Pornography has been a topic of increased focus for the last decade. As the internet has come to dominate our lives and various forms of pornography have become more accessible, scholars and the general public have struggled with fully understanding the short and long-term effects of increased pornography use and exposure.
A recent study by Doran and Price found that adults who had viewed pornography in the last year "were more likely to be divorced, more likely to have an extramarital affair, and less likely to report being happy with their marriage or happy overall."
While we should be careful with making blanket statements like "everyone that watches porn will have a horrible marriage," these types of research findings underscore the important relationship issues that arise from repeated pornography use by one or both partners.
Unfortunately, there are many who not only view pornography occasionally, but struggle with pornography use as a very real compulsive addiction. This type of behavior can lead to lying to one's partner or other harmful relationship behaviors.
So what if you're the spouse who has found out that your partner has been struggling with compulsive behaviors centered on pornography? How can you respond in ways that will help, not hurt the situation or your relationship?
Sometimes the response that individuals get from their partners regarding their pornography use does nothing but drive a wedge in their relationships. Below is one common mistake and some suggestions on how to respond to a partner who uses pornography in ways that does not undermine your relationship.
What NOT to do: Seek outside validation or air your complaints to the world
Consider this exchange on social media:
Young married woman posting on Facebook: HELP! I just found out my husband has looked at porn. My husband has a porn addiction. I feel like I can't trust him anymore. He is a monster, and he has been cheating on me with this smut. What do I do????
Online friends commenting: You deserve better! He IS a monster! Give him an ultimatum: it's you or the porn.
Unfortunately, exchanges like this are becoming more and more common. Regular porn use can be a damaging thing in many relationships, and feelings of betrayal and hurt are valid and reasonable for many people, especially if such use was unknown.
However, slandering a partner with strangers online shuts down effective communication. The same as with any other negative behavior, berating the individual who is struggling, or handing them ultimatums will only close any remaining communication that was left.
Name-calling also has no room in a relationship, even when you are upset. Rather, relationships improve when spouses approach each other with specific and reasonable complaints, instead of using blanket statements to attack personality or character.
With the expansion of social media, people seem less concerned about the necessity for being discreet in relationships. There are things that deserve to be private, and the struggles and vices of a spouse are number one on the list of things that do not need to be disclosed online. As soon as others are invited to comment on the turmoils of a relationship, biases appear. Friends who do not know both partners give their insight on only one side of the story, further alienating one partner from the other.
What to do: Problem-solve and tapping resources
Instead of publicly posting on social media or name-calling, talk directly to your partner about your concerns. Avoid being judgemental and seek to understand your partner's point of view.
But what if your partner's behaviors are showing signs of true addiction? If this is the case, often simply talking about concerns is no longer enough and additional steps need to be taken. Here are some effective things that can be done to engage with a partner using pornography in an addictive or compulsive way:
1. Help them identify the problem, and the times and places it emerges
When is the urge to engage/to use/to lapse into the addiction most likely to appear?
2. Find ways to help your partner avoid those times and those things
If they are unavoidable, set-up a check-in system with your partner. Be the person tehy can come to and talk to when the urge to use arises.
3. Accept that the behaviour probably won't stop forever the first time
There will probably be slip-ups, but if you allow one slip up to destroy your resolve to continue improving, you will never come out on top. Keep moving forward.
4. Establish an open dialogue about how your spouse is improving
Ask them about their temptations and how they are overcoming them. Be someone who they can come to when they struggle or lapse. Do NOT avoid the issue or make them feel judged if they talk to you.
5. Seek professional help if needed
When in doubt, find a therapist you can both trust and rely on. They are trained, they are licensed, and they can give support to both you and your spouse no matter the issue.
Pornography use does not need to lead to divorce or an unhealthy relationship, so long as there is communication, hard work, and possible forgiveness on both sides. Try taking our RELATE assessment for additional tips on where you and your partner could be more understanding of one another.
The Relate Institute is a not-for-profit organization that revolves around the aim of distributing the Relate Assessment - the most comprehensive premarital/marital assessment available - to as many couples and individuals as we can reach. We believe that all may benefit from assessing personal strengths and weaknesses as relationship partners, and work to help make relationship success a reality.