Fixing Families

Tools for walking the intergenerational tightrope

The Relationship Side of Porn

Forget the power struggle—believe that you are both right

So here is how it often goes. The couple has started couples therapy together and somewhere around the third session one of them says (usually the woman but not always) that she is worried about her partner’s internet porn problem. Here’s the common responses from both sides: 

The Distressed Partner: 

  • He has an addiction.
  • It’s not about the porn, it’s the secrecy that bothers me—why can’t he tell me?
  • I was wondering why he was always on the computer—he’s preoccupied and it takes real time away from me and / or our family
  • It feels like he is having an affair. 

 

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The Interneting Partner: 

  • What problem? I don’t have a problem.
  • This is none of your business—this is something that I do that has nothing to do with you.
  • This is about you—we haven’t had sex / affection for years—what do you expect?
  • This is not an affair—it’s online and I’m not chatting (or not very much).
  • Sure I don’t tell you about it —I’m afraid that you’ll react the same way you’re reacting right now.

What happens next is that both sides are trying to convince the other guy or me whose reality is right—that he is addicted, that it is about the lack of sex. It quickly turns into a power struggle with one person needing to come out on top, sometimes peppered with ultimatums: Stop and get help or else! Give me affection and I have a reason to stop! Try focusing on me for a change not just yourself! Stop harping on me about this! This is what you always do! And on it goes and goes downhill fast. 

Who’s right? Probably the truth is some combination of all the above. 

The issues here are many—that addiction may or may not be part of the bigger picture, that there is secrecy and fear of the other's reaction, that there is a lack of connection on many levels. But what comes to surface in terms of the relationship is that both partners are feeling the same—that the other guy doesn’t care, and if he or she did care they would willing to make some changes rather than having this standoff and jockeying to get their way. They are stuck in either / or thinking—I’m right, you’re wrong—rather than something in the middle—yes, stop or consider an evaluation for treatment; yes, give me more affection and help me feel important and considered.

Forget the either / or. Give up the power struggle. It gets you nowhere.

Assume you are both right and see how far that takes you.

 

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W. has 40 years of clinical experience. He is author of 6 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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