Episode 214 - What About When My Spouse Treats Me Poorly Because of Porn UseOct 09, 2023
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Zach Spafford: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. I'm your host, Zach Spafford, and today I wanted to talk about a question that I got from somebody who watched the live that we did with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson Fyfe, and I think it's a really good question partly because I think really digging into this question is going to give us some answers as to how we can both reframe and address the pornography struggle in a much more meaningful way.
The question came and it said, "I just learned about this podcast and I listened to one with Dr. JFF about porn and marriage. I think I understand it better though. I do have a few questions. No shame around porn. She's saying here it is a symptom of a bigger issue. My question is, that as a woman of the addict, she's referring to her husband, who is choosing to view pornography.
As women of the addict, it isn't just that it's not about the wife. What about how he treats me after he's consumed his porn and masturbation platform? He is very distant and harsh. How would the spouse handle that? Porn is the problem in that instance. What about the idea that he is looking at other women?
I feel very obsolete. I know it matters how I feel about myself, but I'm so lost on these issues."
I want to start by saying this question is 100 percent valid. It's an important question. It's a very good question. Essentially what I feel like she's saying what I, in our back and forth, I think what we came to was that essentially what she feels like is when he is done viewing pornography or masturbating or engaging in this activity that is outside of his value structure. She is, she thinks it's outside of his value structure. She believes it's outside of her value structure. So it's not the, that's not the people. That's not the couple that they want to be. So once he is done doing that, his choice to view pornography seems to be a catalyst for some deeper feelings. And it's possible here that he's becoming very upset with himself. And as a result, he then chooses to react and interact with his wife in this disrespectful, inappropriate way. And He is essentially being mentally, emotionally, and verbally, not a very nice person. And I'm not going to use the word abuse here because I don't know that it goes that deep with this particular conversation.
I just think that's a possibility, but it's not, it didn't sound like that's where it was. It was just, he just, this is the way my wife might say it. She's like, you're just being grumpy, right? And I'm not saying that this can't escalate to something further than being, just kind of a grump and a little bit rude and abrupt and that sort of thing.
What I am saying is it didn't seem to be the case in this particular instance. So I'm going to speak at it from this, from that perspective. I don't condone in any way being abusive. That's not appropriate. That's not the way that it should be. If that is happening in your relationship, that definitely needs to be addressed.
But that didn't seem to be the way that this particular conversation was going.
So in that case everybody has options and really the goal here is to re empower yourself in this conversation. As the spouse, as the wife of someone who's viewing pornography, the pornography here is probably not the problem.
It is clearly problematic and it clearly can be a problem, but it doesn't seem to be the problem. The problem seems to be how much he kind of hates himself and is not feeling like he wants to even engage with his wife after he chooses to view pornography. So in that case, again, you have a couple of options.
Number one, you can choose to disengage. You can step back. You can say, Hey, this isn't how I want to interact with you. I don't think that that is appropriate the way that you're speaking to me and really to do this properly, and this a conversation about boundaries.
Boundaries is a tough conversation. I was actually on our cruise a couple of weeks ago, I was having this conversation with my cousin who is a psychiatrist. He's a board certified psychiatrist in the air force. He's in the air force and he is trying to explain. Boundaries. And I'm just kind of like poking little holes in it and not to be mean, but I'm just like, it's boundaries is a really tough conversation.
And I actually read an article on this recently. And maybe Darcy and I'll do a conversation about it. But to talk about boundaries is there's not as much of a hard and fast as I think we would like there to be. It's not just if he does this, then that. What it really is, is it's about a position that you're taking mentally and emotionally and where you are in that position in terms of your calm, controlled sense of how am I going to take care of me?
And not necessarily let what is going on for him bother me. And I know that's a very, very light treatment of this. But when your spouse is being rude or abrupt or unkind to you, especially around this particular issue, to do this properly, you have to come from a place of calm, solid. Self respect and that's not to say that it's your responsibility to manage them.
It's not to say that it is your responsibility to be the person in charge of how they feel or to tell them what to do is simply to say, okay, if I were talking to somebody that I didn't care about and I did care about me, or if I was trying to protect someone that I did care about, and I was going to do it in a calm, collected, cool way, how would I talk to that person?
How would I address what they've chosen to do? If I wasn't going to let the emotion or the discomfort bother me, how would I deal with them? If the way that we interact with this is in any way that fight or flight response, generally, I think that it tends to feel terrible.
I know that when I talked to Darcy and I'm like mad or upset or frustrated and. She's just calmly talking to me. I know she's in control and I'm not in control. And that goes both ways, by the way. Don't worry. I feel terrible about me. I know she doesn't feel great about her when she, gets disorganized, gets discombobulated, and kind of starts getting grumpy at me.
Once you get into that fight or flight feeling, then it can really become an argument less of a good conversation and more where you say, Hey, I don't really like how you're treating me. I would expect you to treat me slightly differently, or I would expect you to behave differently in this scenario. And I don't appreciate the way that you're behaving. Anything more than that kind of calm, comfortable sense there's a good chance that it's going to devolve into an unpleasant disagreement.
To do this properly, what you want to do is you want to just stay in a solid sense of self respect and be comfortable with yourself. Be the person that you expect yourself to be as best you can. That's not always possible.
I totally understand that. And if you're, your spouse is being a grump at you, you might want to snipe back at them. And I totally understand that too. We've established that. When he's in, in this conversation with this woman, we established that he's not really in a mind frame to meaningfully discuss what's going on.
So an argument in that conversation, in that moment is probably not going to be very valuable or fruitful. You're probably not going to get very far. So option number one is just to simply from a calm, comfortable place to say, I'm going to step away from this for now. And I would love to have a conversation about what's going on for you. However, I'm not willing to participate in it like this, so I'm just going to move away from this. Okay. And option number two is really similar to that. It's just, again, from that calm, self respectful energy, let that person know you don't deserve to be treated that way.
Let them also know that you understand they may not be feeling good about themselves. Just again, address them directly, address what's going on for them directly. Don't make it about yourself. It's not necessarily like, "Hey, don't be mean to me. You're a jerk for doing that."
It's more like, "Hey, why are you acting like this? I don't really like it. It's not a kind way to treat me. What's going on for you?" Let me see what into you. Let me know you, let me understand you a bit. And I would love to talk to you about it. If that's how you feel, obviously. If you don't feel that way again, just feel free to just get up and walk away.
And I've talked about boundaries before on the podcast and I've said, Darcy, this is a great story. Darcy used to like come into my office and kind of bombard me with questions like, like rapid fire. Why is this going on with the business? This and that. And I don't mind necessarily having the conversation about the business because it's important to do that.
It's important to have those conversations, but what it was was. Middle of the day, if she was feeling anxious, she would just come into my office and start bombarding me. So I would just get up and walk out. Not because I didn't want to have that conversation with her per se, but I didn't feel like it was the appropriate moment.
And I didn't feel like it was going to be fruitful if all I was doing was addressing her anxiety. And that really is a key component of understanding how you might best interact with a partner who is not living up to their best selves, not showing up in a good way around whether it's pornography or any real issue in your lives.
And one, just recognizing this may not be a good time to actually have this conversation and don't make them being there about you. And two, being able to just walk away calmly and not really engage in that from, again, from a calm, self respecting position.
Think about if you were out in public and some, somebody starts being crazy.
You may be at a restaurant and you've gotten your food and someone starts acting the fool, right? They're just. Kind of taking it in a weird place. And they're pointing at customers and yelling at people. You may just grab your kids, grab your food and walk away. You may not. Engage that battle partly because you don't know that person.
You don't know how crazy that's going to get, but you also are like, it's not worth it to put a lot of energy into this. And I'm not saying that you're in your spousal relationships, that it may not be worth it to put energy into it. What I am saying is it's important to figure out when is a good time to put energy into something when your spouse is feeling really super bad about themselves.
Arguing about their choices is probably not going to be a very helpful way to do that or a helpful time to put a lot of energy into that in each of these cases, what you're doing in each of your choices, whether it's getting to know your partner better by saying, Hey, what's going on for you or calling them on the carpet and saying, Hey, you know, the way you're behaving is really not appropriate and I don't deserve to be treated that way.
I'm better than that. So I'm going to, and then, or, you know, stepping away, walking away and just. Being silent about it in each of those different scenarios what you're really doing is you're taking back the power to yourself You're empowering your choices. You're not letting pornography be the scapegoat You're not letting some externality of your partner's choice be the scapegoat for instance if it was about money and your spouse was frustrated and upset about money and They were spending hundreds of dollars a week on fast food It really isn't about the fast food or the money.
What it's about is what's going on for your partner. That's making them feel like they are out of control or driving them towards these choices of how they're eating or what they're doing to manage their anxiety. And once you take away that scapegoat, really your choices. are difficult, right? Do I, do I walk away calmly?
Do I address their anxiety calmly? Or do I simply call out their behavior calmly or some version of all three of those, even. What you're doing is you're taking the responsibility for the problem and you're moving it out of the externality and you're moving it back into what's going on for your partner and their behavior as a choice rather than something that we're going to scapegoat and say, well, porn is the problem or the food is the problem or the money is the problem.
It's what's going on for you internally. And the problem is, is that if we aren't learning how to manage ourselves mentally and emotionally, Even if we got rid of porn, let's just say for the sake of argument, we just like drop porn. Porn's gone. No, no longer a problem. Then something else is going to take its place.
If we're not learning how to deal with why it is that we've been choosing this behavior, even though it goes against our moral compass, even though it's not the person that we expect ourselves to be, something else is going to step in there. So if it's not porn, it might be food. If it's not food, it's going to be money.
If it's not money, you know, overspending, if it's not money, it might be video games or videos or whatever it is. So, what you have to be aware of is that when you're addressing your spouse around this issue, and I hope that you can hear that this is really about you are you can re empower yourself.
You can take back the power around this. You can address this in a meaningful way without it being necessarily about something that you hate. The pornography is bad or about you being attacked. It can really just be about why is my spouse choosing this? What is going on for my spouse that is nudging them in this direction?
And if I can, from a calm, clear-headed space, look at that, then there's a really good chance that I can start to understand them and Maybe even assist them in addressing the underlying cause. And when we can actually address the underlying cause, which is a lot of the work that Darcy and I do with the couples that we work with is dealing with.
What's going on so that they, we can learn to deal with that directly instead of choosing porn to escape it or lashing out at our partner or whatever it is, once we learn how to deal with that, then we start to get traction and start to actually change the behaviors, change the direction of the situation.
And here's one thing that I also want you to see. She wrote this email and it's a great email, a great question. And she's saying, Hey, tell me what to do when porn is actually the problem. That's kind of the basis for this question. But what the answer really is, is what can I do? What can I do to empower myself?
What can I take on to empower myself to address the underlying cause? Once I do that, and by the way, that's all on my side of the street, right? For her, it's all on her side of the street. I haven't said to her, you know, your husband has to stop this. I haven't said to her, your husband's a bad person for doing that.
Partly because I don't know. I'm only interacting with her one, but two for him, he has to be willing to take on those responsibilities on his side of the street to actually address this. And she can't control that. None of us can control what it is that our partner does on their side of the street. So unless and until we actually address those things on.
Our side of the street, we have no control. And the only way that we have control is to look on our side of the street. What can I do? How can I take back my power? How can I set up a reasonable boundary around this issue? Meaning how can I address it without making it about me staying calm? Understanding their position and also being willing to step away from it mentally and emotionally so that it isn't so I'm not getting lost in the anxiety of what's going on for them.
Those are all really important things, but they're all things that you have to do on your side of the street. None of it's on their side of the street. And that's a really big difference and a really big deal. So I want you to understand, one, there's a lot of nuance. There's a lot of nuance in boundaries.
There's a lot of nuance in the way that we interact with our spouses. There's a lot of nuance in what it is that we ourselves are willing to take. And the more clear you can be for yourself about what's okay, what's not okay. And what's about me and what's not about me, the more likely it is that you'll get to the heart of things and you'll actually start to address those behaviors and issues at a structural level rather than at a surface level saying, I just want this one behavior going.
All right. Hopefully that's been helpful to you guys. Hopefully you're understanding a little bit better about boundaries. Hopefully you're understanding a little bit better about how to reempower yourselves, and I will talk to you guys next week.
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