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Why it Feels Like My Partner is Cheating On Me by Watching Porn

"I don't feel beautiful, and I don't feel sexy. Because in the back of my mind, I know he has a 'type'—and it isn't anything close to what I look like."

Many people contact Fight the New Drug to share their personal stories about how porn has affected their life or the life of a loved one. We consider these personal accounts very valuable because, while the science and research is powerful within its own right, personal accounts from real people seem to really hit home about the damage that pornography does to real lives.

The definition of cheating or infidelity can vary from person to person, relationship to relationship, and we understand that. That being said, we recently received a true story from a Fighter that shows how porn can hurt a relationship to its very core and drive a wedge between partners. Some stories, like this one, illustrate the harm that dishonesty and emotional infidelity can have in a committed relationship.

Hey FTND,

I hope to reach someone who can honestly offer me some good advice. Honest sounds good about now, considering all the lies destroying my family.

When I first met my husband, I had no idea that he was obsessed with porn. It is a secret he has kept throughout our relationship/marriage. I have caught him lying on many occasions, and right now, I can count at least seven times that I’ve found myself in a ball on the floor, uncontrollably sobbing as I try to convince myself to just leave and accept that these hundreds—no, thousands of women—that have won over my marriage, my partner, and my family.

Related: Healthy Ways To Support A Partner Recovering From A Struggle With Porn

The pain that is felt when you realize someone looks you in the eyes with a smile on their face and has lied so convincingly is difficult to describe. It’s even made me feel crazy and paranoid. The self-esteem I once had is diminished, and I’ve even found myself desiring to be one of these women in porn. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Look at all these men who want them; look at how much the love of my life wants them. I’ve moved past this idea, but occasionally I still feel that way.

Faking being okay

Everyone on the outside sees us as that “cute, happy couple.” But I know better. I used to be okay with the idea of a man or woman watching porn on occasion. I didn’t think it was a big deal.

Boy, was I wrong.

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This habit is so intense that it has interrupted my husband’s work life and our personal life. It even affects our children when he takes his anger and frustration out on them when he is “trying to quit.” But he never does.

It’s truly like a drug. Imagine the pain of seeing your significant other actually have a sort of withdrawal because he has gone too long without porn. The hurt is unbearable.

Related: Is Watching Porn Cheating On Your Partner?

Everyone knows cheating is terrible, but the betrayal of this obsession may just equal that kind of pain. Why wouldn’t it? How is it not cheating when your significant other is constantly seeking out others to accommodate his needs? These may be paid professionals, but they are still real women that my husband is desiring, instead of me. Women that look nothing like me.

How could I not feel cheated on when I see that he is searching for specific traits on other women that I just don’t have. My body doesn’t look like that.

The other day I found myself searching plastic surgeons to repair the changes to my body that have happened since bearing children and losing the baby weight. What’s ironic is that at work I am told at least once a week how beautiful I am, usually by some random customer. But it doesn’t even matter—I don’t feel beautiful, and I don’t feel sexy. Because in the back of my mind I know he has a “type”—and it isn’t anything close to what I look like.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

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We need help

Pornography is ruining my life and I’ve come to a point where I cannot move past it. I need help. We have children who need us but are currently living in a broken home. My husband is willing to accept help, but I don’t know where to turn. I tried Googling for resources to help us, but I get lost in so many other personal stories that I just wind up crying again.

There are so many lives here being hurt by this normalized habit. I know for me, this is a pain that I’ve never felt before.

Related: Want To Work On Being A Less Angry Partner? Ditch Porn For Good.

I apologize for any errors in my message, I am typing from my cell phone because I can’t stand the thought of going near our computer for fear of what I’ll find. Just two days ago was the last time I realized he still hasn’t quit. It turns out that every time I catch him, I just unintentionally teach him how to hide it better.

Someone has to know something that can help me through this. Please.

R.

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Porn harms relationships

A partner’s porn habit doesn’t define your worth as a human being or as a partner in a relationship—and it doesn’t have to define theirs, either.

Shaming those who watch pornography—and partners shaming themselves—only makes this complex issue worse and puts up barriers to loving connections that are necessary for recovery.

We continually encourage couples to make decisions about their relationship that are best for them. Even so, it’s no secret that porn can be harmful to consumers, relationships, and society.

Dozens of studies have repeatedly shown that porn consumers tend to have lower relationship satisfaction and lower relationship quality.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108Copy Perry S. L. (2020). Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1199–1213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7Copy Perry, S. (2017). Does Viewing Pornography Reduce Marital Quality Over Time? Evidence From Longitudinal Data. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 549-559. Doi: 10.1007/S10508-016-0770-YCopy 

Related: I Think My Partner Is Looking At Porn After Promising Not To—What Do I Do?

Porn consumers tend to experience more negative communication with their partners, feel less dedicated to their relationships, have a more difficult time making adjustments in their relationships, are less sexually satisfied, and commit more infidelity.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: associations with relationship quality. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(2), 441–448. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4Copy  Research also shows that porn consumers tend to become less committed to their partners,Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The Effects Of Sexually Explicit Material Use On Romantic Relationship Dynamics. Journal Of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. Doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078Copy Lambert, N. M., Negash, S., Stillman, T. F., Olmstead, S. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A love that doesn't last: Pornography consumption and weakened commitment to one's romantic partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(4), 410-438. doi:10.1521/jscp.2012.31.4.410Copy  less satisfied in their relationships,Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108Copy  and more accepting of cheating.Rasmussen, K. (2016). A Historical and Empirical Review of Pornography and Romantic Relationships: Implications for Family Researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141Copy 

Meanwhile, partners of porn consumers also report negative effects, such as lower self-esteem, worse relationship quality, and less sexual satisfaction.Stewart, D. N., & Szymanski, D. M. (2012). Young adult women’s reports of their male romantic partner’s pornography use as a correlate of their self-esteem, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 67(5-6), 257-271. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0164-0Copy  Research also suggests that porn consumption can undermine trust in a relationship and fuel couple conflict.Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men's and women's pornography patterns in couple relationships.16(2), 146-163. doi:10.1080/15332691.2016.1238796Copy  Obviously, relationship problems like these are not new and are not solely caused by porn. Yet, research shows that porn can play a substantial role in fueling these issues—and that’s not something that should be ignored.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone Or Together: Associations With Relationship Quality. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. Doi:10.1007/S10508-009-9585-4Copy Perry S. L. (2020). Pornography and Relationship Quality: Establishing the Dominant Pattern by Examining Pornography Use and 31 Measures of Relationship Quality in 30 National Surveys. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1199–1213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01616-7Copy Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Negatively Impact Love And Intimacy

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According to another study, individuals who watched porn alone reported twice the rate of cheating on their partner in comparison to couples who didn’t watch porn at all. And interestingly enough, individuals who viewed porn alone and with their partners reported three times the rate of cheating.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone Or Together: Associations With Relationship Quality. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. Doi:10.1007/S10508-009-9585-4Copy  Ultimately, the research showed that those who never viewed pornography reported higher relationship quality—on every measure—than those who viewed pornography alone.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone Or Together: Associations With Relationship Quality. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. Doi:10.1007/S10508-009-9585-4Copy 

The research is clear—porn is not a harmless pastime, especially when it’s hurting a romantic partner. But the research is also clear that shame is not an effective way to motivate someone to change.Brown, B. (2012). Understanding and combating shame. Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.Copy  According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. 18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy 

So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress. Like anything, it takes time for the brain to recover, but daily efforts make a big difference in the long run.

Related: How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

On the surface, porn may seem harmless, or may even seem like a good way to learn more about sex. Maybe a committed relationship seems far away in the future, or you feel confident that a little porn won’t harm your relationships. But the research is clear—porn can have devastating impacts on relationships, both sexually and emotionally. There is no substitute for real connection, and porn isn’t worth risking that.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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Help for partners

If your partner is struggling with porn, you are not alone—know that there is hope, and there is help. As you navigate this difficult situation, there are supportive communities and resources available to you. Below is a non-exhaustive list of several resources for those experiencing hurt because of their partner's porn consumption. Note that this isn’t a complete resource list.

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Disclaimer: For those who may find themselves involved in this sensitive situation, their responses can differ. This is why resources need to fit the specific needs of whoever is seeking them. Some of these resources are gender-specific, others are religiously-affiliated, others use a variety of approaches. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization hoping to provide access to resources that are helpful to those who need support. Including this list of recommendations does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug.

If this article inspired you to have a conversation with your partner or someone else about porn, check out our step-by-step interactive conversation guide, Let’s Talk About Porn, for tips.

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