Thank you for trusting JustAnswer with your important question.
That's a tough one. As a marriage counselor, it really depends. Questions I'd ask to help determine how dangerous this behavior is include: How often it's happening, how it's affecting the sex life of the couple, and if it's helping the spouse have a false sense physical fulfillment without the emotional responsibilities that sex with your partner require.
For some men this is a form of emotional infidelity. They are giving up emotional and physical closeness with their spouse for an easier route: porn (or online chatting, or videos, or other similar avenues).
For some men, the more frequently they are turning to porn with gratification the higher their risk is for developing a pornography addiction. They also begin to seriously hurt their spouse, who can never measure up to the picture-perfection, on-demand access, and stress-less relationships you have with these replacements.
But once in awhile, as a stress relief, where it isn't damaging the emotional and physical/sexual aspects of your relationship, this can be a normal and not dangerous activity.
the masterbation/porn is in the past now, but my wife and I have been trying to get our relationship better. She feels it is precisely the same as a physical affair. I feel what I did represents an emotional affair, but not a physical affair. She feels she can't move on unless I confess to her that I had a physical affair.
Why does she feel that it crossed the same line as a physical affair?
I have told her things such as "I understand there are many physical components to it, and I'm sure the pain to you is the same as a physical affair, but I feel that being there physically represents so much more."
because in my mind I was doing all the touching, feeling, sex.... and sperm physically came out of my body when I ejaculated, so she feels there is zero difference.
I have confessed that I was unfaithful to her, but until I say that I had a physical affair (and mean it from my heart and not just say the words) she feels she can't move on.
I think the difference is that in a physical affair you have another partner, one who is usually trying to help you move away from your marriage, and giving you a false sense that things will be "so much better" with them.
Have you addressed her fears or pain that the pornography cause, such as decreasing her self-esteem or making her fear that she's somehow "not enough" for you?
yes, we have discussed the past, why I did what I did, all it effects many times.
I think you can apologize for using pornography for filling a physical need (sexual release), but I think you have the right to say that in your heart and mind this was not the same toxicity to your relationship as a physical contact with another human affair.
It sounds like she needs to work on why it's so important for her to hear a specific type of apology instead of hearing the apologies you're offering. Like there is pain, fear, or anger she hasn't dealt with and may not know how to address.
I have never justified or excused what I did, I have said I feel I think she gave me good reason to be frustrated, but I have consistently said that did NOT justify my horrible actions
The key is working on rebuilding your friendship, the non-problem-focused time you are able to spend with each other, and the willingness to begin to forgive and rebuild trust. But she has to be willing to let you back into her heart and she has to be willing to trust again.
If I cannot say I had a physical affair, she feels she will likely divorce.
Has she gone to counseling or a pastor to help talk about why she feels like that particular phrasing is a make or break for your marriage?
We are trying to rebuild, but when I am away from her, she has so many concerns and just feels she can't get over this.
That sounds like hidden baggage to me... like she's wanting you to feel the shame and remorse for a physical affair in order to try to prevent you from going there. But in actuality she's punishing you for a bigger crime than you committed...
Ok, so despite you and I thinking it's not a "physical affair" in the sense that you didn't have a human partner...
Is there a desire in you to want to find a way to believe that you had a physical affair, so you can apologize to her in a different way?
I want it to be a "never again" event in my life and have told her that.... but the porn was in my life for several years. It has been 15 months since my last time.
Do either of you come from a faith or spiritual foundation?
My desire is for us to have a healed relationship, and I have tried to word things differently so that she can hear what she needs to without feeling like I'm lying.
Ok, well here are some things for you to think about...
yes, we have been Christians since before we were married.
1. Bible-based... God created sex to be between a man and a woman, within the confines of a marriage. We are told to not have sex with prostitutes, other people, animals, children, and if they'd had photography back then it would have been listed. Sex is a physical ability, a gift, that God gave us. And we're supposed to use it wisely.
You sinned by allowing your eyes to covet another woman in an image, and by allowing and encouraging your body to respond sexually. You didn't orgasm by accident, that's a physical action you willingly engaged in.
There is so much of her viewpoint I understand, and have told her that. I was doing all those things in my mind, so what's the difference, yet I feel doing things physically goes another mile further
yes, I agree.
2. Physiologically... Orgasm releases chemicals which make us get a high. It's like taking a hit of Cocaine. God wanted that high to be controlled and used to strengthen the relationship. Porn and masturbation distorts that by allowing you to get that hit of endorphines when you want them... which slowly takes away your physical ability to have the same high when you have sex with your partner.
It's just like a Meth user who strips their brain of the physical ability to feel good by forcing it to feel high with the drug. When when they get clean and sober, their brain can get high from the natural things it was supposed to.
I don't know if either of those physical aspects can help you feel more honest about saying you had a physical affair. Because you physically encouraged orgasm with masturbation. And you physically performed it which looking at images of other "partners" than your wife.
I have zero problem saying I committed mental adultery.
But can you wrap your head about the fact that you physically choose to pursue orgasm? You didn't just get turned on by what you saw visually. But acted upon it.
there is so much physical about what I did, yet I have difficulty saying that it is no different than going to a hotel with a hooker. I never allowed myself to touch or be touched.
Does she equate "physical affair" (porn + masturbation) with "adultery" (hooker/mistress) as identical?
Or does she see a continuum between emotional affair, physical affair, and then adultery?
guess I feel like the societal rules I was raised under have changed. although I knew what I was doing was wrong, I never considered it a real affair.
I think a large majority of folks would agree with you, too. Which is what makes this hard.
she feels there is no difference between porn+masterbation vs. hookers. She sees me identical to Tiger Woods
also, I did have an emotional affair with a co-worker about 4 years ago.
So does that mean she's had an affair if she's watched a steamy sex scene on tv or a movie, even if it wasn't porn? Or is it the masturbation part that's made it cross the line for her?
Does she think you're not allowed to masturbate, or only if you're thinking about her is that ok?
i think the fluid release is what crossed the line. As far as her, steamy movies don't do anything for her. So masterbation to anyone else is forbidden (as it should be, I wish I had never gone there ) She doesn't mind if I masterbate to her.
So it's more of the envy/coveting another woman aspect that's maybe under her skin?
As far as that most people might agree with me, that doesn't matter an ounce to her. She feels very strongly with her.
Any chance she's struggled with neglect, child abuse, or sexual abuse in her life?
ooops.... she feels very strongly about this. it is a huge issue in our reconciliation.
yes, she was abused as a child physically and verbally.
I really feel like what you did triggered something emotionally harmful in her, like you tripped over the tip of an iceberg but you aren't the iceberg... and that what you did isn't the iceberg... but it's being blamed for the pain she's feeling.
As a counselor, I'd really want to focus on her stuff to find out why she honestly believes that she'd feel just as hurt if you had had a hooker or mistress compared to what she's feeling now. Because I don't believe that's the case. I do believe she'd hurt a whole lot deeper if you'd had a face-to-face affair.
doesn't help that our relationship has never been very strong. we didn't know each other very well when we got married, and when we first got married and hit issues, I was disappointed and feel out of love. I provided for her and have loved her, but not been "in love" with her. 15 years married.
There are two times in a marriage when divorce rates peak.
1. In the first few years, usually because people find out they never should have gotten married or the first kid comes along and drastically changes everything.
I have sucked at making her feel good enough and done horrible on complimenting/uplifting her.
2. About 14-17 years in when the friendship has died, and maybe the kids have grown up or something else has happened that makes one partner realize it's not worth going through the motions anymore.
You may be in a marriage that needs serious counseling to save it. And it may already be too late. She may be fixated on this issue because a part of her really just wants out but doesn't want to be the bad guy or the one at fault in saying "It's over."
she says many times she does want out but is trying to fix it because of the kids.
The best training I've seen for couples in your position is the Gottman Method. You can find a Gottman certified counselor from their website (Gottman.Com). If she's willing to really give the marriage one last attempt at repair.
The kids can't be the glue between two adults. Especially as kids get older and you know they'll be moving on soon to be their own adult.
can't say we've have a good friendship...talked a lot about things, but not a strong friendship
have one book from Gottman
Without a strong friendship (time together, admiration, positive shared memories, positive shared life goals, shared meanings/values, appreciation of each other, and a willingness to accept your spouse "as if"), a marriage can't last long term.
A book is good, but their certified therapists are highly trained and supervised before they get listed on the Gottman site. I like them because they have the strongest research to back up what they do and why they do it.
His theory would say the foundation in your relationship house is highly damaged... and the house can't remain standing for many storms with no solid foundation.
Your porn was a storm, one that a healthy marriage could have weathered and grown from.
Affairs of any kind are a symptom, they are never the whole picture.'
So, do you feel I had a physical affair ?
How would you classify/label it ?
It's not the response you were looking for... but I really think your wife is asking for a bigger apology than your "crime" needs. Which makes me question where all her pain is really coming from. But if you really feel like the relationship is that close to divorce, then saying to her that you had a physical affair (when I really don't think you did), could potentially be used against you in court or even in the way she tells your kids why you're getting a divorce. I don't think you can make a "good enough" apology in wording and feeling that will undo what she's feeling... because it's way deeper than that.
I think you used masturbation and pornography as an escape, and it could have opened the door to an addiction or a physical/face-to-face affair. But I don't think you crossed that line because there was no physical contact with another person.
If there had been phone sex, or internet sex, or other things, then you'd be much much closer to having a full blown affair.
From what you say, you had a one-dimensional physical affair in that you encouraged your body to respond sexually. But you did not have a multi-dimensional physical affair in that no one else was invited into your personal/sexual space.
You withdrew part of yourself from your marriage and sex life... but you didn't give those parts to someone else.
But for women, the whole issue is a lot less black and white than guys. I think because it's harder for us to have orgasm and it only be totally physical.
So she probably knows that for her it would feel very similar to having a face-to-face affair, because of the emotional requirement women usually need to reach orgasm.
I think the big thing is that you know how she feels about it, and it sounds like you've honestly made efforts to change to avoid hurting her in the same way again. And I think that's huge.
I also think we're seeing a huge rise in porn addictions, possibly as a form of spiritual and marriage warfare, because it is is such a slippery slope. I think the best you can do for your wife is let her know how much of her side you understand, and how much you've changed your own thinking in what's acceptable/not acceptable in your relationship. And that because you love and honor her you don't want to repeat those sins.
Encourage her to see the apology you've made with your actions rather than the apology anyone could try to fake with words alone.
thank you - my wife woke up and I showed her what we discussed and are talking about it.