Sunday, October 3, 2010

He Needs Honesty as Much as She Does

Once Phil started telling Carrie about his slips right after they'd happen, it changed the addiction for him. It robbed the addiction of its potency. Shame is such an intense emotion. Keeping our behavior a secret seems to just supercharge the whole struggle emotionally. Opening up to Carrie seemed to release some of that energy, the way a ground wire discharges electrical energy into the ground, neutralizing what otherwise might have been a dangerous charge.

Another thing happened for Phil over time as he got in the habit of being real with Carrie about his struggles. He finally felt like he had support in the midst of his worst moments. I told him early on, "You're a decent guy. You're one of the good guys. You deserve to have the support of the most important person in your life. There's no reason a guy like you should have to face such a gnarly struggle on your own."

It was a surprise for Carrie to see just how bad these periods were for Phil once he started conveying his true struggle to her. Since he'd never shared with her what was really in his heart and soul when things were bad with his addiction, Carrie had become convinced that he enjoyed it more than she now realized he did. She thought acting out sexually was a light-hearted thing he engaged in, something that he wanted to keep from her so that he wouldn't have to give it up. Seeing his angst and turmoil firsthand convinced her otherwise. He was less the bad guy in her eyes.

I'll mention one final benefit for Phil. Porn keeps us hooked, in part, because it's been paired repeatedly with the pleasure of sexual fantasy and masturbation. The frontal cortex of the brain, which processes our values and priorities and goals, is trying to keep us away from porn. However, that's not the part of the brain that is in charge in the heat of tempting moments. Rather, one the most primitive parts of the brain, a part we have in common with the reptiles, takes over at the controls at such moments. That reflexive part of the brain responds not to reasoning, but to conditioning. If what immediately follows a behavior is pleasure, that part of our brain wants to go back to it again and again. If what immediately follows a behavior is aversive, it will go to great lengths to prevent that outcome in the future. Just like we don't scold a puppy for wetting on the carpet three months ago because it would never connect the discomfort with the behavior, telling my wife three months after I had a problem with porn doesn't make smut less attractive to me tomorrow. However, if I disclose to her right away, the primal core of my brain starts making the link. After that, the bloom is off the rose of acting out sexually. If I know that I'll open up and do it right away, then the idea that no one has to know about this just doesn't hold water any more, even in the tunnel vision kind of focus we go into when we're craving.

What are the benefits for you of working together with your spouse? How has it been different than struggling on your own and trying to keep your ups and downs a secret?

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