Pornography – Avoiding the Feelings of Betrayal and Pain
One reason that some partners have strong reactions to pornography use concerns the circumstances under which it happens. If these circumstances were different, the partner’s reactions could be different. If you want to keep using pornography and your partner might not want that, what can you do?
Robert and Claire
Let’s take a fictional couple, Robert and Claire, as an example.
Robert has used pornography ever since he was in his late teens. He didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, so he used it to masturbate because he was experiencing a strong level of sexual desire. However, Robert mainly used pornography to reduce the stress of study and as something that created a private world for him. He found that it also helped him wind down and go to sleep. Robert’s never talked about his pornography use to anyone; he thinks his friends might do it too, but no one talks about it.
In his early 20s, Robert had a couple of girlfriends, but none were very serious. Robert kept using pornography when he seeing these girls.
The wonderful days
When Robert started going out with Claire, their relationship was really meaningful and they both found their sex life very fulfilling. Robert stopped using pornography, partially because he wanted to respect Claire but also because he was getting his sexual needs met. Because the relationship was going well, he also experienced very low levels of stress and so he didn’t need pornography to help manage stress.
Robert thinks he may have mentioned to Claire that used pornography but they never talked about it; he felt uncomfortable mentioning it and she seemed quite uncomfortable with the subject too so neither was in a hurry to bring it up again.
Robert and Claire’s relationship progressed. They get married and have a family. Along with the family, there is increased pressure on both of them to make more money and their time together is reduced. Robert is working long hours and often has to work in the evening at home. Claire is very involved with the kids and they’re very draining. Their sense of romance and their sex life has dwindled to something very infrequent.
Turning back to porn and the discovery
Along the way, Robert’s gone back to using pornography. Just like when he was young, he finds it helpful to manage his stress. He also finds it clears his mind after a difficult day and gives him something that’s truly just his own. He hasn’t mentioned this to Claire and he suspects she wouldn’t approve. They are arguing a bit now as well.
Robert is usually quite careful about deleting his history on the computer after using pornography, but not on this occasion. Claire discovers that he’s been using it. She is shocked and bewildered. Claire wonders about what’s happened, is concerned that it might be because she isn’t very interested in sex at the moment. She wonders if Robert’s not interested in her anymore. The girls that he looks at on the Internet don’t look anything like her; they look quite young. She wonders how old they are. She feels hurt and betrayed – for her, it’s like he has been with another women.
Robert is horrified at being discovered – this was a private part of his life that he hopes to keep secret. He’s deeply embarrassed about this, but this shame is hard for him to talk about. Now that they have children, Claire is concerned that they will also be exposed to pornography. Claire is insistent that the porn has to go and Robert agrees to stop using it.
Things go back to normal but Robert, in time, goes back to pornography.
When Robert’s discovered again – as he inevitably must be – Claire is angry and hurt. She wonders about Roberts commitment to her. “he knows how I feel, why does he keep doing it?” She wonders what else he is keeping secret. Old feelings of being abandoned and betrayed, ones she thought were long dead, rush back in. She feels she is losing her safety with Robert. Robert promises to not use pornography again.
It goes well for a while but after several months, Robert has had extreme pressure at work and has used pornography again. Claire, now very wary, guesses what’s up. She confronts Robert; Robert can’t deal with the consequences, so he lies. He can’t live with the lie and then confesses everything. This is when, in a state of despair and anguish they decide to seek some professional help. This is where I step in. At this point, there’s very little alternative except to help Robert stop using pornography for the sake of his marriage.
Walking a different path
But it could have gone differently. Let’s say that right at the start of their relationship, Robert tells Claire that he uses pornography. She’s a shocked and surprised, but she loves Robert and everything about him. She encourages him to tell her why he uses it. Robert’s uncomfortable with the conversation but warms to her interest when he sees that she’s trying not to judge. He tells her why he uses pornography and he stresses to her how much he loves her and how he doesn’t use it as an alternative to a relationship with her. Their relationship is going really well so Claire finds it easier to believe what Robert is saying. She doesn’t much like it, but she knows how much Robert loves her – she can feel it.
Robert and Claire come to an agreement. Claire is okay that Robert looks at pornography from time to time but she just wants to be kept informed of what he is looking at. Robert agrees to that, and as the years go on, he continued to use pornography but he doesn’t use it as much as he might have. The relationship with Claire is good and he feels close to her; they can communicate and he doesn’t feel like he has to have many secrets from her.
Robert knows that the thing that makes the biggest difference for him is his relationship to Claire.
He slowly realises that she is ultimately the source of his comfort and stress relief. He also becomes aware that now, rather than the sex that he was interested in when he was younger, he is much more interested in developing intimacy with her. Whilst he can – and does – still use pornography, he finds that generally he doesn’t really much want to. It’s not that important.
Getting on the front foot
If things are unfolding for you on the first path, then all is not lost. The options you will have will depend on what has happened; if you have been discovered, how often and under what circumstances. In general, however, you will get the best outcome if you are the one who initiates change.
If this describes your situation, I offer individual counselling and couples counselling in Richmond in Sunbury. Initial consultations are free. We can use the time to explore your situation and to work out where to go from here.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about Riding Out Your Temporary Desires.
(Thanks to Joe Kort whose writing helped me clarify these ideas)
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