Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged By Virtual Infidelity (Bookshelf eBook)(edit)
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How does pornography harm a marriage?
“It may be cybersex, but it can feel like real infidelity to your partner,” says authors Mark Chamberlain and Geoff Steurer. “There's nothing virtual about the damage pornography does to a relationship.”
The good news is that the marriage itself can be a couple's most powerful tool in healing in a pornography habit. This helpful, informative, and insightful book will help couples learn how to harness that strength to make their marriages more fulfilling than they ever imagined possible.
Love You, Hate the Porn helps couples draw together when pornography is threatening to tear them apart.
- Shows couples how to identify and address vulnerabilities in their relationship.
- Offers healing advice for spouses.
- Provides help for the struggling partner to avoid relapse.
- Focuses on how to make the marriage relationship strong than it was before.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 186
- Published: March 2011
- Book on CD: Unabridged
About the Authors
Mark Chamberlain, PhD, received his doctorate from Brigham Young University. He is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of pornography addiction and other impulse-control problems. He and his wife Jenny, live in the Salt Lake City area.
Geoff Steuer, MS, LMFT, received a masters degree in marriage and family therapy at Auburn University. He is a frequent presenter at state and national conferences on the subjects of marriage, sexual addition recover, and other related topics. He and his wife, Jody, are the parents of four children and reside in St. George, Utah.
Throughout her life, Sally had never objected to pornography on moral grounds. She’d always figured it was up to individuals to decide for themselves what they did for entertainment. Recently, however, she’d been developing an objection of a different sort. Rather than moral, it was visceral.
It spread from a sick feeling in her stomach up to a choking heaviness in her chest. It had started several months ago when she’d discovered at three in the morning that she was alone in bed. She’d gotten up to look for Lyle and found him downstairs pausing the DVR and rewinding it again and again to watch a sex scene. She’d stood there in shock, that awful feeling coming in waves up her torso, as she realized that her husband was, in his mind, having sex with that stranger on the screen. She was even more troubled by the fact that he hadn’t even heard her behind him. He never noticed her standing there until she said something to him.
Obviously, he had been in another world. But even worse, he seemed different. She had the terrifying feeling that this was somehow not the man she thought she’d married. “Do I even know you?” she had asked him. “Really know you?”
Lyle had insisted that he’d had no idea how strongly she would react to what he was viewing, that porn meant nothing to him, and that he would gladly and easily avoid it in the future now that he knew how she felt about it. Lyle hadn’t realized how Sally would react, and frankly, neither had she. She was embarrassed that it bothered her so much.
Sally knew what kind of guy Lyle was deep down. After all, she’d watched him with his kids. He was patient with her dogs, who could be a real pain. She’d knelt beside him, handing him tools, on the floor of their elderly neighbor’s bathroom as he repaired her toilet. She’d chosen him because he was a great guy, she kept reminding herself. She wanted to be able to be less bothered by that incident, to get over it and move on in their relationship.
Nonetheless, it had taken Sally a couple of months to sleep soundly through the night again. And her chiropractor was still working on the knot he couldn’t seem to knead out of the base of her neck. Even worse, she no longer threw on sweats in the evening when they both got home from work. She’d added more sit-ups to her workout routine to try to tighten up her abs. She’d even caught herself checking her makeup in the bathroom mirror at nine o’clock at night. What’s gotten into me? she wondered. Rather than enjoying her time with Lyle, she felt like she was performing in an effort to hold his interest. She finally admitted to herself that she now felt locked in a potential contest between her and every porn actress out there for his attention and affection. She might have beaten back the first wave of attack—he was still here with her—but eventual defeat seemed inevitable. After all, just look at me, she would think when she looked at herself in the mirror. She had felt fine about her body a few months ago, but now all she could see was a bundle of flaws. Most disappointing to Sally was the realization that she was more relaxed and felt freer to be herself when she and Lyle were in different rooms of the house. There’d been no horseplay or wrestling or lighthearted teasing for months now.
She felt less secure in their relationship. When Lyle went to a college buddy’s bachelor party, she wondered whether she could trust him. When they were out in public, he seemed focused on the bodies of attractive women. She kept watching him surf through the channels until he found something titillating, and she saw how entranced he got when a sexy or scantily clothed girl came on-screen.
Lyle could tell that Sally was different now, and he kept asking her if she was okay. When she would leave their bedroom at night, he’d eventually come find her and try to talk with her. At first she hardly knew what to ask him for. She didn’t want to be absurd. He wanted to feel close to her again and he kept trying to comfort her, but it felt now to him like she had retreated into a shell.
Finally, when Lyle kept asking and asking what was wrong and if there was anything he could do to help her feel secure again, she acknowledged to him just how deeply she was being affected. “When I think you’re lusting after other women, it rocks me to the core. I get scared that I’m going to lose you to someone else. I can’t take that. You know how much you matter to me. I can’t bear that thought. So I have to get some distance between us. I know it sounds crazy, but I pull away to protect myself. When I get so sick inside, I don’t have a choice. It’s better to be apart at those times than to try to be close to you when I know what I’d be competing with.”
Sally felt bad that her insecurities had come between them like this. However, it also felt good that Lyle had persisted in asking her what was wrong, which had convinced her that he really wanted to hear it. Now, having revealed everything, she stood emotionally naked in front of Lyle.
Lyle sat, pondering everything Sally had said. She could tell by the look on his face that he took her feelings seriously. He didn’t seem to think that she was being silly at all. What a tremendous relief.
“Hon,” Lyle finally responded, “we obviously have different reactions to erotic entertainment. After that first incident in the middle of the night I should have gotten it, but I’m a slow learner, I guess. Talking about it again tonight, it’s really sinking in for me how much this hurts you, and that’s the last thing I want. Thanks for not giving up on me. I can see that I need to respect your sensibilities more. I am going to work on it, I promise. I want nothing more than for us to have back the comfort and ease that we used to have with each other.” Lyle walked over, sat next to Sally, took her hand in his, and kissed her on the forehead.
Sally had never shared with anyone her feelings the way she just had with Lyle. She’d been telling herself that she was overreacting, so to have Lyle want to know what was going on inside for her and then commit to honor her feelings was such a relief. “Thank you,” she sighed. “I don’t want this to come between us anymore. I don’t want anything to come between us.”
This was just the beginning for Sally and Lyle, but at least the needed change was beginning to happen. Reaching out, understanding, and connection were taking the place of misunderstanding and separateness.SURVEYING THE DAMAGE
The harm pornography does to relationships has been quantified and measured. Indiana University researchers Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant had research subjects view porn for six weeks; they then compared the subjects’ attitude ratings from before and after. These subjects became less satisfied with their real-life sexual partners, saw monogamy as less desirable and faithfulness to one’s spouse as less important, and were more prone to overestimate the prevalence of less common sexual practices such as group sex, bestiality, and sadomasochistic activity. They even came to perceive victims of sex crimes as suffering less and being less severely wronged. Perhaps most troubling in the context of our discussion, after viewing that amount of pornography, these subjects became more cynical in their attitudes about love and more accepting of the idea that superior sexual satisfaction is attainable without having affection for one’s partner. They were more prone to see marriage as sexually confining and to view raising children and having a family as an unattractive prospect. Since the time of the initial study in the 1970s, these results have been replicated in similar studies (Zillman and Bryant 1988).
As disturbing as these statistically measurable changes in attitude may be, it’s even more chilling to see the effects of pornography in real life. Documentary filmmaker Lance Tracy followed one couple who volunteered for the husband to go through the same experience as the subjects in Zillmann and Bryant’s experiments: six weeks of daily pornography consumption. When we’re introduced to the couple, Debbie and Josh, early in the film, the rapport they share is obvious by their eye contact and the way they joke with each other. Fastforward to the follow-up interview seven weeks later, and things between them appear to have taken a distinct downturn. Perhaps most surprising, Josh doesn’t think that his attitudes or relationship have been affected by the pornography. The sincerity is apparent in his eyes as he says so to Mr. Tracy. As he’s talking, the changes in his ratings flash on-screen, and they’re the very same differences Zillmann and Bryant identified in the studies described above.
Among other changes noted, Josh trusted Debbie less. That’s right: The partner viewing the pornography had less faith in his wife’s commitment and fidelity. Both Josh and Debbie were less satisfied with each other and their relationship. They had less confidence that they would continue in the future as a couple. The film’s director felt so bad about this outcome that he arranged and paid for couples therapy to help this couple try to repair the rift that had developed between them (Tracy, “Adult Entertainment”).
Spouses of those who view pornography compulsively don’t need social scientists or documentary filmmakers to convince them their relationships are being eroded. In one study, the complaints of women who perceived their husbands to be heavily involved in pornography were analyzed, and two dominant themes emerged: First, they observed that their husbands had a decreased sexual desire for them. Second, when they did have sex, the way they were treated left them feeling more like a sex object than a lover, or even a person (Bergner and Bridges 2002).
The wife of one of my clients disclosed to him more than a year after he was porn-free, “At times I haven’t enjoyed sex with you. Sometimes it felt like you didn’t need me because you were getting satisfaction elsewhere. At other times it felt like you were coming to me just for the sex, not out of interest in me. Instead of being an expression of the connection between us, it seemed more mechanical. Then, when you denied that you were back into the porn and yet it felt that way again, I wondered what was wrong with me. It was enough to make me think I was going crazy!” As his wife was wondering what was wrong with her, why didn’t my client recognize her struggle and come to her aid more quickly? Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, commented that one of pornography’s most destructive effects is that it “trains men to become desensitized to women’s pain” (Dines 2010, 74).THE WORST WOUND
Pornography can afflict a couple’s relationship the way a malignant cancer ravages a body. The most devastating thing pornography does is come between a man and woman at the worst times and in the worst way. Right at those moments when a person is struggling and in need emotionally, pornography offers an alternative—a relationship counterfeit. Pornography becomes something that person can go to for soothing and an illusory sense of connection and vitality. And that, perhaps, is pornography’s real virulence, its ultimate price: When he’s going to it, he’s not going to her.
A client recently said to me, “I don’t go to porn when I’m feeling a sexual desire that hasn’t been satisfied. I go to my wife, Ally, for that. It’s when we are struggling as a couple, and I lose hope of being happy together and having a good relationship. That’s when I take that path. When things are going well between me and Ally, it’s like I’m invincible to the urges.” This is often a shocking revelation to most people affected by the impact of pornography. They have assumed that it was only about out-of-control sexual urges. In reality, the pull of pornography results more from unmanaged emotional and relationship pain. Think of it as attempting to meet healthy needs in unhealthy ways.
When we’re feeling raw or emotionally vulnerable, it’s as though the lid is off the emotional superglue for us. We’re primed and ready to bond. We gravitate to things we hope might soothe us, and our nervous system prepares us to connect in a powerful way to whatever it is that “works” to comfort, satisfy, or distract. Having experienced in the past this kind of binding event in a time of need, in the future our minds are likely to recall what we went to for soothing and gravitate back to it when we’re in need.
We are hardwired from birth to seek comfort when we feel distress or pain. This reflex to reach toward soothing happens faster than we can even logically recognize it. It takes about 100 milliseconds for our brain to react emotionally in this way, and yet about 600 milliseconds for our thinking brain, our cortex, to register the reaction. These lightning-quick, subconscious longings for relief and comfort automatically orient us toward activities we’ve experienced as soothing. As a result, our inclinations in such moments of need may result more from conditioning than from choice.
You may, for example, turn on the radio and listen to music. If that doesn’t quite do the trick and you still feel out of sorts, then you’re still emotionally thirsty, and the hunt for a quencher continues. The lid is still off the emotional superglue. Let’s say you then zone out in front of the TV for a while. You may keep sitting and watching, engaged to some degree, an apparent indicator that you might be getting some kind of satisfaction or relief from the process. However, a couple of hours later, when you think about turning it off and turning your attention back to your life, that unsettled, uneasy feeling is sitting right there, waiting. You decide not to hit the power button just yet. Before long, your spouse has gone to bed. The house is silent—everyone but you is sleeping. You’re still surfing the channels. You don’t feel relaxed enough to sleep. You’re not yet wound down. There remains some lingering emotional energy—stirred up, pent up. You still need a release. Your system is still seeking comfort and soothing. The lid is still off the emotional superglue.
Channel after channel after channel after channel, you circle around and around again. There are some titillating advertisements. You start to feel different, more focused and alive. Then you run on to a salacious program. Your attention is riveted. The seduction builds to a sex scene, followed by minimal plot material and then another sex scene. You are in a different world now. The emotional landscape has morphed and you are completely free of the unsettled feeling that was haunting you. You may have other thoughts pestering you, like neon signs along the side of the road, trying to break into your consciousness. Thoughts about how it’s the middle of the night and you really should be sleeping so that you can function more effectively the next day. Thoughts about how you were intending to give up this habit of seeking, viewing, and then masturbating to sexual content on TV and the Internet. But those thoughts don’t stop you now. Once that program is over, you retreat to the bathroom and lock the door. Afterward, you try not to think about anything. Mercifully, your mind remains blank, your inner arousal level finally settling to match the quiet all around you in your home. The emotional and bodily relief is real, even though it’s not the deep comfort you crave. The emptiness may feel a bit yucky, but at least the emotionally jagged feelings have been blunted. You know from experience that tomorrow the guilt about what you’ve just done will creep in, but sleep comes quickly at this point, delivering you from consciousness.
So what happened with the emotional superglue? You did not realize it at the time—or even recognize later what happened—but you certainly experienced the results. You were feeling emotionally raw, and something helped you restore an inner sense of equilibrium. Having had that experience, you are now more emotionally attached to whatever that was. Unfortunately, it was pornography and masturbation. Even more regrettably, it was not opening up to your wife and making an emotional connection to her. It could have been her. It should have been her. But there is a block in your ability or willingness to go to her when you’re in need emotionally.
For many of us, our failure to seek emotional relief within our most important relationship results not only from a lack of ability but also from an ignorance or lack of awareness. We simply may not recognize those initial stirrings, those uneasy feelings as indicators of our need for emotional connection and relationship soothing. And thus we become sitting ducks, much more vulnerable to the pull and hold of pornography.THE DAMAGE DEEPENS
Things will be different after a night like the one just described. The fleeting benefits of porn give way to lingering costs. First, there are physical effects. You’re sleep deprived and exhausted, of course, but there’s even more. Oxytocin is a hormone that calms the nervous system, soothes us emotionally, and helps bond us to our sexual partner. This chemical is most famous for its role in bonding infants to their mothers, since it is released during breastfeeding. However, it is also released in both men and women when we touch, hold, and caress one another. Affectionately known as the “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin is released in abundance after sexual climax. However, researchers have measured a relative void of oxytocin in the bloodstream of individuals who engaged in sex without a partner—those who masturbated to pornography. To be exact, those who had intercourse with their beloved were shown to have 400 percent more oxytocin in their bloodstream. The afterglow of sex with a partner contrasts sharply with the oxytocin-depleted emptiness that follows consumption of porn (Brody and Kroger 2006).
Pornography can be like a drug in its effects, and, like any other addictive drug, it leaves us worse off than it found us. Physically and emotionally, you will likely end up more needy after such a night than you were before. You will be in withdrawal, experiencing the low that always follows a druglike high. This is how tolerance develops—the need to take more of a drug in order to experience the same effect. You want to feel better the next day, too, but now you have further to go in order to feel okay since your experience the day before took you down a few notches. Your body has adjusted to intensity by dampening its response. Your pleasure and contentment chemicals are more depleted than before. Equilibrium will be harder to restore.
Not only are you more in need emotionally, but the best avenue for successfully meeting those needs—your marriage—is even more blocked than it was yesterday. Even if you’ve tried to convince yourself that this behavior had nothing to do with your wife or your relationship with her, masturbating to pornography has unavoidably affected your marriage. The next morning, you’ll feel sheepish at least, get-me-out-of-her-presence ashamed at worst. You’ll be less likely to look her in the eyes. The next time you would benefit from emotional connection and relationship soothing, you’ll be less able to reach out to her. You’ll feel more like dealing with it on your own. And porn will be right there waiting for you. Not as effective, perhaps, as connecting with her, but seemingly safe and certainly less risky emotionally.
For too many, unfortunately, this pattern continues on and on. In everyday life, distressing emotions are always going to keep getting stirred up, leaving us primed and in need of something. As much as we may want to kick the porn habit and turn our lives around, continuing the same course is the path of least resistance.
One of the reasons pornography draws people in and keeps them hooked is that it offers physical and emotional soothing in a way that doesn’t require as much emotional risk as reaching out to a partner would. Opening up about something in their lives that’s painful, disappointing, intimidating, or downright scary is difficult and frightening. And yet the reflex to seek human comfort when emotionally distressed is, as we said, hardwired into every human. Pornography can mimic the experience of being comforted by a loving attachment figure in that it activates some of the same physiological soothing mechanisms. Plus, it’s always available, easy to access, doesn’t require us to be vulnerable, and consistently delivers the desired relief. Of course, the relief too quickly gives way to feelings of shame and guilt, sometimes even self-loathing.
By the time this cycle has gone on in your life for months or years, your appraisal of yourself can be pretty low. It may seem impossible to change. “How could I ever go to her when I’m in need? This huge secret is now a wedge between us, and I can’t talk to her about the porn. If she really knew that it’s been such a big problem for me, she could never accept and love me. In fact, she might just leave me over it.”
The habit is well ingrained and the walls on both sides of the canyon are steep. Every time you struggle emotionally, the lid comes off the emotional superglue once again. Every time you go to pornography, you miss out on the emotional soothing that you could be receiving from your wife. You become more and more attached—bonded, dependent, reliant, and perhaps even addicted—to the pornography habit you’re trying to give up. And all the time you feel less worthy of your wife’s love and less able to go to her about your porn problem or anything else you’re struggling with.
It’s a difficult dilemma: The more you seek out pornography, the more isolated and distressed you become. Your need for real human connection with your wife increases, and yet your ability to go to her for it decreases. You pull away more in secrecy and shame, and the cycle of disconnection from yourself and from her continues.THE POWER OF DRAWING TOGETHER
Once a pornography problem is revealed, either through voluntary disclosure or a spouse’s discovery, the destructive cycle of isolation and addiction can be interrupted. The partners can start to draw together instead of allowing their relationship to continue to be torn apart. She can share with him the distress she has felt over the disconnection that pornography has created or perpetuated. He can learn to recognize when he’s feeling bad and in need of support and develop the habit of going to her at such times.
This is not to say that they will immediately find bliss as a couple. The skill of seeking soothing within the relationship and the process of developing emotional connection are complex and challenging. Spouses take tremendous emotional risks when they move toward each other during such a relational crisis. He feels ashamed and worthless in her eyes. When he reaches out anyway, it’s an act of tremendous courage, one to be admired even when it doesn’t turn out ideally because she’s still hurting so badly. Remember, she’s been feeling betrayed and unloved.
The movements partners make toward each other are often slow and cautious. Drawing together in this way won’t bring the kind of instant gratification and relief pornography promises. Nonetheless, when couples stick with it, the process can work for both partners. Everyday distresses and needs aren’t as problematic as when they drove disconnection and addiction. In fact, they become opportunities for bonding. When emotional arousal is triggered, the lid still comes off the emotional superglue. However, as couples seek each other out, draw together in such key moments, and feel better for having faced a difficult emotion together, their bond deepens and becomes a more and more profound connection over time. They stick together until they’re stuck together in a way that permits nothing to come between them.
This is the kind of relationship a couple can develop even after a pornography problem has done its damage. I’ve seen many couples do it. The rest of the book is about how they’ve achieved it—and how you can too!QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER AND DISCUSS
Some couples wonder if pornography is a problem for them. The following questions can help you determine if pornography is negatively affecting your relationship.
Has the use of the Internet become a problem in our relationship?
Does one of us seem to the other to be overly fascinated or involved with sexually explicit or suggestive videos, pictures, writing, or interacting?
by Customer - reviewed on September 27, 2011
I haven't purchased the book yet, but just reading Chapter 2 that was included on the website was so helpful!! It really describes the feelings I've had and helped me realize that this problem is not all my fault!! Thank you so much for writing this...I know it will help a lot of people dealing with this huge challenge. Las Vegas, NV
Best book I have read for spouses!!
by Customer - reviewed on July 19, 2011
I am the spouse of a recovering sex-addict. He has been in recovery for seven years. However, I have had a hard time healing myself. This book is absolutely perfect for spouses. especially if you have been struggling for many years. I have read 99% of the books on this subject, and I can say unreserved that this is the best one for spouses!!
Validates your feelings and heals your relationship
by Angela - reviewed on August 09, 2012
Best book wife AND HUSBAND too! Read it together; you'll see yourselves described and validated in this book. Read about the couple at the end; you'll want your relationship to heal to be just like theirs. Practice the principles outlined in the book and it will be!