Dr. Bill Maier on Pornography Recovery

Dr. Bill Maier addresses the issue of recovery from pornography use.

Should We Get Married?

Dear Dr. Bill: My fiancé and I are both 24 years old and in grad school. We’ve been engaged for about a year and plan to get married after we graduate next year. When we first started dating, my fiancé admitted he had a problem with pornography — but he said it wasn’t very often. At the time, I believed we could overcome it together. But two years later it seems to be worse. He’s honest and tells me about when he looks at it and how he feels guilty and dirty afterwards. But he admits that this is an addiction. We’ve tried to take precautions so he won’t have access, but he still finds ways to look at it. What else can we do to help stop this addiction? And — is this something that should make me reconsider the marriage?

Jessica, unfortunately you’re not alone. The research on pornography use indicates that millions of young men — and many married men — view it on a regular basis. Many of these men are clinically addicted to porn use — even though they might not admit it.

The good news is that your fiancé understands that viewing pornography is harmful to him and to your relationship and he wants to quit this addiction. Tragically, many men don’t see using porn as a problem, and many believe it will “spice up” their marriage. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’d suggest that your fiancé seek out a Christian therapist who specializes in treating pornography addiction. Our counseling department at Focus on the Family can provide him with a referral to a therapist in your area.

You should both understand that the counseling process will take some time — you shouldn’t expect an “overnight cure.” Also, it’s important that the therapist addresses the spiritual aspects of his addiction as well as the emotional ones. Viewing pornography is a sin, and it violates God’s intent for human sexuality. In fact, in a sense, for a married man, the use of pornography is equivalent to committing emotional adultery.

Your fiancée’s therapist may also suggest that he enter an accountability group with other men who are working on the same thing. The therapist may bring you into the counseling process as well, since his use of porn has already impacted your relationship and will be a factor if you move forward into marriage.

If your fiancée is willing to take these steps and demonstrates a real willingness to make changes in his behavior, there is no reason to call off the engagement. However, I would suggest you postpone the wedding until you are confident that he is on the road to recovery.

Also, if you haven’t pursued a structured, premarital counseling program that includes personality testing, sign up for one. In my opinion, every couple considering marriage should commit to such a program, preferably before they get engaged. We have a book about this by Susan & Dale Mathis, called “Countdown for Couples.”

What is Appropriate to Tell Our Kids?

Dear Dr. Bill: My husband has a sexual addiction to Internet pornography. Thank God, we’ve both been involved in recovery for about four years, and our marriage is steadily growing stronger. But my question deals with how we should talk about this with our 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. They’ve known that we’ve faced serious problems but they have no details, and they’re starting to ask questions about all the meetings we go to. Some of the couples we’ve encountered in these recovery groups work very hard to keep their kids in the dark, but that seems like a form of denial to me.

I feel our kids would be better served by telling them what they need to know in an appropriate way, rather than letting their imaginations run wild. My husband agrees that we should talk to the kids — but how much should we tell them? And how can we emphasize that God can turn ashes into something beautiful?

I appreciate your honesty and your desire to do the right thing with your kids. I agree with you about not keeping them in the dark about this issue in your marriage. However, given their ages, you’ll need to handle the topic sensitively and not overload them with unnecessary details.

I’d suggest that you start by laying a foundation for a healthy, biblical view of sexuality. Some parents erroneously believe that sex education involves having “the talk” when their kids are about to enter puberty. In reality, we should begin talking to our kids about this subject when they are very young. Your children need to understand that God created humans in His image, male and female, and that men and women bring unique and complimentary qualities to sexuality and relationships. Let them know that our sexuality is a marvelous gift that God has given us, but that it can only find its true expression in a life-long committed marital relationship or in celibacy.

You should also let them know that Satan is the great deceiver, and that he does everything he can to twist and distort God’s intent for sexuality. One of the ways Satan does this is by attempting to get us to view other people as sexual objects for our gratification, not as whole, valuable persons made in God’s image. Your husband can explain that he began to believe these lies about sex several years ago, and that as a result he began to look at inappropriate pictures of women on the Internet. He can share that he has since repented for his actions and asked your forgiveness, and that you have forgiven him. You can then explain that the meeting you go to each week is for husbands and wives who are dealing with the same problem, and that God uses other people to hold us accountable for our behavior and overcome temptation.

By the way, in addition to the recovery group, I would encourage you and your husband to seek out a professional therapist who specializes in treating sexual addictions. Although recovery groups can offer great support, it’s critical to tackle the underlying issues that led to the addiction in the first place. Also, let me recommend a great series of books that you can read with your kids that will help them develop an accurate biblical view of human sexuality. The series is called “God’s Design for Sex”and is written by Stan and Brenna Jones and Carolyn Nystrom. Each booklet in the series is written for kids in a particular age range.

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