Relationship Rescue for Wives and Girlfriends of Internet Pornography Addicts

Featured Expert

Laurie Hall is the author of An Affair of the Mind. It is a poignant and to the heart account of 
her husband's addiction with pornography. With much wisdom and from a Godly perspective, 
Laurie details from a first hand perspective how pornography affects the spouse's self-image 
and self esteem as well as the impacts on relationship intimacy.

The book reads as if it were written yesterday, 
yet it was published ten years ago.
If only you knew then what you know now...  Laurie Hall is the Rosa Parks of women dealing 
with porn addiction. The following interview with Laurie Hall is from 2003.

Laurie Hall: An Affair of the Mind
by Richard Land

Richard Land: Laurie, I want to thank you for having the courage to be the Lord's instrument in telling your story so transparently. This is a very painful story! What were the roots of your husband's involvement with pornography?

Laurie Hall: While he was working his way through college, my husband stumbled across pornography on the work site.  He told me later, that the girl looked like she was smiling right at him.  He felt connected.  He was lost, he was lonely, he was afraid and he felt this girl was saying, "I'm here for you."  

Even though intellectually we might say that doesn't make any sense, emotionally it made enormous sense, particularly if you understand how pornography grabs people.  Pornography has the unique ability to go into the cracks of the soul and attach to any place inside of you where you're really wounded.  He was vulnerable at the time, away from his parents, very lonely, concerned about the Vietnam draft.

Richard Land: I've described pornography as a subterranean, electronic river of emotional and spiritual slime.  It's like emotional and spiritual toxic waste. How many times have we heard this phrase - soft porn?  Soft porn always leads to hard porn.  The way pornography works is that it causes endorphins to be released in the brain, and you need to get a heavier and heavier jolt to get the same charge.  And so you have a progression from so-called soft-core porn to harder and harder core porn.  It really is heartbreaking and results in destroyed relationships and shattered lives.

Laurie Hall: That's what happened to my husband. And those endorphins that you spoke of - when they're released in the brain - they're two hundred times more potent than morphine, and they're more addictive than cocaine. They give you an enormous sense of well-being.

Richard Land: And they give you a counterfeit sense of intimacy.

Laurie Hall: That's it! That doesn't excuse a person's choices, but I think compassion calls for us to be able to say, "Sometimes a person is so vulnerable, and he gets put into a situation that exploits that vulnerability. Then, because of whatever character defects he has, he seems unable to make decisions that will give him life."

Richard Land: Laurie, now you had a courtship with this man, and yet there were no red flags. That's not unusual, is it?

Laurie Hall: No, it's not. But I can't tell you how many times I look back over all that and think, "Why was I so stupid? What did I miss? What's wrong with me that I didn't get this?"

In fact, I can remember one counselor saying to me, "You sought this guy out! There was something wrong with you and that made you drawn to him." Of course, that just completely crushes you when somebody says something like that.  The danger in that kind of a statement is you spend so much time trying to pull yourself together in terms of, What's wrong with me?  I'm such a failure.  I'm such a loser. You don't have any energy to deal with the real issue.

Richard Land: Laurie, from your own personal observation of your husband and your counsel with scores of other women who have seen the ravages of pornography on their husbands and on their relationships, describe what happens to a man who gets sucked in to this vortex of pornography.

Laurie Hall: Pornography has a profound effect on the body. For example, there is a neurological impact on the brain. When you fantasize, you create neural pathways. The more you think about a thought, the more you reinforce that neural pathway!

So there is actually a physiological, neurological effect in the brain in the thoughts associated with pornography. Also, pornography causes you to release endorphins, so what you're really doing is you're becoming a drug addict. You're self-medicating. And that's why it's so difficult to break this addiction.  

In addition, pornography has a profound effect on the central nervous system, particularly as it relates to your sexuality. In a healthy sexual relationship, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system work together. The sympathetic nervous system turns us on while the parasympathetic nervous system calms us down. The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that has to be in control in order for us to achieve full sexual release. For instance, the urethra, the vagina, and the anus - all of those are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system.  

But it only gains control when we feel trusting. If you give sex a guilty meaning, an anxious meaning, an embarrassed meaning, or a stressful meaning - and guys who are looking at pornography are putting all of those meanings into the sexual experience - all of those things are going to block the parasympathetic nervous system. What is going to happen then is, according to the way their nervous system is becoming configured; they will begin to link sex with stress, sex with fear, and sex with anxiety.  

A man involved with pornography is going to bring that into his marriage bed because he's conditioned his body to that kind of sexual response. He might not even be aware of it, but his spouse will pick up on it. She's going to sense that there's something unsettling or disquieting. She may blame herself, but it's not coming from her. It's stuff that her husband's own central nervous system is sending out.  

The other thing that happens in our soul when we're exposed to pornography is that our belief system begins to change. It takes as little as 6 one-hour exposures to soft-core pornography to change your belief systems.  Men begin to view faithfulness as a less important quality in their own lives. They come to have great dissatisfaction with their sexual partner. They come to trivialize the crime of rape. They also begin to believe that women deserve to be disrespected. States that have the highest readership of porn have the highest rates of domestic violence and rape. All of that is what happens in the mind when you begin to believe the lies that are attached to pornography.  

Richard Land: So the idea that pornography is a victimless crime is a cruel, cruel joke?

Laurie Hall: It is a very cruel joke. The biggest thing that they're not telling you is the economic impact of this addiction. Forty percent of professional men who are involved with pornography are going to lose their jobs due to their involvement with pornography. Some of that is because of the effect it has on their mind; they lose their ability to reason.  

When you're engaged in fantasy, you lose your ability to connect between action and reaction. You no longer follow cause and effect. When you're involved in fantasy, you create your own effects. You make the effect be whatever you want it to be. But in real life, there's a natural law in operation. When I do A, then B is going to happen. The more you fantasize, the more you become disconnected from what I call common sense. It effects your business judgment; it effects your ability to interact properly with other employees.  

In order to be intimate you have to live in truth. Intimacy is about allowing somebody to see all the way inside of you. If you're hiding something from yourself or from them, then you're not going to allow yourself to open up and allow somebody to come in and see you. People don't realize that pornography completely robs them of the ability to enter into lasting and satisfying relationships.

Richard Land: What is the impact of a husband's sexual addiction on the wife?

Laurie Hall: It's devastating. I think it's especially devastating for Christian women. I know for myself I put my whole self into my family. It's really important to me to have a loving, godly family. I poured myself into my family. Then something I couldn't control, something that was a complete surprise to me, something that I thought I would never have to deal with took it all away from me.  

If you're living in a situation where someone is living a lie, it makes you feel crazy inside. You have this inner sense that something is wrong but you don't know what it is. And every time you try to find out what's going on, you either get accused of something that you're not guilty of or you get lied to again. So there's this sense that you can never quite grab hold of what's going on.

In addition to that, you have this enormous loneliness. You're lonely all the time because someone who's involved in a sexual addiction has an intimacy disorder. They're not able to be intimate with a real human being. That's why they choose to be intimate with an inanimate object. So you're lonely. So 
lonely! You're trying to engage with your husband, you're trying to get input on important decisions in life, you're trying to hear his heart, you're trying to share your heart, and it's like you hit a wall every time.

Richard Land: A lot of wives initially blame themselves.

Laurie Hall: They do. When they find out they think, "What was wrong with me?  Am I not beautiful enough?  Am I not sexy enough?" Unfortunately, the places you go for counseling can reinforce that.  I remember going into one counseling session and having the therapist hand me these videos on God's Gift of Sex. I just wanted to scream. I wanted to say, "You think it's my problem?  That something's wrong with me, and that's why he does this?"

I had a woman, the wife of a missionary, and she was very well meaning, but she patted me on my knee and said, "I didn't always like sex very much either, but it's something we need to do for our husbands."  I thought, "You don't get it!  You just don't get it!"  

It's so devastating because there's this implication that you're frigid, that you're controlling, that there's something horribly flawed with you that you would even pick this guy in the first place.  So it completely dismantles your sense of self-esteem.  

It also messes your mind about God.  I really thought I was doing the right thing when I married my husband.  He had all the right "holiness credentials," if you will.  I'm like, "Wait a minute!  I've played it your way."  

I can remember right before our twentieth wedding anniversary sitting in the car in our driveway. I was getting ready to go for an AIDS test because my husband had been sexually involved with other women as part of his addiction.  And I was crying that day, Richard.  I cried, and I cried, and I cried.  

I said, "God, I played by your rules. I was completely faithful to my husband. My husband was the only man I had ever slept with. I followed all of your rules of what it meant to have a good family. And here I am. This is what I have to show for it. Twenty years into my marriage, and I'm going for an AIDS test."  

One of the things that I realize more and more from all this is - when God says something in his word he doesn't say it because he wants us to live a life without any kind of joy or happiness. He says it because he knows that certain actions cause consequences that are so long reaching and so devastating. And he wants us to avoid those kinds of devastations in our lives. That's why he says, "Don't commit adultery." That's why he says, "Keep sex inside marriage because to do otherwise is to cause all the hopes of your life, all the dreams of your life to be completely devastated." That's a tough thing to come back from.

Richard Land: Laurie, what positive steps would you advise a woman to take for herself who finds herself in this situation?

Laurie Hall: First of all, I would encourage her to listen to her intuition. If she finds she's anxious or fearful or has that vague nagging sense that something is wrong - instead of having her mind argue with her intuition – she should realize that God is speaking into her spirit trying to alert her to the fact that something really is wrong. Then, she should begin to operate from the basis that something really is wrong. She might not know what it is yet, but she shouldn't doubt herself and her perceptions any more. That will bring peace into her heart.  

The second thing is she needs is to honor her own personal boundaries. If there's anything that's going on in her marriage that she is uncomfortable with, she needs to strengthen her boundary in that area. A boundary is simply a line over which people, problems and life may not cross because you've said so. A boundary is a no. And she may need to begin to say no to certain things that she intuitively feels are not right in her life. She needs to raise her standards of what she will tolerate and not tolerate.

Lots of times what's happening in situations like this is there's massive toleration. For instance, things aren't getting done, bills aren't getting paid, there's a lot of procrastination. There's a lot of "toleration" that develops around this particular addiction. When she raises her standards and refuses to accept toleration, she's going to find peace in her life, and she's going to find her energy freed up, too.  

The other thing she needs to do is get a good support system - of friends who will support her. Not tell her what to do, but comfort her and listen to her. She needs friends who will pray for her, too. You can't get through this without really being plugged into a relationship with God.  

I would encourage her to resolve any issues that she might have about her own past. Sometimes women who are in this situation – and this isn't true for all of the women, but I have talked to a number of women - they've come out of homes where they were sexually abused. They've come out of homes where there was an addiction. They've come out of homes where there was some type of dysfunction. If you've had this kind of a background in your own life, your boundaries are already compromised. Your abilities to ask for what you want and to know how to enter into a relationship in a full and healthy way are already compromised.  You need to go back and resolve any unfinished business that you have from your past.

Richard Land: One part of your book quotes Kenny Roger's song, The Gambler, as you advise women on how to deal with a husband involved with pornography. You say women need to "know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and when to run." Explain that for us.

Laurie Hall: I love that song because life is really like that. We don't have the same response to every situation. We have to weigh what our response is going to be. What I've learned in talking to thousands of men and women who've been involved with pornography is that there are different levels of involvement and different levels of devastation that occur.

Richard Land: Really it's hard to predict isn't it? Some people will go to a certain level and they'll stay there. Others will go deeper. Many men will never get to the point of acting out these fantasies with actual physical partners. Others will. From what I've been able to read, there's no way to predict at what stage they will plateau or if they will plateau or keep going.

Laurie Hall: That's right. There's no way to predict. And it can take many years to go from Point A to Point B. But one of the things that you have to know right off the bat when we talked about toleration is that it's just not to be tolerated, if there's any involvement with pornography. Because you don't know where it's going to take you.  

Even the least involvement, as I said earlier – six hours of involvement - is going to affect the value system of the person who's involved. So you start from the position that it's not acceptable to be involved with pornography at all.  

Then what do you do after that? The idea of knowing when to hold them, fold them, walk away and run is really related to, do you stay in the marriage, or do you not stay in the marriage?  I've had lots of letters from women who wrote me saying, "I stayed in my marriage, and I'm waiting for my miracle like you."  And I had other women who wrote, "I left my husband, and I feel better." Other women who said, "I left my husband, and I feel guilty because you didn't."  I had the whole range of response.  I thought that's really interesting because when I wrote 
An Affair of the Mind, I tried to say that we don't know how this story is going to end yet.  

What I've found is that there are some situations that women need to run away from. For example, if the use of pornography has caused the husband to molest any of the children. Your first responsibility is to protect your children. That's a situation where he must be removed from the house because you cannot allow your children, who are so vulnerable and count on you for protection, to be exploited.  

But then there are a whole lot of other variations that follow. Sometimes in the very beginning, when you're still trying to figure out what's going on, you wait and see. Is he going to get therapy? Is he going to deal with this issue? If he does, I've known marriages that have been restored and they're wonderful. But, on the other hand, sometimes they don't get help. Or sometimes they get help and then they relapse. And when they relapse, they relapse worse than they were before. That's usually the way an addiction works. When that happens, then sometimes you need to walk away.

Richard Land: Laurie, I think one of the most helpful things about your book is your discussion on forgiveness. You not only stress the need to forgive, but you also differentiate between what forgiveness is and is not. Would you share that?

Laurie Hall:  There are three mistakes I think we sometimes make regarding forgiveness:

First, we sometimes confuse forgiveness with victimization - as if God is telling us we have to allow somebody to victimize us as we turn the other cheek. When I understood what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5, it completely revolutionized my life. He says, "You've heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I'm telling you that you need to come to a new way of dealing with things.  If somebody hits you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also."

In those days, if you were going to hit somebody on the right cheek with your right hand, you would backhand him.  Backhanding meant, "Remember your place beneath me."  Jesus was saying, in effect, in the society that you live in people backhand each other to keep the hierarchical order.  You can't stop them from backhanding you, but you can turn the other cheek, and if you would turn your left cheek towards the person who is backhanding you, they're going to have to hit you with a full, open hand.  Now, that was a gesture only done between equals.  

So here's what I think Jesus was saying: Every sin that someone commits against you has a lie attached to it.  The lie basically goes like this, "I couldn't do this if you didn't deserve it." They may not say that, although sometimes they do. But that lie goes right into the heart of who we are, and the essence of forgiveness is replacing laws with truth. So when you turn your cheek in the other direction, what you're saying in a very quiet and a very dignified way - without tearing the other person down is - "I can't stop you from hitting me again. But if you're going to hit me again, you're going to do it as an equal." That's powerful stuff. That's not being a victim.  I began to realize that Jesus was talking about something so radical and so powerful. When you're in an unjust situation, this is how to reclaim your dignity, how to address the lie without hurting the other person!

Second, we sometimes confuse it with reconciliation. We think if we forgive a person, we must reconcile with that person. But actually that's really not true. When you look at Christ's forgiveness of us on the Cross, he forgave the sins of the whole world, but we're only reconciled to him as we repent from those sins and admit that we've done them. We're reconciled when we turn our lives over to him.  That's the point of the Cross.  Jesus hung before the entire world and said, "This is what your sins have cost me. I forgive you. But, if we're going to have a relationship, you have to come to the foot of this Cross first." There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  If you've forgiven somebody, but they haven't changed their behavior you may not be able to reconcile with them depending on how destructive that behavior is.

The third mistake we make is that we confuse forgiveness with compassion. We see somebody who has a sad story in his life, and he's made a very poor decision in reaction to that sad story. So we think, It's so sad because he was so lonely, and he didn't have his parents. And that's why he got involved in all of this stuff!

I feel very sad for him (or her), and then I confuse forgiveness with compassion. Yet, there's a difference between forgiveness and compassion. This is one of the things I love about the mercy seat that was in the tabernacle. The mercy seat reminds us that mercy is different from compassion. And mercy - if you look up the word in Hebrew – means a profound call to respect. In other words, I respect you and you respect me.  That's what mercy is all about.  The idea here is, "Yes, you have broken these commandments, and I call you to treat me in the same way that I would treat you. You are now agreeing with me that you have not treated me with respect."

So we don't want to confuse compassion with mercy. I could have compassion on somebody, but to extend him mercy requires that there is something coming back from him toward me. 

Richard Land: The Bible tells us that God has promised to redeem what the locusts have consumed and what the thieves have broken in and stolen.  How does that promise relate to people in this situation?

Laurie Hall: When I wrote An Affair of the Mind, I said that I wasn't sure how the marriage was going to turn out - whether or not we were going to be able to restore the marriage. I was hopeful, but so far the marriage has not been restored and that is one of the greatest sorrows of my life.  

I've cried so many tears. I never knew I had so many tears. But I know that every one of those tears is in a bottle and every one of those tears is precious to my Lord. God is the one who honors the marriage covenant, and he uses the whole idea of marriage to picture our relationship to him.  Jesus called himself the bridegroom. In the Old Testament, God called Israel his wife. When they turned their hearts away from him to worship other gods, he called it adultery.  

He totally, totally understands the wound this brings into our spirit - how we were created to be in that intimate relationship and our hearts yearn for that connection. When it's broken, he knows the devastation first hand. So what I can say is that through a long process of wooing me, of coming to me, of comforting me, the Lord is reminding me he hasn't abandoned me.

©Copyright 2003. Richard Land.

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