"I let him know I didn't like it and asked that he stop. He threw them away and said he would stop. But then later, in a moment of resentment, he made the comment: "Just so you know, you're the one who has a problem with it, I don't."
"About six month later, I found multiple websites on his iPad including one focused on teenage girls. That reminded me that one of his DVDs had been some "teen" movie. Of course we had a huge blow up, but we moved on.
"Six month later, one week after I moved in with him, I found porn on his phone. At that point, I packed a few things and left. Having nowhere else to go, I asked if I could return until I could find a place to live. Once I returned we began to talk and discussed staying together. I made it clear that he had to decide between porn and me, he couldn't have both. He committed to stop but was quite adamant that he was not addicted.
"At this point I became obsessed, learning all I could about porn and its effects on men. What I hadn't realized was the effect it was having on me. I knew I was upset, I knew I had a problem trusting him, and of course it also effected how I looked at myself physically. But that was as far as my self-reflection went.
"We spent more time talking. I asked him about why he did it. We discussed how to rebuild trust. I plead with him not to lie to me. We explored how to improve our sexual relationship.
"One of he most difficult topics we explored was the 'teen' videos. Why did he feel the need for them? After all, he is 57 and I am 50. He wasn't sure but he chalked it up to the idea that they made him feel young. We have talked at great lengths about feeling more comfortable about getting older and that we can do it together. I was told several times he felt much better about getting older because we have each other.
"Over time I did become quite angry. One night when I could not sleep I sat down with a pad of paper and started writing I am angry because... I filled an entire page that consisted of porn items! I felt enormously better and I feel the anger has gone away since doing so, but I am still struggling to learn to trust again and trying to rebuild my self-esteem. It is difficult to trust, as he continues to lie to me and covers it with saying he did not want to hurt me. I believe that but for me to trust I need truth.
"During a recent discussion he revealed that he still has porn flash backs (a year-and-a-half later) and still finds young women--teens--quite attractive. He finds their bodies physically more attractive, they are sexier and more desirable--even more desirable to him than me.
"Hearing him describe the physical attributes he desired the most made me physically ill. I may be 50 but I am a good-looking 50 year old (I've been told I look 35). My body is in decent shape and he tells me he still desires me and finds me attractive, but they are more desirable.
"He told me he still fights the desire to fantasize about teens, but it is nearly gone. He admitted that, during my granddaughters birthday party when there were several young girls around, he found himself thinking, "If I were younger..." How can we go anywhere without me thinking that he is checking out the young girls all around us? The beach--are you kidding? I am beside myself.
"He says he has never gone after a young girl in real life, but to me that is of little comfort because the fantasy can be very close to real life and just makes it easier if the right person came alone. I asked him how he thinks I should deal with knowing about his desire. At one time he told me it should not bother me because he is with me. Most recently he told me I should be comforted 'knowing that I do desire you, I do a good job showing it, and more importantly knowing that I love you and our relationship.'
"Despite his reassurances, that was again one of those moments where I felt it was time for me to leave the relationship if he continued to hold onto those desires. I told him I could not be in a relationship with a man who found young girls more desirable than his own girlfriend and that if I am going to stay this desire has to go away and he has to do the leg work on it--not me.
"He started researching but did not find much on how to stop desiring young girls. We found the website Your Brain On Porn and learned how porn re-wires your brain and affects what you find attractive. He agreed that although he was a casual user, over those 10 years it did affect his line of thinking. He has found that the further he gets away from porn, the more the desire has dissipated, and he believes it will continue to do so.
"I also came across an article When Older Men Lust After Younger Women, which he read and agreed that society has helped to condition his line of thinking and that a story in the article hit home with him. It made him realize that although the media may push this idea that young girls like older men, in reality they are just being nice and typically think the guy would be a better match for their mother.
"I don't know whether to trust that his thinking is changing. Especially since we've only worked on it in over the last three weeks and the porn habit itself took years to turn around. He tells me he 'gets' why his attraction to young girls is such an issue for me and insists that he no longer feels that way. But then I look over and see him click on a headlines that reads, 'Taylor Swift shows off some major skin'.
"In frustration at one point he told me porn and young girls have been a pin-point laser focus of mine for years and that he is exasperated with me and that it is like 'ground hog day' all over each time I bring up the subject. That made me realize that perhaps a part of the struggle is that I have not looked to work on myself.
"Where do I go from here? How do I heal myself? How do we go about salvaging our relationship? How do I deal with his desire to fantasize about girls 40 years younger than himself? I hope you are not going to tell me this appropriate behavior for a man his age. Can this really go away? I very seriously doubt that he will change at this stage in his life. Not so sure trust can be rebuilt when I'm afraid that he just tells me what I want to hear."
Liz, we're so glad you reached out. You've asked the question we hear more than any other: How do I get over the hurt I feel due to my boyfriend watching porn? And you've shared in sobering detail the reasons that's such an important question!
Our hearts go out to both you and your boyfriend. To you because you so badly want to be able to count on him and to trust that he loves you and only you. You want to know that he's committed and not "still in the market" if someone new or "something better" comes along. Our hearts go out to him because he sincerely wants to be the guy you can count on. He wants to reassure you and win your trust and not have that constantly undermined by his previous failings or his current temptations, which he's trying to manage in a way that is respectful of your feelings.
Before I answer your question, please let me point out how much the two of you are doing right. The long talks may be difficult, but all of those conversations you've had have been very valuable and productive. He has come to know your heart and soul as you have expressed yourself to him. You have also come to better understand what goes on inside of him. As difficult as that has been, the two of you have kept talking and kept listening. You've tried to convey and to understand, to persuade and to receive. You've worked through feelings of anger and inadequacy and vulnerability. Instead of letting feelings fester, the two of you have processed through them.
I often marvel at the very gradual, painful meshing and melding of female sexual sensibilities and male sexual hunger. It is such a challenging--but also a beautiful--process that makes for a more lasting and take-your-breath-away amazing relationship than would otherwise be possible. And it comes as we convey to each other what's in our own hearts and respect at a very deep level what our partner has the courage to reveal to us. This, to me, is how we get naked emotionally. And while physical nudity is enough to fuel sexual desire in the short-run, it turns out that only this emotional nudity can sustain desire over the long haul to create great sex between partners who are monogamous for decades.
As important as it is to discuss and share to the point of emotional nudity, it sounds like there is a growing sense of exasperation that the two of you have to keep rehashing this topic. Especially on his part, but it sounds like you're growing weary of this focus, too. But how do you let it go when his struggles with lust spark within you terror at the threat of infidelity--and ultimately abandonment--by the very one who means the most to you in all the world!
To begin to change the dynamic, could you express that to him more? Could you put less emphasis on his lusting over teens and more emphasis on why this bothers you? Because of how deeply important he is to you, how much the relationship means to you? (Learn more about how to go about this in our book, Love You, Hate the Porn.)
To even further diminish this issue as a wedge, the two of you can work alongside each other, developing similar skills to handle your parallel struggles. Interestingly enough, one way for him to manage his immature tendency toward lust is awfully similar to the way you can manage your tendency to obsess about his lust. It's called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. Your boyfriend can learn more about applying it to lust in this video on how to stop porn addiction by managing cravings and urges, but I'll explain the gist of it here, too.
Let's start with how you can apply ACT to get your mind back from the insecurities that hound you and haunt you. When compelling thoughts come up, you don't have to buy into them OR fight them. You don't have to get caught up in a frenzy of, "Those attractions mean he could run off anytime with some young girl who turns his head! Aaaahh!" But you also don't have to beat yourself up for being concerned. You can simply acknowledge that the concern popped in and choose to step back from it. You can see it as something that is coming from your mind--but you are not your mind! Because you are not your mind and are not at the mercy of your mind, you can develop a different relationship with the concern. It doesn't have to drive you, but by the same token you don't have to overpower it or bury it or dismiss it or fight it. You are in the driver's seat. You may not have control over what pops into your mind, but you get to choose how you'll respond to it and what actions you'll take. You get to decide what to do with the concern when it does pop up. You can entertain it and let it keep playing scenes on the screen of your brain of your boyfriend leaving you for someone younger, but that is a choice. You can sort through how things have been between the two of you, weighing the evidence that you can count on his fidelity against the evidence that he can't be trusted. But you could also move on with whatever you were in the middle of doing, as hard as that may sound when such a big concern has just popped into your mind. You could go back to focusing on the meeting you're in or scenery you were enjoying on your walk. You could determine to sort through it more later, at a specific, given time. You could thank your mind for presenting you with the concern, since it underscored for you how important your relationship with your boyfriend is. As challenging as it may be to focus again on the other, less compelling aspects of life you were in the middle of, it's worth doing. This is how our minds become less laser-focused on problems and more able to see them in the context of all the good things that are going on in our lives. This is one aspect of how we heal and how worries about our partner's commitment and faithfulness come to dominate our minds and hearts less and less over time. It's how we shrink the footprint of the problem in our lives.
Now let's address how your boyfriend can apply ACT to stay in the driver's seat of his life when the desire to lust over young women hits him. When those thoughts come up, he doesn't have to buy into them OR fight them. He doesn't have to get caught up in a frenzy of, "The appeal of young, attractive bodies means that's what I really want in life! I'm with the wrong woman! Aaaahh!" But he also doesn't have to beat himself up for being attracted. He can simply acknowledge that the appeal popped in and choose to step back from it. He can see it as something that is coming from his mind--but he is not his mind! Because he is not his mind and is not at the mercy of his mind, he can develop a different relationship with that attraction. It doesn't have to drive him, but by the same token he doesn't have to overpower it or bury it or dismiss it or fight it. He is in the driver's seat. He may not have control over what pops into his mind, but he gets to choose how he'll respond to it and what actions he'll take. He gets to decide what to do with the attraction when it does pop up. He can entertain it and let it keep playing scenes on the screen of his brain of "If I were younger...", but that is a choice. He can sort through the realities of his life, weighing the quality of life he enjoys in a committed relationship with an attractive, mature woman against the fleeting pleasures and hellish drama that would go with chasing young women at his age. But he could also move on with whatever he was in the middle of doing, as hard as that may sound when such a compelling desire has just popped into his mind. You could go back to helping the teenagers have fun at the birthday party or how great it feels to going all out at the gym. He could determine to sort through it more later, at a specific, given time. He could thank his mind for presenting you with the attraction, since it underscored for him how important sexuality and a healthy sexual relationship with you is. As challenging as it may be to focus again on the other, less compelling aspects of life he was in the middle of, it's worth doing. This is how our minds become less laser-focused on lust and more able to see urges and cravings in the context of all the good things that are going on in our lives. This is one aspect of how we mature and how lust comes to dominate our minds and hearts less and less over time. It's how we shrink the footprint of the problem in our lives.
Liz, you might also want to check out this post: "I Discovered My Boyfriend Looks at Porn and It Still Hurts"--How to Heal Betrayal Trauma.
As you two work together to heal, please keep in touch! We want to know how it's going for you individually and with your boyfriend. We're rooting for both of you and for your relationship.
Readers, what suggestions do you have for Liz? For her boyfriend?