Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How You'll Know It's Safe to Swim with a Killer Whale

This blog is all about encouraging couples to work together to overcome pornography problems. However, some individuals who are struggling need to do a lot of work on their own before a spouse can safely work together to help them. For a spouse to work with such individuals too closely in the beginning can do more harm than good.

Henry had repeatedly told Cheryl that he would not have a pornography problem if she was more responsive to his needs. He exerted unrelenting pressure on her to engage in sex acts that made her uncomfortable. He told her that he'd find her sexier if she'd undergo breast augmentation surgery.

Cheryl was diligent in her diet and exercise routine, in part because she remembered Henry telling friends before they were married that he'd get divorced in a heartbeat if his wife ever got fat. She tried to keep their home immaculate but Henry always seemed to find a reason to complain. She hated how much pressure Henry put on the kids to achieve and perform.

Whenever Henry and Cheryl worked together, it was always Cheryl who bore the load. They taught a children's Sunday School class together. Henry had initially been offended that they were even asked to teach it, feeling like that kind of work was below his capabilities. In the classroom he had good rapport with the kids as long as they behaved, but Cheryl often felt like he would interrupt the lesson she had planned and "steal the show," spontaneously taking the lesson in a direction that often had little to do with the topic they'd been asked to teach that week.

Cheryl had not been a doormat when she married Henry. However, years of his anger and complaining and blaming had made her doubt herself. She sometimes wondered if the things that were wrong with their relationship really were all her fault. Henry seemed so confident most of the time, and so convinced when he wasn't that the problem was all Cheryl.

I knew that if Cheryl were to work closely with Henry on his addiction, she would end up bearing the brunt of it just as she did with their Sunday School class. I encouraged each of them to do some work on their own first. Henry needed to change some lifelong patterns of self-justification and entitlement. He needed a lot of practice taking responsibility for his behavior and future rather than looking to Cheryl to meet all his emotional needs. Cheryl needed to work in a group with other women to develop more emotional independence and the capacity to stand up to the pressure and control Henry could exert.

Many men in Henry's position, who are used to blaming their wives for what's not right in their lives and looking to her for soothing and solutions, bail when they discover that in the early stages recovery for them is going to be primarily an inside job. To Henry's credit, he didn't bail. He read Why Is It Always About You and learned about Narcissism. He read Jeff Young's book, Reinventing Your Life, and learned about the entitlement lifetrap. He worked in therapy to reverse those patterns. He read Terrance Real's book, Why Can't I Get Through to You and really took in Real's message: Your wife is probably right. It's you who need to change to heal the relationship. We watched as Henry worked his tail off in individual and group therapy. It took a while, but when they were finally ready to work together as a couple, Henry and Cheryl's marraige counseling sessions and the work they tried to do as a couple really made a difference.

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