When Jenny discovered her husband Tom was visiting porn sites on the internet, trust was broken, and their relationship was suddenly on the rocks.
That’s when she cried out for help.
Jenny’s desperate cry is shared by many married partners today.
Although “internet pornography addiction” does not officially exist as a mental health disorder, recents studies are showing more and more of the effects of its compulsive nature.
One survey revealed 73% of women and 98% of men used internet pornography in the last six months (Daspe, Vaillancourt-Morel, Lussier, Sabourin, and Ferron 2018).
According to an earlier study, 17 percent of pornography users are compulsive, leading to distress and dysfunction (Cooper, Delmonico & Berg, 2000).
Is all pornography bad?
Arguments go back and forth over whether all pornography is has ill effects, and some experts are proposing that there may be some benefits to viewing porn in certain situations.
I know of relationship coaches who tell wives they should be grateful that their husband chose pornography when that choice kept them from an affair.
But many wives I talk to feel that sexual fantasy with an image IS an affair. An affair of the heart even though the social consequences may be not as severe.
A friend of mine, who considers herself a modern and progressive woman, shared her opinion with me that, “We should keep an open mind about pornography”.
This was fine and good until her husband started using pornography. Suddenly she had mixed feelings and admitted she was jealous.
There is growing evidence that suggests that pornography robs a couple of the potential of a more satisfying sexual relationship.
Studies have also shown that internet porn use may mis-wire reward circuits of the brain causing sexual dysfunction and reinforcing dependence on porn. For men, lower sexual satisfaction correlated with greater frequency of porn use (Park et al., 2016).
Some successful female porn stars claim they entered the profession fully conscious of what they were doing, and that there have been no ill effects in their lives.
Yet experts tell us that for every successful porn star, there are thousands of young girls lured or forced into the industry whose lives are destroyed.
But Chuck, women are more liberated today, and society is more sexually liberated. Right?
And yet internet porn almost always promotes male domination and female subjugation.
According to Ron Gavrieli, boys and men (btw, he claims 90% of 12 year old boys watch internet porn) are programmed to believe that their value resides in a large penis and an eternal erection.
Women are portrayed as objects just to please men.
While viewing pornography, nothing is learned of what it means to be truly connected with an intimate partner in the kind of long term relationship that gives you the real approval you need.
You learn nothing about a relationship that gives you the lasting feelings of full-aliveness you’ve longed for all your life.
And on top of that pornography doesn’t teach your how to have a mutually satisfying sex life no matter what hardware you possess.
Studies of the brain tell us that just surfing the internet itself might be addicting. Everytime you click on a link or respond to a social media notification you get a shot of dopamine. That’s why we keep doing it.
Add pornographic images to that mix, and the result is a supercharged release of dopamine that causes the brain to respond in the same way it would if you were using a drug like cocaine or heroin.
The result over time is decreased grey matter, decreased motivation, significant feelings of loneliness, the loss of contentment in the everyday normal things that used to bring joy. Those things just don’t make you happy any more.
In many cases this results in more dependence on pornography.
In this article, it’s not my purpose to debate the issue in the broad context. I’m concerned with its effect on you as a couple.
Based on Jenny and Tom’s story, I’d like for us to consider four steps that can help us overcome the effects of internet porn in our relationship.
1. Identify the real problem
Tom and Jenny discovered was that pornography was not Tom’s problem. Viewing porn was a behavior Tom was using to medicate and mask his real problem.
And what was the problem?
It was Tom’s need for approval.
Pornography was the way Tom was trying to satisfy his deeper need for approval.
Whenever Tom felt rejected by Jenny, old feelings of rejection from his dad would be triggered, and he would feel depressed. Whenever he got depressed, he looked for something to make him feel better.
One night, during an argument with Jenny, he left their bedroom and went to the living room sofa where he opened his lap top. In just a few clicks he found himself feeling much better.
The rush of dopamine that came as he viewed dozens of pornographic images brought immediate feelings of relief from his pain. He was hooked. This became a regular pattern.
This “illusion of acceptance” he experienced through porn turned out to be a cheap substitute for what he really needed. It became increasingly apparent, because every time he used porn, he always felt even emptier afterwards than he did before.
What he most needed was to feel Jenny’s approval. To be connected with her in an intimacy that would meet this deep need for approval. This would, in effect, eliminate the need for a substitute.
2. Close the “exits” you’re BOTH taking from each other
Internet porn can be an “exit” from intimacy with your partner.
Tom said his lack of intimacy with Jenny was one of the reasons he took this “exit” from the relationship.
But then he admitted that porn became the place he went instead of turning to Jenny for what he needed.
It was important for Tom to close this exit, and seek to have his needs met through a deeper connection with Jenny.
Keep in mind in these kinds of situations, both partners are taking “exits” from the relationship.
In Jenny’s case, it wasn’t pornography or an affair.
It was a focus on their children whenever she didn’t feel connected with Tom. That’s not bad in itself, but it was her “exit” from their relationship.
These exits were keeping them from getting the love they needed from each other.
3. Build an intimate connection with each other
Through a tool called The Commitment Dialogue, both Tom and Jenny agreed to close their exits from their relationship in order to spend more time together building closeness with each other. (Download your copy of this tool by clicking on the link.)
Tom made a commitment to not use pornography as an exit.
Rather, he would use Safe Conversation skills to “talk it out” rather than “act it out” everytime he felt the need to go to a porn website.
Tom realized, that through this connection with Jenny, his deeper need for approval could be met, thus eliminating the need for porn.
In the same process, Jenny made a commitment to close her exit as well in the interest of a closer relationship with Tom.
Instead turning to their children to escape the pain of the disconnection she felt, Jenny committed to move toward Tom.
She pledged to work with him to build the kind of safety that would help her feel more connected, more sexually alive, and more available to him.
So after closing the exits, they began building closeness with each other.
4. Ask for what you need from each other
In the context of a safe and connected relationship, asking for what you need becomes a powerful tool.
Tom realized that Jenny was not a mind reader. She had no idea of his need for approval. And she was never aware of when this need drove him to pornography.
Therefore it became important for Tom to become conscious of his feelings, and to ask for what he needed from Jenny rather than letting his feelings drive him back to the internet.
Tom’s freedom didn’t come from just getting rid of pornography. It came when he dealt with those feelings of rejection.
This happened when he became proactive, asking Jenny for things that made him feel loved and accepted.
As a result Tom became more equipped to handle any rejection he experienced at work or in other areas of life.
This is how marriage, when done well, can become a great source of healing you need.
What about you?
Feeling disconnected in our relationship can make us vulnerable to powerful exits like internet porn.
It can became a dangerous compulsion, because it gives us an escape from reality and a false sense of approval. Whenever we have an approval deficit, we can become compulsive seekers of whatever makes us feel approved, even if it is a fantasy.
Is this kind of thing happening in your relationship?
If so, let me encourage you to take some time to read this article with your partner, and talk openly and honestly about it together.
Then follow Tom and Jenny’s lead by taking these four steps to reconnect with each other, and to rid yourself of the problem of internet porn.