Melissa*, a client in my counselling practice, stated sheepishly that she had a problem with her husband watching porn.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me but when my husband watches porn it makes me feel like I’m not good enough…
She was almost apologetic that she was bringing this to the session – “I know most men do it, so I don’t know why I have a problem with it….” Her sentence trailed off into that familiar grey zone where people question their feelings based on what is expected of them in regards to what is considered ‘a normal part of life’.
It was clear that her body was saying, ‘this does not feel right to me’ and yet the voice in her head was saying ‘c’mon get over it, everyone does it.’
It’s no secret that the use of pornography has become more widespread than ever. Images date back to ancient times with an upsurge occurring in the 1960s. With the advent of the Internet it has not only become a tsunami of imagery but the type and intensity of porn has also changed. The exposure of young people to porn is now more common than ever with children as young as 9 and 10 accessing and in some cases viewing it regularly.
William* came for his first session specifically to talk to me about porn addiction. In recent years this has been increasingly common reason for people to come to the clinic.
He explains that he is not looking at it because he is not satisfied with how his partner looks or what she does or does not do, but for the sheer convenience of being able to look at a screen even for just a few minutes until relief is achieved. Most times this is the primary goal. To obtain a physiological rush that medicates the body as a momentary escape from the emptiness or 'boredom' he feels. Now he gets to relax in the endorphin rush or maybe even go to sleep, a short lived comfort that will soon wear off with the rise of the perpetual underlying tension to return once again, and the cycle continues...
Many men presenting with porn addiction are struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness – even if they are married or in a relationship. First and foremost there is a lack of intimacy, intimacy not in a sexual sense, but in a lack of authentic connection that is felt, with themselves first and then all others.
Often at the start of our sessions they will not see the correlation between this lack of intimacy / connection and the porn use but here is where it is essential for us to go deeper in our understandings for both men and women as to why this is such a growing issue.
It is also important to note that the reason for looking at the issue is not because sex is bad, or porn is bad or because of a moral judgement of any kind. It is because when people are affected by an addiction to porn there is a deeper reason that is worth exploring.
Would anyone substitute genuine affection and love for porn were the two options to be offered to them side by side?
Is it possible that we have given up on true and loving intimacy in our lives?
This then leads us to a much more confronting question than the question of whether porn is ‘good or bad’.
Do we have genuine love and affection in our lives? Do we express it to others? Or have we used our hurts as a reason to stop showing our love to others altogether? Are we merely playing a functional role, a picture of what it is to be in a relationship?
Of course these questions equally apply to both men and women.
For William, his seeking of relief from a relationship and a life in which he was functioning and getting by came in the form of porn addiction. For Melissa* her ‘meekness’ had become a form of withdrawal, a way to ‘take herself out’, with self-talk in which she constantly put herself down, essentially attempting to scale back her true power and beauty. In this eroded state she needed her man and her relationship to define and fulfil her, an impossible ask, and one that her partner had come to see as an invisible pressure that he began to seek escape from.
UNDERSTANDING HAND IN GLOVE DYNAMICS
‘Hand in Glove Dynamics’ – where the insecurities and undealt with issues of one partner seem to perfectly ‘fit’ into the hurts and issues of the other partner are a common occurrence I see in the treatment room.
The key to finding our way out of these interlocking patterns is to look first to a reconnection with our self, to remember our essence. Intimacy and connection with others starts first from our ability to be truly honest and intimate with ourselves.
BEING ‘INSIDE THE DYNAMIC’ vs A BIRDS EYE VIEW
When we are ‘inside the dynamic’ we can only see how the other person is effecting and triggering us. We are sure that if ‘they just changed’ everything would be ok. Blame is a common go-to stance, and justification is a given.
Because it is ‘the other person’s fault’ this is the ultimate disempowerment and what follows is further withdrawal and shut down. There is an over-arching sense of given-up-ness, hopelessness and depression. Something as synthetic and 2-dimensional as porn now becomes an attractive option.
From there we can bring a birds eye view understanding of the whole picture.
We are no longer the victim, we can no longer point the blame.
This is an incredibly empowering and freeing process as we begin to realise that despite the many hurts that we and others might bring to the table they are not ultimately the truth of what defines us.
Could it be that porn was never the real issue but simply a product of supply and demand?
When our relationships with ourselves are fractured, when we are affected by pictures of how we should be in life, but we are not really honouring that which we truly feel, we find ourselves in an ‘intimacy’ wasteland. From here the demand for a quick fix stimulation or distraction is a given. For some, this may look like porn. For others it may be Perfection. Throwing ourselves into working hard to try to prove our selves is also a form of escape from a lack of intimacy with ourselves.
There are many different medications of choice, with none really being any worse or better than any other.
Reconnecting to a deep acceptance of ourselves and a sense of settlement and then looking at our ‘issues’ from this space, (a space that is naturally issue free), is key to understanding that we were never ‘our issues’ to begin with.
The best way to tackle addiction is to look for the underlying driver, it is never talking about the actual addictive substance whether it be cigarettes, porn, alcohol…When the underlying driver is truly healed the addictive behaviour is no longer needed as a medication, and it seems to fall away without ‘will-power’ or attempting to control your behaviour in any way.
With Reconnection comes Honesty
When we first start to reconnect the honesty can be very confronting and feel very uncomfortable and freak us out.
When Melissa found herself expressing her discomfort with the porn use and lack of intimacy in her relationship she had started to take the first steps to establishing a greater honesty with herself and her feelings.
Expressing honestly with your partner
Honesty doesn’t mean ‘hitting your partner over the head with a brick’. Too many times I have heard one half of a couple saying ‘well I was just being honest, deal with it’.
Communicating with love is essential when we are broaching sensitive topics.
As you bring this honesty to your partner, being able to express with an ownership of your feelings and not a ‘blame and attack’ towards the other partner is key.
When we are communicating with a great deal of love and respect we begin to move towards a greater level of intimacy.
And this is the place that most couples trip up.
This is where we learn the difference between communicating from a hurt and communicating from a place of deep intimacy and vulnerability.
WHEN THE WHEELS COME OFF
At this point the wheels can seemingly come off the relationship, as a lot of hurts, false pictures and ways of being are exposed.
It can be very useful to have the support of an objective third party during this stage as the hurts that surface can overwhelm a couple if they don’t have true support navigating this process.
It is important to remember it is a process – it can look like a disaster zone but in fact its not. Whether the relationship continues or dissolves it is about finding the most true and honouring way forward for each party and nobody is left less for the experience.
What is certain is that if you have been living disconnected and in a way that is not true to yourself in your relationships, this is the first ‘false foundation’ that needs to be addressed.
Disclaimer: This period is not necessarily all rainbows and ponies.
If the relationship is a house it can feel like the walls are falling down around you, but in fact this is just the stage before you re-establish true foundations from the ground up.
There is a recalibration stage as you adjust to these new foundations and what follows is a true sense of empowerment and freedom.
Getting to know yourself and your partner all over again.
During the process of ‘deconstruction’ William learnt a lot about himself in our treatment sessions. The tension that kept building and resulting in the overwhelming need to seek relief in porn, was a tension that was originating from a completely different source than he expected.
Every time he didn’t express something that he was witnessing with Melissa, his sensitivity to her working long hours and exhausting herself, his sense that they weren’t connecting in a way that honoured them both. Every time he shut himself down and put a lid on his expression he was creating a ‘pressure-cooker’ situation that would eventually boil over in the relief seeking behaviour. Re-acquainting himself with the details of his care and sensitivity was a process but one that became key in his self-understanding and ultimately his acceptance of the super aware and tender man that he naturally was.
For Melissa this new found sensitivity was more confronting than she thought.
William’s tenderness was welcomed but also confronting, she began to see the ways in which she was working herself to fulfil an impossible picture of perfection and in the process leaving nothing, no richness and no nurturing for the relationship. Life had become functional at the expense of her body. And this was the body she was bringing to the relationship – one that felt empty.
For Melissa, learning to love and appreciate herself without needing to finish a to-do list, or be there for every client at every moment of the day, was the key to her returning to the sass and vivaciousness that her partner had originally fallen in love with.