Dear Christine, Betrayed in Brownstown

Dear Christine, 

I hope it’s okay to ask a question if I’m not a member of the LGBT community. My son is gay and I follow a lot of things going on in the community, and both his father and myself are very involved and supportive of him. The question, however, is about my marriage. 

I’ve been married to my husband for 21 years. Early in our marriage I discovered he liked to look at porn. I was hurt and jealous because I couldn’t understand why he needed to look at other women when he had me. We’ve always had a healthy marriage and sex life. I’ve discovered recently that he never stopped looking at porn even though many years ago he promised me he would stop. I am concerned he has an addiction. And I’m furious that he never stopped. 

He thinks I am over-reacting but I’m beyond distraught and unsure if I want to continue our marriage. 

Is it normal for men to look at porn? Am I being prude? How do I know if he has a serious addiction? 

Any advice or thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance, Betrayed in Brownstown

Dear Betrayed,
Thanks for writing in!  Anyone is welcome to ask a question, LGBTQIAA or straight! 

It is common for men to look at porn (look at statistics of porn viewings on the Internet, of adults and of children).  It is easy to do in privacy anywhere and anytime these days.  However, like alcohol, porn can be addictive.  The key is why someone is using porn.  If it is it to alter their mood, like having a drink or a case of beer, to cope with life stressors. That is addictive behavior.  Whatever the addiction is, usually the user has plans for their next use, and the hiding behavior suggests that the addict doesn’t want their habit to be discovered. 

I can’t diagnose your husband without meeting him, but what you wrote makes it clear that early in your marriage you spoke to him about porn being unacceptable to you and he promised to stop.  And 21 years later, you discover he has broken your trust continuously.  Of course that hurts and you are angry.  Breaking trust is a serious problem in any relationship.  You find yourself questioning anything and everything he tells you, wondering if he is hiding something else from you. 

I suggest the two of you get a therapist for couple’s counseling to see if a neutral party can help you two negotiate the hurt feelings, broken trust  and the expectations of your marriage.  It is not easy to rebuild trust and it requires transparency and you need your betrayal and anger to be heard by him.  Think about what you would need to be able to trust him again? 

He may deny any addiction, but there is a clear breaking of trust and lying that has gone on a long time.  That needs addressing.  There are therapists that specialize in sexual/porn addiction and 12 step groups that can assist recovery.  You can’t make your husband do anything, but if he wants this marriage to heal, he needs to really listen to you, receive your hurt and angry feelings, and he needs to understand how great betrayal you are experiencing.  He may not want or be able to do these things. 

This is where I encourage couple’s to look at their “non-negotiables” in your marriage.  What must you have?  What must you NOT have, in order to feel emotionally/physically/financially safe in your marriage?  Perhaps you talked about these things in abstract while dating or engaged, like “don’t cheat” or “don’t look at porn” but this is a good time to reflect and see the shades of gray in these blanket statements.  How do you each understand and define “cheating” or “looking at porn”?  You both need to know what each other means and know where the bright line is drawn that would end the marriage. 

Please consider individual therapy for yourself to figure out what you feel with a neutral person.  Explore your feelings and your non-negotiables and what you need to say.  Explore if your desire to be in porn-free marriage is being a prude or not.  That’s a judgement call I can’t make.  It would be based on your values and your comfort zone.  Some couples share porn and are fine with it.  Others have no porn agreements like you thought you had.  What matters is not what labels you give to each other’s preferences, but whether you can accept the other with who that person really is.  As you well know, you don’t get to change your husband… or anyone else.  You have to be honest with each other about who you each are so you can both see if you can live with that person, with all their habits and traits.  If you can’t, it is ok to decide to leave the marriage.  You have to decide what is best for you.  Good luck.

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD.
Fully Licensed Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888Click here to email Christine.

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