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They Hadn’t Had Sex for 6 Months. So, She Checked His Computer History

Here's what she found.

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Laptop computer history
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As a psychologist, I’m never surprised when friends and even acquaintances share intimate revelations or ask for advice. So, when my neighbor Sherry sat on my patio with a mug of coffee and announced her husband had a porn addiction, I took a sip of coffee and asked gently how she knew.

“We haven’t had sex in at least six months,” she responded. You’d be surprised how often I hear about sexless marriages. It’s not so unusual, sadly, but it’s also not hopeless. I encouraged Sherry to tell me more.

“We used to have sex maybe every two weeks,” Sherry went on. “But then he just stopped asking. I thought he was possibly having erectile dysfunction issues. Although, honestly, I can’t say I minded not having sex that much.”

That, too, is a common complaint — couples stop enjoying sex so much — and they don’t know how to recapture the feeling of play and the deep connections they once shared.

As Sherry’s friend, not her psychologist, I felt a little awkward hearing these personal details. But I wanted to be a supportive friend, so I listened sympathetically. It turned out she’d discovered the porn when he left his computer open while running an errand.

“I was wondering if he was looking into erectile dysfunction, so I clicked on his history,” Sherry told me, “and there were all these pages of porn he’d visited. I was like, ‘Is this the Mickey I’ve been married to for 24 years?’ I felt totally betrayed.”

I knew from previous conversations that their marriage had hit rocky times. I also knew from my professional experience that this wasn’t so much a porn issue, it was a marital issue. Obviously, along with other marital troubles, their sex life had not been especially satisfying to either of them for some time.

She was looking to me for the answer to her distressing discovery. I said, “I think the two of you need to talk.”

Sherry sighed. “I know. I’ve been avoiding it. I guess he has, too. We just aren’t good at having real conversations about serious things. We stick to who is going to mow the lawn or do the grocery shopping. I feel so hurt. I don’t want to blow up at him.”

“That’s understandable,” I said. “And you’ll need to talk about it, but maybe not to start with.” I suggested, as I always do, to first arrange for a time when they’d both be available to have a conversation. And to set some ground rules. “You might say that you’d like it to be a serious conversation in which you both make an effort to listen to one another and try to reserve judgment.” I know that’s hard to do for many couples, but I’ve found it’s the only way they can earnestly start working on their issues.

Sherry nodded.

“Assuming he agrees to try that, when you sit down together, you can just tell him that you saw the porn on his computer,” I counseled. “You can certainly let him know that it made you feel bad, but now you want to hear whatever he has to say about it. Be curious, not critical. After he’s shared, if he does, then you can try to come up with ways to move forward together. He might be
willing to get professional help, or go cold turkey, or at least talk about his relationship to the porn.

"But the conversation also needs to focus on your relationship with each other and where you both want it to go. It sounds like you need more emotional intimacy. And, if he doesn’t share, I’d suggest you ask him to join you in making an appointment with a couples therapist to talk there. At least to start the conversation.”

I could see the fear and hope in Sherry’s eyes. “I know it’s a little scary,” I said, “but this is about having a marriage that makes you both happy. It’s worth taking the risk. I think it’s going to take some time.”

Sherry hugged me and left my patio confident about her next steps. Then I sat back down and finished my coffee, hoping that her painful discovery would turn out to be the impetus for them — as for many other clients I’ve seen over my 30 years in practice — to focus on improving their relationship.

If you, too, are having problems, here are eight tips to starting a difficult conversation:

 Make an appointment to have a conversation. Choose a time when you both are likely to feel able to listen and to talk at your own pace without pressure.

 Choose a quiet, private place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted, and where you’ll feel comfortable.

 Turn off or silence devices.

 Let yourself be vulnerable.

 Do your best to listen patiently, quietly and openly without being critical, judgmental or defensive.

 Respond with validating comments, even if you’re surprised or upset.

 Summarize what you’re hearing.

 Remember that this likely isn’t easy for either of you.

Julia Mayer, PsyD, co-author of AARP’s Love and Meaning: The 10 Challenges to Great Relationships—and How to Overcome Them

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