In an online TED Talk titled “Everything You Think You Know about Addiction Is Wrong,” author Johann Hari explains that the opposite of addiction is real and caring human connection.1

The term intimacy disorder is another way I describe a deep and pervasive lack of connection. Here’s what I mean: An intimacy “disorder” is a stunted ability or emotional pattern that makes it difficult to establish close, authentic, or vulnerable relationships. This condition not only limits a person’s ability to have empathy for others and connect emotionally with them on a day-by-day basis, but it can also affect the sexual relationship with his or her spouse. In some cases, the varied interpersonal challenges associated with intimacy issues may meet the criteria for diagnosable mental-health conditions known to strongly affect relationships, including social anxiety, attachment disorder, and various personality disorders. However, individuals without these diagnosable conditions can also experience intimacy problems. That’s why it’s important for you and your spouse to see a well-trained professional who can look at the whole picture. But remember that understanding the root issues or diagnoses associated with certain sexual behaviors and symptoms doesn’t excuse your husband’s actions. However, it can enable you to move toward help and solutions.

A number of factors likely contribute to your husband’s sexual behavior, but quite often, at the root is difficulty with intimate connection. Intimacy problems can affect your husband sexually, as well as emotionally and spiritually. Because God made us to thrive and grow in connected, safe relationships, when things go awry relationally, a deep personal shame sets in. Toxic shame whispers in a person’s head, I’m bad. I’m unworthy. I’m unlovable.

From these feelings of badness or personal filth come various ever-present forms of self-protection that skew a person’s self-esteem and view of life. It’s not hard to imagine how this way of living inhibits healthy intimacy and leads to disordered or false intimacies; that is, fleeting but “safe” escapes and substitutes for intimacy, such as pornography or prostitution. Of course, these lustful escapes are anything but “safe,” yet to an individual who feels threatened or insecure with being vulnerable and deeply known, they provide a sinful cocoon of “false safety” since no emotional demands or true personal sacrifice are placed on them by these forms of so-called pleasure.

Abuse and Neglect

Matthew was the fourth child in a family of seven. His parents were good people who loved all of their children. Matthew was also a shy little boy. By the time his three younger siblings were born, Matthew had pretty much given up trying to be noticed. He was obedient, so he wasn’t scolded, but he also wasn’t noticed in positive ways.

The same was true at school. Other kids weren’t mean to him. They just didn’t pay much attention to him. He got decent grades and played intramural basketball when he entered middle school. After a game, the other kids usually joked around in the locker room without including him. But one day, a few of the guys were looking at something they’d all pulled up on their smartphones. One of the popular boys noticed Matthew staring at them in all the commotion.

Your Husband Is the Target of a Huge Industry

“Hey, Matt, come here,” the boy yelled to him.

“Look at this,” his teammate said as he directed the screen of his phone toward Matthew.

The image of a nude young woman blazed before Matthew’s eyes. He could feel the heat crawling up his face, and an uncomfortable smile invited more interaction with the other guys.

“Whaddya think? Pretty good, huh!” his teammate beamed as he slapped Matthew on the shoulder.

It felt good to connect with guys who had ignored him for years. And then there was that image. Matthew didn’t have to see it on the phone screen again. He had it firmly in his mind. But why not look at it on my own phone, he thought.

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Matthew was hooked. He sat before me now, a married man with two children of his own. He had never realized that the unintentional social neglect he suffered as a child negatively impacted him to this day. Pornography was a regular part of his life and was hurting his marriage to the point that his wife was threatening separation.

There are two kinds of damaging sins that others can inflict on us when we’re young, impressionable, and vulnerable: (1) sins of commission, also known as abuse, and (2) sins of omission, otherwise known as neglect. We’re aware of the many abuses children suffer, but we seldom hear much about neglect.

Matthew’s parents were doing what they thought was right, but they overlooked this quiet, compliant child. They neglected to affirm him, praise him, and validate him.

Your husband may seem a bit like Matthew—the quiet type, unlikely to cause trouble, compliant with many of your wishes, except for his pornography problem. Your husband’s parents might not have been intentionally unkind, and you may be very kind and affirming as a wife. But if your husband is like Matthew, the emotional neglect he perceived in his childhood set the conditions for pornography to feel affirming and exhilarating and to offer him what seems like a helpful escape into a positive world.

Unfortunately, unless abuse and neglect are discovered and their victims experience healing and restoration, the impact of these damaging sins can linger well into adulthood.

Abuse and neglect can be divided into five categories: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and spiritual. At this point, we’ve been talking only about men, but both men and women may have been subjected to abuse or neglect as children.

It’s important to understand that abuse and especially neglect can be extremely subtle in nature, almost to the point of escaping the victim’s conscious attention. Also, children who have been abused or neglected hardly ever blame the adults in their lives. They blame themselves. They grow up thinking, There must be something wrong with me.

Matthew found acceptance from the other boys on the intramural basketball team when he joined them in their locker-room antics. Pornography became a source of good feelings. When he was alone at home, he could shut himself in his room and look at images on his phone or computer. No one would even notice. Now his marriage is being damaged by the same ingrained coping mechanisms.

Accessibility

Past generations compartmentalized pornography use into a male habit, or maybe an innocent activity of young, single men. Those preconceptions were quickly shattered early in my career as a sexual addiction therapist.

I spoke with a set of parents on the East Coast who sadly reported the grim story of their six-year-old, Anna, who had recently started crying every night before falling asleep. Eventually they discovered that her anxiety came from watching internet pornography.

I can’t stop looking at videos on Daddy’s computer!” she told them through her tears.

That same week I talked with a father and mother from the West Coast. Their normally compliant first grader, Xavier, had begun misbehaving at home and disrupting his classroom. The parents and school counselor were determined to understand this sudden change in his personality and formulated plans to help him, all to no avail.

Xavier’s behavior grew worse and worse until at last he went to his older brother and begged, “Take away those naughty pictures in my mind!”    

It’s easy to see how the internet has entirely altered the pornographic landscape by making obscene materials widely accessible, affordable, acceptable, and anonymous. It would be fair to say that present-day pornography bears little semblance to the material available prior to the invention of the World Wide Web. In the past, gaining access to pornography was challenging. Users who needed a fix had to find some pretext for leaving the house at night and then drive to an adult bookstore or video store, hide their car in a dark alley, and do their best to sneak in and out of the store undetected. Consequently, the onset of addiction tended to be gradual. That’s not the case anymore. The rapid availability and increasing novelty of pornography alter the brain’s natural, God-given sexual response in profound ways.

Your Husband Is the Target of a Huge Industry

Over the past twenty years, an explosive expansion of internet technology has taken place, providing instant access to explicit sexual sites. As a result, the onset of addiction is more rapid and can become full blown within a surprisingly short period of time.

Pornography is frequently the precursor or gateway to sex addiction, since internet pornography impacts individuals of all ages and cultures, regardless of personal background, education, or socioeconomic status.

The problem is immeasurably compounded when the viewers’ brains aren’t yet fully developed—in other words, in children (like Anna and Xavier, as well as your husband if he encountered early exposure), adolescents, and young adults under the age of twenty-five. The younger the viewer, the more traumatizing the pornographic encounter, both mentally and physically. This sets up youth for even more intense and dangerous addictive behavior in the future.

You may feel discouraged after reading this, but don’t lose hope! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You, your husband, and your marriage can be healed and restored.

Answering the question “Why does he do what he does?” will give you some perspective on the challenges your husband faces. And hopefully it will encourage you and your husband to get help from a therapist who specializes in sexual addictions.

1 “Johann Hari, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” (TED Talk, TEDGlobalLondon, June 2015), accessed January 28, 2020, 

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Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography: A Plan for Recovery

Taken from Aftershock: Overcoming His Secret Life with Pornography: A Plan for Recovery by Joann Condie and Geremy Keeton. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.

About the Authors

 Joann Condie’s career as a licensed and nationally certified professional counselor, registered nurse, and counselor at Focus on the Family has spanned several decades. Her counseling specializes in the sexually broken and wounded.

 Geremy Keeton is the senior director of the counseling services department of Focus on the Family and a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has extensive experience in counseling men and couples on topics of healthy sexuality, infidelity, and pornography addiction.

Porn Addiction Destroys Marriage | Restoring What's Been Lost
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