Over the past year, I've had a number of people message me about dating an addict. Either they are dating and want to know how to approach the porn discussion, or they know they are dating someone who views porn and don't know what steps to take next. I've discussed this with fellow wives of addicts, and we have come up with these tips for dating!
First of all, to approach the subject of pornography. Some basic questions to ask include:
- When was the last time you saw pornography?
- What were the circumstances surrounding that last time you viewed pornography?
- How often do you view pornography?
You can learn a lot from their answers. The first question is pretty crucial because, let's be honest, every adult has seen pornography in some form. If you ask someone you're dating when the last time was that he (or she) saw pornography, hopefully they will be shocked into honesty. [haha.] I made the mistake of asking Ben if he had a problem with pornography. He was in denial about his addiction, and at that point in his life, he thought he was "cured" of his porn problem anyway. So he told me he didn't have a problem with porn. We laughed at the uncomfortableness I felt in even asking the question, and I was reminded that I had found one of the "good" guys.
I really believe not all men are addicts. I know there are guys out there who have accidentally found porn and done nothing to pursue it further. However, I do firmly believe all men have seen porn at some point. And having a discussion about it and the circumstances surrounding their porn viewing is a definite must when dating.
If the guy is an addict, he could still lie. That's hard to grasp. But by asking questions and developing a transparent relationship, I hope honesty would be strong in the relationship and the necessary steps could be taken.
Next, what if the person you are dating has acknowledged that he (or she) has a problem with pornography (and hopefully acknowledges that it's more than a problem, but an addiction)?
When dating, people put their best selves forward. I know it's not easy for addicts to tell others they are an addict, but from what I've experienced and seen, even if an addict is coming forward and being honest about the fact that they have an addiction, the truth could still be hugely minimized. Or they could be deceiving themselves into believing that everything is fine. When you're dating and preparing for marriage, you're putting forth the best version of yourself. We all do that. So it's important to dig deep and learn certain things about a person (especially knowing that person is an addict) before making the final commitment (and in the LDS culture, marriage is ultimately what we are looking for as we date).
Example: A woman is dating a man who has come out and said he has struggled with porn addiction in the past. He has been sober for x-amount of time, and he wanted to inform her of the addiction so it's out in the open. While it's really great that he told her, simply knowing of the addiction is not enough. What are questions she should ask and things she should watch for in their relationship?
Good questions to ask/topics of discussion:
- His relationship with the Savior and the gospel
- What kind of recovery programs he has been a part of
- What recovery programs he is currently a part of (an important part of addiction recovery is maintenance of that recovery)
- What kind of therapy he has done/is doing
- What types of education/research he has done about sex addiction/pornography and how it affects the brain
- Ask him about masturbation. Porn use and masturbation go together. Trust me, you don't just want to know if he views pornography. You want to know about his lust habits and masturbation as well.
- Discover who he is when he is not on his best behavior. Especially learn about him under high stress. How does he react in anger? How does he react in impatience?
- See how he reacts when you have arguments or disagreements. If he doesn't get angry or refuses to engage in the discussion, that can be a big red flag.
- Ask about his recovery plan for the rest of his life (like I said, recovery must always be in maintenance).
- Ask about past relationships and breakups. What were the circumstances. How did he feel about it?
Things you should do for yourself:
- Research and learn about porn and sex addiction. Learn about how it impacts the brain. Read accounts of couples who have struggled with addiction in their marriage. Learn as much as you can about pornography and sex addiction. It will be greatly beneficial to you to make the most informed decision you can in the future.
- Learn about denial, recovery, relapses. Learn about addiction patterns and red flags to watch for regarding relapses and addiction behavior.
- Learn about betrayal trauma.
- If you are dating seriously, you have the right to know about his addiction. You can ask for a full disclosure if you want (which may be most relevant if you are engaged/preparing for marriage). You could even have him do a polygraph so you have everything in the open (we have never done a polygraph, but I know people who have and swear by it for healing on both sides).
- Create boundaries and a check-in system. A basic rule of thumb for myself is a check-in every night, and I must be informed of a relapse within 24 hours (preferably after he has processed it with a sponsor or support person. The discussion about his relapse will happen much more smoothly if he has processed it himself).
- Know that marriage DOES NOT solve sex addiction or lust. Marrying someone with a sex-addiction will not make the addiction go away. And you will lose yourself if you believe that. There is so much more to the addiction than a desire for sex.
- Consider going to a spouse/family support group (there are online and phone options if you live in a remote area--my personal opinion is groups with 5-10 attendees are the best size).
- Work a spouse/family support recovery program.
- Help establish open communication in the relationship.
Here are some resources to help learn about and understand the addiction.
Here is information about boundaries.
Here is a good emotional check-in worksheet.
Here is an example of a check-in dialogue.
Here is a glossary of recovery terms to help you understand some of the facets of the addiction and living with an addict.
Just a couple more things. Some people's first instinct when they hear that someone is dating an addict is simply RUN. I thought I would throw that out there because it's valid. Sometimes that's my first instinct, as I know it is with many of us who are suffering this trial in our marriages. However, I would never deny someone the opportunity to use the Atonement and move on in life. I wouldn't actually say "don't date a man who is an addict" because of my hope in the Atonement. I would say arm yourself with knowledge and the Spirit. That is how you can make the best decision for yourself.
Don't forget to keep the Spirit near. Your relationship with God is your best protection. He will not forsake you.
I hope this arms you with knowledge and resources you need to make the best decision.
Some addicts are complete jerk-wads.
Some addicts are really good men who are in a true battle against Satan and this addiction.
If you are dating an addict, I hope you know of your worth. You deserve the very best. Hopefully this will arm you to be able to sift through the crazies and find what you are looking for.