Advice from the armchair marriage counselor

Advice Marriage

Suppose your marriage is afflicted with that everyone’s-talking-about-how-they’re-suffering-in-silence Mormon epidemic know as “your husband’s porn addiction.” Suppose you’re absolutely convinced that that is the problem, and if he won’t stop, then your marriage will be destroyed — nothing can persuade you otherwise. But he can’t seem to stop, or refuses to.

Then there are two possibilities: (1) you’re wrong, and hence you’re choosing to throw your marriage in the garbage, or (2) you’re right, hence your marriage is toast. either way, there’s only one course of action: start getting your finances in order because you’re heading for divorce court.

But let’s say that you’ve decided to entertain the possibility that your marriage can be salvaged. I’ve had so many people contact me for relationship advice (not just about this, but on lots of different problems), that I’m starting to get worried that I’ll be arrested for practicing marriage counseling without a license, so I’d like to start by quoting Jonathan Blake‘s comment which he posted here:

Pornography/masturbation and the shame associated with it were a huge part of my youth. I took the GAs counsel to heart. This resulted in self-loathing and even suicidal thoughts on occasion. I was vulnerable to this shame because I wanted to do the right thing. It was a big deal for me. I considered myself a sexual addict for a long time.

Years later, I leave the church for reasons unrelated to pornography (trust me). This gives me the opportunity to disregard the messages from the LDS church and culture that have been telling me that I’m evil, disgusting, unworthy, etc. for viewing pornography and masturbating. I allow myself to take a relaxed attitude on the issue for the first time in my life.

Just as djinn said, poof, the sexual addiction evaporated. The difference was like night and day. A almost unbearable burden had been lifted. The key ingredient in my addiction was gone: shame.

This may be hard to swallow, but mainstream LDS ideas about pornography are part of the problem. Taking a more balanced view was key for my recovery. If the LDS people want to overcome their addiction to porn, the first step is to cut out the teachings and attitudes that fuel shame about an innate and beautiful part of what it means to be human.

With that in mind, let’s consider both sides without dismissing one as a priori wrong. Masturbation (with or without porn) may be (1) the root problem (2) a symptom of another problem, or (3) not actually a problem. I’ve written a couple of new posts to help spark a discussion between you and your spouse which may help if you’re both willing to agree to read them with an open mind and consider them: Fidelity, Autonomy: Where does your body end and your spouse’s begin? and For married Mormons: Where does OK end and sin begin?

I hope this helps and you won’t, y’know, turn me in to the Marriage Counselor Licensing Board. 😉

116 thoughts on “Advice from the armchair marriage counselor

  1. CLH: (and the fact that people can do it easily without material consequences)

    You are WRONG, so very,very WRONG.
    leaving is Painful and often Expen$ive…

  2. CLH: Yet, we often read of ppl being told to put their G’s on ‘right after’ having sex…
    (gasp) Is there also a time limit ‘before’? IOW, (a couple) takes their G’s off anticipating ‘having a good time’; may be the middle of the day; may be (gasp) at a park, or ?
    Suppose the phone rings; the neighbor stops by? suppose there’s a delay?
    I think ‘on the ground’ these policies/explanations fall way short.
    the letter of the law killeth, the Spirit ™ gives life…. (I guess)

  3. GNPE — I have to admit, I’ve never thought about this problem. It sounds quite inconvenient, but seriously, I don’t think it qualifies as oppression.

  4. CL: how about… oppression as a general climate-feeling of intimidation, of having to rely on external guidance for minute details?
    It is my hypothesis that in dictating-mandating so many details to the membership, LDS, Inc. has or Certainly is in danger of taking away a ‘fundamental’ sense of Right/Wrong, Good & Bad (as they are or may be).
    whether this is ‘intentional’ or not, I can only describe what I actually see; in my case, there seems to be Plenty of evidence…

  5. “It is my hypothesis that in dictating-mandating so many details to the membership, LDS, Inc. has or Certainly is in danger of taking away a ‘fundamental’ sense of Right/Wrong, Good & Bad (as they are or may be).”

    I agree with GNPE on this point. I think with the amount of micro-management that goes on in the church some members don’t get to develop self-awareness. Thereby hindering their ability to know when they are messing up.

    I know very few organizations that exist to further spiritual growth that don’t have rules. In Zen, for example, the precepts that I think deal with sex and maybe porn are: don’t misuse sexuality and do not take in intoxicants. You can either see those as being very vague or very specific and controlling. I have to find out how those rules apply in my life, not how they apply to anyone else’s.

  6. I lean toward chanson’s side on this one. I don’t see porn or the church being oppressive in the general sense…I do see instances where ppl in the porn industry perhaps are oppressing or taking advantage of someone unjustly and I have also personally seen this in the church.

    In regard to BiV’s questions…I believe the church should stay out of ppl’s personal lives as much as possible. The more you define, the more the dominoes continue to fall and expectations are created where the church populace expects the church to answer every question and then you get questions like, “Is it okay to do this if we’re married?” or “If you do this do you need to go to the bishop?”

    As for a template for teaching this I would look no further than Matt 5, Jesus’ sermon on the mount. He emphasizes doctrinal principles in relation to human emotions and desires rather than the behaviors themselves. Thus, a person receives the necessary knowledge they need to make right decisions; for this to truly work we would have to emphasize the don’t judge part as well, so as to avoid serious conflict when two persons apply the same principles but acquire different answers–hopefully creating a spiritual environment of empathy and understanding but unified in faith, hope, charity, doctrine (i.e. Godhead, Atonement, Fall, etc.), and also sacred ordinances.

    Fits quite well w/ BKP’s comment where he said…”Teaching doctrine will change behavior faster than teaching behavior will change behavior.”

    The whole concept probably seems too simplistic to be effective but I believe that w/ proper emphasis and direction this could work quite effectively not just in dealing w/ sexuality but w/ any other behavior(s) in the church. It might actually create more bridges between the church and potential investigators, converts, etc as people gradually become more interested in Mormonism’s unique doctrines rather than Mormonism’s unique behaviors.

    Just a thought.

  7. This micromanagement arises out of the fact that at the local level the church is run by amateurs. So when a bishop playing marriage counselor gets beyond his depth, his only recourses are to refer to LDS Family Services and/or shoot the matter up the chain of command. Only the latter if he thinks that shrinks are for wussies.

    So all these complaints collect in a GA’s inbox in Salt Lake (unless somebody has a hot line to the top). At some point the most qualified flunky in Correlation is tasked to compose an all-encompassing answer, which then by default becomes the “official” blanket solution to said problem.

    Which eventually gets turned into a catechism in General Conference, so all the sinners know what the “problem” is and all the bishops know what the “solution” is, and the two get repeated over and over in a kind of morality play until everybody gets bored of it and it’s replaced by a newer, juicer sin.

  8. Eugene — Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it. You see, if they want untrained, unqualified amateurs giving marriage advice, they should be asking me!!! The armchair marriage counselor! 😉

    Update Newsflash for all:

    This isn’t just a Mormon anti-porn issue! None other than Dan Savage has just written a column giving his advice for one of the problems I defined in comment #100. And, astonishingly, his advice is (a little) closer to the Mormons’ than to mine!

    And what’s with the passive voice? You “find [yourself] masturbating.” How does that work exactly? You jump into a time machine, travel to your bathroom an hour in the future, and discover your future self jerking it? Sorry, RHM, but masturbation isn’t something that happens to you—it’s not a tax audit or a flat tire or a meteor strike. It’s something you decide to do.

    Read the whole thing!

  9. Chanson-

    As per usual, Dan Savage offers sane relationship advice in a hip way. (Bishops take note) Every time I have read him he always comes back to pointing out that communication is the way to a healthy relationship.

  10. mzero: mind giving us the cite for your (quote)? I googled, can’t find it.
    Sounds like a concept, though.
    Did I think GAs were ‘concept capable’?
    Hmmmm… I’ll have to cogitate on that one for a while….

    and BTW… is it still ‘true’ that Only males masturbate in Morland?

  11. GNPE : Well, I perhaps misquoted BKP there and I was unable to find MY direct source.

    However, I did some digging and did find this comment…”True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” (BKP Liahona, May 2004, 77–80)

  12. BTW, If I remember correctly my direct source was during a leadership training meeting to which I no longer have access to the proceedings…The general message was/is essentially the same.

  13. Jeez….I am SO LATE to this party.
    I just have one thing to add–while this little back ‘n forth was going on last year, I was getting happily married to what some (especially his ex-wife) people would call a porn addict. But that isn’t the case.
    He likes porn, and so do I. You don’t believe there’s such a thing as porn addiction? Try being married to a porn addict. See, I was for 10 years. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t stop; it didn’t matter that he wouldn’t stop. It didn’t matter whether it was porn or booze…here is the point of it: When you are married to an addict, they are not participating in the relationship, and YOU ARE ALONE. You FELL alone, you parent alone, you are lied to, you are isolated and you are alone. Do you know how many times I said to him “Go ahead and look at it, I don’t care! Just BE with me. Join the party. Don’t lie about it–we can look together or separate, but I need you to be here emotionally.”

    It didn’t happen because it can’t happen. When you are addicted to something–anything, you can’t be fully present in a healthy normal relationship. The fine line between addiction and reeeeeally reeeeeally liking something is this: Can you stop and will you stop if the outcome and reverberations of your actions cause harm to the most important people in your life? If the answer is no, then….there you have it. THe problem was not with me. Just ask my husband, who enjoys porn with or without me and tells me every delicious detail. I get really tired of people stomping their foot and claiming reverse feminism because someone believes in porn addiction. D&M feminism has nothing to do with it. Postulate and theorize all you want; but honestly? TRY IT. Try being married to one. THEN we can talk.

  14. Porn addiction is real and it has real consequences. For me, the causes were 90% psychological based on my religious upbringing. Once I let go of the inculcated shame and fear, the addiction dissipated like a mirage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *