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"Then again, I don't want to sabotage myself. We have two kids. Add in our work schedules and I hardly have time to please him. I still try to give him all the energy and time I can. He's excited to be with me, but we don't have sex much any more. The fact that he's so into porn makes me wonder if he only wanted to be with me because of the great sex we used to have. Is our life together just an obligation now? He says, no, he really loves me. If that's true, why won't he give up porn?"
Lauren, here are some ideas we hope you'll find helpful:
1. Tell him how much your relationship means to you.
This helps him put into context why you're so disturbed by his lust fests over other women. "You mean the world to me. I adore you and cherish what we have together... so naturally I feel so protective of it and get scared when it seems threatened."
Given how demanding your life with work and the kids has become, it's understandable you're struggling as a couple. The best defense is a good offense, and Dustin Reichman's Engaged Marriage blog is all about helping busy couples like two you re-vitalizing your relationship and feel connected. Then outside factors like porn will pose less of a threat.
2. Seek compassion instead of promoting guilt.
He may already feel guilty about watching porn. Or at least ashamed, as evidenced by the fact that he kept his porn use a secret from you. Even if he doesn't, scolding him about his behavior may only lead him to withdraw from you or work even harder to hide it. That goes against what you want in your relationship: closeness and transparent communication.
Instead of, "How could you do this to me?" (emphasizing his behavior), try "Since discovering the porn I can't stop worrying about whether you still find me attractive" or "I felt so secure and now I'm scared that was just an illusion." (emphasizing your emotions).
3. Share your conclusions tentatively.
His watching porn probably does not mean the same thing to him that it means to you. Let him know what your concerns are while showing him that you're open to his perspective.
"I was shocked because since we've been together I've been so content--you have my whole heart. When I saw the porn it terrified me that maybe those feelings aren't mutual! What is your commitment level these days? Have your feelings for me been fading lately?"
4. Seek to understand his perspective.
If he's willing to have a discussion with you about porn, celebrate that! He's likely never talked with a woman about the intricacies of this aspect of his sexuality. Think about it: when boys discover masturbation or porn, they experience feelings that are mind-blowing, overwhelming, confusing, and for most boys, ultimately, dumbfounding. Even if they could put their experience into words, it would seem completely awkward and out-of-bounds to talk to the woman they talk to about most other important things--their mother. To show that you're willing to discuss porn and his thoughts and feelings about it might open for the first time for him the intimidating but exciting realm of communication at that deep of a level. (To learn from a couple who came to communicate masterfully even about a topic as challenging as porn, check out Victoria and Gary Prater's book, Love and Pornography.)
5. Be patient.
Women are accustomed to talking about their feelings and thoughts. If he doesn't respond immediately to the questions you ask and the areas you want to explore, don't conclude that they're off limits. He may just need to time to take your concerns in and let his own impressions percolate and clarify before he can put them into words. If you've had a heartfelt, mutually respectful discussion that has helped you both feel like the understanding and closeness you share has increased, he probably appreciates the intimacy of it and will be willing to revisit the topic again. Those future discussions are when you'll be hearing about the deeper feelings that have clarified for him over time as he's pondered the issues you're discussing.
6. Have empathy for him.
It's hard to step out of your own hurt to empathize with his experience. Ultimately, the women who are able to do so find themselves becoming, over time, less and less devastated by the fact that he finds porn appealing. They can take it more in stride because they start to get how men's minds work and they don't take porn as personally. (I'm not justifying his porn use or trying to convince you to shrug it off, just telling what I've observed working with many couples over the years.)
7. Don't rush yourself.
Empathizing with him doesn't mean ignoring your own feelings. Your own healing may have to progress to a certain level before you'll be able to feel compassion. And As one woman commented on another post on this blog:
"People told me it was MY JOB to fix him and make him feel better about himself and not ever hurt his feelings with my own hurt feelings. Before I could support him, I had to start to heal. Having people validate how much I was hurting and how much my life had been affected helped me feel understood. Then it was much, much easier to validate him. But I couldn't give from an empty bucket, no matter how much people felt I 'should' as his wife."
8. Get Outside Support
You wouldn't climb in the Himalayas without a Sherpa guide. As important as your relationship is, you'll never get from him everything you need to heal and feel confident again. Other women in your shoes are already supporting each other and healing together in places like Jacy Boyack's Togetherness Project. Join them--you'll be blown away by the insights you'll find and, over time, the peace you'll regain.
9. Learn together.
The bottom line for most women is this: they want their man off porn. Fortunately, there are resources that can help you get there as a couple.
Many of the men on support forums for kicking a porn and masturbation habit (like the Nofap thread on Reddit) find their way there after a wake-up call from Gary Wilson's TED Talk, The Great Porn Experiment, which shows the damage porn does to men or this cute little video short about a kiwi eating a nugget that drives home the devastating effects of addiction.
Love You, Hate the Porn, the book I wrote with Geoff Steurer, can be a similar wake-up call for men in relationships. Here's what a couple of Amazon reviewers wrote:
"Helping me think twice before I whack it to internet porn. I now think of my wife's feelings." --Dylan Thompson Wages
"Not just for wives of men who are addicted to pornography. This helped me as well, to understand what she is going through." --Robert N. Jones.
Of course, no matter how masterfully you handle things, there are no guarantees your man will respond as you hope. Everyone's choices are ultimately their own. As time goes on, he will act as he chooses and reveal to you more about who he is and where you stand in his life. Then you will have to decide how you are going to respond, given the choices he's making. If you're frustrated by the limits of your influence on your man, check out Corey Allan's Simple Marriage Manifesto. While otherwise "loving" actions mean very little when they've been coerced, and thus grudgingly given, nothing can stop couples who come together freely, as individuals, each in the driver's seats of his or her own life. The resulting amazing relationship is one you'll never get to by pressuring and pleasing, persuading and placating each other. It might be scary to accept that he's in charge of him and you're in charge of you, that's exactly what will keep you both showing up in your relationship and keep it alive and vibrant in the decades to come.
Hang in there Lauren! And be sure to let us know how it goes.
What other encouragement or suggestions do you have for Lauren and others in her situation? Please leave a comment.