When you’re in a committed relationship, a lot of tough conversations are brought up. You may discuss your hopes for a future family, or talk about significant job choices together. But even more important than the number of kids you’d like to have, or what job your significant other has is a huge—typically taboo—topic that all couples need to talk about: pornography.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, we have to talk about it.
In a 2002 survey, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers interviewed 350 divorce attorneys and discovered that approximately 60% of the attorneys reported that internet pornography played a prominent role in the divorces. “Excessive interest in online porn” was a factor for over 50% of those cases.
So, if you’re discussing marriage with your partner, you also need to discuss pornography and how it can affect your relationship and future marriage. Because you may be wincing about bringing this subject up with your partner, here are six steps about how to handle the conversation gracefully and lovingly.
Ask Them About the Last Time They Watched Pornography
Let’s face it—a conversation about pornography is not an easy topic to talk about. There are probably a thousand and one other conversations you’d rather have, and starting the conversation isn’t going to be easy.
But instead of approaching the conversation with a judgmental tone, ask your partner when the last time they viewed pornography, and what their reaction was to that experience. It could be that your boyfriend or girlfriend struggles with pornography on a regular basis.
Maybe the last time they watched pornography was unintentionally when they were in grade school. Either way, their story with pornography matters, and it’s important for you to know about as their partner. Not everyone has viewed porn, so it could be that your conversation results in both of you agreeing about the dangers of pornography and committing to not let it into your relationship together.
If your partner does struggle with pornography, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to know the details of every time your partner has watched pornography. Knowing the nitty-gritty details won’t help you process things mentally, and reliving every time your partner struggled with pornography won’t help he or she heal, either.
Reject Assumptions, Listen—And Keep Listening
After your partner shares their experience with pornography, it can be easy to jump to conclusions. You may even begin blaming yourself for their past with pornography, or wonder if there’s something you could have done to prevent this from happening in their life.
Instead of falling into the trap of blaming yourself, take a deep breath and focus on listening to your partner. Repeat back what they’re telling you about their story so they can clear up anything that was lost in miscommunication.
Be fully present with them during the conversation. If your partner does struggle with pornography, admitting it to you (the person they love the most!) is incredibly vulnerable and courageous of them. Value their words and story and let them know this is a safe place to have a discussion about their history.
Step three: Explain your stance on pornography
“Pornography’s effects reach beyond our ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships,” Matt Fradd writes in his latest book, The Porn Myth.
“Pornography can also affect how we view sex and members of the opposite sex, particularly how men view women.”
If your partner struggles with an addiction to pornography, it’s okay to let him or her know that you understand where he or she is coming from. But that understanding and empathy with their struggle doesn’t translate into being okay with the presence of pornography in your relationship with them. Let them know that a relationship with you and a relationship with pornography cannot co-exist.
It could be possible that your significant other doesn’t understand the ramifications that viewing pornography could have in their life. If that’s the case, this conversation could open up a door to discuss the effects of pornography on the viewer’s mind, heart, and soul.Check out these resources over for further information about pornography.
Begin healing—for both yourself and your partner
After listening to your partner’s story, ask them how they can take steps to begin healing from the effects of pornography in their life. Maybe they’ve never considered counseling or attending a 12-step program if their pornography use is an addictive behavior. You could be the first person they’ve ever told about this struggle, and they could be just as ready as you are for it to not play a role in their life.
If your partner struggles with pornography, the problem won’t simply go away without healing. There is no switch at the wedding altar that takes away the urge to continue to look at pornography. “Pornography is prefab fantasy and sexual convenience,” Fradd writes.
“Relationships can be complicated: they involve truly knowing, caring for, and serving another person at the expense of one’s own desire. Pornography, however, is one-sided: the women on the screen have no needs of their own. Even when a man experiences pleasurable sexual intimacy with his wife, the offer of pornography can still be appealing because it offers a shortcut to sexual release without the hassle of interaction.”
A history with pornography isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for a relationship. Each person’s experience with pornography is different. If the conversation with your partner has left you wondering if this is the end for the both of you, look into counseling together or separately, and take your questions about discernment to prayer.
Don’t let this be a one-time conversation
Because conversations about pornography can initially be very uncomfortable, it’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief after the first conversation and never bring the subject up again. Unfortunately, conversations like this with your partner aren’t just a one-time event. Pornography is a struggle that takes place mostly in secrecy. In order to bring about healing from its effects, the topic needs to be brought into the light.
Don’t be afraid to check in with your partner and ask them how their journey is going. This doesn’t mean that you need to be your partner’s accountability partner. You should be honest with each other – especially if you’re talking about marriage.
But an outside perspective into a struggle with pornography can be a helpful tool in the healing process. The most valuable help you can provide is to be clear with your expectations about pornography, support your partner during the healing process, and be educated about the truth of pornography.
And—if you don’t see eye to eye
What happens if you bring up the subject of pornography with your significant other, and they couldn’t disagree more with your feelings on the subject? In a healthy romantic relationship, you and your partner should be able to discuss hard issues respectfully and listen to each other’s point of view. When it comes to big issues that will have an effect on both you, it’s important for you to be on the same page.
If you struggle to have a conversation about pornography without feeling unheard or belittled, or your significant other has heard your opinions and isn’t open to changing their habit of pornography use, it may be a good idea to think about whether the relationship is healthy for the both of you.