Expert advice

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey: Sexologist

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey has been a sexologist — sexuality educator, sex therapist and sex researcher — since 1990. She is also the author a number of successful books.

My husband is watching porn secretly

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Question:
Our marriage has survived infidelity in the past and we have three children. My husband secretly gets porn from his friends and tells them to keep it secret from me. I guess that's why he doesn't come to bed with me — he stays up to watch porn alone. I've explained to him the problem I have with this — it's the neglect I feel when he's busy watching porn, and how unworthy I feel and how it affects my self esteem. I feel so humiliated on so many levels. He has promised to stop, but I found him watching it again. We're not having very much sex, because he's so busy watching porn, and I wonder if I can ever feel good about him or myself again. We've been together for 27 years and I feel so hurt, abandoned and humiliated that I don't know if we can survive this.

Answer:
I can feel your pain in every word you've written — and everything you've expressed you're feeling is understandable, because when it comes to the issues of pornography and cheating, you're not alone in feeling this way. The research shows that the neglect and isolation, the time and attention that is withheld from a partner caused by viewing porn alone, ranks as highly as a betrayal as that caused from physical cheating.

If a partner is spending so much time with pornography, whether that's from film, magazines or the Internet, to the degree that it takes greater priority than spending time with their loved one, then the pain isn't only about what they are doing, but how often and how much. The combination of other sexual stimulation with the amount of time he would prefer to engage in that, rather than with you, is a double whammy of pain. So your feelings of abandonment and hurt are, of course, very real to you and these must be dealt with, regardless of whether your relationship survives, and whether your partner addresses his issue with porn.

It must be said that there is research to show that pornography itself is not necessarily harmful to relationships or sex. In fact, sometimes it can be good: as a sexual stimulant, a spark to sexual imagination, to create fantasy dialogue between partners and even sometimes (though not often) as an avenue to sex education. However, that your partner has promised to stop and hasn't would indicate that either he doesn't take your pain very seriously against his own desire to view porn (and view it alone, without you), or that he is addicted and so is truly unable to stop on his own and needs help.

Either way, after having been together for nearly 30 years, it is your decision about whether to fight for this relationship to continue. The effect of his sexual choices is clearly devastating you — your sense of sexiness, your self esteem and your sense of connectedness to your partner. You've indicated that this is serious enough for you that your marriage may very well be over. If it's not and if you want to fight for it, you can initiate some effective communication strategies with him so that you both start to really listen to each other and understand each other's point of view. If this doesn't work, it's time for professional intervention and help. You've stated that your marriage has survived infidelity before. So previously the trust in the relationship has been broken and repaired.

As a start, to see if your husband will fight with you, to save the marriage, try some reflective listening together. This is a communication skill building activity where one partner talks for 10 minutes or so, while the other listens. Then the other partner reflects back what they've heard in their own words and the original partner clarifies. You take turns like this back and forth until you both feel the issue has been heard by both of you and you understand each other's perception. It's not important to agree, it's important that you both feel heard. It's a way of extracting the essence of what you each need to say and have heard and validated by the other. It might be a beginning to have him understand your feelings about his porn watching, and it might be a chance for you to understand his point of view on pornography also. If this activity leads to greater frustration, difference and pain, though, it's a sign that you need a counselor to mediate and filter between you. You may not ever agree on pornography, but you may come to an understanding that allows for each of you to get what you need. Good luck.

Answer published 25/9/07.

For more information please see Dr Gabrielle's website or visit her consultancy website Bananas and Melons.


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