Porn Didn’t Destroy This Marriage—Her PornPhobia Could

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What kind of a woman would destroy a perfectly good marriage (and great sex life) because her husband looks at porn?

There’s too, too many of them. One of those hubbies came to see me last week.

OK, he lied about watching. Not cool to lie.

But why would a grownup lie?

The reason isn’t that complicated—he was terrified that she’d blow up if she knew.

And she can’t understand that simple, sad truth? If she can’t understand how he could feel that way before she blew up, surely she can understand it now—now that she’s proven his fears completely right, by blowing up and threatening divorce.

I’m supposed to help repair this guy’s lifelong low self-esteem. I’m supposed to help diminish his suffocating shame—while “the best woman in the world” now insists that he’s a degenerate, a pathetic chronic masturbator who has supposedly been unfaithful thousands of times.

He really does worship this woman—so how’s he supposed to feel when she says he’s practically raping the women in porn videos? How can he feel good enough about himself to be a partner in repairing this marriage?

And what makes her such an expert on porn and infidelity? Why, the internet, of course. It’s loaded with angry, destructive websites like LeaveYourPorn-WatchingHusband.com and Don’tTrustYourHuband.com. You might as well get your life’s advice from bathroom walls.

MISTAKE: AGREEING TO NOT WATCH

This guy Jake was in terrible pain. Years ago when his wife said, “Honey, you wouldn’t watch porn, would you?” He had vigorously agreed with her, because he knew how rigid she was about it. Instead of facing his fears (and possibly resolving a marital challenge), he pretended to be a “better” version of himself. The more he pretended he was “good,” the more he hated the “real” him.

His guilt and shame grew inside like a moralistic cancer, eating away at any pride or satisfaction he might feel. Kids, career, marriage, sports—instead of enjoying his many blessings, each positive thing made him feel more fraudulent, as he sunk into a dysthymic workaholic haze. “No one knows me,” he lamented. “No one would believe just how immoral I am. But I know. I don’t deserve the respect and affection I get.”

He couldn’t bear to see the look of disgust on his beloved wife’s face. “I always wondered if maybe I wasn’t actually a good man,” he told me. “When she found out about the porn, that look on Jeannie’s face said it all—I’m a bad guy. I don’t know how I can ever face myself again.”

Yes, she was close to destroying this man—the father of her kids, her lover, her financial rock, her partner in outdoor fun—she was ready to destroy him and just about everything she valued.

All over some lousy porn.

And a good but emotionally impoverished man feeling forced to promise he wouldn’t watch porn. And then watching porn anyway.

And, unlike most women who obsess about their husband’s porn watching, Jeannie had no complaints about their sex life. The frequency, quality, and intensity of their sex were “great,” they both agreed, despite their busy lives with kids, jobs, and two dogs. Nevertheless…

BARELY HUMAN?

In our first session, Jake kept bringing everything back to how he had let her down and was therefore hardly fit for human company. Although she had dramatically seized control of the marriage (and the moral high ground and his self-image) and violated their covenant of partnership and mutual respect, he couldn’t bear to hear anything critical about her from me.

So I went in the opposite direction, talking about how scared she must be, how sad and apparently insecure she must be feeling. I talked about her needing sympathy —and how alone she must feel as she had pushed him away so effectively. Yes, he sympathized with her terrible situation.

“You share a lot of those feelings right now,” I said gently. “You also need and deserve sympathy.”

“No I don’t,” he said, almost a caricature of self-loathing. “I’ve done bad things and don’t deserve anything good in return.”

I surprised him when I said “Listen, if you want any chance to reconcile with Jeannie, you will have to bring her a husband with a sense of self, plenty of adulthood, and requests of his own.” He instinctively started to protest.

“Jake,” I continued, “I know you feel you have no right to want or ask for anything, but she wants you to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. That means being real. And that includes accepting that you and she are different people with a few different life outlooks. That’s not a bad thing, it’s absolutely expectable.”

“YES, BUT…”

“Yes, but…” Jake had a million of them. “Yes, but,” he said, “watching porn isn’t the only bad thing I do. Thinking about porn, WANTING to watch porn shows that there’s something wrong with me. I should be resisting the urge to the point where I don’t have the urge anymore.”

It was bad enough that his wife believed this. It was much worse that he believed it. So I pointed to the enormous photo on the wall behind me, a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct in southern France. “Imagine that a human mind actually conceived this world-changing innovation.” I said with genuine reverence. I gestured to a print of the Brooklyn Bridge behind him, and Notre Dame across from him.

“The human mind fantasized about these things, imagining something where nothing existed. A mind that complex, that fertile, and with that sense of adventure and agency would also imagine sex with his brother’s wife. Or brother’s daughter. Or brother. Or with a kangaroo.

“The human mind is a unique cornucopia of fantasies,” I continued. “Fantasies. That capacity is bundled with the equipment. You don’t get to judge the capacity according to your comfort with the fantasies’ content. I hate Beethoven’s Fifth and NASCAR, but I don’t want to eliminate the human capacity to imagine and create them from scratch. I want the rest of what comes bundled with that. And that includes the ability to fantasize about stuff I’d never do.”

He was quiet for a full minute. He said, “But my wife hates that I watch porn.” “Yes, I know,” I said. “And she’s entitled to her preferences. She needs to learn that her preference doesn’t entitle her to special privileges. You need to learn that her preference doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.

“You both get to imagine whatever you like. And you two need to negotiate what you’re going to do about your difference. Right now Jake, you’re emotionally crippled and can’t advocate for yourself OR the marriage. And right now, she’s so upset that she can’t, either. All she can do is say you’re terrible, and all you can say is she’s right.”

“I don’t care if you watch porn or not,” I continued. “But I do care that you hate yourself so much. No marriage can thrive with that level of hatred, whether someone directs it outward or inward.”

He was quiet for a long minute.

“So this is about way more than porn, is that what you’re saying?” He asked. “Is this what sex therapy is like?”

We were on our way.
~~~~~~~
Like short videos about sex? See www.youtube.com/c/drmartyklein1
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