Carolyn Hax: Is divorce the only answer to combating porn in long marriage?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 8, 2012

Hi, Carolyn:

I would like your advice. I have been married for 25-plus years to a great guy with one exception, his interest in porn. I knew during the three years we dated that he had a collection of porn magazines in his apartment. I did not like them and we occasionally argued about them. Once, I threw them out, and he became very angry.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

After we were married I assumed there would be no more need for porn as he would have more access to me sexually as his wife. I would constantly find porn magazines hidden in our house, I would throw them out, we would argue, and it would happen again. Then we bought our first computer and he found all kinds of free porn to download. I would find it on the computer, delete it, we would argue, I’d find more the next week, and so on. Now he has a smartphone with lots of downloaded porn. I haven’t said much because I know I shouldn’t be looking at his phone and he could easily password-protect it.

What bothers me is that over all the years of our marriage, I have told him that porn use hurts me and offends me. He has told me that what he looks at is not my business. It also bothers me that he is hiding something from me. He accuses me of snooping and refuses to talk to me about it. We have a good sex life, but sometimes I do withhold from him because I feel that is one way I can punish him for looking at porn when he knows it hurts me.

I know that I can’t control what he looks at but I wish that he would respect me enough not to look at it. Is this my problem or his?


K.

So what if he uses porn, you withhold sex to punish him, and he uses porn to punish you for withholding? The mandala of marital misery.

Here are the facts you have at your disposal now:

1. Marriage does not fix problems or change who someone is.

2. There’s no simplistic, zero-sum relationship between porn use and sex. Sometimes having ready access to one of them will diminish one’s interest in the other, but plenty of people are happy to indulge in both (or neither).

3. You have accrued 25-plus years of proof that your husband will not stop using porn. You and he can make it a matter of morality, of sex, of respect, of trust, of communication, of technology, of feelings, of privacy, of control, of the weight ratios of birds carrying coconuts, and he will not stop using porn.

These facts narrow your choices down to two: Marriage with porn, or divorce.

Should you choose to remain married, I urge you to stop ferreting out his smut from his various hiding places. You know it’s there, you know it offends you, you know you can’t make it go away, so why not also know that you accomplish nothing with your purges except to singe your retinas and renew your outrage?

It’s not denial I suggest, but informed distance. Whether you keep your husband’s stash at arm’s length or at a different address from yours, that’s up to you.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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