How to Cultivate Emotional Intimacy in a Marriage When Porn has been a Problem

EmotionalIntimacy
From time to time, Craig and I get emails from people who read our book or this blog and ask us questions. Though we are not counselors, we are happy to respond with what has/has not worked for us in the various situations. Here is an excerpt from a recent email we received (shared with permission, name changed) and my response:
Dear Jen and Craig,

…I’ve struggled with a porn addiction for longer than I want to remember and admit.  I’m under no illusion that getting  myself and my marriage back to a place of purity and intimacy will take time…..perhaps a great deal of time.  I’ve been open about it for years with certain people including therapists and am now in the midst of a re-commitment to my sobriety.  I’m being held accountable and go to group once a week.  My spouse is aware of the struggle and has been very patient with me.  One of the issues we’ve had over the years thru the ups and downs is my wife’s struggle coming to grips with her own feelings & emotions.  Not just about the addiction, but about everything.  She was raised in an environment where you just didn’t talk about “how you felt.” It was easier that way.  There was never a problem to solve because…. there was never a problem to solve.  I was raised in an environment completely opposite.  Where I’m a much more expressive person, she is not.

I’m fully aware our level of intimacy has been affected by the addiction, but also weakened due to my wife’s inability to verbally express herself about what she desires in our relationship, our friendship and our intimacy.  I’ve learned my controlling tendencies (which I know stem from deep insecurity) and bigger-than-life personality, have not made that road easy and I’m thankful she has been able to express that.   Rekindling an exciting, new, sexy and fun intimacy seems to be such a pipe dream.  When I read the blogs, its very clear the fight must be entered into by two people not just one.   Jen, you appear to possess an ability to verbalize your feelings with Craig which has probably expedited the healing process and made it easier to reach a level of intimacy where the addiction is no longer affected the relationship as it once did    What input and guidance can you give someone in my situation?

– “Steve”

Dear Steve,

First, I am an external processor in the relationship. Craig is internal. Part of this is probably just how God created him, but it also has to do with how he was raised. Craig often felt like his opinions/desires didn’t matter much in comparison to his siblings. In addition, hard topics (like sex and porn) were not discussed because it just wasn’t the Southern way. Craig had to learn two things in order to effectively communicate with me: 1) I would value what he had to say.  2) It was safe to say what was on his heart.

It took a long time for him to realize these two things, in part because of my own defensiveness and wanting to fix things (I’m wondering if, as a man, you can also relate to this because Craig struggles with trying to “fix” my problem instead of just listening first).  I had to learn to listen without judgement and to not make whatever he was saying about me. This made it safe for him to share with me whatever was on his heart when we was ready to do so. There are still sometimes when I’ve had to drag stuff out of him, but much less often now.

Just like you had to learn about the root of your addiction, your wife needs to recognize the root of her inability to express her emotions. This might be done by introspective journalling, counseling, etc. Maybe just even ask her to spend some time thinking about these questions and asking God for wisdom and insight:

1) Was I able to take up emotional space in my family as a kid? 

2) Did people seem to communicate that they were concerned about my feelings/what was happening in my life?

3) What seemed to happen when I did express emotions/feelings? 

4) In what was is my husband similar/different to my parents?

5) What would I need to know before I started sharing things?

6) Am I missing out on joy and a deeper connection with those around me because I can’t trust anyone with my feelings?

7) Do I trust God with my emotions/feelings? Could I consider that He created me to live as a part of a community in which to have an outlet for these feelings?

My other suggestion is that instead of rekindling the intimacy verbally, what if you started with a journal you passed back and forth? You might write her a letter expressing your emotions and ask her some gentle, inquisitive questions. For a time, whatever you bring up in the journal stays in the journal, except when she brings it up verbally. Sometimes, it is easier to write something down instead of saying them face to face. Likewise, sometimes it is helpful to read responses instead of hearing them, as it gives the person time to process and respond instead of feeling put on the spot. As time progresses and she realizes it is safe to express herself in writing, she might naturally do this verbally.

In Christ,

Jen

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