By Melissa Chalos

There’s no question that pornography is more accessible and more acceptable in our society today than it has ever been in history. In 2020 alone, porn sites received more traffic than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Zoom, Pinterest, and LinkedIn combined. A worldwide $97 billion industry, porn is streaming 24/7 on any device, and for the most part it’s free.

But there is a price to pay. And when it comes to building healthy, intimate connections with others, the price may be too high.

Distorted Reality

Pornography can be harmful, in part, because it creates a distorted reality in the mind of the consumer. Repeated use trains the brain to think that “what you see is what you get” — that what you see represents sexuality that is healthy, consensual, and reality-based.

Porn creates unrealistic sexual expectations that real sex between partners cannot deliver on. It’s a world in which both men and women are, ultimately, devalued.

In fact, pornography actually increases your sense of loneliness. People often turn to porn as a substitute for connections they don’t have. Porn presents the illusion of connection and intimacy, but it actually promotes objectification and promiscuity, which oppose the concept of attachment. The more people turn to pornography to feel less alone, the less likely they are to create meaningful connections in real life. It is temporary relief that creates a cycle of emptiness.

Llimited sex education, parents who often gloss over or avoid honest conversations about sexuality, and increased access online are all factors that contribute to more and more adolescents being exposed to distorted view of sexualtiy in pornography. And at early stages of psychosexual and brain development, children are unable to process the images they see. More than 20 scientific studies have shown that teens who use pornography experience a negative effect related to their self-esteem and mental health. It promotes sexism, racism, and violence, adversely shaping sexual belief and behavior.

Damaging to Relationships

While many consider pornography as a resource to enhance sexual pleasure within a healthy relationship, the ongoing use of porn is often an indicator of disconnection and dissatisfaction. How?

Porn creates unrealistic sexual expectations that real sex between partners cannot deliver on. It’s a world in which both men and women are, ultimately, devalued. For men, it is a one-dimensional release that sets them up for disconnect with real sexual partners. For women, it leads to low-quality sex with infrequent orgasm. As a “how to” manual for quality sex, porn fails miserably — and in no way leads to greater sexual satisfaction … regardless of gender.

Porn use is often a hidden secret in relationships, which, once revealed, diminishes essential trust and harms the self-esteem of the partner not engaged with it. In many cultures, ongoing porn usage is seen as a form of infidelity.

Damaging to Relationships - Gentle Paths at The Meadows

“Pornography is a poor substitute for the bonding version of sex,” marriage and family counselor Michael Taylor says. “The vulnerability is removed in pornography, and that makes it too simplistic to produce the security and bonding that are a significant part of the physical interaction of a couple.”

It can also create physical issues such as erectile dysfunction … even in younger men. According to one survey, 45% of young men with a porn addiction have erectile dysfunction, a surprisingly high percentage. Over time, with increased usage of porn — as with other addictive behaviors — it takes more to achieve arousal.

These and other indicators spell relationship trouble for those who engage with pornography on a daily or regular basis.

Pornography Can Be Addictive

Although the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize porn addiction as an official mental health diagnosis, habitual porn usage does have a similar effect on the pleasure centers of the brain as drug usage does.

Viewing porn doesn’t mean you will become addicted, but these are signs that it could be getting out of control:

  • The time you spend watching porn keeps growing
  • You feel you need a porn “fix” — and that gives you a sense of euphoria
  • You feel guilty about the consequences of viewing porn
  • You are neglecting responsibilities or sleep to view porn
  • You are unable to enjoy sex without first viewing porn
  • You are unable to resist porn even though it’s disrupting your life

How to Break Free from Porn Use

As with any long-term behavior, breaking free of pornography is possible. You can choose a different path for yourself. But it’s not a one-and-done decision. It’s a series of healthy steps in the right direction over time.

Porn use is often a hidden secret in relationships, which, once revealed, diminishes essential trust and harms the self-esteem of the partner not engaged with it.

What might freedom from pornography look like? What is step one? It’s important to acknowledge the negative consequences of porn in your life. Write it down, in detail, so you can refer back to it when you feel the need for a porn fix.

From there, you can take these difficult but important steps to stop watching porn and regain control, including:

  • Come clean: Be honest about your porn habit… with yourself and with your partner or significant other.
  • Find an accountability partner who will ask about your porn habit on a regular basis and help you in your efforts to conquer it
  • Ask this person to install anti-porn software on all your devices and keep the password secret for accountability
  • Delete electronic porn and bookmarks on all your devices
  • Discard all your hard-copy porn
  • Make an activity plan of things you can do when the urge for porn is strongest
  • Plan to engage in alternate activities that keep you focused and moving forward

Breaking free of pornography will require you to identify the “why” behind the porn use in your life. Is it stress, boredom, social withdrawal — what feeds your need for pornography? It will mean you have to identify the times and triggers that lead to porn consumption and make a plan for those. Often, the best way to get to the root of the issue and to establish new behaviors is to seek professional help.

Gentle Path at The Meadows specializes in helping men who struggle with sexual and other addictive disorders to understand who they are at their core. We are here for you, should you need us.

For decades, clinicians working with couples whose relationships have been damaged by infidelity – everything from porn use to affairs to full-on sexual addiction – have struggled with the process of creating a truthful baseline from which the couple can heal. The unfaithful party wants to keep some things secret because telling the full truth will hurt the betrayed partner and possibly end the relationship. The betrayed partner wants the entire truth because without that, the process of rebuilding trust can’t fully begin, and the relationship can’t reach its full potential.

Many therapists, even Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs), are not properly trained on managing the process of disclosure in ways that will help a couple heal and couples themselves are often completely in the dark. Enter Courageous Love: A Couples Guide to Conquering Betrayal, the latest offering from addiction and relationships expert Dr. Stefanie Carnes. In this book, Dr. Carnes teaches couples how to respond with compassion and empathy to their partner’s emotions, how to understand their partner’s reactive behaviors, and how to undertake the process of healing in the safest way possible from the standpoint of healing the relationship.

Dr. Carnes opens with information about the traumatic nature of betrayal. And she could hardly start anywhere else, given the fact that sexual betrayal is devastating to both the betrayed partner and the relationship. It shatters trust and intimacy, damages self-esteem, and creates doubt about everything that has ever happened in the relationship. Dr. Carnes also knows that shortly after betrayal is discovered – when the wound is still fresh (and many more wounds have yet to be uncovered) – the situation often appears hopeless.

Dr. Carnes teaches couples how to respond with compassion and empathy to their partner’s emotions…

“It may be hard to imagine how you and your partner are ever going to put the pieces of the puzzle back together,” she writes. But that is exactly what this book teaches couples (and the therapists who work with them) to do.

The process of healing both individually and as a couple begins and ends with the repair of relationship trust. Trust is the foundation of vulnerability, which is the foundation of intimacy, which is the foundation of a healthy relationship. If trust cannot be repaired, the relationship cannot be restored.

Relying on research, clinical experience, and considerable interaction with her colleagues at and individuals trained by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), Dr. Carnes has developed highly a detailed process for therapeutically supervised disclosure, which is, without question, the most necessary groundwork for becoming honest, rebuilding relationship trust, and repairing damaged intimacy.

For struggling couples, this book should be read and worked through with assistance from a therapist or, preferably, a team of therapists – one for the participating partner (the betrayer), one for the betrayed partner, and one for the couple. In fact, having a team of therapists is a necessity for proper therapeutic disclosure, as readers will learn as they progress through the book. Both partners need individual support and advocacy, as does the relationship itself.

Probably the biggest misconception about getting honest about betrayal is that disclosure is a single event and all the participating partner needs to do is tell the truth as best he or she can. However, as any therapist who’s ever worked with a couple that attempted this type of unstructured, unsupervised disclosure can tell you, this is a recipe for relationship disaster. This type of disclosure will almost certainly be incomplete, leading to more trauma later when undisclosed behaviors come to light. This type of disclosure will probably be too graphic, creating images in the betrayed partner’s mind that can never be dispelled. The type of disclosure will also be unsupported, leading to painful fights, arguments, threats, and maybe the end of the relationship.

Formal therapeutic disclosure, as described by Dr. Carnes in Courageous Love, is a highly supervised and controlled process, replete with checks and balances. And it is not conducted until both parties are emotionally and psychologically prepared to give and receive full honesty, whatever the cost, in the hopes that the process of disclosure will lead to a better, stronger, more intimately connected bond.

A proper therapeutic disclosure involves much more than the participating partner spewing information about what happened. First, the cheating partner must become clear about what he or she has done – all of it, not just the parts that don’t seem so bad. If sexual addiction is in play, this can take quite a bit of time and effort by the addict, who’s been living in denial for so long that he or she may not even know what’s true. Then there is a therapist-facilitated back and forth about what the betrayed partner wants to know, the level of detail that will work best, and how the parties will find support after the formal disclosure occurs.

Whatever it is that you’re currently thinking, feeling, and fearing, you should know right now that if you’re willing to try to heal yourself and your relationship, you can succeed in that endeavor.

And that’s hardly the end of the process. Formal therapeutic disclosure involves not only honesty about what happened, but learning about the impact of the betrayal, grieving what is lost both individually and in the relationship, developing empathy, accepting responsibility, and creating a plan to move forward in a healthier, more intimate way. Fortunately, Dr. Carnes outlines the entire process in detail, using illustrative stories and providing tasks that bring the information to life and give readers hope as they work their way through the often-arduous process of repairing their relationship.

And make no mistake, there is hope, even for the most damaged of relationships. As Dr. Carnes writes in the opening pages:

Whatever it is that you’re currently thinking, feeling, and fearing, you should know right now that if you’re willing to try to heal yourself and your relationship, you can succeed in that endeavor. If you and your partner are hurting but still truly love each other and want to make it work, that type of healing and restoration is possible. This book can take you on that healing journey.

Courageous Love is a must-read for all couples whose relationships have been damaged by infidelity, with or without the presence of sexual addiction. It is also highly recommended reading for therapists who work with sex/porn addicts, infidelity, betrayed partners, and couples. The process of disclosure and relationship repair is complex and, if improperly managed, can go awry in a hundred different ways with disastrous consequences. This book is the definitive guide to keeping this process on track. No couple should attempt disclosure before they read and work through this volume.

By Anna McKenzie

If you’ve had a troubled relationship history, you may start to wonder if a good relationship is possible for you. You might think that there are no “good ones” out there anymore, or you may sink into self-doubt, wondering what is wrong with you. But running down the rabbit trail of blame and despair is unproductive, and it can be harmful to you — especially if you’re in recovery.

As you consider getting into another relationship, you may be asking the question, “What does a healthy, loving relationship even look like?” The truth is, you may not have seen or experienced one before. Many people have unhealthy relationship patterns because they learned them from what they saw modeled by the adults in their lives; they may have experienced attachment issues from an early age and those followed them into adulthood. Escaping an unhealthy pattern will require you to become more self-aware, so you can learn to spot the differences between what’s healthy and what’s not.

The Roles People Play

We all play certain roles in our relationships. Because none of us are perfect (or have perfect families), we all tend toward playing certain types of roles because we are seeking fulfillment we did not receive as children. Within a relationship, partners tend to play opposing roles to achieve balance.

For example, two very dependent people will struggle in a relationship because they both need a caregiver. In order for the relationship to survive, one person must become the caregiver. If not, the dependent partners will seek a caregiver outside of the relationship, and the relationship itself will break down.

Roles we tend to play in relationships:

  • Caregiver
  • Dependent
  • Persecutor
  • Rescuer
  • Victim
  • Enabler
  • Agitator
  • Pacifier
  • Parent
  • Child

Familiar roles are the ones we play the most. The tendency we have to play a familiar role usually comes from our family history, cultural context, and personal experiences. We may even assume that a familiar role is part of our identity, which makes it much harder to play any other role. If you have been victimized, it is familiar to you to play the role of victim (even if you do not wish to play that role). In playing the role of victim, you may attract a partner who is a rescuer — or a persecutor. When your identity is tied to a certain role, you will continue to play that role, even if it’s harmful to you or attracts harmful partners.

In unhealthy relationships, playing a role tied to your identity can lead to damaging cycles that are difficult to break out of. Your partner will continue to play the opposing role, seeking their own compensation for needs that were not met earlier in life. To change this pattern in a relationship, roles must be redefined. If a role is connected to a person’s ego, confidence, or self-esteem, changing roles can be very difficult.

The Problem with Identity-Based Roles in Relationships

The problem with playing a role in order to meet certain needs you’ve had from earlier in life is that your partner is only human. No matter how hard you try — or how hard they try — that person cannot provide the fulfillment you’re seeking. This is a difficult truth, but it is also very liberating.

When you are fighting to get your needs met in a way that is tied to your identity and your partner is doing the same, it can lead to:

  • Major conflicts that escalate and don’t resolve
  • Physical and emotional abuse
  • A need for control that manifests itself in bad habits or negative coping mechanisms
  • Bitterness and resentment
  • Over-attachment or complete detachment

When you understand that another person can’t give you the satisfaction you are desperately looking for, you can start to make changes within yourself that will not only help you find personal balance but attract partners who are balanced as well.

Letting Go of the Roles You Once Played

Individuals who can create and sustain healthy relationships have reached a point where they no longer need to play a certain role in order to feel good about themselves or their identity. Healthy relationships are marked by mutuality, meaning that those in the relationship give and take at an equal level, with complementary strengths that supplement the other’s weaknesses. Mutuality comes from having the same level of personal maturity.

When you are in a healthy relationship, you may continue to play roles sometimes. However, you will be independent from the need to play a certain role in order to feel satisfied, loved, or fulfilled. When you are secure in a healthy identity, your self-esteem remains intact even when you experience conflict or a lack of balance. You can take or leave a role more easily and regain relational balance with less effort.

Healthy Relationship Signs

Here are a few signs that you’re in a healthy relationship:

  • You and your partner demonstrate mutual care for each other. In a healthy relationship, partners mutually and genuinely care for each other without ulterior motives. They look out for the other’s interests, not just their own well-being.
  • You accept your partner’s differences instead of conforming to them or trying to change them. When you are not dependent on another person to meet a need they cannot possibly meet, you remove a major burden from yourself and that person. You are free to accept that person for who they truly are. You don’t feel the need to change in order to accommodate your partner — or to change your partner to accommodate your own needs.
  • You feel the freedom to leave but commit because you want to (not because you feel compelled to).In a consistently toxic relationship, you may not feel free to leave because you are still trying to get their needs met — or you fear the other person’s reaction. In a healthy relationship, you feel the freedom to leave, but committing is a choice you make willingly. You don’t feel compelled to stay; you actually want to.

How to Attract a Healthy Partner

In order to attract a healthy partner who has let go of their old roles, you must learn how to let go of your old roles. This may necessitate exploring the roles you’ve played in the past. Chances are, you had a good reason — but just like the coping mechanisms we create in childhood, old roles do not serve us in adulthood.

We need to find out what patterns of behavior are no longer helping us but are instead hindering us from having great relationships. 

You deserve to be in a relationship where you are respected and loved. In order to get into this kind of relationship, you must first respect and love yourself. You must learn how to respect and love others and treat them with compassion, not simply as people who can meet your needs, but as people who are valuable just because of who they are. There are no perfect people or perfect relationships — you will always be a work in progress. But you do not have to continue the pattern of damage and disappointment that you may have experienced in the past.

Treatment for Sex Addiction and Co-occurring Disorders at Gentle Path

At Gentle Path, we provide intensive treatment for men who are struggling with sex addiction co-occurring disorders, and emotional trauma. We treat every person with compassion and respect, equipping them to break free from destructive patterns and harmful coping mechanisms. With our multi-faceted, comprehensive program, we offer men the resources, therapies, and tools they need to recover from addiction and create healthy relationships. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for these conditions, please get in touch with our team today. We would love to tell you more about our program and help you get started on the path to recovery.