Relationship Rescue for Wives and Girlfriends of Internet Pornography Addicts

Featured Expert





 
Wendy Maltz LCSW, DST, coauthor of the groundbreaking book, The 
Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by 
Pornography
 (Larry Maltz LCSW, coauthor, HarperCollins, 2008). Her 
website can be found at 
www.HealthySex.com.


Wendy Maltz: As a marriage counselor and sex therapist, I’ve spent the last thirty years helping people overcome a wide variety of intimacy problems so counseling to deal with serious problems related to pornography. Weddings were being cancelled, marriages were strained or breaking up, and individuals were experiencing emotional and sexual problems due to porn. My husband, Larry, who is also an experienced therapist, encountered the same thing in his practice, as were many of our colleagues. With each passing year, the number of people with porn problems kept increasing.Larry and I looked for resources to assist our clients and to educate us about how to deal with this growing problem. We didn’t find a book that dealt primarily with porn problems and adequately addressed the needs of both people in a relationship. So we decided to write a book that was needed. Larry has worked a lot on men’s issues and I’ve focused a lot on women’s concerns—so it was a good fit. To get first hand accounts for The Porn Trap, we interviewed over fifty people who were dealing with or had overcome problems with porn.

PAH: In your experience, how common is the problem of Internet porn use in relationships today?  What is the success rate for couples getting past the problem of porn?

Wendy Maltz: The influence of porn is widespread and increasing. Porn addiction has become a serious mental health concern affecting all age groups. Recent surveys in the USA and Great Britain indicate that porn use has become a major problem for relationships. For example, an estimated 4 in 10 married men look at porn on a regular basis and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that pornography now plays a significant role in divorce. Porn use undermines the respect, trust, and loving sexual bond in a relationship. It can exert a strong and damaging influence on a couples’ sex life—especially when the porn user wants to imitate the porn—and it competes with a wife for sexual attention and energy. Many porn addicts are 
secretive and dishonest about their use. Maintaining their hidden relationship with porn becomes more important than being honest with their real intimate partner—this behavior generates emotional distance that erodes trust and love.

When you think about it, it’s pretty strange that a “product” consisting essentially of pixels or dots on paper has evolved into something so powerful and seductive that it competes with, and sometimes wins over, an honest relationship with a real life woman who, unlike porn, is sensual, physically present, and capable of loving back.

Success rates for couples in recovery vary depending on many factors, such as how serious the porn problem is for the user, the ability of the porn user to admit a problem and commit to a change, and the condition of the relationship. If and when the porn addict is sincere about quitting porn and earnestly engaged in a recovery program, success can also depend on the ability of the female partner to overcome her anger, renew respect, and trust again. Healing works best when both the porn user and his intimate partner are actively engaged in individual and couples’ recovery work. The good news is that couples who are able to work together to overcome porn problems often report feeling stronger and closer because of what they’ve gone through and learned about each other.

PAH: The most common question asked to PornAddictHubby: ‘I know my husband/boyfriend watches porn online on a regular basis. How do I know if he is addicted?’ How would you respond?

Wendy Maltz: As we share in The Porn Trap, there are three key features that are present in people who engage in porn use addictively. Porn addicts:

(1) Crave porn intensely and persistently,
(2) Can’t control it and ultimately fail when they try to stop using, and
(3) Continue to use it despite being aware of significant harmful consequences.

Craving – Can’t Control it – Continuing despite Consequences. Thinking about the letter “C” can help you remember these three features. When people are addicted to porn they also often become “habituated” to it and develop “tolerance.” What this means is that over time, the porn they use becomes less effective in giving them the excitement or “high” they seek.  Tolerance can cause a user to spend increasing amounts of time accessing porn or encourage him to move into more extreme or risky types of porn and sexual behavior. It’s not unusual for addicts who let’s say were into general hardcore porn to “slide” into wanting to access the “rougher” stuff, involving degrading, violent or otherwise exploitive sexual practices. Another aspect 
of porn addiction is that when the person stops using porn, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms much like a drug addict might. Symptoms of withdrawal may include irritability, anger, insomnia, and depression. These reactions are often caused by changes in brain chemistry, in particular with the addict’s ability to stimulate and regulate the production of the pleasure-associated chemical dopamine.

While addiction is a very serious negative consequence of porn use, it’s important to remember that it’s not the only repercussion that is valid. A porn user who doesn’t fit the “three C’s definition” may still have a serious problem with porn. Occasionally downloading porn at work can get a person fired whether he is an addict or not. Similarly, downloading any amount of child porn can land a person in prison for many years. Regular porn use can alter sexual thoughts and influence sexual interests in negative ways. And if a woman is upset and made unhappy by her partner’s emotional and sexual relationship with porn, it’s a serious problem for the couple, at any level of use.

In The Porn Trap we list addiction as just one of nine possible serious consequences of porn. (For easy reference, you can download a free “The Hazards of Porn” poster, explaining the nine consequences at our HealthySex.com website, 
http://www.healthysex.com/books.php#p1.


PAH: What advice would you give a woman whose husband or boyfriend uses porn on a regular basis but has no desire to give it up? He has been using it since he was fourteen and that is just part of ‘who he is’.

Wendy Maltz: Many men (and women) who are into porn began at an early age. Eleven years old is the average age of first exposure. Being involved with a man who is still emotionally and sexually attached to porn can feel like being involved with a lover who has an old girlfriend on the side. And if your husband is “addicted to porn” you can also experience similar feelings of powerlessness and fear that women have when their husbands are alcoholics, drug addicts, or compulsive gamblers. Being in a relationship with a partner who insists that his porn use is just “part of who he is” is a very difficult and often painful position to be in. We have a whole chapter in The Porn Trap devoted to the female partner’s experience. It’s called “Partners in Pain.” It can be validating to find out that many of the reactions and feelings you are having are common to other women in similar situations.

It can be helpful to take time to identify what your limits are with the behavior. For example, consider the following questions:
How do you feel about porn in general?
How does his use affect you? (for example, Do you become competitive with the porn? Do you become a “porn cop,” attempting to monitor or control his behavior? Is your love and respect for him fading with time?)
How serious and frequent is his use of porn?
How do you feel about the contents and type of porn he accesses?
Do you sense he’s being fully honest with you about his use?
Are you worried about where his porn use is leading him?
Do you worry how his habit is harming or endangering a child?
Is his porn use having a negative effect on your sex life with him?
Is he open to making some changes or is he protective of his relationship with porn at the expense of your feelings and needs?
Does he seem to be getting more involved with porn or moving away from it over time?

There are lots of issues to consider. It’s a good idea for any woman in this situation to get counseling to have a safe place to talk out and think out what you need to do to take care of yourself. I also recommend attending twelve step recovery group meetings, such as COSA (Codependents of Sex Addicts),  S-Anon, or Alanon. Remember you are not alone and help is out there.

PAH: If a spouse or partner has committed himself to a recovery plan but relapses, what is the most appropriate response from the wife or girlfriend?

Wendy Maltz: Porn is one of the most difficult “substances” to give up. Many of my clients say that it’s harder than quitting other things, such as going off marijuana or no longer drinking alcohol. It’s not unusual for slip-ups and relapses occur from time to time—especially when the former porn user is under stress. It’s not so much whether a man has a relapse. It’s more about how he handles it, what he learns from it, and what he does to prevent it from happening again. As a partner it’s important to not get into the role of being the porn addict’s “accountability partner” (who he reports to about his relapse). In general, honor his honesty in disclosing the relapse (whenever than occurs), be matter-of-fact but not attacking about any disappointment you may feel, and celebrate the positive shifts away from porn that occur over time.

Because relapses can be hard on the intimate partner of a porn addict, it’s extremely helpful to become educated about relapse. In The Porn Trap we have a chapter devoted to “Handling and Preventing Relapses.” We present an innovative model for understanding the various levels of relapse, from just thinking about porn to obtaining it to using it as a sexual outlet. In addition, we provide some great strategies and tools a person can use to minimize the frequency of relapse, and maximize the learning benefit.

PAH: Once a couple has healed their relationship from porn use, how should they approach the topic of Internet porn in the future? This has been a very difficult period for both of them and neither wishes to keep revisiting it on a regular basis.

Wendy Maltz: In general, when an addict is sincere and has truly quit using, it’s not upsetting to talk about what he did. Many recovering alcoholics, for example, find that discussing their former drinking problems and the suffering it caused others, helps them to stay sober.

But with that said, it’s good to keep the ball moving forward. Continually berating a husband about his past porn use can stifle positive growth and change for the couple. If you are unable to move beyond feeling angry and hurt about your man’s past Internet porn use, I’d recommend some individual or couples counseling. Counseling can provide a safe environment for resolving feelings and rebuilding trust and intimacy in a relationship. In The Porn Trap we have several chapters devoted to helping couples heal. Together you can improve communication and explore new approaches to emotional and sexual closeness.



If you are a couple seeking healing from pornography addiction, The Porn Trap: The
Essential Guide To Overcoming Problems Caused By Pornography by Wendy and 
guide provides questionnaires, checklists, and exercises to help you understand why 
porn became a problem in your home in the first place and most importantly provides 
clear action steps to get on a path towards recovery. With down to earth and 
insightful advice for the addict and compassion and wisdom for the partner, 
The Porn 
Tra
p is a must read for any couple facing this challenge.

PAH highly recommends 
The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide To Overcoming 
Problems Caused By Pornography
. It can be purchased discreetly through
Amazon.com.
 


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