for his viewing pleasure. And he's not just viewing them! In his mind he's screwing them!"
On the heels of those thoughts about Charles and his pornography, into Elizabeth's mind rushed this slam on herself: "I've failed. I don't satisfy him. I've never had what it takes. And look at me now, old and out of shape. I'll never be enough for him!"
Elizabeth told Charles how hurt she was by the discovery.
She thought they'd work through it the way they had another struggle years earlier. He'd come to her in a similar way with concerns about how much she was spending. She'd taken out some credit cards he didn't know about and he was very troubled by the added debt. And hurt by her secrecy.
It was hard for her to change her spending habits, but when she saw how much it hurt him she knew she had to do it. She turned it around, became more frugal, and had never gone back to her old ways.
She could tell Charles felt bad about the porn. He felt even worse that his daughter had been the one to run onto it. And when he saw how much it meant to Elizabeth he quickly promised that he wouldn't look at it anymore.
For a while, he didn't. But then she found evidence of it again. Perhaps it was just an isolated slip. She let it go.
A few months later she could tell his time on porn was creeping back up so she raised the issue again. He got angry and defensive. "I don't look nearly as much as a lot of other men do! What's the big deal?"
She hasn't brought it up since even though she knows he's still looking.
It's been excruciating for Elizabeth because it has seemed to her that "He doesn't care about me enough to get off it and stay off." She has wondered, "How important am I to him, anyway?"
But then Charles is sweet and doting and accommodating and loving. They spend long weekends together, taking trips and relishing each other's company. "That is the guy I married!" she cheers silently to herself. "He's still the man I've always known and loved."
But their relationship never seems to rest long in one position. She's gone back and forth between feeling like "It's worth it" to "I can't stand it anymore" more times than she can count.
Three years in now, Elizabeth has come to terms with the fact that Charles is the one who has to decide for himself what role porn will play in his life. She's firm in her conclusion that she doesn't want a divorce even if he never quits. There's too much good in the life they've built together.
But at times it still hurts, and she's always on the lookout for resources that help her make sense of what porn means to men and help her come to terms with her own strong feelings about the fact that her husband is so captivated by it.
Chapter five of Love and Pornography really hit home to Elizabeth. In it, the Praters take turns exploring the needs behind each of their pornography-oriented desires and behaviors.
Gary starts the process. His exploration of the needs that drive his porn viewing is one of the most insightful I've ever heard. He goes beneath the obvious, beyond the fact that it turns him on sexually.
In everyday life he sometimes feels like there's something wrong with him because of his pressing fascination with sex. That's when he's not viewing porn. But then, once he launches into a binge, that shameful feeling goes away. Suddenly he's part of a community of free thinkers who enjoy sex as much as he does. That sense of inclusion and acceptance is warmly comforting to him.
And, of course, the fantasy of being approved by one attractive woman after another is exhilarating, too!
Gary also explores the exuberant feeling of freedom that goes along with surfing for porn. It's the complete opposite of the confined feeling he felt growing up in a home with strict parents and lots of rules. When Gary entertains the idea of giving up porn because it upsets Victoria, there awakens in him again that old sense of squelching and suppressing himself just to please others and conform to their opinion of what he should be.
Gary came to understand more fully that he has a deep and very important need to be in the driver’s seat of his own life. He determined that he would have to be the one to decide to get off porn, if he indeed decided to, rather than giving in to pressure from Victoria.
Elizabeth found Gary's insights very revealing. It helped her see that the needs and desires and struggles and choices that drive Charles' pornography viewing are arising from within himself, not from her perceived inadequacies or failures.
Next in chapter five comes Victoria's exploration of the inner workings of her own pain, a pain that for a long time led her to keep pressing Gary to get off porn.
As she considered the variety of human needs that drive behavior, she resonated on a very powerful, visceral level when she considered the need to matter. When Gary went on porn, it seemed to Victoria that he left her behind. Her, the real world, and the real love she offered. Giving it all up for a fleeting fantasy.
Before, when her pain over his porn use would awaken, Victoria allowed it to drive her to try to persuade Gary to see porn for what it was in her eyes: poorly produced, trashy entertainment that exploits vulnerable people. And to try to persuade him to give it up. Such a simple solution, it seemed to her!
Now, instead of acting in that usual way, Victoria allowed herself to feel deeply what Gary's porn use meant to her. She stayed in the feelings that came up for her, stayed with herself as she felt them, rather than trying to take action to rid herself of those feelings in any way she could.
As Victoria settled herself in the feeling of not mattering to Gary, it occurred to her just how familiar it was to feel like that. She remembered trying to get the attention and love she needed from her mother, who suffered from mental illness. Her mom was so deeply lost in her own struggles, she simply did not have that love and attention to give Victoria.
So now, Gary's porn had reopened Victoria's deepest and most painful emotional wound. He'd get on porn and she'd be instantly transported to the most vulnerable state she'd ever been in.
Although this was insightful to Victoria, as you can imagine she didn't feel any particular healing effect so far because of the work she'd been doing to understand.
But then she had the amazing realization: the pain she'd been through back then and the feelings that came up for her now could matter and needed to matter...to her. She could be there for herself in a way she never had before, in a way no one ever had before. She needed to be there for herself. By staying with her feelings when she was in pain she was, in a way, doing just that: staying with herself. Right when she needed it most. She could keep turning her loving attention toward her own suffering, and thus send the reassuring message to the most vulnerable part of her that she does matter.
This was very healing for Victoria. It was also a very powerful process for Elizabeth to witness because she related so closely to Victoria's experience growing up. "It's almost like she was writing about my life!"
You know a self-help book is doing its job when it seems like it was written for you--or could have been written by you! That's why I'm recommending Love and Pornography. It will facilitate growth, communication, and understanding for any couple who finds that pornography is an ongoing struggle that's hard to resolve.
My client, Elizabeth, read it a year ago and was disappointed because she didn't like the ending: after a period off porn, Gary goes back to it. That was when Elizabeth was still convinced that resolution of this issue for her would require Charles to kick the habit.
Oh, if life were only always that simple.
But Elizabeth hasn't given up on happiness. "Life is too short to stay miserable," she often tells me with a smile. So her quest for understanding and peace continues. And Victoria and Gary Prater are providing her wonderful, much needed guidance and perspective.
Check out their book and then please let us know what you think.