Face-to-Porn: Why it Hurts When Your Partner Views Pornography

I am terrified of intimacy and vulnerability, but I am starving for it. It is this dimension where we are uncovered and seen. Nothing is hidden. It is our deepest desire to feel and experience this level of connection. But when we carry relational injuries from those appointed to be our safe havens (parents/caregivers), who wound (directly or indirectly), without repair, it throws everything off the tracks. And when we continue to develop derailed, we find ourselves lost, wandering various paths, attempting to find our way back.

Our relational traumas that go unhealed perpetuate this. We become involved in relationships of various kinds, resorting to self-protective and injured ways from childhood to get back to that connection we need, and yet, paradoxically, wander further away from others. But the heart’s intention is always to get back to closeness. 

No matter the securities we set up to ensure connection, vulnerable personhood and true humanity allows the other the freedom to wander away. Those who commit to one another, intentionally face the pains each other feels, both past and present, and pursue uncovering the reasons for the wandering. The wandering is really about looking for that connection and yet, afraid to pursue it with the one they have opportunity to become most vulnerable. The fear is the desire to maintain closeness, but terrified that if one’s true self is revealed, their partner will leave.

In short, we are all craving intimate connection, but scared to go towards it. It requires unveiling ourselves, risking hurt and pain in the midst of such exposure. The other’s response can either invite closeness or distance, but it is in our hands to venture towards the other and not away. This also means that when we encounter the deeper wounds within ourselves or our partners, we travel through, instead of avoiding. 

 

The Cry for The Other To Turn Back

Why does it hurt so much when one’s lover engages in pornography? Some reactions can range from a mild sting of pain to the catastrophic howls of deep trauma. No matter the intensity, the hurt is still present and in response to the other’s actions. The hurt and anger point to something missing within the relationship; that the other has turned away. 

What creates closeness or generates intimacy? It is when both partners turn towards one another (face-to-face); when they invest in seeing the other and when they reveal their own hearts. Sharing one’s self, allowing the other in to their desires, fears, pains, joys, needs, etc. is integral to growing closer and deepening the bond. 

It does not mean that the one who exposes their vulnerable self forces, demands or even expects the other to meet their lack. Such control will only push the person away. Instead it is an invitation. The other is allowed the freedom to draw near or away; to open up or not; to stay guarded or uncover.

So when the partner discovers that the other has engaged in pornography, it hits deep. It is a reaction of their lover turning away from them; away from intimacy. This pulling away hurts. But it isn’t just the pulling away, it is the hiding. Hiding is disconnection; the person moving further from closeness, instead of towards it. The partner’s pain is the signal of a chasm. 

When the one who has turned towards pornography is shamed and labeled an “adulterer” or “cheater” it comes from the agonizing sting of being left. Labeling only perpetuates the shame and hiding, however. The actual message is that their partner has turned away; their face oriented somewhere else. The individual is actually saying, “the burn of pain is really that you didn’t come to me; that you didn’t unveil your heart to me.” 

 

Why the Other Turned Away

To pursue vulnerable connection is a nerve-wracking endeavor; we are facing the unknown. The other could accept or reject, draw closer or close up. We worry about their reaction and what feelings it will bring up in us; anger, shame, embarrassment, etc. And if we encounter our own feelings, what do we do with them? Often, we go back into hiding, pull away, or feel so hurt that we intentionally attempt to hurt the other. 

When the other has turned away from their partner and instead to pornography their heart’s desire is to connect to their partner, but they are terrified to open up and pursue. They may fear sharing their longings for sexual engagement or that they are angry, particularly towards their partner. It is too exposing to reveal their needs and desires for closeness, to be seen and known. 

If sexual trauma is a part of their partner’s history, it may also convolute and complicate both emotional and sexual intimacy. When they run into their protectives or defenses, it can be an intimidating odyssey to unravel and get through the blockages that inhibit closeness.

Regardless, the reason why a person has sought out pornography is because they are hungry for connection and both afraid and lost in how to pursue it. Most likely they are disconnected from their own heart, while at the same time trying to find it. If they allow shame and hiding to perpetuate, it will obfuscate discovering what drove them to look. It is a symbolic “reaching out for connection”. It is a symptom of detachment and the hunger for attachment.

 

The Way Back to One Another

There is no formula or step-by-step plan for healing, but it does require a mutual commitment to repair the distance and move towards connection. The one who has turned away, must be able to be present and allow the other to express their hurt. Sometimes the hurt runs deep and intense, often expressed through anger. 

For healing to happen it is important to show compassion and understanding to the “wounded” one. However, the one wounded moves away from vulnerability when they become destructive in their anger; meaning, intentionally harming and/or shaming, whether through physical harm or verbally demeaning the other. When it enters into this zone, intimacy and mending become obstructed. But the underlying desire is for their partner to see how deeply pained they feel.

Eventually when the one wounded has been seen, heard, and cared for, it will be integral for both to explore the reasons the other has turned away (this applies to an affair as well). It may be all too comfortable to settle back in to being in a “good” mood. The waters have calmed, the partner is in a pleasant state, so why rock the waters, right? But the pattern will perpetuate when the heart issues do not get addressed.

The one who has turned away has the responsibility to understand his/her own needs, desires, fears, etc. and allow their partner in to their internal world. It does not mean every single detail is unveiled, but what is vital for the relationship to grow. When both can talk about what the one who has turned away was feeling when they reached out to porn, what they were longing for, the obstacles to revealing this to their partner, what they were trying to meet through pornography (or an affair), and how they felt afterwards, it will begin to shape and shift the relationship, hopefully for the better.

When both invite and allow the other to unveil themselves, it uniquely affects each person where they can move into seeing the other as a separate person, struggling and traveling through the wounds, barriers and layers of shame to become their true selves and to experience true connection. It is a harrowing endeavor to commit to one another and one’s self in order to grow into fullness and aliveness. The pull to leave and end the discomfort and agony is looming and alluring. To commit is literally courageous, fighting against that current, in the hopes that such commitment will lead to greater life. It is the road less traveled.

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