Dear Man With A Mustache and 100 Hour Board,
Recently I was interested to read MwaM's comment on the comment board about pornography. As I understand it, he was arguing that a continuing pornography addiction should not prevent a couple from getting married. I admit I honestly have always thought that, barring personal revelation, it was not a good idea to marry someone with an ongoing pornography addiction.
I suppose I see it as similar to a drug addiction. I am very sympathetic to those with a drug or prescription medication addiction, and I realize that in some or many cases the addicted person may not really have a lot of control over being addicted right now. I know it's really difficult to kick a drug habit. But I wouldn't marry someone who still had a drug addiction and was using drugs.
So, MwaM, why is pornography different? Ubiquity? Not a serious sin? And to MwaM and other writers: is there a line you would set when dating in terms of pornography addiction? At what point would it probably be a deal breaker for you? Why?
-trying to be a good person
I don't deny that there are aspects of human behavior that should be major red flags. No matter how much you love someone, for example, abusive behavior is a major red flag. Drug addiction is a major red flag. So are pornography use, degree of honesty, degree of commitment to the Church, willingness to make sacrifices, eating behaviors, gender identity, sexual orientation, political views, money spending behaviors, gender role perceptions, career ambitions, native language barriers, degree of desire for children, and parenting style. I'm not saying they are all equal; in fact, they are not. Some are preferences whereas others are morally wrong. But, frankly, anything can be a deal breaker. Marrying a person is an inherently risky behavior because you're tying yourself to another person's qualities and their imperfections without reservation. You don't get to only experience the positive attributes of a person, and every single person has a set of weaknesses.
So, why is pornography different? Well, it isn't. It's just one of a list of things that a person has to decide to accept about me or not. It's totally cool with me if you decide that you can't handle dealing with porn addiction in your marriage. You are completely free to make that choice and I do not think that it makes you a terrible person or anything like that. Porn addiction is painful for everyone involved. It's hard for my wife for a variety of reasons that I'm sure you can imagine. It's hard for me to try so hard and relapse again, to feel like I could be a much better husband and father but to continually find myself in more or less the same place despite my efforts. It will be hard on my children when they find out (as, I fear, they inevitably will). It will be hard on me when I know they know and when it colors their perception of me. I fully recognize that recovery is my responsibility and I do what I can to work through it. But, frankly, I don't at this moment believe that I will ever be totally rid of it in this life.
So, I guess I could turn the question back around. Why is pornography different? Why should I be denied a chance at a happy life with a family that I build because I struggle with one aspect of the gospel while I simultaneously succeed at so many others? Where so many other imperfections can be just things to improve upon, does it seem right that there should be some rule that all people with an active pornography addiction should be unable to further relationships toward marriage? It seems better to me that each person gets to choose to accept the imperfections of another person based on their ability to cope with whatever they've got. My wife didn't pick me because I was working toward recovery when we met. She knew that about me, certainly, but her choice to marry me was made in spite and not because of my struggles. She took a risk, feeling that whatever strengths she perceived in me were more important than the struggles I have.
Was she right? I'm honestly not sure. I'm positive there have been times in our marriage when she has contemplated her decision and regretted it. She does not have an easy lot. As much as she knew about my problems, she couldn't have predicted the strength of her emotions surrounding my pornography addiction and how it makes her feel. We've had some long nights with lots of pain and heartbreak on both sides. I suppose we'll only know if it's worth it later on, at the end of our life, when we can look back on it all and see what became of what we did. For now though, we are both doing our best to raise a happy family in the gospel and to teach good principles to our children.
I've always said that the line to set has to do with a man and his desires. If you've got someone you love who struggles with something serious like substance or behavioral addiction, everything can be great as long as he is still willing to keep trying. The moment that spark of desire to get better goes out, you've got a problem on your hands. But as long as the desire to improve is there, I believe any storm can be weathered. What it comes down to, then, is whether or not you can handle it. I do not believe that every woman should be able to commit to any man with a pornography addiction. It's harder for some than for others and some people would struggle with it in such a way that it would prevent them from being happy in such a marriage. I don't judge that. But you should know that there are people out there who are willing to take a chance on people like me who might be unwilling to take a chance on people you're totally comfortable with. Making blanket rules like, "Men with pornography must be 'clean' for one month before going to the temple" or "All women should ignore pornography addiction and always give men they love a chance," ignores the more important task of making sound judgments about a person based on your knowledge of them. It ignores the reality that some men who use pornography regularly are better and more spiritual people than some men who have never used pornography. Because while addiction fuels a lot of imperfect behaviors, it does not define who that person is at their core.
All this to say that I don't really think pornography is "different" in the way you're thinking of it. I'm not making some special exception. It's just one in a list of many things to watch out for that a potential spouse can either choose to handle or reject.
The Man with a Mustache
Dear keep trying,
I married someone that I knew had struggled with pornography while we were dating. I still married him, even though I knew it could potentially resurface during our marriage. Why? Because I loved him. And because I recognized that everyone has sonething they are struggling with that would be hard in marriage. I also had had several conversations with him about it. I knew what he was doing about it, his opinion on the problem and how he was handling it personally. I felt confident that he was actively repenting, and that the Atonement was working in his life.
I married him, knowing that his viewing of pornography would influence our intimacy, and gave me a pit in my gut. I hated it. But I wasn't surprised that it was a problem. It wasn't the first guy I had dated that admitted to me of having a problem with it. Part of me was resigned to it, but mostly I prayed about it and felt good still marrying him. I trusted the Lord and his Atonement.
I don't regret my decision.
- A wife
Well, here's the first thing: This is going to be very dependent on the person addicted to pornography, on the couple, and on their discussion surrounding this topic. There's no universal answer.
That being said, I'll share my experience with you. I am not married. But, a few years ago, the week before I received my temple endowment, I found out that my dad has struggled with pornography addiction since he was a young teenager. To this day, it is not something he has been able to completely overcome.
Obviously, that was an awkward and somewhat awful thing for me to discover (and it was discovered by accident). However, after learning about it, I had (fairly uncomfortable) talks with each of my parents, and my viewpoint on pornography addiction started to change.
Is pornography evil? Well, yes. Is it something that is damaging to a couple's relationship? Well, yes. However, I will say that my parents have an incredibly happy marriage. Even though my dad hasn't been able to kick his addiction completely, he is constantly trying to do better and repenting when he messes up. He talks to his priesthood leaders about the problem every time it arises again. He has always been able to keep his temple recommend and has even served in the bishopric.
So, yeah. I don't have all the answers. I'm sure there are times when it would be very unwise to marry an individual with a pornography addiction. But maybe there are times when it would be okay. Everybody has stuff. I feel grateful when people accept me along with all of my imperfections and mistakes.
Dear trying to be a good person,
I worked in substance abuse treatment for years, so I feel like I know addiction, even if I haven't experienced it. Addiction is a disease, in a very literal sense. It is right there in the DSM, the book that categorized and describes all mental health disorders, right along with everything from depression to schizophrenia to personality disorders to ADHD. Addiction is a chronic health condition, like diabetes, and it requires treatment and ongoing monitoring. It is not a curable condition and it is certainly not a matter of will.
There is a big difference between being active in one's addiction, engaging it with no insight and no desire to change, and fighting one's addiction. Repeated relapse is almost universal in those with addiction issues. It simply comes with the territory.
No one is obligated to date anyone whose struggles they do not want to take on. No one should feel like they have to remain open to certain people as partners because they are trying to be a good person. For example, I don't date yellers, even if they are lovely in every possible way. I just don't. And that's fine. That's my choice, and I am entitled to it.
That being said, I have a severe mental health condition. When I am in the depths of my depression and anxiety I am horrible to be around. Horrible. I feel awful whenever it gets really bad and my partner has to deal with it, but I can't change it, and I absolutely cannot prevent it from happening again. Even if I get the best treatment, I will always have bouts, and my partner will always have to pay the price with me. I will never truly conquer this. Still, I hope that I am worth loving and worth fulfilling long-term relationships. If being free of my mental health problems is a prerequisite for love and relationships, well, that is an overwhelming and terrifying idea.
- The Black Sheep