November 10, 2014

Help! The Image on the Computer Has My Boyfriend!

“My boyfriend and I are just dating. We are not married. How do I deal with his pornography addiction? I am wounded, hurt and I feel betrayed.”

These were all words I heard from my friend whose boyfriend is struggling with pornography.

Finding out about your partner’s porn use, whether it’s your spouse or in a dating relationship, is overwhelming to say the least. Since I know that many of my unmarried girlfriends have similar questions, I am compiling a list of tools you can use to cope with your boyfriend’s porn addiction and to help you decide what is best for you:

1. Understand that his porn use has nothing to do with you! His struggle likely began way before he met you. Women must understand that their partner’s choice to use porn is no reflection on them. Watching porn releases chemicals in the brain giving the user a high from watching it, urging them to seek out that same high again and again.

Often users and their partners think that once in a relationship, the urge to use porn will disappear, or at least decrease. However, therapists and those who struggle report that such a change in behavior might happen at the beginning, but often the urge to use porn returns. Many report that without help, users frequently start using even more. Recognize that you, as the girlfriend, cannot fix his problem no matter what you do. The user must make the decision and take steps on his own to stop his problem.

2. Ask yourself: Do you want to fight for this relationship? In marriage, the commitment is often held to be “for better or worse.” Therefore, a couple does not divorce over just one issue, nor is it as easy to walk away as in a dating relationship. Take time to consider whether you want to be in a relationship with someone who is struggling with pornography. Also, keep in mind that counseling resources for couples are not just for married people. There are many such resources available for those in dating relationships, too. Understand that you can take advantage of these resources now before you move into a more committed relationship or marriage.

3. Understand you are worthy of setting boundaries. Dating couples may struggle with making requests of their partners because they may think, “Well, I’m not their spouse so do I actually have the right to ask them to do X, Y or Z?” According to Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in their book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, healthy boundaries do not control or attack anyone; they enable you to protect yourself.

Finding out that your boyfriend has a porn addiction can create a lot of distrust, which makes talking about your needs even more challenging. If you truly want to move forward in the relationship, it is essential to set boundaries. A healthy boundary could be to ask if they could use their computer in public settings like coffee shops or the living room. Is this a way to lower the chance of their viewing porn? Maybe. The point is you are actively working together to rebuild trust while respecting your needs. Moving forward together is not just about them, you must feel comfortable and feel supported too.

4. Take care of YOU! Another way to cope with your boyfriend’s porn addiction is to take care of yourself. At the end of the day, the decision whether or not to watch porn is THEIR choice. As a woman, I am fully aware of our tendency to want to nurture and fix. But, there’s not much you can do to help one who is struggling unless they want to overcome the problem too.

Also, please realize that in order for the restoration process of your relationship to move forward, both sides have to heal. A level of trust has been destroyed. The initial reaction is to wonder, “What is wrong with me. Am I not enough?”

That trust cannot be restored by only focusing on the other person. Just like viewing porn is their choice, so is it your choice to gain healing for yourself. A great way to begin is meeting with a safe person. This safe person could be a trusted friend, counselor, church leader, mentor, family members, etc. A word of advice is to also be cautious about meeting with a person whose boyfriend or spouse is also struggling with pornography. In our trials, we often cling to someone who understands the situation best. If your safe person is someone who is still deeply wounded by their partner’s addiction, it is more likely you will bring each other down as opposed to building one another up. You cannot lead another person to restoration if you do not even know what that looks like for yourself.

Now are some big questions:

How do I support my boyfriend while they heal from their addiction?

One major step is to leave the accountability of their actions to others. As their partner, you definitely have the right to check in on them. However, trying to be too closely involved will only make things worse for both you and him. It is hard enough to have his struggle out in the open. His vulnerability can trigger extreme feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment for both of you. It is recommended by many experts that the accountability partner should not be his partner. They will likely make mistakes as they try to overcome the urge—it will only hurt you more to know every time he slips up. Also, the best way for them to recover is to create a space where feelings of shame, guilt and judgment don’t haunt them and stop them from telling someone if they fall.

When you do choose to ask them about their journey in recovery (this is very important to talk about together, regularly), it is up to you to be prepared for their answer. It is also important to remember that holding him accountable is different from discussing it. Accountability is in place to monitor and help move forward in their addiction. Your discussion should be conducted in a way that allows to maintain a healthy relationship as he deals with his addiction.

If you decide to remain dating while they heal, you have to be prepared that they may give into their urge to use the material. You also have to know when to draw the line. Know that it is likely that they will fall before completely overcoming an addiction. How many times will you put up with this? This again is where your healing, understanding and setting of boundaries are really important.

Should I stay with them while they deal from their pornography addiction or struggles?

As stated earlier, the commitment is deeper in marriage. Walking away from a boyfriend is much easier to do than a husband. Considering whether to remain in the relationship is a hard decision. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself as you come to a decision that is best for you.

1) Does he feel remorseful?

If your boyfriend does not see this addiction as a bad thing or if he is not concerned that you are bothered by his actions, these are some pretty significant signs to keep in mind.

2) Is he actively trying to change and heal?

If your boyfriend is trying to change and heal from the addiction, his desire to move in a positive direction is a great sign! However, if he is not seeking help this can make moving forward much more difficult and can hinder his ability to overcome.

3) Can you handle remaining in the relationship if he does not get help or the addiction resurfaces?

This is a hard question because your heart is invested in this person. Even if they are not making changes, you keep thinking, “I will just give it more time. He will change, I just know it because he loves me!” The hardest part to come to terms with is that his love for you is not enough to heal these deep wounds. On the bright side, his love for you can fuel his desire to want to make this relationship work and get help. As you continue to process this question, it is imperative to keep these thoughts in mind as well: What if he does not seek help? What if further down the road things are going great between you two and then out of nowhere you find out his addiction has begun again or never really improved? Only you can make this choice.

There is a lot to consider when you find out that your boyfriend struggles with pornography. I hope that this article leaves you with helpful tips to consider in your own struggles to make sense of his addiction. Realize that there is hope and that it is possible to get through this and enjoy a close, committed and fulfilling relationship. Also, recognize that you have to take care of you and that you must ultimately set safe boundaries for what you’re willing to endure in a relationship. Although there is hope, it may be time to walk away. That is a choice only you can make.

 

Resources:

Bhatia, Manjeet S. “Internet Sex Addiction – A New Distinct Disorder.” Delhi Psychiatry Journal Vol. 12 No.1 12.1 (2009): n. pag. Web. http://newagepublishers.com/samplechapter/001771.pdf

Cloud, Henry, and John S. Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2002. Print.

Anna Malika

In addition to her internship with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Anna is currently an international public speaker as well as a survivor and policy advocate in the movement to end Human Trafficking. Her personal focus is on the link between sex trafficking and pornography. Her role in the movement has been greatly focused around policy, law and curriculum development for safe houses working with survivors of sex trafficking. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook!

Learn more about Anna at AnnaMalika.com

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