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It's normal, No it's porn

Mark and Sarah have been married for about three years and have no children. They are both working professionals.

It's porn

Sarah says: I was cleaning Mark’s home office the other day and I found Playboy and some other pornographic magazines. I had no idea Mark looked at this kind of thing, and it makes me wonder if this is why we’ve been having some problems recently. I feel as if he isn’t interested in me anymore because I don’t look like the women in those pictures. There’s an emotional distance between us.

It's normal

Mark says: I’ve always looked at magazines like this. I mean, what normal guy hasn’t? I like the pictures and I don’t see any problem with it. I’ve never been unfaithful – my philosophy is “look, don’t touch.” I think Sarah is overreacting – our marriage isn’t as romantic as it was at the beginning, but that’s because we’ve been together for a while.

The expert says: This is a very delicate issue in today’s society. As with most issues there are always areas of gray. The overwhelming message we get from the mass media is anything goes and more is better.

Sexuality is a gift from God and should be treasured and nourished. Pornography demeans the dignity of both men and women and is a form of “spiritual infidelity.” It is an objectification of other human beings for the purpose of one’s own sexual pleasure,  and the church teaches that it constitutes the grounds for grave sin. The real question is what happens now that both partners know about the pornography.

Mark and Sarah should begin by talking about pornography and how it impacts their marriage. It is important that this conversation happen in a confidential, accepting place. They need to make time for this talk when there’s no chance of interruption and nobody can overhear. A genuine dialogue with true listening by both partners is a must. First, one partner should have the floor and the other partner needs to listen. Then the next partner should talk and the other partner should listen. Expressing anger and disappointment are OK and even beneficial, if the expression is honest, open and not designed to be hurtful. Be as honest as is possible. Questions like “How can we get our sexual relationship back on track?” should be asked.

Mark needs to explain what attracts him about pornography. Since men are stimulated by visual images and women by words and romance, there may be a fundamental misunderstanding about why Mark wants to look at these pictures. Sarah should explain why she is uncomfortable with Mark looking at the images.

Forgiveness and understanding are the most important components of this conversation. Blame is less important than listening. Understanding of your partner can happen even if you do not agree with his or her actions.

Next the couple needs to develop a plan of action. One idea would be for Mark and Sarah to re-create some of the romance and chemistry in their relationship, thereby lessening Mark’s feeling that he needs to rely on pornography. Here are some ideas for recapturing those feelings:

• Remember how your relationship was in the beginning of your marriage, and plan a romantic evening with all the trappings: candlelight, music and good food. This sparks conversation and revitalizes memories. Your action plan should be comfortable for both partners.

• Time alone as a couple is very important. Find someone to watch the children overnight.

• Take the phone off the hook to avoid interruptions.

• Let your spouse know that you value her and your relationship with her.

Mark and Sarah should remember that showing love and respect is the most important ‘to do’ item on the marital agenda. If one person’s behavior is causing pain for the other, the motives for engaging in that behavior should be seriously questioned. This relationship is their top priority. Both partner’s feelings and comfort level within the relationship should be respected. Always remember that counseling is available.

Church teachings also remind us not to forget the power of the sacrament of reconciliation – a beautiful way to “make whole” their relationship with each other and with God.