“Four Things to Do When You’re Dating Someone Who Struggles with Pornography,” Ensign, October 2019
When I came home from my mission, I had no idea the challenges I would face with dating. I have exclusively dated several good guys with strong testimonies. Unfortunately, these serious relationships haven’t worked out because of problems with pornography. This is one of the most dangerous tools Satan is using today, and no one is immune from possibly falling into the trap. So many of us have been exposed to pornography in some way. Some are in the bonds of pornography use, some are recovering from use, and some of us are being affected by someone else’s pornography use.
While sharing my experience, I am going to use the pronoun he because my circumstances have been with several males. However, both men and women struggle with pornography. So here are four things I have learned (and wish I would have known sooner) about dating those with pornography problems.
In my experience, most of the guys I have dated didn’t disclose the full extent of their pornography use at first—just that it is something they struggled with. I know now that it’s important to understand the depth of the problem to know if the relationship is safe or not. As prompted by the Spirit, or when you are considering becoming exclusive or are already exclusive in dating, you may feel impressed to discuss this topic. Here are examples of questions that can help you discover the nature of his pornography use:
When was the last time you used pornography?
If he considers his issues with pornography to be in the past, you can ask questions such as:
Is it still a problem? What do you do to overcome the temptation?
Have you discussed it with your bishop?
How are you healing and recovering from the effects of it? Where are you in the healing process?
Do you feel you have both repented and recovered?
What safety plan do you have to keep pornography out of your life or our home if we get married?
If he has viewed pornography more recently, consider asking questions such as:
How often do you look at pornography?
What have you done to address this problem?
Are you working with your bishop?
Do you see a therapist or attend addiction recovery meetings for help with this? If not, do you think you need to?
The first and most important thing to consider when the person you are dating discloses his pornography problem is that he must have his own desire to change. I was hurt in many ways during my past relationships with active pornography users. I felt confusion, chaos, failure, low self-worth, and betrayal. I thought it was up to me to help them get back on the right path.
Unfortunately, that mind-set affected me more than I realized. I found myself continually asking the person questions like, “Are you reading your scriptures?” and “Did you go to therapy this week?” I felt responsible to keep him progressing and started blaming myself for his lack of recovery behaviors. I found myself pushing him to do things he had committed to do but was not doing. His words didn’t match his actions, and I found myself trying to take responsibility for his actions. Then I realized something vital: His problem was not mine to fix. I could support him, but he had to be the one to make the change and, more important, to want to change. If he isn’t making the changes that are important to you, you don’t have to stay in the relationship.
Take caution if you are dating someone who is actively using pornography and not trying to recover. Serious relationships move toward marriage. But when I was dating someone with a pornography problem, I noticed that the problem got minimized and the relationship growth stopped.
The secrecy associated with sexual addiction starves relationships of safety and trust, which makes it almost impossible for a relationship to deepen and grow. A healthy relationship takes nurturing from both people in the relationship. In my experience in dating those who were actively using pornography with little desire to change, I was always left longing for that emotional connection that comes with real love. It is what we all want and deserve! True love. Pornography is counterfeit love. It’s based in lust.
When you’re trying to discern if the person you are dating is truly trying to recover, know that there is a major difference in behavior between someone who is trying to recover from pornography use and someone who is not. Most of the guys I was dating who were not trying to get better had similar behaviors. When things in the relationship started to get physical, they would act differently and become very controlling. They would often expect me to minimize their problem and to just accept it. They stopped making sacrifices for me while still expecting me to go out of my way for them. They often disregarded plans we made. They had a self-focused mind-set. They broke boundaries we had previously set. And they often disregarded my feelings. The harmful actions of those I was dating might have been unintentional, yes, but that did not make it OK.
One day I decided to see a therapist to help me cope with all that I had been through. From therapy, I learned the type of behaviors to watch out for and how to take more control so that the behaviors would not affect me so dramatically. I also learned how to put myself in a safe place mentally, emotionally, and physically. Therapy gave me the tools to help me gain a better understanding of this problem. And it can do the same for you.
I’ve learned that the following are common dangerous behaviors that may be seen in active users:
Unfortunately some of these behaviors can come across as charming and personable when covered up. So remember, one of the easiest red flags to see is when his words don’t match his actions.
In contrast, a pornography user who is in recovery takes full responsibility for his behaviors. He will recognize and feel sorrow for the pain and feelings of abandonment he causes you. He realizes marriage won’t “cure” his pornography use, as many tend to believe. He is humble, transparent, and willing to work hard to earn your trust. His actions mirror his words. He works with his bishop, attends addiction recovery meetings, has an effective therapist, if necessary, and is prepared to work hard to recover and spend his life staying clean. And ultimately, He moves toward the Savior and believes in the power of His Atonement.
I continually pray for guidance in learning more about this topic as well as what qualities to look for in a future spouse. When it comes to dating someone with this struggle, the first priority is to make sure you are emotionally, mentally, and physically safe. I have learned firsthand that a person who is frequently using pornography and not trying to change isn’t capable of the love that makes a covenant marriage work. My heart goes out to those who are suffering and especially to those who have taken the steps needed to get on a path of recovery. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Pornography users who are in the process of recovery are trying to be honest, humble, and easy to get along with. They grow in strength and empathy because of their experiences and become closer to Heavenly Father through it all.
Pornography is one of the greatest temptations for our generation. But despite this, we can be the ones to turn the tables. We are strong enough to fight against it. Talking about it is the first step to recovery. I believe that change is possible. I believe that healing is possible. I believe that lasting, loving eternal relationships are possible because of the healing and hope we receive through our Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement.