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Do I Have to Accept Porn?

Porn is a problem in many marriages. In an earlier post, I referred to several resources from an expert on the subject, Dr. Mark Laaser. The comments on that post are also worth reading. If porn is an issue in your marriage, I hope you will check it out.

A lot of women take offense at porn. It makes them question their husbands' respect and love for them. It feels like infidelity to them. It makes it so much harder for them to respect their men.

A lot of men do not understand. They don't think of porn as having anything to do with their relationship with their wives. It is just entertainment to them. It feeds their fantasies and may make them feel more sexual with their wives, not less. It may relieve their concerns about the effects of a vasectomy, a prostate problem, or aging. It may make it easier to remain faithful to a wife who wants less sex or tamer sex than they want. It may provide relief from some other tension in the marriage that they have no idea how to bring up or resolve. Or it may have become a compulsion, because porn is marketed in a way that leads a man from one type to the next until there is no way to get the same satisfaction from a healthy relationship with a real woman.

You don't have to accept porn as part of your relationship. You don't. Even if other women find it acceptable or normal or even exciting, your relationship is between the two of you. You are not required to tolerate it.

If you cannot tolerate it, and your husband is into it, here is my advice. Do not make your husband out to be a bad person for wanting this form of entertainment or for succumbing to this compulsion. Instead, recognize that this is basically a disagreement. Find a Third Alternative. Respect his needs and offer to make sure they are met, just not this way.

A Third Alternative is one that pleases both of you, so you must do the work of learning what makes porn attractive to your husband at this point in his life. If you really want to know (and there is no other way to get to your Third Alternative), you must ask your questions non-judgmentally. Your goal is to find a way for him to get whatever he gets from porn without turning you off or making you feel disrespected or unloved like porn does.

There is a good chance that will be a lot easier than you imagine. If it's not, please find a therapist or clergy member who is comfortable talking about sex to help the two of you.

Keep in mind that "he stops looking at porn" meets only your half of the criteria for a Third Alternative. It also lacks the important half of any plan to kick a habit, the substitute for when the urge or opportunity comes up.

If you are not familiar with the steps to finding a Third Alternative, please check out my "How to find third alternatives" page. This is a powerful tool for every disagreement with the man who promised to love you for the rest of your life but doesn't always know how to do it.

Comments

Eighteen months ago, after 33 years of marriage, I discovered my husband had been viewing online porn several times a week for a period of five years. I presented my discovery to him and we discussed it to a degree. He said it was no big deal, it was just curiosity that led him to seek it out, and porn was almost impossible to avoid due to all the links available online. I told him it was a big deal to me, that it upset me and why. I gave him an article to read about how a husband’s porn habits may affect his wife so he would know my reaction was normal. He said, “I am sorry if I hurt you,” and said he will not view it anymore.

I believe he has kept his word and is not actively into porn anymore. We are trying to spend more time together. I can tell by his little acts of service that he is trying to be a good husband. For reasons I almost understand in my head but cannot easily explain, our sex life has improved.

However, every day I am plagued with unbidden thoughts and questions that fill my head. Anything can set them off. The sight of a beautiful scantily clad actress on TV or a pretty young woman in a tank top at the grocery store makes me wonder if he would have lustful thoughts about them that would cause him to think about porn. Or, I get frustrated by memories from earlier in our marriage when he didn’t like that I tried to turn him on by dressing provocatively for him in the privacy of our own home. His explanation at the time was that if I did it for him, I could do it for someone else. Yet, he enjoyed his Charlie’s Angels and Baywatch TV time, his friend’s Playboy magazines, and Kiana Tom’s Flex Appeal exercise show on ESPN. Google her, it was soft core porn at its finest.

Back then, a few times I tried to explain to him how those activities made me feel and how my body image plummeted. I was careful to use “I” messages and non-accusatory statements. However, he immediately became defensive and indicated there was something wrong with me for having those feelings and to “just deal with it.” I believe my husband never connected these interactions with the deterioration of our sex life. As a result, I closed down inside and went about the business of child rearing and told myself I didn’t care. I now believe that was a mistake.

Fast forward 30 years. The porn discovery caused mass confusion in my brain. Countless suppressed feelings popped up out of nowhere. Inside, I still have the feelings of my 28-year-old self in her young slender body. Outside, I am a 56-year-old woman slowly turning soft and wrinkled! I am still fairly slender, but come on, who am I kidding? How I can appeal to my husband after he has viewed hundreds or thousands of beautiful young women’s taut bodies? These thoughts seem to be the cause of an undercurrent of anxiety running through my mind.

I have a strong need to explain these feelings to my husband. The couple times I broached the subject, he immediately became defensive and clammed up. So I dropped it. I keep the feelings to myself, but I fear this is the same ineffective mistake I made in the past.

Outwardly, everything presently appears fine and our marriage seems to be better than it had been. But, I think in order to really get our marriage back on track, I need to talk these things over with my husband. I want to know what made porn attractive to him. I want to know why it wasn’t okay for me, his wife, to be provocative and sexy for him, but it was okay for him to view other women behaving in much more sexually explicit ways. I want to tell him that I wanted to be the one who turned him on, I didn’t want others doing it. Even though I couldn’t put my finger on the correct term back then, I want him to know it made me feel unloved when he preferred TV to me, and when he viewed porn.

After 18 months, is it too late to explain myself and ask these questions of him and expect his understanding and answers? It seems to me the only way to get closure of the past and be able to move on to finally having a wonderful marriage. I constantly live in the present with these questions and the anxiety they cause, but I think he would view the questions as dredging up the past and refuse to talk about them.

Thank you, Patty, for giving me a place to air my concerns and ask questions. There is no one in my personal life I can talk to about all this.

Hi, Lilian. I am sorry you continue to wrestle with the porn issue. As you know, I have three powerful tools I bring to all such problems.

The first is Assume Love. If you temporarily let go of all your concerns that you might be living with someone who doesn't really adore you and your body and want to stay with you, how might you explain his choices?

- What might make a man who's quite in love with his wife turn down the opportunity to see her in provocative clothing, even though he looks when TV characters dress this way?

- What might make a man whose wife turned her attention from sex to child-rearing look at some of the porn available on the internet and TV, if he really loved her and wanted to remain her husband?

- What might make a man who apologized and stopped looking at porn refuse to discuss with the wife he loves what made that porn exciting to view?

These are tough questions to consider. It's very hard to get out of our heads and into theirs, to recognize men have morality issues, body image issues, performance issues, and aging issues in addition to their libidos. When you're dealing with what TV does to women, it's hard to see what it's also doing to our men. And if your brain doesn't get any pleasure center boost from imagery, you may need to think about accidentally indulging yourself more than you intended on cookies, cigarettes, or TV shopping shows to see how porn grabs a guy's attention, even though he's not thrilled with his choice.

It is very important to get yourself away from those other thoughts (the what does it mean about us questions) and muddle about for a while in questions of what it means if you are still madly loved.

OK. Second tool: Expect Love. Every expectation is a premeditated resentment. If you are getting love, and your sex life is improving, and you feel safe from more porn, give some thought to any other expectation. There is nothing wrong with asking, as long as it is OK for him to say no. If cannot say no without losing your respect or gaining your resentment, it's an expectation. Keep them to a minimum if you can.

Third tool: Find Third Alternatives. Your first two are avoid talking about it (his preference) and talk about it until you can put this past grievance out of your head (yours). You can both have what you want, but first you need to be a lot clearer about what that is. For him, I expect he would like to avoid saying anything negative about you or hearing any criticism from you. You can most likely get what you need without either of those. But you need to get clear on what you need.

Talking is the means to the end. So is an understanding of porn's effects on your husband. What's the end you hope for? Is it another apology, based on his understanding that you were hurting more than you let on? I expect you can get this without reading off the list of charges, as he seems to be working on a stronger relationship with you. Is it an image of yourself as a sexy woman? Why not just ask him to help you achieve this, without tying it to anything in the past? Is it a stronger bond between the two of you? By all means, share this intention with him and brainstorm ways to achieve it. Is it a better tool set for your sex life? Why not discuss ways to learn new tricks, instead of discussing why he likes different things from the women he watches and the woman he actually has sex with?

Thanks, Patty, for suggesting ways apply your three tools to my situation. I have read your comments several times and have been thinking about them. I need to figure out exactly what end I hope for. It may be a combination of the four you mention.

It is very difficult to shed previous ways of thinking and the "what does it mean about us" questions, but I think I can do it if I concentrate and work hard at it.

It might help matters if I could be sure I am madly loved by my husband and I could be sure I love him. Hopefully, over time, each of us will feel loved by the other.

Lilian, you have put your finger on the crux of most marriage problems:
"It might help matters if I could be sure I am madly loved by my husband and I could be sure I love him."

I spent years pursuing this goal. That morning I woke up a widow, revisiting all my complaints and fears from the day before, it suddenly hit me. You will never know if you are madly loved by your husband. But if you are not, living as if you feel madly loved by him is probably your only shot at changing his heart. And if you are madly loved, living as if you feel madly loved by him is probably the only way you can properly reward him.

Loving him? That is a choice, not something outside your control. You will feel the love when you notice that loving him makes his life happier, sunnier, easier or when you notice how much he deserves your love.

Protect yourself from any real harm (violence, financial ruin, emotional beatings). But stop protecting yourself from the possibility that he doesn't love you. It sucks all the joy out of your perception of your relationship, even if everything is just fine.

Dear Lilian:
I read your post and it was like reading exactly what happened to me. Four and a half years ago, when we were nearly 33 years married I found out that my husband has been looking at porn on the internet for years, and I was totally clueless. He is a wonderful husband in every way. And to me he has been my Prince Charming since the day we met in 1970. We have a wonderful sex life, and everyone deserves a second chance. BUT my whole world as I knew it has changed for me. I cry by myself constantly, I have trust issues, my whole life has made a 180 degree turn and it is killing me. My most important things in life are Faith, Love, Trust and Respect. And all those have crumbled, yes they can be glued back but the cracks will be forever there. It took me by shock and surprise, I was totally CLUELESS of all. It is a heavy burden on my heart.

Dear Lourdes,
Thank you for sharing your experience with me. While it helps to know I am not the only one affected in such a way by my husband’s porn use, I am sorry you have this heavy burden on your heart. I know firsthand how the shock & surprise of such a discovery punches right in the gut. And, it punches over and over, every time the thought of it comes to mind. I understand how difficult it is to deal with the despair and hurt feelings deep inside while going about your daily life on the surface.

Question: Has your husband discontinued viewing porn? If not, be sure to read the earlier post that Patty links to at the beginning of this one. The article and the comments and Patty’s replies are a wealth of helpful information. If your husband has stopped, I believe this is a way he has shown his love for you. An online friend of mine, whose husband continues to view porn despite her pleas for him to stop, once told me it is “huge” that my husband stopped when he learned how much it bothered me. I try to remember this when thoughts of his porn habit wreak havoc on my mind.

For many months after discovering my husband’s porn use, I scoured the internet for information on why men view it and how their habit affects their wives. I needed affirmation that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I discovered Assume Love and, over time, I realized Patty’s words here were the most helpful to me. Reading about her perspective of assuming love opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at my husband and my marriage. It hasn’t necessarily been easy for me to put this new perspective into practice. Some days it takes my utmost concentration and effort to remember to assume love. Some days I fail miserably. But, I keep working at it because it gives me hope for the future.

Remembering to count my blessings also helps to keep negative thoughts at bay. I remind myself to be thankful for what is good in my life and that there are probably countless others who would gladly take my problems over their own.

Lourdes, I hope you find something that works for you. Maybe reading Patty’s posts on Expect Love and Assume Love will help. Maybe some of the other information she recommends will be helpful to you. Maybe you will find something else. Just don’t give up. I hope that over time your crumbled Faith, Love, Trust and Respect will be glued together and one day you will discover that any cracks have gradually diminished in size until they are barely noticeable.

I am sure Lourdes and many others will benefit from your reply, Lilian.

Heavy use of internet porn turns out to cause erectile dysfunction that can be overcome with time but not with pill. And the problem is worse for men who have had access to it since their teen years. You may want to have a look at Gary Wilson's Your Brain on Porn site for more information if porn is disrupting your marriage.

Thank you Lilian for your update, you have no idea how much both you and patty have helped. There are days when I feel better, and others when I don't. It is me, I know. My husband has not looked at porn since we discussed this almost 5 years ago. But I have a lot of issues to work out for myself, on trust and respect. Sometimes I feel stupid, sometimes I feel angry and betrayed. He is the best of husbands in every way. This just was something that never occurred to me and took me by shock! Thank you both a lot. Love, Lourdes

Lourdes, maybe they are not so much issues you need to work out as a disagreement between your two ways of looking at things -- especially if you have not been able to work them out in five years.

Maybe you are trying to talk yourself into accepting what you cannot accept or into compromising on principles. What you might try instead is going for a Third Alternative, an approach that satisfies both of you.

The starting point would be this: "Dear husband, I truly want to trust and respect you fully, as I did when we married.You deserve this. But what we have tried so far has not worked, even though we both want the same thing and you have done what we both hoped would work. Can we sit down and brainstorm some new approaches? I want to grow in trust and respect, and I want to do it without shaming or hurting you. I need your ideas and your guidance on this."

This is where you figure out what it would take to make a solution work for each of you. Once you know what you're looking for (which might take two or three sessions to figure out), you start brainstorming, listing ideas on paper to come back to later, no judgements yet.

When you begin to run out of ideas, you start hotdogging, throwing out the most outrageous, over-the-top ideas that occur to you, belly laughs allowed. Sometimes there is a golden nugget in one of these that moves you onto a whole new line of thinking.

I am betting there is something you or he or the two of you together can do that will restore your trust and your respect for this man who has tried for five years to give you what he thinks ought to restore them.

I'm suffering from sex & porn addiction, my fiancee jokes about it but I feel its serious now, all we do is argue over having sex, I watch so much porn when I'm stressed or not receiving what I need sexually from her, sometimes I watch porn like its a movie without even becoming aroused. She feels all I want from her is sex and I barely touch her or look at her without being sexual....I need help but I'm ashamed to tell anyone.

Internet porn has been fine-tuned to addict viewers and sell them more and more expensive access. Addiction is not something you can handle on your own.

To learn more about this subject, I urge you to listen to any of Mark Laaser's talks at the Smart Marriages Conferences. Listen with your fiancee. And then visit his website, http://www.faithfulandtrue.com/, or find a local therapist, ashamed or not. This is nothing to ruin your life and hers with.

I have been with my fiance for 5 yrs. From the begining he told me porn did nothing for him.... Then when I was pregnant with our son I noticed he would spend alot more time in the bathroom or up late while I slept. I walked in on him watching.porn on his smart phone. I just let it go. 2yrs later I find something very hurtful, he has been watching porn 5/6 times a week for a year or more.... While in that year we had sex 4/5 times, so he was using porn to substitute me. At first I thought because I gain so much weight while prego, but I dont think so. And it makes me wander if our whole 5yrs has been a distrustful lie. I dont know. Everytime I bring it up, its my fault because I dont do what he likes enough(alothough I do for him what I can with 4 kids in the home) I just dont know, we have gotten nowhere, he denies everything evrrtime I bring it up even though I have proof. I feel lost and unwanted and dont know what to do.

You cannot improve your marriage by arguing over whether he's looking at porn or not. Whatever you feel you're not getting because he's looking or because he's being untruthful about it? Ask for that.

And, just in case he's joined the millions of men who get caught in an awful loop of turning to porn to fix a problem that is actually caused by porn, ask him to take a look at this website: http://yourbrainonporn.com/ and offer to be there for him if it hits home.

If he wants your help, and you happen to be a Christian, check out Dr. Mark Laaser's helpful site: http://www.faithfulandtrue.com/. If you want to hear what he has to say without the religious parts, try his Smart Marriages conference talks instead. Dr. Laaser knows an awful lot about this topic.

I too have found my husband with his cell phone watching porn in the bathroom at night while (he thought) I was asleep.
And I know he watches porn on that cell phone on a regular if not daily basis. He will watch when I leave the house, in the morning, and any time I have left for errands, etc.
This has been going on for years.
Years of marriage. Few days after we got married, he left for work and there were porn videos downloaded on the computer that he forgot to delete.
This happened many times over several months. The images and the shock of that discovery are burnt into my memory forever.
I talked to him about it and he did not know what to say about it at first. Then he told me it was a guy thing. There was nothing to worry about. I was ready to leave him I was so broken hearted. Then he apologized, said it was an old habbit and he would stop for me.
Caught him again several times until I did not know what to think or say anymore. I felt lost and numb to the core. I felt inadequate, ugly, betrayed, worthless, hurt, angry.
I stayed. I didn't know what else to do at first and then I thought I would beat this habbit. Kick it right out of my husband. I thought I would be better than porn. I would show him.
Years later, he still watches porn. I am devastated inside. And I am hiding my feelings. I get panic attacks. I see a therapist. I have wanted to change my body physically because I thought maybe somehow this would fix me and him. I asked him what he likes. I was ready to do anything for him. Then I would get this feeling of disgust and would not want to be with him.
I thought I would kick the habbit out of him over time. I was really sure.
I tried to settled with the idea. I thought maybe it is a guy thing and I am making a big deal out of it. And him lying to me is OK on some level.
I compartmented.
I did not want the roller coaster of doubting myself every other day anymore.
We had a daughter. A beautiful amazing daughter.
And I got so worried about him watching more porn with me being pregnant then nursing and being a new mother.
It has been such soul and mental torture.
All my love, my dedication, a beautiful daughter and a beautiful life have not made a difference.
He has lied to my face, told me he does not do this anymore, that he is not "some scum bag". And that he has not cheated on me.
I get compliments and looks from other men. I think I am attractive, my girlfriends tell me so, and men do look at me. My husband tells me I'm beautiful and I am everything he's ever wanted.
I have considered that he might be addicted or have a compulsion to watch porn but still loves me. If that's possible.
I have had this naive vision and perception of love and marriage where I would love him wholeheartedly and he would too, and there would be no lies and we would be everything to each other.
Now I feel my heart is shattered in tiny little pieces. I love my daughter so much and I think of her and what she may go through one day. My husband has taught her about telling the truth and how it is important to not lie and I had to hold back from asking him to stop, that day. And this makes me sad.

Jen, I am so sorry for your pain.

First, I want to assure you of one thing. The fact that your husband watches porn says nothing more about what he thinks of you and your body than your watching NCIS or Sponge Bob Squarepants says about what you want in a husband. It is a form of entertainment.

And it happens to be a highly addicting one. Those who sell it over the internet use all the same techniques that other marketers use to figure out what to offer each of their customers to keep them buying. As a result, men end up watching stuff they never would have imagined they could stand to watch.

It is very intentional addiction, deliberately messing with their customers' brain chemistry over time. Stopping is not like stopping TV watching, which would be hard enough for most of us. Stopping after several years in the hands of these internet porn junkies will be quite distracting from just about everything else and pretty stressful, along the lines of quitting smoking, maybe even harder. Your husband may have tried and failed several times, hoping to keep his promise to you.

This is why I urge those who hope to rebuild a relationship with their husband to see it through his eyes. He thought going in that "it's a guy thing." He probably had no idea how harmful it is or how difficult it is to end. It is strength, not shame, that will bring him out the other side. As his wife, you have a lot of influence over whether he feels shame or feels strong and ready to fight this.

I want to send you to two helpful websites. The first is http://yourbrainonporn.com. The second is http://www.faithfulandtrueministries.com/. Both of these men understand pornography very well and work with men all the time to help them see the damage it does and to help them "detox" from it.

Please help me! I dont know what to do. Ive been married a year and it hasnt been the best year. On his stag do, 2 weeks before our wedding he went to strip club. Something he knew i didnt want and ever since my world has been shattered. I became suspicious and checked his smart phone and found that he had also been watching porn. It love him so much and i married him, now i dont know why? Since discovering he has been watching porn i have checked his phone constantly and seen everytime hes done it even when ive been at home and our sons. Ive just been trying to cope with it but my self confidence has taken an awful battering, i wish i was dead. Today is the final straw, after taking the morning off work and having sex as soon as the tyres on my car left the front of the house he was watching porn. I asked him if i could look at facebook on his phone and then i checked. I can see the time he searched 'youjizz' on his phone 12.40pm, i left for work 5 mins before. My heart is broken! I honestly can not see how a man can love someone and then be able to look at someone else, in my world that is not love. Right now, if i didnt have my children to think about i dont think i would be with him anymore. I feel so betrayed, hurt, ulgy and dangerously angry like i could kill someone. I understand a man has needs but 5 mins after i left for work and after we had just had sex a few hours before, ive never been so hurt. I dont know what to do? Ive tryed to talk to him, i dont get anywere, he doesnt even like to talk about sex. I feel my only option is to move on, im obviously not enough for him and im not going to live my life having a panic attack everytime he takes his smart phone to the bathroom.

Lucy Loo, this is not about his "needs," and it is not about your sexiness or beauty. It is a very popular form of entertainment for men before they marry and, for many, it continues after they marry. With the advent of the internet's ability to track his use of it, they can now fine-tune it to addict a man to this form of entertainment, to crave it with the same ferocity a drug addict craves a drug. And, most unfortunately, it can lead to erectile dysfunction in men too young to expect it, often leading them to seek more porn, not less.

You do not need to accept it, but it helps to understand it, so you are not so awfully harmed by it. Indeed, many men can and do love their wives and look at porn or visit strip clubs. You cannot imagine doing such a thing to someone you love, but he cannot imagine how strongly it affects you. Men think differently from us women, not just because of how they are raised but also because they have different chemistry from us. Think about it: he probably fell in love with you even though he had easy access to porn. He was thrilled you entered his life, even though he could easily look at a hundred other women performing a strip tease for him. You are his preference. He chose you.

I doubt it is his intention to insult or harm you. And there is another way men are very different from women. Respect matters a lot. If he's doing something he sees lots of other men doing -- and perhaps something he can no longer stop himself from doing without help -- and he loses your respect because of it, he is likely to feel pretty much the way you feel about discovering he wants to look at other women when he's got you to look at: devastated, and self-protective instead of loving.

So now you two are in what Emerson Eggerichs calls the Crazy Cycle, in which nothing gets better and lots can get worse. It's a horribly painful place to be. And it doesn't stop when you divorce if you still have children to raise together. It's well worth stopping the Crazy Cycle while you're still married, even if you eventually decide you cannot find a way to live with each other because of it.

So my suggestion is to get to know more about porn by checking out those websites I linked to in my earlier comments. (Don't worry -- they won't make you look at any or try to convince you it's no big deal.) Learn enough that you can have a calm and intelligent conversation with your husband in which you make it clear you want to love him and to be loved by him, but you are unable to do so while he's entertaining himself this way, no matter how "normal" it might seem to him. And do it in a way that says you respect him, even though you cannot tolerate this one thing he does.

But please understand this is not about his "needs" as a male, and it is not about your sexiness or beauty or his feelings for you. I don't want you to feel all that pain. Truly, he is not looking at porn or strippers because you are not enough. He is doing it for entertainment, and he is quite possibly "hooked" on it now and unable to give it up without finding a reserve of strength that he is probably using right now to defend his choice. From all the comments I get from men on this blog, I am fairly certain your husband has little idea of how close he is to losing his wife. And he probably won't hear the message until he realizes you still respect him, if not this one behavior, and still want his love.

Please help need some advice . I've been married for 14 years . My husband has always been caught watching porn. I dont approve of him watching it. I've always felt that it made him want to go out. And find some one that looked like them .So that has been one of our biggest problems . He has cheated on me with other women and has been caught talking to girls on the internet. So I have my reasons why I don't want him watching porn . Now that we've been together for so long I've told him that if he wants to watch it to do it when I'm not around . I hate that if he watches porn he wants to touch me .it makes me feel like I can't even turn him on and makes me feel that I'm not good enough for him. Is it ok for my husband to watch porn right after we have sex . I feel like it wasn't good enough he just gone done seeing my body and now he's watching porn. It really makes fell bad. Can you please give me some advice about this question . Or can other women give their opinion. I really need to hear what other women think .my husband Says that I'm the only one that thinks that way.I need to grow up. This is all disrespect to me as his wife.

Angel, you don't have to accept porn as part of your relationship. You don't. Even if other women find it acceptable or normal or even exciting, your relationship is between the two of you. You are not required to tolerate it.

You might want to read this (http://yourbrainonporn.com/doing-what-you-evolved-to-do) or watch this (http://yourbrainonporn.com/garys-tedx-talk-great-porn-experiment) and encourage your husband to do so, too.

His behavior affects you, but it is not about you, and no matter what you did to your appearance, you could not compete with it. I really hope you will let yourself off the hook on that one.

And there is nothing grown up about accepting a behavior that can lead to ADHD, depression, memory problems, and erectile dysfunction for the man you love and self-esteem problems for you.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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