Every day I receive emails from readers (or listeners) looking for help with some aspect of their relationship.
And one topic that repeatedly surfaces in these emails is the impact of pornography on relationships.
In my practice I’ve worked with a few couples who mutually consumed pornography in their marriage, but a majority of the couples I work with fit in the “I don’t want porn in my life” camp.
Interestingly, for the couples who used pornography as a tool or enhancement in the relationship, one or both of them didn’t really like the effects of it on themselves or the relationship. They were simply appeasing their spouse’s desire.
Or put another way, they were trying to fit into a certain role in order to receive their spouse’s love and affection.
While this is not true in every instance, more times than not, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are many things we do in relationship that go against the things we hold dear.
It’s during these times that we are presented with a tremendous opportunity to grow, both as a individual and closer to one another.
Allow me to explain.
Marriage is designed to help us grow up - and growing up involves anxiety, discomfort, and sometimes pain.
Often, due to the cost of growth it’s easy to turn to other things in order to find relief and comfort.
One of the most common things turned to is sex.
Think of this paradox, sex is turned to for relief and comfort of insecurities from wanting to be closer to a significant other, while it’s this closeness to the significant other that is increasing the anxiety and discomfort.
This is where porn can come into the picture – porn is often used in lieu of dealing with the anxiety of exposing one’s sexual desires to one’s spouse – where it may or may not be well received. The solution involves making choices between equally anxiety provoking options – the anxiety of wanting sexual gratification versus the anxiety of wanting your spouse.
Know this: Wanting always involves no guarantee that the one you want will want you back.
Pornography is directly correlated with lust – and lust cannot be satisfied with sex.
Whatever you focus on grows – and lust is a great example.
The more you pursue lust, the more intense it becomes, which is why it easily escalates to a higher level (violence, no strings attached sex, etc). It’s just like drugs – the more intensely the brain fires, the more drugs it takes to get to that level the next time.
For me, I believe that pornography is destructive to myself and my relationships. I believe that my own struggle with pornography skewed my marriage and my life. This belief, which is largely based on my spiritual relationship with God, has led to me to work towards keeping porn out of my life and my marriage. But that’s me.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a relationship where something is present that you don’t want? Again, this could be pornography, drugs, alcohol, even affairs.
- Be honest with yourself and your spouse. Let them know the things you hold dear. This involves putting more of yourself out there and being willing to have them agree or disagree.
- Realize that your partner’s actions and behaviors are a reflection of them, not you. Look at it this way, if you believe your spouse turned to porn in order to hurt you, why are you gratifying them by acting hurt. Their actions are about them, period.
The issue for you then is no longer “How could they do this to me,” instead it becomes “If porn (or fill in the blank) is going to be part of their life, I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do.” The process of working through this is an act of self-definition: Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? What kind of relationship do I want to be in?
This process is very powerful, but also painful.
The whole nature of marriage changes when you raise your emotional maturity level and grow up. You will approach everything in marriage differently.
In a couple with low levels of emotional maturity, the agreements about what will go on in the relationship often mean that one person will give up something (in this case porn, but it could be drugs, alcohol, even extramarital affairs) in order to deprive their spouse of whatever is given up.
For example, one person wants to be in a monogamous relationship so they give up extramarital sex in order to deprive their spouse of sex with other people. It’s a classic exchange based agreement.
The only problem is that five years from now, when you (either spouse) are ticked off, you turn to your spouse and you say: “You owe me because it’s your fault I haven’t screwed anybody else. I gave it up for you.” The spouse’s become emotionally fused.
At higher levels of emotional maturity, these agreements go like this: “I want to be in a monogamous relationship so I’m not having an affair. You don’t owe me for it. Because I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. Now if you have an affair, the only thing I ask is that you tell me.”
Monogamy, or more appropriately everything in the marriage, is no longer based on exchange and reciprocity.
It results from a unilateral commitment to oneself.
You no longer feel controlled by your spouse. You relinquish your spouse as an extension of yourself and your own gratification. And what happens, oddly enough, is that you end up having all the intimacy and eroticism, mystery and novelty that you can handle – and it’s right at home.
For more help, check out our newest resource, which is coming soon:
Source: Schnarch, D. (1993). Treating affairs in the sexual crucible. Contemporary Sexuality. 27(9), 1-4.
It’s that time of year again. The time of year when you start itching to clean out, organize, and streamline your life. Or, you know, maybe it’s just the pollen.
Spring cleaning is important. Not to mention, intimidating.
Some of us tend to procrastinate, leaving so much to purge that you literally don’t know where to start. And I’m going to encourage you to begin in a place that may surprise you:
Your pajama drawer.
If you’re at all like me, you tend to want to swan dive into your most comfortable pajamas, the very MOMENT you arrive home. And while this is completely understandable and totally normal, it may not be the best thing for your marriage.
Or so I’m told. Ahem.
It’s not that pajamas are necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that our most comfortable PJs tend to be our least flattering ones. Combine that with the fact that your spouse may see you in pajamas more than any other outfit, and suddenly our PJs become a key player in our wardrobe.
When we look good, we feel good. So, in an effort to help you look cute even while lounging around in your pajamas (you rockstar), I’ve come up with some helpful guidelines for what needs to bite the dust. Or the donation pile.
1. Anything with a logo emblazoned across the rear. No. Just don’t. (Unless you happen to be 15 years old. In which case, you should probably ask your parents.)
2. Anything your husband wears on a regular basis. Including, but not limited to, his boxer shorts. Let ‘em go, ladies. We can do better.
(Disclaimer: I’ve been told that men’s dress shirts are entirely appropriate bedtime wear, and should be excluded from this list. I’ll leave that up to you.)
3. Anything your grandmother wears on a regular basis. Including but not limited to, long-flannel nightgowns, or housedresses.
(Disclaimer: If you ARE in fact a grandmother, disregard. You have earned the right to wear whatever you want, whenever you want. Also, you are amazing!)
4. Anything shapeless, baggy, or unflattering in nature. For example, my favorite pair of sweatpants have been with me through all stages of pregnancy, and are still with me now….4 years later. Yikes.
So, now that you’ve thrown out all of your pajamas (let’s be honest), here are a few suggestions of what TO wear…..and no judgement about how early in the day you choose to put them on.
1. This set from Old Navy is SUPER cute. Shorts are a great option for spring and summer, and these are both stylish AND comfortable.
2. I’m also loving this Target pajama set, with it’s classy, old-school vibe. It’s comfy and still put-together. Win-win.
3. These pajama pants from J.Crew would be a huge upgrade from my baggy sweatpants. And they look so soft! Paired with a simple tank, I’d probably even feel comfortable venturing to the grocery store.
(Well. Let’s not be rash, here.)
Now, I’m not saying that cute pajamas will definitely improve your marriage. But I’m not saying that they won’t, either. At the very least, you won’t be ashamed if you have to answer the front door.
And I’d call that a win.
The following is a reprint of one of the chapters in Dan Clements and Tara Gignac’s book Escape 101. I hope you can use this info to actually do whatever it is you may be wishing you could do.
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.
~ Rabbinical saying
I WAS A LITTLE freaked out. After nearly 36 hours of travel, we were finally nearing our sabbatical destination. Five years of planning had culminated in a jarring drive down a precarious dirt road bordered by sugarcane fields and coco trees.
We had arrived in South America.
As we looked out the windows of the van, eager to catch a glimpse of what would become our home for the next five months, I glanced nervously over at our daughter.
Late the night before we had pushed Eve, our five year-old, through Paraguayan customs on a luggage cart. After a long flight, she was exhausted, and had curled up and fallen asleep on our suitcases.
The trip was tiring, but she was amazing. She exceeded our expectations every step of the way, and just her presence alone made things easier, as customs officials first in Brazil, then Paraguay, pulled us to the front of long lineups, smiling brightly at the precocious little girl in her pajamas clutching a stuffed yellow duck.
Still, despite Eve’s super-traveler status and my calm demeanor, I was seriously nervous on the inside. What were we thinking? I thought. This is crazy, bringing a kid here. We have no idea what we’re getting into.
To a large extent this was true. We’d agreed to come to Paraguay, a relatively low profile country in South America, over coffee. It was as simple as that. We weren’t really sure exactly how things were going to be, but we knew that there were kids for Eve to play with, and I knew that I trusted (for no identifiable reason) the missionary who’d invited us.
Now, though, our “gut instinct” decision to come seemed ill-considered. This wasn’t like our other sabbaticals, traveling alone or as a couple. We had a kid! If this went poorly, the consequences would be far more painful.
The van turned onto a beautiful property just as the sun set, and we approached a brick home in the distance. Eve looked at me. “Where are all the kids, daddy?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.”
Moments later, as the van came to a stop, more than a dozen beautiful children appeared from nowhere, smiling, cheering, and shouting happily in Spanish. We emerged from the van, and were swarmed with hugs and warm welcomes. Eve looked at me, astonished, and then began to laugh with joy at the happy chaos.
Within minutes, little Eve, without a word of Spanish, was off happily playing.
The tension flooded out of me. It’s going to be fine, I thought. It’s going to be great!
And it was.
For many families, there’s a convergence point on the timeline of life where children and careers collide. The addition of kids to the existing stresses of work and modern culture can be overwhelming for many families. In fact, many don’t make it.
In their book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke, authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi reveal the debilitating cycle for middle-class parents who buy into neighborhoods they can’t afford in order to provide access to good schools for their children. The homes cost more, the taxes are higher, and the requisite level of accessories climbs as well. The only way to make ends meet is for both parents to work full time (at least).
Furthermore, as more and more couples have children later in life, prime earning years have begun to overlap with prime rearing years, resulting in a whole new level of rat race intensity. Nights with less sleep are followed (far too quickly) by earlier mornings that have all the soothing tranquility of an air raid. The easy days are the ones that you can simply skip lunch and overwork yourself without having to pick up a sick child from school, hit a soccer game or make an orthodontist appointment you can’t afford.
It’s absolutely the last time anyone would dream of taking a sabbatical.
But it’s also one of the best times to do it. The benefits for families taking sabbaticals are endless; they can build character, health, relationships and values in a way that’s very difficult to achieve by any other means.
Like the other barriers to your hiatus, though, the sabbatical rock of children is a tough one to get rolling, and highly emotionally charged. In an effort to shift the boulder a bit, let’s challenge the status quo on the biggest concerns about taking children on sabbatical: their safety, their schooling and your sanity.
Concern #1: Safety
Is it safe to take your kids on sabbatical? The answer is another question: what does safe mean? Safe is a term that really means, “a level of risk that I’m comfortable with”.
Different sabbaticals have different levels of risk. Moving your family from Miami to San Diego for a sabbatical is more of a logistical challenge than a safety issue. New school, new friends, new house.
If you’re considering a sabbatical with kids in a Second or Third World country, however, you’re undoubtedly already worried about safety and access to adequate health care. For most people, other countries mean “more risk”.
Worrying about your kids is easy. It’s normal-every good parent wants their child to be safe and well. What’s not healthy is worrying yourself sick about it. And what’s not so easy is assessing the real risk in other countries while you’re still sitting at home in First World comfort.
This is not an attempt to convince you there is no risk-it’s a suggestion that you carefully consider the context of the information you receive, and how it fits with your sabbatical plans. Consider what follows as a set of discussion points to review before you discount traveling with children because of safety concerns.
Danger is a Squeaky Wheel
Bad news, drama, danger and catastrophe make news. Your main sources of information on another country will tend to come from sources that have a vested interest in reporting the unpleasant side of life. Vaccine producers, newspapers, websites, doctors and even your friends and family will have plenty to say about crime, communicable disease and natural disaster. They’ll have far less to say about families who forged new bonds and created lasting memories during Second and Third world travel.
This isn’t to say that these sources are all nasty. It’s simply how the world works. If danger wasn’t a squeaky wheel, a lot more of us would fall victim to it. Focusing on threats is a built-in survival mechanism, and it works wonders for keeping us alive.
At times, however, it also works wonders for keeping us in our homes in front of televisions (watching more unpleasant news) instead of exploring the world. The trick is to recognize that you’re only seeing one side of the story. You’re not hearing about the enormous percentage of people leading safe and happy lives. You’re not hearing about them because they don’t make the news.
Seeking Safety and Dodging Danger Are Not The Same
Ironically, when you go searching for information on safety in another country, you actually tend to search for information on danger. We don’t, for example, tend to look for infant immortality rates, we look for mortality rates. We don’t ask how many people didn’t get malaria. The same goes for crime. It takes only a few minutes on the internet to find the number of murders in a given country-it’s a lot harder to find the number of people who didn’t die. I challenge you to find the statistics for the number of non-victims of crime, disease and natural disaster for any country-the stats don’t exist, yet the non-victims outnumber the victims many times over.
The result is that the information we get is almost entirely negative, because that’s what we’re looking for.
Your Circumstances Are Not the Same
When you leave the First World for the Third, you’re not becoming a Third World person. Your existing level of health, your access to resources and your background and education provide you and your family with an enormous advantage over many inhabitants of less developed nations. You can afford health care. You can afford good food. You can afford clean water. You can afford decent housing. The same statistics don’t apply to you.
Take the time to consider the whole picture before you discount a sabbatical because it’s too dangerous for children.
Concern #2: School
Face it: North America hasn’t cornered the market on schools. Schooling options are plentiful around the world. You can home school, if that suits you, or put your children in a local school. Many countries have English-speaking private schools for expatriates that tend to be expensive, but of good quality.
Remember that education doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk, either. By discussing your time away with teachers and school administrators, you may be able to use your travel as a form of education in itself. What sounds more educational to you: reading a textbook in class about indigenous South American people, or hiking to Machu Picchu to see the Incan ruins first hand? Which experience do you think has the most staying power?
The trick to getting comfortable with alternative forms of education is to get educated. Talk to teachers, parents and your kids about how they feel. And remember that little kids are…well, they’re little kids. Your preschooler isn’t going to suffer if they miss a standardized test or fall behind in reading for the time you’re away.
Give your little ones a chance to be little ones.
Concern #3: Staying Sane
Although modern living can be crushingly difficult at times, it also contains an entire infrastructure of sanity-preserving resources that have evolved around the need to integrate child rearing with income earning.
The school system, daycare, sports teams, nannies, television, video games, playgrounds and DVD’s all provide a cushion between our insanely busy lives, and the wondrous but demanding exuberance of kids. And regardless of your opinion of these safety valves, it’s worth considering what your sabbatical will be like without them.
The average kid watches several hours of TV per day. If that’s not part of your sabbatical, what will your day be like? I’m not suggesting it’ll be better or worse, only that it will be different, and it’s worth envisioning what that “different” will be like, and how you’ll deal with it.
What Kids Really Need
If the thought of going from Nintendo to no Nintendo sends you into a panic attack, consider for a moment what kids actually need to be fulfilled and happy.
Although it may not be easy to believe, particularly with teenagers, your kids really want you. What they lose in DVD releases on sabbatical, they make up for with pure, unfettered time with you. Your time away can easily create and strengthen bonds with your children that will last a lifetime-all it takes is a little time.
Kids are social creatures, and just like parents need adult time, kids need kid time-they need to interact with other children.
Our daughter is an only child. For this reason, we chose a destination for our most recent sabbatical that would have many other children around. It was the smartest thing we could have done. From the moment we arrived, the children took Eve under their wing, and despite the language barrier, had an incredible time.
The message is a simple one: kids are kids, all around the world. If you’ve got an only child, or kids of diverse ages, or siblings that don’t get along, don’t worry. Find a place with kids, and the kids will find their place.
Children tend to gravitate towards some structure. Rules and routine are a way for them to test the world out, and figure out how things work. Just as touching a hot stove equals pain for a toddler, staying out late without calling home equals disapproval for a teenager. They’re all forms of poking and prodding the world to find out how it will respond.
Too much structure can be stifling. Too little can be unrewarding, or even scary.
How does this apply to sabbaticals? Most families transitioning from rat race to sabbatical life may find themselves moving from too much structure and routine to too little. It can make for a difficult transition.
Recognize that while you may relish the idea of having absolutely zero rules, restrictions and obligations when you wake up on the first day of your sabbatical, your children may feel otherwise. Keep them informed and involved. Even if there are no plans whatsoever, tell them, “The plan is to have no plan so we can just relax and enjoy ourselves today.”
Unlike many adults, children are remarkably intuitive. Babies know far better than adults when they’re hungry. Toddlers know exactly what they want (even if they can’t get it), and even moody, confused teenagers have a remarkable ability to gravitate towards what they like. We grown-ups, on the other hand, have had the pleasure of being completely desensitized by the incredible world that’s evolved around us-a lot of our intuition lies dormant.
The result is that kids are sensitive to the environment around them. They have a natural ability to pick up on emotions and intentions. For this reason, one of the best tools for travel with children is your attitude for travel with children. If you tell yourself that a 12-hour flight is going to be rough with your kids, then it’s almost a sure thing. Your kids will pick up on the subtle signals you send out-your body cues, your emotional tone, and your choice of language. Conversely, tell yourself that the cross-country RV trip is going to be fantastic, and it will be. Kids are the shortest route to self-fulfilling prophecy on the planet.
The Perfect Age is Any Age
What’s the secret to choosing the right age? Don’t discount any ages. Just as there’s no perfect time to take your sabbatical, there’s no perfect age for kids either. It’s going to be great at any age. Don’t assume your toddler is too young, or your teen too old. Young children provide an opportunity to skew the decision-making towards what you’d like to do, which tends to make things easy, but older kids represent a communal planning opportunity that can’t be beat.
Sabbaticals and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. The natural curiosity of kids, their desire to engage with life can take you to places and things you might never have dreamed of on your own.
Do your children a favor. Don’t wait until they’re gone.
If you grew up in a family where you experienced injustice, abuse, or a sense of hurt, you’re at a high risk of developing a resent-repeat syndrome in your adult life.
You may end up repeating a familiar pattern from your past or you may go 180 degrees to an opposite pattern.
These actions result in your own children being deprived in a way that carries your emotional scars forward into the next generation.
The rule is this:
The more we resent something our parents did, the more likely we are either to unknowingly repeat it, or to try so diligently NOT to repeat it that we go to the opposite extreme.
Remember, 180 degrees from craziness is often another craziness.
An example is the child who grows up with very autocratic parents, the kind of parents who try to control all of the child’s behavior. These parents tell the child/teenager how much air to breathe, when to breathe, and how long to hold it!
This child, as an adult, may repeat the controlling, but familiar, pattern as a parent. Or he/she may become a laissez-faire parent who provides too little structure and too little guidance that their child may identify as “Not caring” or “Neglect”.
We’ve all seen children who grew up with extremely frugal parents who, as adults, become spendthrifts OR compulsive shoppers. These people may be so resentful about not being allowed to spend money that they buy things, take them home, and never open the packages. They may have a room or a garage full of unopened packages!
Another example is the children who grow up in clinically clean homes. As adults they may live in a pig-pen. Yet, ironically, another child from the same family may not have experienced the cleanliness as oppressive, and thus neither repeats it nor goes to the opposite extremes.
Why is this?
The challenge in dealing with events of the past is to let go for a moment and recognize that a part of all memories is our perception of the events.
“There are no facts, only interpretations!” ~ Nietzsche
Too often we put a meaning on an event and then freeze that meaning.
In family relationships it serves us well to select a meaning that will help us have the best life possible.
Too often the original meaning we chose, and froze, is limiting us and causing us pain. Selecting which meaning to put on an event is one part of life we have control over.
Why not select a meaning that helps not hurts?
One way to open up more possible meanings for a past event is to learn more about the past generations of our families.
By gaining information about our parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods and growing up experiences, we can learn how to let go of the frozen meanings and put new, more helpful meanings on events in our childhood, releasing our resentment.
For example, by learning about embarrassment a parent suffered while growing up poor, we may put a new meaning on her/his constant “penny pinching” during our childhood. Instead of resenting the stinginess, we may come to see the behavior as the parent’s determination never to be without money again. That’s when we let go of our resentment.
We neither repeat the behavior nor go 180 degrees to the opposite extreme.
That’s when we move toward the best life possible.