Acceptable Pornography?

My husband looks at pornography and says I'm the problem.

Question

My husband enjoys looking at pornography. His excuse is that I am the problem. He says I should know he loves me, and besides, he’s just looking, not touching. He says he’s only doing what other normal men do. I try to keep myself attractive for him, exercise to keep fit, and please him sexually. Am I crazy for wanting my husband to look only at me naked?

Answer

You are not crazy! Pornography is one of the most hotly debated issues facing marriage today. There are many angles to address your question. We could discuss the Biblical reasons why pornography is harmful to your marriage. We could focus on the mountains of research which have documented the damage of pornography. We could debate how turning to pornography may cause some people to withdraw from their relationships because they receive instant gratification from their fantasies. We could point out how guilt, mistrust and anger about pornography can tear a marriage apart. But actually, we want to go in a different direction. There are at least two underlying issues that must be addressed. Instead of focusing on getting your husband to stop looking at pornography and making “pornography” the issue, we want to encourage you to focus on the real underlying issues.

First, what is really going on for your husband? We have worked with hundreds of couples who deal with pornography or actual affairs, and the real issue is never the affair or the pornography. The real issue is, what are the needs that he is trying to meet through pornography? Don’t be fooled by his excuses or by dealing with “surface” issues. You listed a bunch of surface issues: you are the problem, you should just “know” he loves you, he’s only just looking and not touching, normal men do this, or keeping yourself attractive for him. Talking or arguing about these things is a total waste of time because they are not the real issues. Again, instead of focusing on these things, try to understand what is driving his behavior. It would be important, however, to lay aside your judgment and replace it with curiosity. If your husband feels you are asking about the real issues so you can judge them or him, he’ll probably shut down or continue to defend or excuse his behavior.

Second, we encourage you to be clear about what is getting set off in you. We imagine that your husband looking at pornography pushes some very hurtful buttons in you. The question is, what are the buttons? Do you feel devalued, rejected, helpless, defective, inadequate, unloved, worthless, or something else? How does his behavior make you feel about yourself? Once you identify what is really going on for you when he looks at pornography, then that is what is worth talking about. Again, if you focus on surface issues like trying to keep yourself attractive, exercising, keeping fit, and pleasing him sexually, you will miss the underlying issue for you. The surface stuff is debatable, but your feelings are not. The fact that you may feel inadequate, worthless, or unloved is worth talking about. And hopefully, it is worth you and your husband caring about—caring about what is really going on down deep for both of you.

Finally, the other issue that must be addressed is that it sounds like you feel you “lose” every time your husband looks at pornography. Here’s the problem if you feel like you are losing within your marriage. Marriage partners are functionally on the same team. As with all team sports, when on the same team you either win as a team or lose as a team. There is no such thing as a win/lose outcome. When we opt for the win/lose approach, however, we don’t really get one winner and one loser. In fact, we wind up with two losers. We get not a win/lose, but a lose/lose. There is no such thing as a win/lose in a marriage. It’s either a win/win or a lose/lose.

Everybody wins or everybody loses, period. There is no other option.

Pornography is one of those areas which easily becomes locked in a futile win/lose struggle. Whose preferences will prevail and dominate the relationship? Who is going to get their way when it comes to questionable pictures or movies? What kinds of things can we view?

When couples compete over issues like pornography, it doesn’t take long for friction to develop. If spouses can commit themselves to a “No Losers Policy,” they are released from the need to defend their territory, and are more likely to keep dialog going toward finding win/win resolutions to their differences in sexual preferences and interests. The “No Losers Policy” means spouses commit themselves to win/win outcomes when confronted with conflict, knowing that the only other alternative is that both lose. This means you must find and implement a solution that both people feel good about. We encourage you to explain that him viewing pornography is a “lose” for you, therefore, he loses because you are on the same team. Make a commitment to your husband that you want to find a solution to this issue that both of you feel good about.

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