Author Topic: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?  (Read 2090 times)

Emerald Blue

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This issue is a recurring one I read of/hear about over and over. I've only ever read of one account where a partner stated that her husband's porn addiction had no impact on her self esteem in this respect, but that's not usually the case. We're also supposed to be reassured by the old "it's not personal" platitude but that doesn't really provide much solace for the majority of partners, so I'm trying to figure out how this issue is experienced by partners and what helps us to overcome it. So, as much as a recovering addict might explain that their behaviour wasn't "personal", our feelings would also suggest that recovering a healthy body image isn't dependent on someone giving us their approval. You could say that our recovery isn't "personal" either — in a mirror/opposite sort of way.

Here are a few thoughts and experiences of my own:

-  Recovering a more positive body image came from self acceptance
-  My negative feelings about my body were a reflection of my dwindling self esteem
-  My lack of self esteem in my relationship came from the emotional distance
-  My husband had lost all interest in having sex with me as his addiction progressed, and his lack of interest felt like a personal judgement, especially when I knew he had a regular date with porn
-  Those negative beliefs were internalised and I began to confuse feelings with facts
-  Regardless of what my reflection looked like, I only saw an image of a woman that "nobody wanted"
-  Negative self image is a self perpetuating downward spiral fuelled by the habit of thinking negatively

On recovery:
-  Recovery requires a lot more that compliments
-  Recovery comes out of self compassion and self care
-  No one "makes" us recover
-  Self esteem comes from taking the decision to treat ourselves better
-  We are entitled to eat well, to wear nice clothes, to manicures or bubble baths or whatever we need to help us feel good about being who we are
-  We are entitled to health care and dental appointments
-  We are free to seek counselling, therapy and/or emotional support, as needed
-  Our sexuality is an innate part of our being. We don't need permission to own it.
-  Our sexual recovery is as much a part of our individual recovery as it is part of our relationship's recovery
-  We are free to explore and experiment with our sexuality. Remember, we are not porn
addicts (or sex addicts). Oftentimes a partner needs to reawaken her sexual desires, which is the opposite of compulsion/addiction/habitual sexual behaviours
-  We are entitled to sexual pleasure, which is as much a bodily experience as an emotional one

I'm not saying I know it all or that I have recovered from the quite devastating effect of my partner's porn addiction on my body image. I feel like I'm only just beginning to make sense of it. My question throughout has been "if I was not in this relationship (with a porn addict), how would I feel about myself?"  Once you break away from wanting "approval" it becomes about how you feel about yourself and steeling yourself against all the fickleness of "novelty" or being "hot" or "sexy", and all the garbage that comes with the porn territory.

Please share your thoughts and experiences. It would be good to know about the impact porn addiction has had on how we saw ourselves and how we may have recovered or at least found better and healthier perspectives.



« Last Edit: September 14, 2017, 10:40:55 AM by Emerald Blue »
His porn addiction: you didn't cause it - you can't control it - you can't cure it

aquarius25

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2017, 07:12:19 PM »
I have asked this question to myself so many times. How would I feel/think about myself if I had not experienced this? Honestly, I don't think I can ever know. On one hand, my mind tells me that I shouldn't allow another person to have that effect on me no matter who they are. On the other hand, I feel like of course, he will impact me. We have been married for 13 years and we are one. I believe marriage to be coming together body and soul with someone.

Through the course of our marriage and these years of my husband using porn, I did everything to make myself attractive to him. From losing weight, lifting weights, wearing things I knew he liked, you name it. Then depression set in and I got really sick. I had cancer and coped with food. I put on some weight. Not a ton but enough to make me a little chubby and not super skinny anymore. It made no difference. He showed the same interest in me he did before, not much. That told me that it didn't matter. He didn't care. I could be 500 lbs and he probably would care because he wasn't looking at me anyway, he was looking at porn.

Now I am at a place where I am working on just liking myself. Frankly, I feel like I have tried to many things to get him to notice me that I don't really even know who I am. I have to ask myself when I am doing things if this is something I enjoy or am I doing this for him or someone else? I feel like I am relearning who I am and what I like. I have developed a form of self-loathing that is very unhealthy. I have a hard time liking myself, seeing good in me and seeing myself as beautiful. I wonder how I got here. I know I am responsible for this attitude but I have to wonder, would I have this attitude if I wasn't married to a PA? I know I wasn't like this before we were married.

I am a work in process. I am trying. This is just where I am at today. Hoping tomorrow is a little bit easier.
Thank you for your post. Very insightful and a great topic.

Emerald Blue

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2017, 07:57:23 PM »
Such valuable insights, thank you so much for sharing.

Aquarius, it's so obvious that your husband's love for you runs far deeper than his porn habit. I think I can say with some confidence that my husband is the same. We've been through some challenging times together and he's always been right there with me.

Raven song, thanks for the link to Dr Northrup's blog. There are some really positive articles on sexuality that are along the lines of how I am experiencing my own sexuality in my personal recovery from all the porn crap. It's interesting how we feel that after a certain age or at above a certain weight/body mass index or because of some superficial characteristic or 'flaw' that we somehow absorb the idea that it's others who grant permission for us to be sexual beings. For years my husband showed no interest in having sex with me (but an obvious interest in masturbation to internet porn) so I somehow internalised this as "I am not considered 'sexy' therefore I am not entitled to feel sexual or have sexual needs of my own". A negative thought becomes an entrenched belief that eventually becomes interpreted as "fact" — and the negative thought becomes the "proof", which keeps reinforcing that destructive belief. A negative feedback loop that starts spinning constantly, day after day, year after year. Once that loop is broken, eventually you realise that your sexuality belongs to you and nobody else. I believe that our culture reinforces this way of thinking, and sadly the porn culture provides it with some very toxic fuel.

Having said all of that, my husband's appreciation helped enormously after d day. During his porn addiction he just avoided me. He didn't actually say anything nasty or deliberately insult or undermine me, which I know happens a lot but not touching my breasts during lovemaking was very upsetting especially when I discovered his porn tastes. He might as well have told me my tits weren't his type and they did nothing for him. That was very upsetting because it's not as if anyone else had complained, and besides, it's not like I have to wear a little training bra. I'm about the same size/shape as Ms Ciccone and she's certainly used her 'assets' to her advantage. I certainly could have used some of her sass during those bleak years! Now when I look back at those times I wish I could have told that lonely unhappy woman I used to be to stand tall and believe in herself. And not to stand for being treated like my feelings and needs don't count because someone else has decided I don't have any. When I look in the mirror now I think "Hell yeah! If that man don't want this then he's a fool." There's also the realisation that he has an older body too, and I don't expect him to be just the same size and shape and have the same muscle tone that he did at 22. He's 30+ years older than that so the idea is ludicrous. Perspective is everything.

Recovering my sexuality has also meant loving myself. I treat myself in the way I'd want a lover to treat me. I have seduced myself. I have treated myself with respect. I've wined and dined myself in candlelight, I've been my own masseur, I've undressed myself, to entice myself. And then I've made love to myself. I've learned yoni massage techniques which I can do for the gentle pleasures of touch rather than sexual arousal, although arousal and orgasm can be part of yoni massage too. My only regret is that I had to go through all the years of heartache from my partner's porn addiction to learn how to rediscover and redefine my sexuality. And I bet that for all his years spent masturbating in front of a screen hoping nobody walks in on him, he never experienced the true pleasure of self love.

My husband continues to be reluctant to talk about sexual matters. During later recovery a whole new set of issues to do with his self confidence and sexual confidence has appeared. I don't know what it's all about. It's not a return to porn or any kind of relapse, I'm confident of that. It's frustrating because it's characterised by low libido and lack of physical response, which sometimes can manifest as the absence of erections. I cannot work this out at all but it's his body, his emotional issues, and it's his responsibility to either take action or not. I'm open to discussing it, I'm open to seeking professional help, I'm open to work on it, try things, etc, but until he decides I can't do much about it other than say "I'm here".

This is why it's so important for me to reclaim and rediscover my sexuality for myself. Not for the relationship, not for him, but for me. I'm not retreating to hide away in my shell. I'm not going to lose my sexuality all over again. I'm not going to feel bad about myself again. I'm still here and if he wants to share his feelings and concerns, here I am. But my recovery continues.
His porn addiction: you didn't cause it - you can't control it - you can't cure it

aquarius25

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2017, 08:31:25 PM »
I think that is a really great perspective EB. One I am learning and discovering myself. There are lots of great qualities about my husband and yes he does love me as much as he knows how. That is just it though, I feel like he has really impaired himself and numbed himself with years of porn use. Anytime things get emotional he shuts down. I have read lots of books on it and I have tried several different ways to talk to him about it. Progress has been made but there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, I need to focus on my recovery. Hi sex drive is still low and I think his performance anxiety is through the roof. I am learning to realize and understand that it isn't a reflection of me but he has his own crap to deal with and clearly I have plenty of mine. For the most part, he was never mean but there were a few things that were said that really hurt, they still hurt. THere were actions he did that made me super uncomfortable and I find myself triggered by them regularly. He used to take photos of my friend's legs without their knowledge! Now, whenever he takes a picture of anyone with shorts on at all there is this small part of me that cringes. These are the things I find the trigger and impact me most. I am learning to remove myself from these insecurities and try to build trust between us. But when you know this person has lied to you for so many years it is hard to start to rebuild.

Emerald Blue

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2017, 08:12:34 PM »
Aquarius, I get everything you're saying. My husband seems to have gone into a low grade depression, but it's not quite depression either. I think he's going through changes in how he perceives himself and he's realised that he has had to question all the things about himself he thought were part of him, even part of his identity. It's not *just* questioning his behaviour and attitudes about porn but other things too. But it started off with the realisation that porn had hijacked his brain and rewired it. He says it's a scary thought to realise that what he was doing was actually being influenced and shaped and conditioned by a process in the brain, that his behaviour was just serving the mechanism that produced the reward. He said he found that kind of brainwashing and not being properly in control of his own thoughts and behaviours is a really frightening thought. Because the truth was, he didn't even "like" what he watched, but he couldn't understand the compulsion to keep doing it. He said he would ejaculate without orgasm, and sometimes he'd never find the video clip to "finish" to and he'd feel utterly wretched. Even when he was in the addiction, he felt desperately unhappy. He didn't think he could tell me. He wanted me to catch him, but I'd given up on trying years before. In the end I couldn't take the distance between us. There was no need to catch him out.

I'm also reading a lot of books, not so much about porn addiction now but relationships and sexuality. I try to bring what I learn to our relationship but he's stuck in a bit of a funk as he tries to understand himself. His background and upbringing made him vulnerable to addiction, and because his most traumatic events happened at around puberty, or just before, porn was an easy escape. He was never encouraged or praised, and the entire family hardly spoke to each other. He grew up feeling very isolated. He obviously has issues with intimacy, but his porn addiction has intensified whatever problems were there to begin with. He struggles at times, but to his credit he tries hard to overcome whatever personal, internal difficulties as they arise. There's only so much anyone can handle though, so I try not to challenge him to much as he can retreat back to his comfort zone quite easily. By that I don't meam porn, I mean not communicating properly, not telling me things etc. I feel like I'm walking a tightrope a lot of the time.

I'm getting better at managing triggers. There were things I could no longer enjoy after d day that were previously not a problem for me. Mostly these featured images of women, like fashion photography, movies with sex scenes or partial nudity, music videos with female dancers, all the usual 'trigger' stuff. Whereas before I'd be thinking "I love that dress" or "wow! Those dance moves are amazing" it all became distorted throughout the porn's eye view of women, and suddenly it all became too upsetting. I still get triggered, of course I do, but I'm noticing now that there have been a couple of occasions when I felt quite triumphant. For example, we were watching a music show on TV when unexpectedly there was a clip of some dancers not wearing very much, but I sat through it and looked at the dancers with a sense of both envy (because I can't dance like that) and nostalgia (because I used to look like that),but more importantly, I enjoyed it for what it was — dancing to a great tune. My husband on the other hand was very uncomfortable about it. He actually tried not to look at it, but then he's a porn addict trying to stay clean. If I wasn't there no doubt he'd feel more at ease but he'd be reactivating his old pathways.

I guess I'm changing too. Perhaps it has taken the progress in recovering my own sexuality and self confidence that has allowed me to be able to watch something like the dancers and not be triggered. I don't know. On another day I could feel entirely different.

His porn addiction: you didn't cause it - you can't control it - you can't cure it

Kimba

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2017, 10:50:38 PM »
Hi guys - WELL this one is a hard one, I had the old you let yourself go and you don't get dressed up enough or wear enough make up dialogue, wow really needed that kick in the guts after realising my whole relationship was a farce ...  He also never really looks at me, anyone have that one, he is a bit better but I ask myself this, he was looking daily at all these young nude girls and wouldn't you think he would be wanting to peek at me...

So fast forward a year, how do I feel, I thought I was ok until we went out for breakfast the other day and I felt a bit insecure, maybe because summer is on its way and the short shorts will be out. Anyway I do feel better about myself, not because my partner says I'm gorgeous on a regular basis or even once every now and then, I think he has said it once... I usually have to say, does this look ok?  Anyway I think I am better because I have made myself better, I feel more confident, I still feel resentment toward him over those comments, he has never apologised over that stuff and to me it says that somewhere deep down he feels justified in saying that because in his mind its true... Ok I am getting older I have been through menopause, I don't run around like I used to, I still ref basketball but not so much and I don't go to the gym anymore, but I garden and walk my dog.   I actually weigh about the same, but doesn't he love me for me and not just how I look, I haven't changed that much, I get told I look like the lead singer of 4 non blondes the band and that was last week ha ha...
I read on here in the over 40's section where one  horrible horrible man said that OH well I might as well stay with my wife because I probably am getting to old to get out there and get anyone else, what I noticed as well is he said the exact same thing about his wife on here, how she had let herself go, how he was in great shape and still a hunk, ha ha omg he might think he is ok but wow what a poisoned mind he had.

Anyway in conclusion, its still a work in progress and its nothing to do with the porn now, its to do with our connection, Ive watched those videos you recommended and we are still lacking in that department so Im still not on solid ground, Im still wondering about us, I still feel lonely and alone at times and I still wonder if he can step up all the way...
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stillme

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Re: Body image as experienced by partners of porn addicts: how is it for you?
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2017, 03:00:36 PM »
I definitely felt my self-image take a huge dive after d-day.

I recently analyzed some things from the timeline of events and discovered the craziest thing. I am small and although not overweight, am at the heavier side of a normal weight. I did some dieting and got down to my personal ideal weight. When I got to that size, my husband's porn use escalated. Of course, I had not idea what was going on at the time. However, I remember feeling so incredibly frustrated and angry that when I finally buckled down and did the hard work of eating right (including cooking separate food for myself than I cooked for him and the kids since carbs do a number on my body) and exercising daily - I got nothing from him. No 'good job', no 'you look nice', nothing. I really broke my heart. I ended up just giving up and putting on the weight again and stopping exercise. When d-day came around I was back at my heaviest and started to feel like maybe it was 'me' that was being rejected. However, when I finally got truth on full disclosure and could sit down with the timeline it was clear - not only was it not because I had gained weight - whenever I felt good about myself, he would double down and escalate more, get more detached, seek his own sexual satisfaction and ignore me.

To get to my healthy place again, I just ignore him honestly. I am back to eating better and exercising more and my body is looking the way that "I" want it. I don't think twice about what he cares about. I am finally at a place where it doesn't matter if he compliments me or not, I really don't care what he thinks. Not in a bad way, I just realized it made absolutely no sense to put any of my own emotional, mental, or physical health in the hands of an addict, even a recovering addict. Feeding off of him sent me to very dark places and I decided I would never let another living person have that much control over me. Now - I really don't care if he thinks I am attractive or not. I do what I want for my own health, my own personal satisfaction, and to be a good example for my children.

It has been quite the interesting conversion of events, but my biggest area of healing has been detaching myself from him. We are still married, but I doubt vulnerability on my part will ever be a part of this relationship. I decided that I am too valuable to allow myself to be at the mercy of another person, especially one that has let me down so fully, the way I was to my husband. I used to think it was beautiful to 'love so deeply', but that put me in a very dangerous position. After d-day hit, I didn't look in the mirror for months. I felt disgusting and unlovable, I felt like I wasn't enough. I was lower than I have eve been in my entire life - all because of a man rejecting me. Now it sounds crazy when I think about it. Why did I let it get to me the way it did.

I know my way isn't for everyone, but I just refuse to care about what he thinks about my looks. I work out, I eat right, my body is changing in beautiful ways and I love it, because I am doing it only for me and my own enjoyment, happiness, and an overall healthy lifestyle. I don't even ask his, never a, "Oh, how do I look?" or "Do these jeans make me look fat?" Nope, if I like the jeans I wear the jeans. If I am 'feeling fat', I wear something that I like the look better. It is glorious! My husband does try to give me compliments and I am nice to his musings, but I really don't internalize them. I couldn't care less if he means them or not, I just do what works for me. I feel significantly better now.