If you are not already aware that there are external threats to your marriage, then my guess is that you haven’t been married for very long. One of the biggest threats to marriage has been infidelity, and researchers from the University of Central Florida have found that people in committed relationships who view pornographic materials are more likely to cheat on their partners than those who don’t. With more than 500 million pages of porn on the internet today, most of which is directed at men, Dr. John Gottman says in his book What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal :
Even non-compulsive use of [porn] can damage a committed relationship. Masturbating to an image results in the secretion of oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones linked to attachment. Porn users are in danger of becoming attached to a mere fetish of impersonal sex.
So, if pornography poses a problem, why don’t we talk about it? I mean, we can all admit that we’ve seen it, and that we want to see it again. Marketers are aware of this and use it against us every day in advertising products that have nothing to do with sex. I see this billboard all the time for a local plumbing company with the image of a beautiful woman in a low cut shirt. Am I supposed to believe that if I call that company, she’s the plumber that is going to show up at my front door?
There are several reasons we don’t often talk about porn. First of all, it’s embarrassing. Viewing porn is not normally a group activity for a reason. When people engage in it, there are the perceived positive effects of being aroused and perhaps even reaching orgasm from masturbating to it. But, with that comes secrecy and shame. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to talk about or admit. Sometimes, while we may even see that porn could be a problem for someone else, we can be fooled into thinking we, ourselves, won’t be affected, so it’s not really a problem for us the way it might be for others. William Struthers, Ph. D., a bio-psychologist and the author of Wired for Intimacy, says after much research:
Denial is the first line of defense. Because so many men have viewed so much porn, the fear about how it has affected them is too overwhelming. So they deny the issue. But it doesn’t go away. Because we are embodied beings, viewing pornography changes how the brain works, how we form memories and make attachments.
Michelle and I are hardly experts when it comes to the study of the effects porn has on a marriage. So, we asked Craig Gross, founder of xxxchurch.com, who is also known as “The Porn Pastor,” to weigh in. We believe, along with Craig, that we should absolutely be talking about it. If we are going to address the things that threaten our marriages, we need to do it head on. We need to know if and how it affects us so we can arm ourselves against it. When we talked with Craig, he had some very insightful things to share. He weighed in on why we need to push past the shame and embarrassment, and why porn should be talked about in every marriage, and here is what he shared with us…
Porn Breaks Trust and Destroys Intimacy
A healthy marriage is based on trust and intimacy. Secrets, especially your secret stash of porn or that website you keep deleting from the history bar, are only going to get in the way of that trust.
Another scenario of broken trust happens when a spouse suggests bringing porn into the marriage, wanting to “spice things up.” I have heard both husbands and wives confess they used this approach out of a selfish desire to indulge in porn. When one spouse trusts another and follows his or her suggestion, it is devastating to discover that the spouse who wanted to use porn did not have the best interests of the marriage or the other spouse at heart. Rather, he or she was seeking a way to indulge lust.
Broken trust alters the very core of a relationship, and the only way to restore it is by making good decisions over time. Without trust, a vital marriage component, intimacy is almost impossible.
If you choose to use pornography as a means to sexually arouse yourself, you are forfeiting the ability to become aroused by your spouse. Over time, porn users find that it becomes more and more difficult to be sexually aroused by your spouse because he or she will age while the porn star forever remains youthful in pictures and videos.
Porn lies, telling you that your spouse will never measure up to what porn has to offer. Once you believe that—and you will believe that—your intimacy is over. Fantasy eventually takes people farther away from their spouse than they wanted to go and offers no turnaround.
Though porn destroys marriages, it takes more than just abstaining from porn to keep your marriage growing, healthy, and strong.
Here are some keys to assist you as you strive to keep your marriage thriving:
1. Set Healthy Parameters
Don’t allow unhealthy glances or wandering eyes. Television shows and even some television ads can produce impure thoughts that lead to unhealthy behavior. Turn them off before you get hooked. Sticking to this guideline will take guts and willpower. For Christians, Jesus had some especially candid words for how powerful the link between our mind and our emotions can be. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28) Essentially, Jesus stated that having an uncontrolled mind will inevitably lead to thoughts that become actions. It’s the same way with porn.
2. Guard Your Associations
You are the average of the five people with whom you hang around with most often. The behavior of those you spend time with becomes your behavior, and bad company corrupts good character. If your friends are consumed with talking about sexual escapades or exploitative behavior, get new friends. Take charge of the relational environments in which you place yourself.
3. Guard Your Ears
Inappropriate words masked as flirtatious compliments are stepping-stones toward irreversible effects. I have seen relationships destroyed because a wife was innocently seduced by a friend’s listening ear and kind words. I have also known men and women who have mastered making comments that lead to more aggressive flirtatious behavior. Don’t allow it. If someone makes a comment to you that is flirty or over the edge, make it immediately clear this is not acceptable behavior. If it happens twice, bring your spouse into the loop and talk about it.
4. Guard Your Time and Money
Friends of ours who have struggled with porn have taken steps to control their use of time and money. They have asked their spouses to control the money and made themselves accountable to a friend for the ways they spend their time. The formula is simple and it works as a healthy parameter. If there is strict accountability of money (no cash in hand) and time (where have you been and what have you been doing?), it is much more difficult to get in a place that leads to trouble.
5. Work at Romance
Did you know it’s important to keep dating even though you’re married? I know Michelle and Tony have touched on this here at #staymarried, and I only want to reinforce the idea. It’s easy to let time pass and allow dating and romance in your marriage to disappear, but then you’re setting yourself up for boredom and the inevitable desire to seek out something new. Instead, set up date nights with each other. They don’t have to be expensive, just creative. Your calendar should have at least one date night a month. Remind each other and plan ahead so you have something to look forward to. Even a movie night at home with take-out food can keep the love spark glowing.
6. Communicate Love Clearly
Every person hears “I love you” in a different way. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, couples need to hear love in the way they understand it most clearly. Michelle wrote a post giving more insight into this idea here. When you identify your partner’s love language, you can then communicate “I love you” most clearly. A breakdown occurs when you think you’re communicating love but it sounds like a foreign language to your spouse, so work hard at discovering your spouse’s love language and communicating love clearly . . . and often.
7. Maintain Physical Intimacy
According to a 2003 Newsweek study, between 15 and 20 percent of couples are living in a sexless marriage—these are couples who make love no more than ten times a year. While sex is not the be-all and end-all in a marriage, it is obviously one of the best ways to maintain intimacy. Most men think sex has to be daily, while women may be satisfied with less sex than that. The longer men go without sex, the more desperate they become for it. The longer women go without sex, the more they don’t need it. Find a good compromise and make every effort to follow through, even though one or both of you may be busy and tired. Couples who said they were sexually fulfilled had sex an average of 2.5 times a week. Sex must happen on a regular basis. Plan for it. Prepare your mind for it. Do it.
Every relationship is going to have an occasional bump in the road, but don’t let that bump turn into a mountain by refusing to forgive a mistake. Remember that forgiveness is not a synonym for justifying, accepting, or condoning sinful behavior; it is about allowing room for growth and trusting that a change in behavior follows every apology. Many times couples can let too much time pass without asking for or offering forgiveness. When this happens, bitterness, resentment, and disillusionment set in. Soon the person harboring unforgiveness can start to think these issues wouldn’t happen in a different relationship, a deception that leads to a “grass is greener” mentality. Invest in your relationship by asking for and offering forgiveness whenever it is needed.
Growing together and nurturing your marriage is a lifelong task that both husband and wife must undertake. Even in the midst of a culture charged with sexual imagery, your marriage can remain healthy and strong if you are vigilant about protecting it. Some of these parameters may seem extreme, some of them are. But, we believe we need to take an extreme stance against anything that would threaten our desire to #staymarried.
P.S. You are reading Is Porn a Problem?: Guest Post by Craig Gross, as part of a #staymarried series on infidelity, pornography, and forgiveness. If you missed the first two parts, 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and 5 Ways to Prevent Infidelity, you might want to check them out. If you want to read more about safeguarding your marriage, you may also like Five Trust Building Boundaries.
Thanks for reading!