Watching Porn is a Bad Adaptation to Marital Dissatisfaction

Porn Addiction

Pornography and Relationships: For Better or Worse?

Originally written by David H. Jacobs, Ph.D., revised and edited by Practical Recovery Staff

Man on laptop at night, concept of technology addiction

I’ve repeatedly read that the internet is most frequently used for viewing pornography. This leads me to believe that a lot of people, presumably mostly men, are viewing porn. All the men who have come to me for help with an internet porn addiction have one thing in common: their wives (sometimes girlfriends) have caught them looking at porn. This, in turn, created a relationship crisis. The woman’s position is that the man must immediately seek treatment and end the behavior, while the position of the man is that the only way to end the relationship crisis is to immediately seek treatment. As you can see, these two positions are very different.

Two Sides

The men I talk to, the men sitting with me because they have made a habit of watching porn and their wife or girlfriend has busted them, do not generally regard watching porn as an intrinsically terrible thing or as a betrayal of their wife or girlfriend. Quite differently, the wives and girlfriends certainly feel rejected and betrayed. However, what the men readily see is that their wife or girlfriend can’t live with it and they cannot go on watching porn if they want the relationship to survive. There may be a certain amount of guilt and shame, but it may not run deep.

The Relationship Between Porn and Marital Problems

As I talk with these men about the pros and cons of their marital relationship, it usually emerges that a habit of watching porn goes along with serious, persistent and unresolved issues in their marriage. Watching porn has become an adaptation to unresolved marital conflict and dissatisfaction, which, typically, is not even discussed in the relationship. Watching porn has become a way to withdraw and adapt to their dissatisfaction. It has become a way to endure the marital status quo. It might be said that in this sense it serves as a marriage-maintenance function. But at the same time it solidifies withdrawal, isolation and emotional distance. It also drains time, energy and interest away from their marriage. For these reasons, it harms the marriage and, in the long run, renders it less likely to survive as a viable emotional connection. This is surely not what the men actually want. Getting busted is humiliating, but it can create an opportunity to get into therapy and discuss the personal and marital issues that are causing damage and not being addressed.

As marital issues are discussed in therapy, it inevitably emerges that there is a connection between present relationship difficulties and pre-marital issues and tendencies. It would be remarkable if this were not the case because the individual brings all of his history and personal issues into marriage. It is very difficult to compartmentalize or keep up a front in any long-term relationship. After a while, one’s whole personality, good and bad, emerges in marriage. Marriage does not generally cure pre-marital personal problems; rather, one’s long-term personal and relationship issues are integrated into the marital relationship. This is a common theme that often emerges during the discussions I have with my clients.

Much to the client’s dismay, he often comes to realize that his marital problems cannot be simply blamed on his spouse’s problematic personality. However, a motivated client will see this as an opportunity to seriously address his own personal issues that work against marital satisfaction. It is up to the client as to how he wants to proceed: should he resolve to work on his personal issues or should he flee when confronted with the need to do this difficult work? His choice makes a big difference in the long run.

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