Those first flutters of romantic love are all encompassing, joyful without measure, obsessive and consuming, but even in marriage, happily ever after is a long, often bumpy road. When love settles down and life gets practical, new problems arise: care over a house, stress over work, children, extended family concerns. Married people, like all people, face a great many stressors that can afflict their relationship and their own functioning. It takes great strength of character to deal with it well, and many people do turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, and sometimes addictive behavior.
Pornography use can be one of these maladaptive behaviors, and like other addictions, it can quickly take over a life and ruin a relationship.
Unfortunately, pornography use is astronomically common. Luke Gilkerson, Education Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes accountability software, explains that most men and women have seen porn online before they are eighteen years old. On average, 9 out of 10 men and 6 out of 10 women have seen porn while they are teenagers. With the average marriage age climbing, spouses have longer and longer to develop unhealthy porn habits before marriage, making pornography a thorny potential problem for most marriages, especially during times of stress.
Additionally, conflicting voices in our culture tell us that pornography use is acceptable or even good, but porn affects the human brain the same way that other addictions do. A series of studies at Cambridge University found that the brain behaves the same way in drug and alcohol addictions, and that pornography follows this same destructive brain pattern. The prefrontal cortex becomes unable to regulate the surging emotions and urges of the midbrain and the addict comes to “want” the stimulant more and more without “liking it” as much. This process is called hypofrontality, and it is severely damaging to the addict’s ability to function well and make sound decisions for his or her life and well-being. It can throw what was once a healthy relationship into painful disorder, causing the user to lose respect for his/her spouse and diminishing sexual and marital satisfaction.
Christians are not immune from this; porn cuts across all demographics, but there are steps married couples can take both to prevent and respond to pornography addiction.
Given the destructive nature of porn for relationships, married people should aim for prevention. Gilkerson says, “One of the most important ways to prevent a porn habit is to understand why people use porn in the first place. It often isn’t merely about sexual tension and looking at attractive bodies. Porn habits are often born out of deeper dissatisfaction, loneliness, isolation, and frustration-a deep desire that has become all-important is unaddressed. Joyful people don’t watch porn.”
Addictions are real and powerful, and good people can fall into them in the face of certain stressors. Real life is messier than ideals of prevention and porn use may already be going on-known or unknown-within a marriage. As previously stated, pornography functions like other addictions in the brain. However, porn can be more insidious because it can be used in total anonymous privacy and because there is no actual substance which the user must imbibe, snort, smoke or inject, so it can be much harder to catch and identify. In many ways, it is the invisible addiction.
One helpful tactic is to remove the anonymity factor, which could break the binding chain, if the user is ready for change. Accountability and filtering software, such as Covenant Eyes, can limit home and device access to porn and display a list of all sites visited by family members so that sexual web usage is revealed immediately.
If porn addiction is part of your married life, the non-using spouse must remember that the success of any response or software depends on the user’s admission of a problem and sincere desire to change his or her behavior. Spouses cannot and should not try to control one another. If an addiction comes to light, it is normal for the non-using spouse to feel shocked and betrayed, but this alone will not change the addicted spouse’s behavior.
Wives facing such a realization need to remember that their husband’s behavior is not caused by them nor can it be stopped by them. Often the only true path a wife can take is patience, acceptance and prayer. Not acceptance as an approval, but acceptance of the existence of the behavior and the harmful dynamic it creates in the relationship. Wives should not attempt to manipulate a husband’s behavior, and it is a good idea for a wife to seek help for herself regardless of whether or not her husband is.
Sometimes focusing oneself, in a healthy way, is the only response we can offer. S-Anon (sanon.org) is a nationwide support group for family members of sex addicts to grow and heal regardless of whether or not the addict wants to change his or her behavior. A non-using spouse can devote herself to prayer, personal well-being, and individual strength to become a rock against which the waves of porn addiction and life’s dark valleys will crash. She can become a rock for her husband, waiting for the moment when his eyes are opened and he is ready to walk away from porn. This form of radical patience does not mean becoming a doormat, ignoring the problem, or nagging. It is meant to bring inner peace and confidence enough to speak the truth with love to the struggling spouse over and over again, until the day comes when he is ready. It means trusting in God’s goodness, mercy and power both in His providence for marriage and providence for your individual lives.
Then, when the porn-addicted spouse is willing to admit the problem and seek to change it, tools for response become useful. That is when accountability software, counseling, and any other tool to combat the addiction will start to bear fruit. When the user’s desires change, the change will finally come. The road is there, but it is long and strenuous. But this is what God built marriage for, that men and women should grow in holiness by loving and sacrificing for one another. It would be easy–tempting even–to throw in the towel at times, but Christians believe in the holiness and lasting commitment of marriage. As long as there is a safe environment in the home, even addiction and fighting it can be the fire the refines the gold of our souls into a precious metal.
By Stephanie Pacheco