As a sex and relationship therapist, I have recently seen a very significant increase in partners coming in devastated after finding out their significant other has a serious problem with pornography.
This is becoming more and more of a problem in relationships, so if you feel that your partner may have a porn addiction, you are not alone.
Many people report feeling betrayed, disgusted and devastated after finding out the depth of a partners issues. This is often just as quickly followed up with “but everything else is great” or “I know they really love me”.
Often this is true; they probably are great, and they are struggling with a problem that is taking a toll on them, you and your relationship. The constant need to justify or make excuses for our partners though, is what keeps us in negative cycles where we are hurt again and again.
Like other addictions, an intense pornography problem does not just hurt the person, it hurts everyone in their life. The likelihood that you have suffered negative impacts and pain from this problem is almost guaranteed. Let’s look at six ways that pornography is likely impacting you and your relationship, and then talk about some ways to strengthen you and set appropriate boundaries.
1. Your sex life is suffering.
Your sex life is diminished or gone away entirely. When you do have sex, the connection is not there, and they do not seem present.
For men, this may show up as erectile dysfunction or struggles to perform like he used to. This often leaves partners wondering what they are doing wrong. They often start questioning themselves and whether they are attractive enough, skinny enough, fun enough and so on.
2. Their tastes have changed.
They have developed different attractions to things that they were not interested in before. These may be things that you are uncomfortable with or are not interested in. They may be more demanding, aggressive and rough in bed.
3. They are more withdrawn and detached.
In general, you feel that they are withdrawing. The connection you once had is no longer lit and it feels like they are detached and distant.
This is a painful issue for a partner to handle and can be even more painful because it’s hard to put your finger on and describe when someone is being detached. They may turn it on you when you try to describe this to them, saying you are being needy or emotional.
4. They are more critical of you.
This may be most noticed in bed, but likely it is happening overall as well.
People who are heavily into pornography tend to objectify their partners and are much more critical. This leaves you feeling bad about yourself and feeling that nothing you do or try is good enough. This is very damaging to a person’s psyche and self-esteem.
5. They are spending a lot of time online.
You find that your partner is spending way more time online, especially late at night or at odd times. They are not sitting next to you and doing this, but are isolating themselves and spending a lot of time alone. This can feel like a betrayal in itself, as a partner may feel that the computer is being chosen over time with them.
6.They are more secretive.
You notice that your partner is very protective and secretive with their devices and is careful not to leave anything open or unguarded. You may be catching them in more lies or they may become very defensive when confronted, even about seemingly small things.
So now what? You know that your partner has a problem and you’re starting to see the ways that it is negatively impacting you. So what do you do?
The three main things you can do are set boundaries, understand and change your negative cycles and take care of yourself.
1. Set boundaries.
Unfortunately, you cannot make someone change or overcome an addition. You can be supportive and set clear boundaries for yourself and what you are willing to give as well as what you need to receive. Partners often give so much to try and help the person struggling that they end up with nothing left.
Setting clear boundaries and expectations for yourself will not only keep you sane and grounded, but it will help them as well. This does not mean that we give ultimatums or threats—that does not create real change. This also doesn’t mean that we put up with anything that they do or say. Set boundaries for you and your relationship with care and then hold to them. Setting a boundary and then moving or changing it when it is crossed is not really setting a boundary and will only set you up for more pain.
2. Change your negative cycle.
Many couples in this situation are unknowingly going through the abuse cycle, even if it’s to a mild degree. After they relapses again or you find something your partner’s been trying to hide, there is often a blow up. They may become defensive, angry, blame something or someone else, makes excuses or turn it on you so you feel that you did something wrong, aren’t good enough, aren’t helpful enough etc.
After this there usually is some sort of reconciliation: they apologize, promise they will get help, promise they are serious this time and tell you how much they love and appreciate you. Some people instead harden at this stage and say things to the effect of “I’m not making you stay.” This is often effective in making the partner stay because they are now thinking of why they want to stay and how much they care about the relationship. After the reconciliation there is a honeymoon period where everything is great and happy (or at least back to baseline) until they relapse or act out again and you are back in the same cycle.
This cycle can be emotionally taxing at the least and abusive at the worst. It is intensely stressful and can make you feel like you’re going crazy. Take some time to look at your cycle and identify if this is something that is damaging and needs to be changed.
3. Take care of yourself
This is really the only thing you have total control over. Maybe this means seeing a therapist and getting some support, spending time with friends, reading or getting back into a class or activity you enjoy. Whatever it is, take some time to do something for you and fill your own cup. This will make you feel better, less stressed and better able to cope with all areas of life. This will also leave you with more energy to give back to your relationship and supporting your partner.
Author: Diana Baldwin
Editor: Erin Lawson