I’ve been with my wife for 10 years. We are both 36 years old. We moved in fast and didn’t take time to learn certain things about one another. For example, I watch porn, which she only found out about after we moved in. She had a visceral reaction. She told me it was a dealbreaker for her, no negotiation. I agreed to stop but didn’t. Fast forward 10 years and now I’m medicated for ADHD, which makes it much easier to avoid impulse behaviors like looking at porn. We have come close to divorce over this issue, as well as over how toxic I was before getting treatment for my ADHD. I’ve contributed my share of negativity to the marriage.
Now, as it stands, the agreement we have is that I will not watch porn of any kind. This is where we really start to differ. To her, porn is masturbating to ANYTHING. Looking at porn? Not allowed. Looking at women in bikinis? Not allowed. Coming across something that sexually charges me and masturbating to it? I have betrayed her trust. So, I don’t watch “porn” anymore but I feel extremely resentful about how I am controlled. The latest example of this was when she was helping our kid play a game on a device that had to be connected to Facebook. Mine was connected, and a message came up with a recent conversation. In it I thanked a friend for being there for me, checking in on me, sending jokes, etc. This friend likes to send funny memes, some of which are risqué. I mentioned that I appreciated his jokes, even the ones that would have “upset my wife.” She is now accusing me of using friends (and memes) as loopholes to get around my promise NOT to look at porn.
I’m so tired. I have so much shame around masturbation now and I feel like I have no privacy. We are about to see another couples’ counselor. Any suggestions for me?
— Worried About This Constant Harassment Eroding Relationship
I don’t know exactly what your wife has had to put up with. You mention toxic behavior on your part prior to seeking treatment for ADHD. Toxic energy, toxic actions, toxic toxins — whatever you did, I’m going to assume your bullshit came close to intolerable, WATCHER, and award your wife some points for putting up with your bullshit.
With that said…
Giving up porn is a price of admission some are willing to pay. A person with an otherwise healthy relationship to porn — someone who, like most people, can enjoy porn in moderation, someone who can use porn without neglecting their partner sexually and/or being inconsiderate about their partner’s feelings — sometimes falls in love with a person who, for whatever reason, can’t stand the idea of their partner watching porn. Some people have sensitivities, others have insecurities; some on the left have political objections, some on the right have religious objections. Giving up porn is not something I would ever agree to, but a reasonable person might agree to stop watching porn (or pretend they’ve stopped watching porn) for someone they love.
But if the person who insisted their partner stop watching porn later defines absolutely everything as porn — porn itself, non-pornographic photos, good-looking people walking down the street, memes shared by friends — then it was never about the porn. It wasn’t about their insecurities or their political objections or their precious religious beliefs. It was about control. And the worst thing about controlling people is that they’re never satisfied. No matter how much control a romantic partner gives up, it’s never enough. A controlling person’s demands escalate slowly at the start of a new relationship, WATCHER, when it’s still relatively easy for someone to end things. But once the relationship is harder to exit — once leases have been signed, marriages have been performed, children have been born — the controlling person’s demands not only escalate rapidly, they also tend to become more arbitrary and irrational. (No memes? Really?)
Your wife’s bullshit is intolerable, WATCHER, and you shouldn’t put up with it.
Everyone is entitled to privacy, even married people. Likewise, everyone enjoys a zone of erotic autonomy, even married people. Experiences you fantasize about, when and how you masturbate, things you can safely do without violating your monogamous commitment and/or putting your partner at risk… not only shouldn’t someone try to take those things from you, it’s not in anyone’s power to take those things from you. We can’t police our partner’s fantasies. Ideally, our partners feel safe sharing their fantasies with us and involving us to the extent we can or wish to be involved. But we can’t prevent our partners from looking at whatever they want to look at, provided they’re considerate about when and where, and we certainly can’t stop our partners from thinking about whatever they want to think about, dick in hand or no dick in hand.
Get a divorce. Or get better at telling your wife what she insists on hearing, doing whatever you want when you’re safely in the zone (of erotic autonomy), and covering your tracks.
P.S. If the last couples’ counselor you saw didn’t turn to your wife at the end of your first session and say, “You’re a fucking psycho,” they sucked at their job.