Monday, February 8, 2016

"It Still Hurts that He Went to Porn" How to Heal Betrayal Trauma

"I opened up the computer history so I could get back to a page showing a knee stretch my physical therapist gave me." As she thought back Jodi clutched a big blue decorative pillow. It's not in my office for looks, but for sessions like this. "There was a long list of porn sites. No images, but even some of the web addresses were vulgar. I thought, 'Oh, no. Please, no!' I felt like I was going to die."

"I clicked on site after site and looked through them. I had to know where Paul's head was. I sort of 'came to' again when I heard him moving around upstairs. It was surreal--A few minutes ago I thought I knew this man. That all blew apart and none of the pieces fit together anymore.

"Then I was in motion. I wanted to bolt, get as far away from him as possible. I didn't know what to do or say. I paced around the island in our little kitchen.

"I walked upstairs. He was in a sour mood, fixing a closet door. I almost blurted out, 'How could you do this to me?' I kept my mouth shut, went back downstairs and paced some more. I felt like I had to do something but I had no idea what."

Jodi recounted everything she could remember from that dark day and the months-long struggle that followed. Not wanting to spend time with Paul. Finding excuses to avoid the errands they always ran together. Hours on the computer, searching like a detective. Watching his behavior, trying to decipher whether he'd been unfaithful in real life, or just in his head.

"For months I couldn't shake the feeling that Paul had brought all these women into our home, into our bedroom. The exclusivity I thought we shared? Gone!" There was a huge gulf between them, full of all these fantasy women. Sex between Jody and Paul, which had been improving before her discovery, seemed empty and meaningless to her. She avoided it.

After four months Jodi had become so distant that Paul finally complained. In fact, he brought up the topic of divorce. That was when she broke down in tears and told him what she had discovered. At first he didn't acknowledge he'd been viewing porn. As though it might have been their nine-year-old daughter?! But then he admitted "looking around" online. He assured her that never in their marriage had he been involved with another woman in person. Nor had he tried to flirt or strike up a conversation with anyone online. "I have a hard time even getting along with women at work." Jodi knew this to be true.

In much less detail, Jodi recalled key events of the three years since that talk with Paul about porn. Finally, I asked her to think about a day from earlier in the week: "You said you walked out the door and didn't give Paul and porn a second thought. You went about your day. You're not letting those old worries rule your life anymore."

We'd gone through her trauma timeline once and brought her mind into the present. It had taken her fifteen or twenty minutes for her to walk me through those events in her history.

Given how painful it was for her to recount it all, once she was done common sense and compassion would have dictated that I pass her the box of Kleenex and give her a well-earned break from the topic of Paul's involvement in porn. I could have changed subjects and lightened up the remainder of our forty-five minutes together so that, by the end, she might have cheered up a bit.

But this wasn't a polite conversation, we were following the protocol of a therapy called Lifespan Integration. So we kept our focus on the trauma of her discovery and the events that had transpired since then. I read back to her event after event from the timeline that I had created from her description of her history. I arrived again at the most recent event: "Leavng the house yesterday to go about your day without worrying about he might do on the computer. You're not letting it run your life anymore." When I asked Jodi what it was like for her to go through the timeline this time she said, "With that last sentence, I felt a lifting."

Once again I read aloud the list of events, pausing for several seconds between each item. What had she noticed that time through? "It felt like poison all in my body."

After a third reading, Jodi said she noticed "feeling sleepy." After a pause she said, "Hmm. My stomach is calm now. I had the thought at one point, 'I can take care of myself.'"

I walked her through the timeline four more time, for a total of seven repetitions. When I asked how she'd felt as we'd gone through it the final time she said, "Ho hum, like 'When are we gonna be done with this?' I don't have a pit in my stomach anymore."

As I read over what I wrote above about this session with Jodi, I know it's going to seem like I left something out or oversimplified the process. I didn't go into every detail, of course, but the gist of it is there. Perhaps that's a part of why I'm amazed each time I do Lifespan Integration at the power of this straightforward process. Most of the time, it goes the way it did for Jodi.

I wish I had a more thorough and elegant description of how Lifespan Integration works and why. You can read here some of the theory about what makes it such a powerful way to purge and heal trauma. Frankly, whether the theory is accurate or not, it simply works. I've seen that in the lives of dozens of clients. It helps most of people who go though the process.

In the two decades I've been doing therapy, Lifespan Integration is the most powerful tool I've used. In my experience it tops EMDR and Prolonged Exposure Therapy for healing trauma. Take that for what it's worth--one therapist's view based on decades of work with traumatized clients. I love celebrating with clients who've discovered a sense of healing and freedom that had been eluding them until they went through those key sessions we spent processing their trauma using the timeline.

What has helped you heal from trauma? Please comment below and share the principles and practices that have played a key role in your recovery.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mini Mindfulness: Daily Practice Standing Up to the Rebel Mind

Puppy
[Photo Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/puppy-1367647]

You've decided in advance how you'd like to handle things, but then in the heat of the moment the brain goes rogue and drags the rest of you along for the ride. 
  • "Better to sleep another hour than go running in this cold weather." 
  • "The donuts are gone but there's one last maple bar in the box. Can't let it go to waste." 
  • "The image is a alluring woman in a swimsuit but the link description sounds innocent enough. It's probably fine." 
  • "There's no end to their dawdling at bedtime. Time to bark out orders, swat behinds, and pull them by the arm to their bedrooms."
Of course it's important to resolve to handle situations like these differently the next time they come up. But we can do more than that. We can practice standing up to the rebel mind when the stakes aren't as high. 

Standing up to the mind is what mindfulness meditation is all about. Incorporating mini meditations into your routine guarantees that you'll get some practice doing so on a daily basis. 

To experience a mini mindfulness session:
  • Set the timer on your phone for one minute. 
  • Pay attention to your breath. As you inhale attend to the air coming in through your nostrils or the feeling of your lungs filling up or the sensation of your chest, shoulders, or tummy rising. 
  • Then focus on the sensations that go with exhaling. 
  • When (not if) your mind starts to wander, tell yourself "Back to the breath" and attend to your breathing again. 
  • When the timer on your phone goes off, you're done. 
When I explained to one my clients how to do this she said, "So the goal is to stay focused on your breathing?" In a way, yes. That's certainly what you're attempting to do. But don't be disappointed or feel like you're doing it wrong when that doesn't happen. The mind is like a puppy dog, always losing interest in one thing and bounding off to play with something else that caught her eye. The real goal of the exercise is to catch the rebellious puppy dog mind in the act of dropping one intention and getting caught up in another. Usually we have several chances to do that in a minute. Whenever we catch the mind wandering and gently tell it "back to the breath," we're letting it know that we're in charge. We're standing up to it and in the process proving to it that a lot of what it thinks it needs to focus on or take care of or figure out is just an illusion. 

I once guided my client, Elise, through a five minute version of this exercise while she was holding her baby. I set my alarm and we started. As soon as I closed my eyes I thought, "Little Ella has been so good during this session because Elise and I have both been engaging with her and talking to her throughout our conversation. But she's going to get bored right away now that Elise and I are quiet and closing our eyes. I'd better interrupt this mindfulness exercise just long enough to tell Elise, if you need to pause what we're doing to take care of Ella, go ahead. Then I realized that this was actually the perfect opportunity to stand up to my bossy mind. I simply said to myself, "back to the breath." As it turned out, Ella was fine. Partway through the five minutes she started cooing to herself, having a great time. I smiled and thought, "Wow, I let go of my need to manage Ella's experience, and she's doing just fine without my help. I wonder how many of the other things in life that I'm so sure I need to control would turn out just fine without my help. Then I realized I'd wandered off on this thought and told myself, "back to the breath." 

We fail at mindfulness when the mind wanders off and we get so caught up in the thought or bought into its importance that we never come "back to the breath." But besides that, there is no failure. There's no maximum number of times we can gently redirect our mind back. We're building the muscle of our mental discipline whether we do so twice or ten times. 

Sometimes, in the middle of a mindfulness session, the mind arrives at a strange place. It fully accepts that there is truly no need at all to pursue any of the lines of thinking it usually finds compelling, at least for this moment. And we taste a level of peace that can be quite illusive in our lives of busyness and overstimulation.

You can see why, practiced regularly, mindfulness is a kick-but way to strengthen our ability to abstain from addictive behavior.

Have you ever tried mindfulness? Has it aided your recovery? 

Take the time to try out some mini mindfulness sessions over the next few days and let us know what you discover.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Art of Vegging Out, Porn Free

[photo credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/AFB41CF89E]

Why is porn such an attractive way to kill time? It tricks the brain into thinking we are actually satisfying our natural desires for
  • sexual enjoyment
  • aesthetic appreciation
  • human connection
  • flirtation and intrigue
  • acceptance and approval
  • freedom and agency
  • power and assertiveness
So the brain keeps telling us to go back to porn even though it provides no genuine substance along any of these lines. 

Porn is a Lousy Way to Veg Out

Over the last 25 years I've worked with clients who've gotten sucked in by the promise of porn and then discovered it doesn't deliver. 
  • Porn is an overall jolt to the system, not a soother. The net effect over time is that you feel more antsy to look at porn, rather than relaxed and content with life.
  • Porn is addictive. It feels like a choice at first but then the core of your survival brain is screaming at you for it. You start to feel like you need it the way you need food... water... oxygen.
  • Porn disconnects you from yourself. Increasingly, other human traits take a backseat to lust, a quality we share with the reptiles. 
  • Porn disconnects you from people. You only have so much discretionary time, only so much energy and focus. Appreciation of friends and time with family seem to take a backseat, or go out the window altogether.
  • Porn trashes your self-esteem. It stinks to be bossed around by the part of your brain that can't get enough of this degrading habit. 
We Need Better Ways to Veg Out

Before a snake can strike, it has to coil up in preparation. Without that slower process, the productive burst would be impossible. As I pointed out in an earlier post, we are the same way. We can't just keep spending our strength, we must take time to gather it. 

Unfortunately, gathering strength is an unappreciated activity. When we have our wits about us we'd rather focus on performance and productivity. Vegging out is relegated to the junk heap of useless pastimes, what we only end up finding ourselves doing because we couldn't keep going any more. Or perhaps deliberately chosen, but only once we're thoroughly spent and finally have a good excuse to "waste time" for a while.

In his book The 20 Minute Break, Ernest Rossi describes a more effective way of vacillating between productive and rejuvenative modes of living. In fact, he cites evidence that our bodies are designed to cycle between periods of ease and exertion throughout the day. We ignore this natural process at our peril. On the one hand, we burn out. Once depleted, we become much more vulnerable to the call of our unhealthy old habitual ways of killing time, such as porn.

Some Great Ways to Veg Out

Kill time in a way that helps you regroup and gather your strength:
  • Turn away from the technology trough. We don't truly veg out very often because we're so quick to check email, the news, or social media. 
  • Be still for a time. Pause what you're doing without jumping immediately to fill the space with something else. It will take a minute of doing nothing for the buzz of your mind to quiet itself. 
  • Attend to your breathing or heartbeat. This helps you gear down to veg out mode.
  • Settle yourself. Accept that it's you settling you, instead of looking to caffeine, nicotine, food, entertainment, alcohol, or any other boost from someone or something else. 
  • Pick a good veg out mode activity. Look around, walk, breathe, eat, commune with nature, talk with God, crochet, carve on a piece of wood, caress a loved one or give them a back scratch or a foot rub.
  • Slow your pace. Whatever you do as you veg, don't rush it. Deliberately slow down and find a rhythm that feels calm and natural.
  • Come to your senses. Pay attention to the sound of your wife or child's voice. Feel the texture of whatever you're touching. Really see your surroundings as you take a stroll around the neighborhood.
How about you? What do you do to veg out that works better than going to porn or some other unhealthy outlet? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

How To Get Your Husband or Boyfriend to Stop Watching Porn--9 Things You CAN Do

Lauren writes, "He's watched porn the whole time I've known him. We've been thru so much together and come so far as a couple, but in that area nothing as progressed. He tries hard not to lie, but then he plays sex games on his phone while I'm right there in the room. I told him before I hate it when he does that. Recently I caught him again! I've been so sad about it, but it seems like there's no point bringing it up. I'm just so hurt and tired of this. I want to leave him. Would it be wrong of me to refuse sex with him?

"Then again, I don't want to sabotage myself. We have two kids. Add in our work schedules and I hardly have time to please him. I still try to give him all the energy and time I can. He's excited to be with me, but we don't have sex much any more. The fact that he's so into porn makes me wonder if he only wanted to be with me because of the great sex we used to have. Is our life together just an obligation now? He says, no, he really loves me. If that's true, why won't he give up porn?"

Lauren, here are some ideas we hope you'll find helpful:

1. Tell him how much your relationship means to you.


This helps him put into context why you're so disturbed by his lust fests over other women. "You mean the world to me. I adore you and cherish what we have together... so naturally I feel so protective of it and get scared when it seems threatened."

Given how demanding your life with work and the kids has become, it's understandable you're struggling as a couple. The best defense is a good offense, and Dustin Reichman's Engaged Marriage blog is all about helping busy couples like two you re-vitalizing your relationship and feel connected. Then outside factors like porn will pose less of a threat.

2. Seek compassion instead of promoting guilt.

He may already feel guilty about watching porn. Or at least ashamed, as evidenced by the fact that he kept his porn use a secret from you. Even if he doesn't, scolding him about his behavior may only lead him to withdraw from you or work even harder to hide it. That goes against what you want in your relationship: closeness and transparent communication.

Instead of, "How could you do this to me?" (emphasizing his behavior), try "Since discovering the porn I can't stop worrying about whether you still find me attractive" or "I felt so secure and now I'm scared that was just an illusion." (emphasizing your emotions).

3. Share your conclusions tentatively.


His watching porn probably does not mean the same thing to him that it means to you. Let him know what your concerns are while showing him that you're open to his perspective.

"I was shocked because since we've been together I've been so content--you have my whole heart. When I saw the porn it terrified me that maybe those feelings aren't mutual! What is your commitment level these days? Have your feelings for me been fading lately?"

4. Seek to understand his perspective.

If he's willing to have a discussion with you about porn, celebrate that! He's likely never talked with a woman about the intricacies of this aspect of his sexuality. Think about it: when boys discover masturbation or porn, they experience feelings that are mind-blowing, overwhelming, confusing, and for most boys, ultimately, dumbfounding. Even if they could put their experience into words, it would seem completely awkward and out-of-bounds to talk to the woman they talk to about most other important things--their mother. To show that you're willing to discuss porn and his thoughts and feelings about it might open for the first time for him the intimidating but exciting realm of communication at that deep of a level. (To learn from a couple who came to communicate masterfully even about a topic as challenging as porn, check out Victoria and Gary Prater's book, Love and Pornography.)

5. Be patient.

Women are accustomed to talking about their feelings and thoughts. If he doesn't respond immediately to the questions you ask and the areas you want to explore, don't conclude that they're off limits. He may just need to time to take your concerns in and let his own impressions percolate and clarify before he can put them into words. If you've had a heartfelt, mutually respectful discussion that has helped you both feel like the understanding and closeness you share has increased, he probably appreciates the intimacy of it and will be willing to revisit the topic again. Those future discussions are when you'll be hearing about the deeper feelings that have clarified for him over time as he's pondered the issues you're discussing.

6. Have empathy for him.

It's hard to step out of your own hurt to empathize with his experience. Ultimately, the women who are able to do so find themselves becoming, over time, less and less devastated by the fact that he finds porn appealing. They can take it more in stride because they start to get how men's minds work and they don't take porn as personally. (I'm not justifying his porn use or trying to convince you to shrug it off, just telling what I've observed working with many couples over the years.)

7. Don't rush yourself.

Empathizing with him doesn't mean ignoring your own feelings. Your own healing may have to progress to a certain level before you'll be able to feel compassion. And  As one woman commented on another post on this blog:

"People told me it was MY JOB to fix him and make him feel better about himself and not ever hurt his feelings with my own hurt feelings. Before I could support him, I had to start to heal. Having people validate how much I was hurting and how much my life had been affected helped me feel understood. Then it was much, much easier to validate him. But I couldn't give from an empty bucket, no matter how much people felt I 'should' as his wife."

8. Get Outside Support

You wouldn't climb in the Himalayas without a Sherpa guide. As important as your relationship is, you'll never get from him everything you need to heal and feel confident again. Other women in your shoes are already supporting each other and healing together in places like Jacy Boyack's Togetherness Project. Join them--you'll be blown away by the insights you'll find and, over time, the peace you'll regain.

9. Learn together.

The bottom line for most women is this: they want their man off porn. Fortunately, there are resources that can help you get there as a couple.

Many of the men on support forums for kicking a porn and masturbation habit (like the Nofap thread on Reddit) find their way there after a wake-up call from Gary Wilson's TED Talk, The Great Porn Experiment, which shows the damage porn does to men or this cute little video short about a kiwi eating a nugget that drives home the devastating effects of addiction.

Love You, Hate the Porn, the book I wrote with Geoff Steurer, can be a similar wake-up call for men in relationships. Here's what a couple of Amazon reviewers wrote:

"Helping me think twice before I whack it to internet porn. I now think of my wife's feelings." --Dylan Thompson Wages

"Not just for wives of men who are addicted to pornography. This helped me as well, to understand what she is going through." --Robert N. Jones.

Of course, no matter how masterfully you handle things, there are no guarantees your man will respond as you hope. Everyone's choices are ultimately their own. As time goes on, he will act as he chooses and reveal to you more about who he is and where you stand in his life. Then you will have to decide how you are going to respond, given the choices he's making. If you're frustrated by the limits of your influence on your man, check out Corey Allan's Simple Marriage Manifesto. While otherwise "loving" actions mean very little when they've been coerced, and thus grudgingly given, nothing can stop couples who come together freely, as individuals, each in the driver's seats of his or her own life. The resulting amazing relationship is one you'll never get to by pressuring and pleasing, persuading and placating each other. It might be scary to accept that he's in charge of him and you're in charge of you, that's exactly what will keep you both showing up in your relationship and keep it alive and vibrant in the decades to come. 

Hang in there Lauren! And be sure to let us know how it goes. 

What other encouragement or suggestions do you have for Lauren and others in her situation? Please leave a comment. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Super-Charge Your Intimacy

"I can always count on him being my soft place to land."

"She accepts me fully and completely."

We love the idea of entwining ourselves in a forever welcoming relationship that is nothing-but-soothing.

That's how true love--deep intimacy--works, right? We get to know each other more and more deeply, and what we discover every step of the way we find so adorable that we can't help endorsing and validating each other non-stop.

Actually, no. It doesn't go that way.

Instead, we inevitably discover, again and again, that instead of a cuddly kitten or the human version of a Jacuzzi, we married an actual person with their own personality and preferences, temperament and tastes. They have their own hang-ups and hiccups, just like we do.

And it's a good thing that in the very relationship where our dreams are the wildest and the stakes are the highest, we're with someone who will disappoint and challenge us. It gives us the opportunity to grow in ways that we never would, never could, were we left to our own devices as a single individual.

Coming from a broken home with endless conflict, Jamie had always prioritized finding a man with whom she felt safe and supported. Cory seemed to fit the bill perfectly. He came from a large family and his parents were still together after 45 years. When she spent that first Christmas with them, she knew deep down that everything was going to be okay.

The feelings were mutual. Dating Jamie felt like a dream to Cory. He'd never been with a more gorgeous, exciting, spiritually strong girl.

They were both anticipating sex, and their honeymoon started out as the trip of their dreams.

Until it was clear to Jamie that Cory couldn't seem to fully relax and enjoy it. "Twelve bucks for bagels and hot cocoa? Well, okay, but let's pass on the fruit cup." "Are you kidding me? Ninety bucks? For a dress? I love the dresses you already have. And you do have a lot of dresses!"

Why couldn't he ease up and remember that this would be their only honeymoon, something they'd look back on their entire lives? The final straw was when he hassled her about buying the stuffed moose, the one she'd decided on as her only keepsake from Jackson Hole.

Jamie had emancipated at 17 and had worked her tail off to become independent in every way, including financially. She'd been going along so far with Cory's anxiety about costs, but to have him complain about her buying a stuffed animal pushed her too far.

"Who the hell do you think you are? We're paying for this entire trip with my money? You don't get to decide everything I spend. Why do you have to be so uptight about everything?"

Cory's retort came quick as lightning. "We're using your money on the trip because we emptied my bank account to get your ring! As I've looked ahead at what it will take to pay rent and tuition and all our other expenses, I don't know if we'll even be able to make it on our incomes. We are going to have to live so frugally, so carefully. I know this is a special time, but it doesn't mean we can ignore reality!"

Cory and Jamie were now in the thick of it, the process of "people making." And it can only occur at its highest level in the fertile soil of a relationship. The challenge for them--and the rest of us--is to do a healthy share of advocating for ourselves and a healthy share of accommodating our spouse. But don't confuse that with compromising. Conflicts that recur and recur, they refuse to go away precisely because our compromising capacity reaches its limit. To stay married even after that requires much more than compromising. It requires the courage, vulnerability, and work ethic to do what it takes to grow beyond our old capacities.

That's my attempt to sum up, in a paragraph, the radical philosophy of David Schnarch, and it's a perspective I've found to fit very well with just about all of the individuals and couples with whom I work. Don't stop advocating for yourself just because it creates discomfort for your spouse. Don't try to manipulate them into not advocating for themselves because it challenges you. Keep coming together and letting the sparks of your strong personalities fly. This is not to be confused with being selfish or giving yourself permission to be mean with each other. It means simply refusing to pretend you're not who you are, refusing to pretend that you don't want what you really want.

Being real with each other in these ways is bound to lead to difficulties and emotional struggles and painful moments of revelation and realization. But the alternative is stagnation, the death of growth, and ultimately the suffocation of a vibrant and alive relationship.

For Cory and Jamie, it may have seemed that their honeymoon was doomed to be over at that point. But the opportunity to develop as individuals and ultimately as a couple was just beginning. Conflicts like these are the labor pains that can give birth to a deeper, more exciting love.

After driving around in silence for half an hour, they'd both cooled down enough to try to talk through it again. They had a long talk on a long walk along the shore of Jenny's Lake at the base of the Teton mountains. Jamie became intimately familiar--as never before--with Cory's fears about being man enough to step up and do what it would take for them to make it financially as a couple--and then as a family once they had kids. Jamie talked intimately with Cory about her fears of being controlled and ultimately consumed by someone else who was more forceful and pushy than she is. When she finally got away from her parents at 17 she'd vowed she would never let herself be controlled again. And now she had trusted Cory enough to enter into marriage with all of its obligations and weighty responsibilities. And it was terrifying for her at times, no more so than when he got worried about money and it led him to be more uptight and bossy than usual.

The real Jamie and Cory were now face to face. They'd each managed to stay both authentic and tender with each other, which can be a real challenge on the heals of an argument.

Their hard talk had a strange effect: when they stopped walking and looked into each other's eyes, all sense of separateness was gone. They hadn't "solve the problems" they talked through or guaranteed that those very issues wouldn't arise again. But it left each of them feeling like they'd been allowed "in", closer than ever to the other's heart of hearts. There's no more privileged status as a spouse, and they both felt the electricity of it. When you're allowed right up against quivering membrane of your spouse's very soul, you become lovers at a whole new level. The honeymoon wasn't over after all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Better Ways to Kill Time than Porn

Sunday night I got this email from Jeff about his weekend:

Feeling satisfied tonight. It hit me, "It's all because you dodged the lust bullet on Friday night!" Highlights from my weekend came to mind: 
  • Great time joking with Sunday School class--they're 14, so uninhibited. 
  • Shoveling snow with Kylie (12), chatting as we did. Not a chore at all! 
  • Sucked that Gavin lost basketball game. Still fun to cheer them on--great team, together 3 years now, they're buddies.
  • Everyone I met on the errands I ran Saturday afternoon seemed so nice. Even lady who wouldn't take my shoes--"over 30 days" (grrr). 
  • Friday night (working in reverse here): Good time at concert with Sandy. Usually not too big on jazz, but have to admit sax player (saxist? ;-)) really good. 

I thought, "So that's what it's like to have a nice weekend, clear of the crap porn used to spill into my head and life."

When we talked during our therapy session yesterday I learned Jeff really had dodged a bullet Friday night. Sandy rode the train into the city to meet him so he had a couple of hours to kill before the concert. It had been a rough week with one deal falling through and trying to nurse a couple other precarious ones along. He was glad to have work wrapped up by twenty after five. Nonetheless, sitting there at his desk, instead of a rush of relaxation he felt blah and out of sorts. 

In addition to porn, Jeff's also been a workaholic. It's been hard for him to accept that he can't trade his addiction for more productivity. He's had to start thinking differently about what to do with discretionary time. Initially it was quite a foreign idea that down time might not be wasted time. I encouraged him to read The Power of Full Engagement, about becoming more productive by spacing out our exertions. The idea is to rejuvenate regularly and release our muscles and mind in between periods of flexing them. 

Jeff took all that to heart Friday night. Instead of staying at the office and making a token effort to get more done (and risk getting drawn into useless--or downright pornographic--content on the internet), he decided to leave and go for a drive. Nice sunset. Pleasant evening. Too bad it was too cold to take a walk. Then he realized it wouldn't be too cold if he strolled through downtown and ducked into a store to browse a bit every time he got chilly. 

"I was having fun out in the brisk air, then checking out some shirts on a clearance rack. My mind was completely off of work, really starting to unwind. Then I looked up and saw a stunning, nine-foot-tall woman in racy underwear. And in the middle of winter! Maybe it because I was in a good place that night; maybe it that there were people were all around; maybe some of both." Whatever the reason, Jeff didn't stop and stare at that Victoria's Secret window poster like a patron at the Louvre admiring a Rembrandt. "I moved on, kept letting other stuff in. The Chinese dragon display in the bookstore window, the smell of coffee wafting out of the cafe. Pretty soon my jonesin' mind and pounding heart caught up with me." 

The way Jeff had handled it prevented that lust jolt from becoming a lust fest and it had eventually shrunk down to a little blip on the radar of his weekend. He'd done it by developing better ways to unwind and sticking with them even when lust kept inviting him back to play. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Being Real with Each Other is Beautiful--Even When It's Ugly

In this earlier post I promised to tell the story of how Brittany and David keep maintain a fresh sense of connection, a sense of vitality to their relationship that makes them feel like they're still boyfriend/girlfriend after thirty years together. They do it by being authentic even when they know their genuine response will challenge or disappoint the other.

It took them a long time to get where they are now. Before they learned to get real and stay real with each other, Brittany recalled that she and David "Lived parallel lives." It would be easy to assume that the distance between them provided some sort of safety--a buffer that softened what went back and forth, making interactions easier to bear. Not so. In fact, Brittany recalls, there was an ache that saturated their lives and relationship. "We could never get out of trauma and get on with our lives."

Working for five different tech companies over the years, David has travelled a lot. They'd go days feeling disconnected, and then he'd come home and they'd fight. He couldn't figure out why Brittany was so guarded with him and why she never seemed to want sex. The truth was, David seemed to her like a stranger. Even though they'd been married for years and were raising two children together, Brittany felt utterly disconnected from David. 

Knowing their relationship was not working, Brittany kept trying to "work through things" with David. He dreaded those "grilling sessions." At first when she probed him, David insisted there was nothing to share. When Brittany persisted, her queries felt intrusive to him. When she still wouldn't let up, he joked that she wanted him to be like a girlfriend to her, always gossiping and sharing feelings with each other. 

The truth was, David dreaded talking more openly with Brittany about his porn use. He knew porn offended her sensibilities. For that matter, it also violated his own morals. But all hell seemed to break loose every time she saw something on the computer that worried her or he admitted that he had fallen back into viewing porn on a semi-regular basis. 

At Brittany's insistence, four years ago David came into counseling with her. He admitted right up front, "I do pull away, even when I'm in town and we're around the house together. It hurts to hear over and over again all the things I am that she doesn't like, all of the the things she want that I don't deliver. I try to tough it out, rise above it, remember that she loves me. But when being close means I get reminded of all the ways I don't measure up, I do want to pull away. She's a blamer, and when stuff isn't going her way, she comes on the warpath. So I find every excuse I can to run errands, go do things with my buddies, or retreat to the basement and hope she'll leave me alone so that we can live peacefully. Is that too much to ask, to have some peace and harmony in our lives?"

This was the beginning of things going differently: Instead of merely pulling away, David was talking about why he was tempted to pull away. It's very different to talk out what we feel like doing instead of acting on those feelings. I encouraged Brittany to do the same thing: talk out what happens inside her when she feels like she needs to pursue David, when it feels to him like she is hunting him down and trying to drag something out of him. 

"I feel like I've been pretending things are fine, pretending we're okay, when actually I have this gaping emotional wound from not really having a relationship with each other. He's away for a week at a time and when he comes back he wants me to hop in the sack with him and pretend to have a grand time even though he feels like a stranger to me. His porn habit hurts me and he knows it, but he won't talk about it. Ninety percent of the time I don't even know how that's going. I have to guess, do detective work to find out, or ignore it and pretend it doesn't matter. Sometimes I've tried to do that, pretend it doesn't matter. But then I feel detached not only from him, but from myself. That's the hell I've been living in."

Over a period of months, David and Brittany kept talking about how they felt and what they felt like doing about it. They got better and better at avoiding those actions--David withdrawing and going silent and Brittany blaming and attacking. But they weren't stuffing the familiar feelings that led them to do those things, they were talking those feelings out instead. 

There is a key roadblock David and Brittany had to work through that prevents most couples from engaging in this kind of communication. They had to get over the unrealistic expectation that if things were going well, if things were as they should be, they wouldn't find each other to be a disappointment. It's a hard truth, but it's liberating once we accept it: in the natural course of life we are bound to be disappointed in our spouse, and it's okay to talk about it. 

It turns out that it really is okay to be disappointed. It's not an indictment of our spouse as a human being, it's a part of life. And the same shoe fits the other foot: we are bound to be a disappointment to our spouse, and it's good for them to tell us about it. 

Sometimes we think we're protecting each other by hiding the truth, pretending we share their opinion, or acting like something doesn't matter to us when it really does. But the resulting lack of understanding and closeness takes a toll.

How about your relationship? Do you notice a difference in how close you feel and how alive the relationship seems when you're being open and truthful instead of careful and diplomatic?