• Dr. Butch Losey

Pornography: The Third Partner in Your Relationship

Updated: Aug 7, 2019



You have felt for a while now that your partner is less intimate with you, less engaged, maybe a bit more distracted and you wonder if he or she is having an affair. Now, you have discovered pornography on the computer, which has been poorly explained by your partner.

Murray Bowen, a well-known theorist and one of the founders of systemic therapy, quipped that the smallest unit in a relationship is three. His belief was that two-person relationships are inherently unstable and when couples are under stress, they will introduce a third person or entity into the relationship to reduce anxiety, which he called triangles. Triangles can be seen as helpful or problematic. When triangles are helpful, they are unbiased and temporary, such as when couples come to therapy for consultation about their relationship. Parents and friend can serve the same purpose, when the "consultation" in unbiased and supporting to the relationship.

Not all triangulation is healthy, nor does triangulation need to be a person. Couples in distress can choose to triangulate by over-investing in their relationships at work, with friends, alcohol and other more intimate relationship such as an affair, and pornography.

Pornography can be seen as a triangulating relationship that is the hidden "third partner" in a relationship. This relationship is a thief to intimacy. Porn demands similar experiences as other intimate relationships, except it is a one-way intimate relationship, where the investment is toward the porn with no return on investment.

This intimate relationship with porn encourages the user to invest considerable time, maintain a private, personal relationship, develop strong rituals and common experiences, and to participate in relationship-strengthening behavior by searching for more novel material.

The person in the relationship with porn experiences their preferred or fantasized sexuality, strengthens fetishes and can create the "perfect" orgasm. It is next to impossible to have a healthy and real relationship with a partner when this kind of relationship exists with porn. Ultimately, porn weakens the bond in the primary relationship.

Read more about porn's affect on relationships

It can be difficult for someone to quit porn when it has reached a level of compulsion. If you, or someone you know, is interested in changing their relationship with porn, there are a few simple steps to get it started. It begins by taking control and doing things differently. First, the person should study their habit. Notice the triggers of porn use and how the urges begin. Consider the cyclical nature and patterns of porn use. Examine how porn helps coping.

Next, change the boundaries. This could include putting the computer in a public area, using monitoring software and sharing personal standards with others. Begin to interrupt the patterns of use, including planning activities during times of typical use. Consider having a planned activity when urges occur. One important key is to break up the ritual aspect of use in the different time frames, creating change before use, during use and after use.

Having a third partner in your relationship hurts you, your partner and weakens the bond between the two of you.

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