Pornography and Cybersex, Trust and Betrayal

This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting the conference Anatomy of Intimacy – Focus on Infidelity  at University of California, Irvine, last month. It was an unusually rich conference and I am pleased to share a bit more of it with you now about presenters Dr. Marty Klein and Drs. John and Julie Gottman. Or to read the initial installment in the series, Focus on Infidelity.

Dr. Marty Klein

Next in the speaking line-up was Dr. Marty Klein. He spoke about Pornography and Cybersex. He reframed part of the pornography discussion into a discussion about masturbation and challenged us to ask our couples the question. “Is masturbation acceptable?”

This question is especially relevant because many partners prefer masturbation with pornography to partner sex.  For these partners, masturbation with pornography comes with:

  •  No performance anxiety
  •  No start up cost
  •  No couples conflict
  •  No contraception struggles or fertility conflicts
  •  And frequently the sex is more satisfying!

He stressed the fact that good sex often requires excellent communication skills and many of our clients do not have the necessary interpersonal skills. And, he said, focusing on the evils of pornography can be a useful diversion to avoid discussing other challenges.

He also asked us to consider some provocative questions:

  •  Does one partner have the right to unilaterally decide on a porn free house?
  •  What happens when one partner says, “Don’t use it. – I don’t want to know about it” and then gets angry about the secrecy?
  •  Which partner is actually obsessing about porn?

In an upcoming blog, I’ll write more about pornography and sex addiction, where the pornography use is much more extensive.

A related book is Marty Klein’s Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, and How to Get It.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman

The Gottmans presentation focused on the science of trust and betrayal. They emphasized that as therapists we must understand how couples build either loyalty or betrayal.

Trust is eroded during moments when partners turn away from each other when there is a need for connection. Instead of attuning well, they disappoint one another, resulting in negative feelings.

Negative affect has two main problems. First, it is an absorbing state. It pervades both mood and also partners’ views of each other. And, as the Zeigarnik effect demonstrated, unfinished and unrepaired events will always be remembered better than finished ones. Thus, trust is built by partners being there for one another, redoing faulty communication when it fails and by not allowing negative events to go unrepaired.

During their talk, I couldn’t help reflecting on the power of the Initiator-Inquirer process and how it enables partners to build trust and repair unfinished negative events.

John and Julie then went on to describe betrayal and how initially betrayal occurs when one partner turns away from bids for connection and reinforces this by internally making negative comparisons of their partner with someone else.

They outlined the 24 step Gottman-Rusbult-Glass cascade to betrayal. I’ll share a few of the steps here but suggest you look at John’s book on  The Science of Trust  if you’d like to review the entire cascade.

It begins with partners turning away from each other and making negative comparisons. These become more common. Partners begin to confide more in others and look less to their primary partner for satisfaction of needs. Then they begin to maximize the negative traits in each other and minimize the positive traits. They keep more secrets and reveal more personal issues to others. Eventually they cross boundaries and deception becomes an ongoing part of life.

The conference also included excellent presentations from Tammy Nelson and Alex Katahakis. In a future blog post I’ll share a few pointers from their presentations and finally I'll summarize my own.

In the meantime, good luck balancing the added activities of the holiday season. I hope you have time to enjoy family and friends and to celebrate whatever gives you peace, joy and strength.

Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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9 years ago

HI Ellyn,
I am enjoying your blog posts and am disappointed that I didn’t attend this conference. It sounds like it was excellent and very thought provoking. I look forward to reading more! And, boy, do I miss your trainings!

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