Dear Addicts/Loved Ones of Addicts,
I am writing this letter both as a way to help others, and as a way to cope with my partner’s own battle with pornography. For the sake of this article, my partner will be referred to as G. Also, for the sake of this article I will be discussing this from a female partner, male addict perspective. I acknowledge that there are female addicts and male partners, as well. This battle is never easy for the addict and the one that they love. For the addict, it is an everyday battle. As cliché as this is, it truly is an everyday battle for the addict. Someday they may no longer have lingering thoughts and an internet ad may no longer be a trigger, but that does not remove the potential for anything becoming a trigger. For the partner of the addict, everyday is also a battle. Everyday the partner of an addict is worried about when the addict is alone, if something they see or hear will cause them to relapse, if they will relapse and not tell them, or if their partner will get bored with them eventually. As you can see, there is pain on both sides of the fence. It is never easy to deal with this issue on one’s own, but one also cannot deal with an addiction or being the loved one of an addict on one’s own.
For many people like G, exposure to pornography begins at a young age. 90% of men have seen porn between the ages of 8 and 16. That puts the average exposure age at about 12 years old. For many men, they are exposed to pornography by a friend or family member. They are too young to fully appreciate what they are seeing and their brain begins to use it as means to cope with something like boredom and stress, but it also is something that is easily triggered. For G, who wants to stop using and does his best to avoid triggers, it is difficult when he is browsing a website and an ad is present that makes him want to look at pornography, and he has relapsed several times. Possibly several times more than I am aware of.
For the partners of people like G, other women and myself have to deal with this battle every single day. It is not something as simple as not thinking about it. When you have been hurt many times, been lied to many times and begin to question your beauty and femininity, it is not something that a 90 day abstinence period will fix. When the one you love lies to you repeatedly and says that they haven’t relapsed, or that they did but only once, or that they relapsed three times, it makes it very difficult to trust. Even though I know G is trying and that it is part of his journey to relapse, it does not make it easier on myself. Their shame, embarrassment, and disappointment in themselves cause them to conceal their relapses out of fear of judgement and disappointment. When G relapsed this weekend, he lied to me but I knew very well that it had happened. When I had proof, G informed me of his relapse and even then he was nervous to tell me. This morning he told me that he did not want me to not be proud of him and did not want to hurt me/cause me pain, so he concealed it.
For many porn addicts, they have also been addicts of other things. G has suffered from drug and alcohol addictions, is a former smoker, and struggles with his diet. He beat drugs and alcohol and is conscious of what he has to do with his diet. Due to having previous addictions, the brain is dependent a lot on the taking in of dopamine. It is why some addicts like G don’t even have to masturbate to the material. Taking in the images in the mind is mentally stimulating to them. Due to the material being present in simple ads, pornographic websites or websites designed to post pictures of women that are clothed (e.g., websites dedicated to posting pictures of women in yoga pants), it is difficult for people to entirely avoid.
Relapse is important for a recovering addict. They have to learn what works and what doesn’t work. G is learning from this relapse that even avoiding pornographic websites is not enough. Pornographic material can be present on basic websites. For example, we both like People of Walmart, and it is not a pornography website but there are pornographic ads! Relapse should teach an addict that they relapse at X times, X days, over X material, and they handle it by X. So, when an addict learns from their relapse, they can learn what they need to avoid or learn to cope with in order to prevent future relapses.
Despite the hope out there for addicts, it does not offer 100% comfort to the partners of addicts. I know that even though G will be free someday, it does not entirely heal my pain. It is an everyday thing for me just like it is for him. I’ve learned that you have to take it everyday at a time. Setting goals too early can put too much pressure on an addict and cause relapse. Promoting honesty and openness is important too. G still struggles with being open and honest when it happens, but if you can get an addict to be honest at some point it is helpful. Know that there can be strong emotional responses throughout this on both sides. Last night my partner had a highly emotional response (for him) and I kept my cool. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I’ve cried myself to sleep at least two dozen times on this issue, had panic attacks wondering if something I did/said could lead to a relapse, or the fact that I never know what is going to pop up when we’re watching tv, are browsing online, or when he is alone.
But what I’ve learned is that the first step is developing a good faith effort. Being able to open up with someone. Respecting the one you are with enough to know they deserve the truth and the ability to be fully aware of a situation. Knowing a habit of yours makes the person you’re with feel ugly, not beautiful at all, depressed, anxious, possibly suicidal, and makes them question whether they are enough for you sexually. Remember, cheating is defined as defrauding or swindling someone out of a healthy relationship. Online materials like pornography are quickly being added to the adultery definitions. Always be open and honest. If someone loves you they’ll help with an addiction but you have to be honest.