Thursday, June 26, 2014

Does His Obsession Have to Become Your Obsession?

Four years ago in April, my Client, Liz, discovered that her husband frequented porn and dating sites on his computer. Her eighteen-year-old daughter called her in to the computer one day: “Sorry Mom, but I think you’re going to want to see this.”

A year later when she started therapy with me, Liz still had intense feelings of anger and hatred toward her husband, Frank. A statement I heard repeatedly from her during that time was, “I want to nail his $#% to the wall!”

Fast forward three years and Liz and Frank are still together. She loves him and wants to retire together and enjoy their remaining years as much as they can. They both love to golf and travel. They’ve always relished their weekends together away from job demands. She manages a busy dental practice and he’s lasted decades in an accounting firm that burns out most employees in just a year or two. Their daughter comes to visit with her young son, and Liz delights in watching “Grandpa” roll around on the ground with his little buddy.

Frank still frequents porn and dating sites. Several times she has asked him to quit, making her case in various ways. Each time he promised he would, only to keep going back. Her high hopes were dashed every time she’d discover smut on his computer again.

She monitors his web habits by means he’s not aware of, so she knows the pattern. Typically he gets on when she’s out of the house, although occasionally it’s been while she’s in the other room or asleep. If she goes away overnight or for days at a time, that’s when he binges.

She’s accepted now that he’ll probably never get off it. Sure, she’d rather he didn’t go to porn and the dating sites, but he has lots of other great qualities that compensate for that weakness. Because of those and all they’ve shared and been through together over the 41 years, she’s going to keep trying to make the best of it.

The other day she shared her perspective on a topic that I thought would be worth passing along:

“There’s such a thing as too much curiosity. I wasted too much time over the last three years glued to his computer, looking at his search history, sorting through everything he’d been looking at.

“Some of it was absolutely necessary. Some of that detective work showed me that he goes to the dating sites to look at the photos, not because he’s planning to step out on me or wants to find local women to date. If I hadn’t come to understand what that was about for him, I never would have come to terms with it in the way I have.

“But the rest of it—being exposed to the world or porn and seeing all those sexy, slender bodies of younger women—that’s done me more harm than good.

“I wasted a lot of time on it, time I wish I’d spent in other, more productive ways.

“Just because he got sucked in, didn’t mean I needed to get sucked in. I wish now that I’d resisted the urge to delve into it to the degree that I did. I wish I’d let that be his thing and spent more of my time and energy on the things I care about.”

In your journey as an individual and as a couple, what’s your take on these questions:

How much time and energy should you spend on your partner’s porn habit?

Do you choose how much time and energy to spend, or do the worries take over and make you obsess about it involuntarily, even though you’d rather dwell on other things? Anything you’ve learned over time that you could pass on to others about how to deal with that morbid curiosity more effectively?

To what degree is it up to you to learn about addiction and recovery and to what degree is that his concern and his job? And what if you’re convinced that kicking his porn habit is his job, but he doesn’t do anything about it? Do you live with it the way Liz has decided to, or is it a relationship-breaker?

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