You can't quite put your finger on it, but your relationship feels troubled. In fact, things have become increasingly stressful and you're constantly fielding unresolved relationship problems... but you don't know why.
You are starting to feel confused and distressed.
Could it be that your partner has a pornography problem?
What constitutes a porn addiction or compulsion is a hotly contested issue, which is why its symptoms are rarely discussed.
This lack of discourse has come at a hefty price. Many people who have been victimized by their partner's porn problem wish that they had "seen the signs." They wish they had known what indicates an active habit and an actual problem. They wish they had been able to solve the puzzle before their lives fell apart. And they probably could have. So now we are going to discuss the warning signs.
Many people are completely in the dark that their partner likes porn, much less has a serious relationship with it. Ignorant as to any issue, they trust their lover unconditionally. They assume their partner understands that using porn, at least beyond a magazine like Playboy, is the equivalent of having an actual affair. This ignorance, combined with the great lengths to which a porn enthusiast will go to hide erotica, can leave a partner in the dark for months or even years.
On the flip side, some couples use, or have used, various forms of erotica to help spice up their sex life. After all, porn is often recommended as one way lovers can be more intimate with each other. But instead of peaking pleasure, porn has become far more than titillation: It's taking over one's life. Instead of enhancing sex, the porn itself has become the object of desire. Now, one partner may find themselves competing with porn for his or her partner's attention.
In either scenario, what signs should tip you off that your partner might have a serious problem with pornography?
Note: While some men and women may enjoy porn, and both can develop a problem with it, I'm going to use the pronoun "he" from here on out. I'm not being sexist; I am acknowledging the fact that about 75 to 85 percent of porn Web browsers are males (although the percentage of females is growing).
1. Your partner is not as social as he used to be.
He is excusing himself from activities, has unexplained absences, and is not able to account for his time. He has little interest in socializing with you or making time for others, including his family.
2. Your partner lacks interest in sex or is sexually unresponsive.
You're noticing a decrease in physical affection and non-sexual touch. If you have sex, it's because you are the one initiating it. Your partner is having trouble becoming sexually aroused (for example, achieving erection or having an orgasm).
Furthermore, your partner needs more and more stimulation to get turned on and release. He has developed a strong interest in sexual practices that seem a little out of left field. No matter what, both of you are feeling largely dissatisfied post-sex.
3. Your partner is being uncharacteristically demanding or rough during sex.
You're feeling pressured to engage in sexual activities that are either physically or emotionally uncomfortable to you. Your partner is using atypical sexual language. He seems to be objectifying you and he has no qualms about it.
4. Your partner does not seem "present."
Your lover has become emotionally distant during sex. You're starting to feel sexually rejected or neglected. In or out of the bedroom, you and your partner can no longer describe yourselves as emotionally intimate.
5. Your partner has started to nit-pick your appearance.
Your partner seems more and more concerned about what you look like, and if you're sexually attractive "enough." He might make cutting remarks about your weight or shape. He's also making insensitive sexual comments, which make you feel like a sex object.
6. You feel like you're no longer getting straight answers from your lover.
You suspect that much of what is being said these days are white lies. Answers to your questions seem vague and nonsensical. He's defensive when asked about porn use.
Yet you are finding evidence of hiding, lying, and secretive behavior, including porn materials you didn't know about. Maybe your partner maintains a private e-mail address, has his own credit card, and/or has an unknown cell phone account.
7. Your partner is practically wed to the Internet.
He spends an excessive amount of time on the computer, often demanding privacy and/or changing his bedtime ritual. As a result, he has eye problems from spending long hours on the computer. He may also complain of back, wrist, neck or shoulder pain.
8. You've noticed a change in your partner's demeanor.
Your partner just doesn't seem like himself. He has trouble calming down and sleeping. His moods and interests are different. It may even be to the point you're wondering if his mental health is okay. Feeling like a "sex pervert" can lead him to negative emotional outbursts such as picking fights and holding grudges in order to justify his secret porn use.
Now it's important to not put too much weight on any one of these standing alone. There are many people who have trouble getting aroused and it has nothing to do with explicit materials. But if you're noticing patterns or a collection of the aforementioned, your partner likely has some major explaining to do.
If there is a problem, it will surface sooner or later. Whether a partner finds actual evidence, the user confesses, or somebody else - unintentionally or not - spills the beans, the one who has been wronged finally realizes what she's dealing with. It is a horrible, powerful experience that rocks one to the core. Stunned, overwhelmed and confused, many do not know what to do. The longer and more intimate the relationship, the harder it is to process this news.
When dealing with emotional wounds, and trying to save the relationship, a couple should consider seeking outside help first - despite any embarrassment. With additional support, couples need to talk about their problems and how porn has affected the relationship with a non-judgmental third party.
A number of sex therapists from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists are capable of handling such situations. Porn problems have become quite common, and no one should go through recovery alone.
Follow Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright on Twitter: www.twitter.com/YvonneFulbright