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What does it matter if we call porn use an “addiction” or a “habit”?

Yesterday and today I’ve had Leah Grey talking about the misunderstandings we have about porn addiction in marriage. Yesterday she asked the question what if what we’re calling an addiction is actually just a bad habit?  

My friend J from Hot, holy and Humorous is wondering the same thing: What should we call persistent porn use? Because we’re all wondering if we’re doing a disservice by labelling all porn use a porn addiction.

I’ve been writing about porn use in marriage and the dangers of porn use for years, and I hadn’t ever thought of it like that before. I am so glad Leah sent me these posts, and I love her perspective today, too. Here’s Leah:

What does it matter if you know the difference between "addiction" and "habit?" Here's how it can help your husband recover from porn use:

If you’re reading this right now, you might be one of the many of us whose spouse struggles with a pornography addiction.

Addiction is a term we’re using often nowadays, “Addicted to video games”, “Addicted to food”, “Addicted to tanning”, “Addicted to sugar”. But what’s the difference between a true addiction, an obsession, a bad habit or a compulsion? And why does it matter what we call it, isn’t it all the same if it’s hurting your marriage?

I’m in the “business” of addiction. Not only have I lived it and survived the effects of it but I talk about it literally every single day. The more I talk to people the more I believe, what we think to be true about addiction is all wrong. In fact, what we think to be true about addiction is now magnifying the problem. That’s a whole new problem! With addiction on the rise, in this case, porn addiction, I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we’re too easily becoming “addicted”.

Have you heard the line, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” from Romeo and Juliet? Most of us took Shakespeare in school so I would imagine you have. When it comes to addiction you might say, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the thorn will hurt you either way!”.

Maybe not the best metaphor but it makes a point.

Why Does It Matter What We Call It?

Let’s just say for a moment you’re a newlywed and every time you go grocery shopping for your spouse, they said you didn’t do it properly. You never bought the right thing. You always spent too much money. You forgot the most important thing on the list (Can you tell this used to happen in my household?). Every time you’d come home your spouse would say, “You’re totally incapable of getting groceries”. Buying groceries would become a stressful thing! It would slowly cause tension in your marriage until you believed you were, in fact, incapable of getting groceries. Eventually, you wouldn’t even bother trying anymore.

Now, imagine you’re a newlywed and every time you go grocery shopping for your spouse, they still said you didn’t do it right. You never bought the right thing. You spent too much money. You always forgot the most important thing on the list. Every time you’d come home your spouse would laugh and say, “I knew you were going to forget. It’s okay. You can get it next time you go. I’ll make something else for dinner”. The next time you went grocery shopping, you remembered the important thing. You felt good about yourself. Your spouse felt good. Grocery shopping would no longer be an issue.

Obviously, this is a lighthearted example but if you relate the general philosophy to pornography you can imagine how believing they have the “addiction disease” would affect them differently than saying they have a “bad habit”.

When it comes to addiction, the world says, “Addiction is a disease with no cure”, “Once an addict, always an addict”, “Relapse is part of recovery”.

What does the world say about breaking bad habits? “Replace the bad habit with a good habit”, “Change your thinking and visualize success” or, “It only takes twenty-one days to break a habit!”.

It’s a totally different message! Interestingly enough, if you read part one of this post where I interviewed my husband the dictionary defines “addiction” and “habit” as almost the exact, same thing! Obviously, they’re not the same, which means the label we give our spouse in tough times matters.

A lot.

What Makes Pornography Different from Other Addictions?

Dr. Grant Mullen is an expert in mood disorders. He has a huge library of resources on his website in his video blog where he talks extensively about things like emotional healing, pornography and marriage. In one of his videos, he makes an interesting point that pornography is the only addiction that comes looking for you. All other addictions you have to seek out first but pornography is in our homes, on our televisions, our phones, in advertisements, on YouTube, it’s everywhere! Satan dangles the temptation in front of us, peaks our interest and draws us in until we’re hooked.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” -John 10:10 (NIV)

If you think about it from a Christian standpoint, the biggest difference between pornography and other addictions is pornography has a very strong spiritual side to it. It’s being used as a weapon to destroy marriages and lure young men and women into addictive behaviour and for some, a true sex addiction. It covers lives in shame and insecurity until they believe they’re unworthy of God’s love. I personally believe sex addiction to be the most emotionally, physically and spiritually devastating addiction to a relationship.

While all addictions can lead to physical death, sex addiction destroys the soul.  

Bound and Burdened by Shame

Shame is one of the biggest problems affecting Christians today, especially Christians trapped in pornography. Shame makes us feel uncomfortable with ourselves. As a result of shame, we build protective walls around our hearts that pushes away our spouse. For some, shame could come out as fear, for others it may come out as anger or sadness.

If the pornography use in your marriage is not a “true” sex addiction which, if you’ll remember from the last post, my husband estimated about 90% of pornography users were not true sex addicts (He’s not a doctor, he’s estimating off life experience with all things addiction, his own included). I believe it changes the way we should react to the problem.

Sex addicts need strict boundaries. Most have to refrain from sex for a period of time. They need counseling, they may need medication or to go to a treatment center specializing in sex addiction. It’s the only addiction where total abstinence is not the end goal, so the relapse rates are very high. It’s a very serious issue and recovery needs to be taken just as seriously. If you’re the spouse of a sex addict, you absolutely need to get professional support. (Need help? Hop on over to my blog and read, “My Loved One Has an Addiction, What Can I Do?”)

However, if your spouse is struggling with pornography, I encourage you first of all to stop calling it an “addiction”. Changing the name of your thorny rose won’t make it hurt less but it will change your spouse’s perspective and they need to believe they can fight this. When the hopelessness and shame have left your marriage, you’ll slowly become the spouse who laughed when their loved one came home with the wrong groceries. That attitude will bless your marriage in ways you wont believe.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” -Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

What Can The Church Do to Help? 

Much like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we’re ashamed of our nakedness.

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” -Genesis 3:7(ESV)

When it comes to marriage, this is another one of the great lies from the enemy intended to destroy our relationships. I understand it. I was raised in a Mennonite Brethren Church, there’s absolutely no nakedness there (There isn’t even dancing!). After marrying a Latin man and getting a European sister-in-law, my ideas on nudity are (Slowly) changing (At a snail-like pace).

God created us to be attracted to the naked body. In marriage, our bodies are meant to fit together and bring each other pleasure but we can’t do that if we’re ashamed of our nakedness. We might be ashamed because of how we were raised or because we think Christians are supposed to dress like Monica from “Touched by an Angel” but I don’t believe that’s how God designed us. God designed us to freely love our spouses with reckless abandon; Unashamed and super naked.

I asked my husband what he thought the church could do to change the message they give about pornography and sex to help prevent pornography addictions before they begin. He said to teach, “It’s normal for the flesh to see flesh”. I have to admit, at first, I had my feathers ruffled because I don’t want him seeing any other woman’s flesh. He went on to explain that the message we’re getting in church denies our human nature to the point where seeing our own spouse’s flesh is still something to be ashamed of. Intimate love and compassion are not taught as the solution to sexual problems in marriage so when we’re sexually frustrated or curious, ashamed or denying our human nature, we secretly seek out other ways to satisfy a biological need.

So, I encourage you to think about who God says we are and dare to change your mindset about pornography. God can bring healing and restoration to marriages that have felt the devastation of pornography. Need proof? Look at mine, who knew my husband was so wise!

For more addiction-related support sign up for my free resource, “The Scaredy Cat Faith Guide for Crisis Situations” and get a three-part email series on overcoming fear.

If you need help with substance abuse, addiction, mental health or recovery from pornography (Habits OR addiction!) here’s a list of my favourite resources for support:

  • Online Support for Pornography Recovery:
    • XXX Church: https://www.xxxchurch.com/
    • No Fap: https://www.nofap.com/
  • Christian Treatment Centers:
    • Teen Challenge USA: https://www.teenchallengeusa.com/
    • Teen Challenge Canada: http://www.teenchallenge.ca/
    • The Lighthouse Network (Help finding affordable Christian Treatment Centers- USA): http://lighthousenetwork.org/
  • For Women Struggling with Pornography:
    • Dirty Girl Ministries: http://dirtygirlsministries.com
  • Support for Christian Wives of Addicts:
    • The “Live, Love, Hope” Community: http://leahgrey.com/livelovehope

 

Leah Grey moved to New York City full of hopeful aspirations until her husband went into long-term treatment for addiction. Unable to afford to stay, she picked up her childhood dreams and moved back to her rural, Canadian beach town with her two young children. From rooftop city skyline views to her parent’s basement, in the darkest time of her life, she created Grey Minis-tries to support, encourage and empower women with loved ones who struggle with addiction. With a practical faith-based approach, she challenges popular beliefs about addiction while teaching women in crisis how to find God’s peace within the storms of life. In March 2016, she launched her website, leahgrey.com and popular peer support community, “Live, Love, Hope”.

 

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