Saturday, December 24, 2011

Healing after Discovering He's Been Hooked on Porn

In a way, each woman has a uniquely individual experience when she discovers her man has a pornography addiction. It's based on many factors including how he handles the disclosure or discovery, her beliefs about him, her expectations of their relationship, their sexual history, what other areas of their life together have been like, and her feelings about pornography itself.

Despite the very personal nature of your response, it can be valuable to talk to and hear from others who are having parallel experiences. Healing as an individual and moving on as a couple often requires a massive reorientation in the most intimate realms of life. Checking in with fellow travelers on this journey can help reassure you you're not going crazy, illuminate ways of handling things you hadn't considered before, and instill hope that others have made it through what you're experiencing--in one piece!

In that spirit, let me recommend a video that was recently produced by KSL TV. My colleagues Jeff Ford, LMFT and Geoff Steurer, LMFT arranged the interviews and helped put the content together. Geoff coauthored Love You, Hate the Porn with me and the founding director of LifeSTAR of St. George Utah. Hope you find it helpful.

Support for LDS Wives of Addicts

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To Kick Your Porn Habit, Learn from Lapses

image: dan /
Hannah writes, "For five years my husband told me every time he messed up with porn. About a year and a half ago I decieded to 'change the rules.' He could tell me if he wanted (and most the time he did), but he didn't have to. It seemed to work for about 8 or 9 months. He actually did really great. But now he harldy ever tells me, but I know he is looking more and more regularly. Should he be telling me? Should he be accountable to me?"

Hannah, since your husband's been actively working to conquer his addiction for 6+ years, and yet still failing regularly, I worry that he may leaving out key elements necessary for building a solid long-term recovery. As helpful as it may be to address one's addiction more openly--to be accountable, as you put it--there's also much more that can--and typically must--be done.

Here's my suggestion to those who struggle: When you falter, in addition to telling someone, take the time to analyze your lapse. Identify a factor or two that played a role and try to come up with a corresponding solution. Keep tinkering, experimenting, until you find an approach that works for you.

Doug had successfully avoided viewing porn for over a year. Then he got a new 4G phone. Waiting to pick up his daughter her karate class, he wandered around the web. Before he knew it, he had crossed the line back into the realm of porn. The rush was back, and so was the guilt. When he got home, it was hard to tell his wife, Shelly. They'd come so far, things between them seemed almost back to normal, and he dreaded what this might do to her confidence in him. He told her anyway.

Shelly swore at Doug and then cried. Then she thanked him for telling her. They brainstormed together. At first Shelly wanted him to ditch the new phone. They discussed what had helped Doug avoid problems on the computer. One key was the monitoring software they'd installed a year and a half ago. "Whenever I'm online I feel like I'm in a fishbowl. I know you'll be getting the report on where I go online. It's not even a temptation to go to adult sites anymore."

"Too bad they don't have monitoring software for phones," Shelly lamented. After a moment they looked up at each other and then both reached for their phones. Within moments they were exploring the pros and cons of different Phone Monitoring Software programs. Since installing FlexiSpy on his phone, Doug has felt as protected with it as he does when he's online at home.

Initially Shelly thought that availability was the primary factor leading to Doug's lapse; hence she wanted to get rid of the phone altogether. Talking together they realized that even if porn is available, it's not a draw unless Doug feels like he can view it in complete secrecy. This allowed them to come up with a fitting solution that wasn't overly restrictive.

Kevin is another individual who built a more solid recovery by taking the time to learn from his failures. He said, “I used to lapse on the road, so whenever I travel my mind reminded me it was time to look at porn.” The human nervous system is designed to take whatever we do regularly and generate an autopilot program for carrying out that sequence independent of conscious choice. Once we’re programmed, an initial domino in the sequence is all it takes to tip over the whole row.

Kevin's solution was to invest some time practicing other mental responses and making them habitual. He integrated the practices describe in my posts The Path from Craving to Freedom and Mentally Practice Your Way Out of Craving. On his next business trip, he deliberately practiced an entirely different line of thinking as soon as he walked into his hotel room. Before he even unpacked his luggage, he took out nine tattered index cards and read them, pausing a few seconds to let each idea sink in:

  • "Don't choose guilt and depression over contentment."
  • "As I get free of this problem Olivia and I feel closer and closer."
  • "Sex is for connecting, not distraction."
  • "That path separates and isolates me."
  • "I have much more power when I turn away."
  • "Think of how hard it is to face Olivia after messing up."
  • "Remember who I am and what I stand for."
  • "That path diminishes love and disconnects us."
  • "Loneliness is hard but I can make it."

Once each day for a week prior to leaving on the trip, he had imagined himself in this very situation and then read the cards to practice. The repetition had helped lay down a new path for his brain to take, an alternative to the old pattern that had become habitual because of past repetition. He has continued this practice whenever he travels, breaking out the cue cards again a week prior to leaving. Despite being on the road extensively this past fall, he only lapsed once, which was a drastic improvement for Kevin.

Don't endlessly beat yourself up over a lapse. But don't merely dismiss it, either, as an inevitable part of the process of recovery from addiction. Instead, do as Doug and Kevin did. Take the time to do an autopsy. Adopt the mentality of a curious, scientifically-minded coroner. It may be a complex interaction of factors that makes us vulnerable to lapse. Thus, coming up with a solution can be a challenge. But it can also be quite an inspired, creative endeavor. (I'll stop short of calling it fun.)

Analyze away. Experiment away. And then please share with us what you discover and the ways you develop and grow along the way. I will be as excited to hear your story as I was to share Doug and Shelly's and Kevin and Olivia's!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: The Porn Trap, by Wendy Maltz & Larry Maltz

Back in the 1980s, Wendy Maltz and her husband and fellow therapist, Larry, were not that concerned about pornography. Like most in the field, they thought it was essentially harmless. The use of porn was even promoted at professional trainings as a way to help couples reinvigorate their sex lives. Then the authors noted a trend: porn was moving couples away from being sexually intimate with each other. For too many of their clients, porn itself had become the object of desire. They wrote Porn Trap because "We believe you have a right to healthy, love-based sexual expression, and that today's multi-media driven pornography is interfering with that right" (p. 8).

The authors share this gem of a line from the 14th Century Sufi poet, Hafiz:

Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
that may buy you just a moment of pleasure,
but then drag you for days
like a broken man
behind a farting camel.

The Maltzs' case material was gleaned from interviews with those whose lives have been depleted by porn. "While pornography may promise sexual freedom, it can eventually deliver a form of sexual oppression--robbing people of sexual innocence, sexual self-determination, and the skills to experience healthy relationships based on a loving connection with a real partner" (p. 8). The cases in the book make real the suffering, but also help illuminate the way out. And that's one real value of the book: if you're stuck, you read of others who have been, too, but have made their way out. When you've been stumbling in the dark, such rays of hope are precious.

Here's what I appreciate most about the book: the authors back up their compassion and optimism by providing practical tools. They suggest steps for deciding whether porn is hampering your happiness and relationships, tactics for quitting porn if you decide it is a problem, and in-the-bedroom practices for turning your sex life around so that it can build closeness and fulfillment in place of the separation and depletion that pornography fosters. Wendy Maltz's expertise in healthy sexuality and some great material from her previous books are distilled into the chapter entitled "A New Approach to Sex."

Of the many tools the authors share, I'll highlight a couple I find particularly helpful:

When you feel the gravitational pull of porn, here's something you can do to literally come to your senses. It's an exercise they entitle Shifting Your Attention. "A simple sensory awareness exercise can help you shift your attention away from what you've been thinking about and on to something else in your environment. For example, 'Now I'm aware of the sun coming through the window." Repeat and complete the phrase 'Now I'm aware of...' until you have identified five different things that you see. Continue the exercise stating five different things you are aware of hearing, then five different things you are aware of touching or feeling inside your body. This exercise can help center you sensually in the reality of your present environment and take you farther away from the fantasy world of porn" (p. 195).

This is a theme throughout the book: real life--everything from real events to real emotions to your flesh-and-blood lover--are antidotes to the unreal world of porn. This theme reaches its pinnacle in one of the final skills they cover, Involving Your Heart in Sex, which is needed because porn-informed sex is all about stimulation rather than heartfelt connection. When you are engaged in sexual activity:
  • Take a moment to touch your heart or your partner's heart to activate or stay connected to feelings of caring and love.
  • Take time to smile and make loving eye contact with your partner. 
  • Temporarily shift your awareness from your genital arousal to the attributes you most admire and appreciate about your partner.
  • Take time to verbally express your feelings of affection to your partner.
  • Touch in loving and affectionate ways that you have learned will be valued and appreciated by your partner.
Thank you Wendy and Larry for this invaluable book! Your deep care for those caught in the porn trap shines through. Your work is helping make that group smaller--one person, one couple at a time!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Does My Boyfriend Look at Girls Online?

Rachel's boyfriend Carl never talks about it, but there's evidence on the computer that he spends a lot of time looking at other women's bodies. Today she found evidence in the clothes hamper that those images are satisfying more than his curiosity. This kind of discovery is confusing and disturbing to many women. 

Regular visitors know that this blog explores how porn impacts relationships and what we can do about it. Today I'd like to share some insights from another therapist who works in the field of sexual addiction. 

Todd Frye, Ph.D., runs a sexual addictions provider certification program at MidAmerica Nazarene University. In this video he gets to the heart of the matter: porn addiction is an intimacy disorder. I'm excited to share it with you.

Here are a few of the insights he shares:

"Most people who struggle with intimacy struggle with the capacity to acknowledge what's going on inside of them and share that. Intimacy in Latin is intimus, which means innermost. They don't have the capacity to be reflective enough to know what is going on inside them and share it in a way in which someone else can connect with that, relate to that, and respond to that. [Intimacy] also has components of empathy, the capacity to give comfort, protection, and attunement to someone else....

"They don't learn how to take their pain, their sadness, and their joy to someone else and share it with them and experience it with them so that in turn that person can in turn offer a response that is a natural antidote to how they feel, that's validating and creates connection. They tend to isolate more, they tend to withdraw. The way to lower their anxiety is to isolate themselves and pull away.... 

"Just because I isolate myself, the need to connect with people doesn't die, doesn't just go away. So they position themselves to need something that's non-relational to feed this inability to connect or manage their mood. They use sexual addiction as a way of doing that."

Thanks Dr. Frye, for articulating these truths so well!

Image: graur codrin /

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revisit the Moment You Got Hooked on Porn

Wyatt's eyes were closed and his face was flush. Watching his eyes flit beneath the lids, I knew his imagination was taking him on a wild and vivid ride back in time. He was going back to that moment when he got hooked on porn.

He could see the 12-year-old he once was. He felt for the kid. He spent most of that summer home alone. Older brother, his usual partner in crime, was off working in the laundromat at the strip mall halfway across town. Dad was at work and it seemed that Mom was always off with little sister helping at dance practice or traveling to competitions. Then Wyatt had the falling out with the gang of buddies in his neighborhood over a kick soccer ball game gone bad. He couldn't believe what poor sports they were. After that, it felt like all of the usual avenues for excitement were shut down. He rode his bike around town for a while, but that got old. Then he started watching a ton of TV.

The pictures in the magazine he found in the grove of trees near his home weren't hard core by today's standards. Wyatt had never tried drugs, but he couldn't imagine a drug unleashing a more potent euphoria than the warm, eager looks of those women. Their inviting, yet concealing poses knocked the breath right out of him. To say that he felt compelled to hide the magazine so that he could come back and look again is too weak a way to put it. His chest was heaving with breath, even his head pounding as he left the grove that day, wondering when he could return.

That is where the adult Wyatt imagined stepping into the path of his much younger self. He escorted him home and into his room, where he'd feel comfortable. He wanted talk to him about what had just happened, share his perspective as someone older and wiser. He wanted to help.

"That was something else, wasn't it?" He asked.

Still dazed, his younger self faintly nodded.

"I want you to know that what just happened inside of you is completely normal. It's not a good thing for women to expose themselves in that way for men's entertainment. It's not good for them or for the men who view it. But the fact that you had such a strong reaction is understandable. God gave you the gift of your sexuality. It's this tremendously potent life force within you, and what you just saw awakened it more powerfully than anything you've ever experienced.

As Wyatt watched him in his mind's eye, it seemed that his younger self was taking this all in.

"Your reaction does not mean you're a bad kid. Nothing of the sort! You're a good kid. In fact, you're a fine young man! Don't let that experience convince you that there's something wrong with you, that you're not a an upstanding, righteous individual. You don't need to feel ashamed that you were drawn by those images and feelings. You could have walked away from the magazine when you saw what it was, and that is the best way to handle it in the future, but it's understanding that you found it so riveting.

"That's one of the problems with pornography. It is riveting. As pleasurable as it can feel, it can also take control of your life. That's one of the reasons it will be better for you to avoid viewing it in the future. And that's one of the main messages I came back to give you: the conclusion you came to, that you have to go back and look some more, you can't pass up that opportunity, is incorrect. You can say no. You're better off avoiding it than indulging. To the degree that you pass on pornography, your life will be better.

"You just concluded that you need more of that in your life. Well, you don't need pornography the way it feels like you do. Part of the reason you don't need it the way it seems to you right now is that this hard time, when it feel like you're alone all the time and it seems like life is passing you by... this time is over. It's not happening anymore. I came here to show you you're not still stuck here. Time passes. Life gets better.

"Let me show you these pictures of how you grew up to become me: Here's you at 13 on the track team. 14 at your cousins' ranch riding horses. 15 practicing football with the high school team. 16 with your beat up red Toyota..." And so on Wyatt went, up to the present day. Then he imagined bringing his younger self into his home as it is now.

His younger self had all kinds of questions: What's it like to drive a truck? Is that really your boat in the driveway? When did you get a dog? As he answered the questions, Wyatt realized that this part of him that was most hooked on porn was not his adults self. It was a part of him that had been oblivious so far to the passage of time. In a way, this made sense: only a part of him who hadn't tasted the toxic fruit of porn in his life would still find it so magical and inviting.

"You don't have to go back there," Wyatt said finally. You don't live back there in that loneliness and addiction anymore. You don't have to live that way, vigilant for an appealing distraction from pain. On the lookout for an escape. You can stay with me and the dog and the boat here.

"If you stay here, and your job is no longer to look for opportunities to look for sexual stimulation, what would you like your new job to be?" Young Wyatt thought about that. "I want to look for other ways to have fun."

That sounded like a good compromise to Wyatt's adult self. He needed more fun in his life.

(The above account is a brief excerpt from a session of therapy technique developed by Peggy Pace called Lifespan Integration. To be effective, the process actually requires multiple "trips" through the client's timeline. If you think Lifespan Integration might help you, here is a directory of therapists who have been trained in the method.)

Image: photostock /

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Not that She Won't Forgive You

"I feel bad that I can't let it go," Anna said through tears. Then she pressed her palm to her chest. "But there's still this heartache. There's this catch inside me that says, He still doesn't fully understand. He still doesn't get what his porn or his affair have done to me. It feels like, If I forgive him now, before it's 100% clear, I'll be putting myself at risk. I could think we've moved on, moved past it, and then somewhere down the road when he's tempted again, he'll give in. And yet still have no idea how it kills me. I can't afford that. So there's this part of me that won't let it go.

To Jonathan's credit, he just sat there, listening, trying to understand. I've seen husbands apologize and promise and plead. I recall one who'd preach wonderful sermons to his wife about forgiveness, quoting the Bible and Gandhi and Voltaire. Should have saved his breath.

I complimented Anna for opening up and Jonathan on the receptive stance he was taking. I encouraged them to let it continue throughout the week. I gave him a copy of two bullet point lists (You can find one of them in this earlier blog post. The other one is in Chapter 4 of our book). "Use these questions as a guide. They are the kinds of questions that help many women open up and let their feelings known about their partner's sexual acting out."

That week was an eye-opener and heart-softener for Jonathan. And a huge relief for Anna. The discussions they shared were revealing and intimate. In some ways, they felt closer to each than ever before.

Looking back, Jonathan wished they'd gotten to that depth of connection earlier. "Before, I was all about trying to avoid her having hurt feelings. I was constantly vigilant of the triggers that brought up old feelings for Anna. I stopped wearing cologne to work because she asked me about it once and I didn't want her to worry. And yet I discovered that there was nothing I could do to prevent her from having concerns, from having those old wounds reopened. We'd drive through some part of town and she'd be in tears. Can't go there anymore! We'd see a movie and she'd pull away from me. Stupid Hollywood! I was so misguided! Now I've learned that the key is not to walk on eggshells all the time to avoid making her feel bad. I need to be sensitive, sure. But when she does get scared or the wound is reopened again, those times are opportunities! I relish the chance to talk out whatever it is that suddenly made her feel bad. I can let her know I really want to get it. It's a chance for me to let her know my heart goes out to her when she hurts again because of what I've done."

"It's made a huge difference to know that he doesn't view our deep conversations as a chore anymore," Anna nodded. "It's how I heal. And he's the one I want to heal with. It doesn't matter who else cares and is willing to listen. When I hurt the most, I need Jonathan to hear me out."

Jonathan reached out and squeezed Anna's hand. His gesture spoke volumes: "I'm here for you. From now on, I'll always be willing to listen."

As I think back now about Jonathan and Anna, I don't recall her ever again mentioning that it was difficult to forgive him.

Image: graur codrin /

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Do We Go to Porn When It's TLC We Need?

In my last post I talked about Paul, who tended to go to porn when he felt down. As he learned to reach for support when he was in need, it helped him avoid relapse. Why did Paul even need therapist to help him change that habit? Why didn't he simply recognize on his own that he needed TLC when he felt deflated and seek it out?

Here are three key reasons we go to porn instead of seeking the emotional support we need:

1. We tend to deny everyday emotional bumps and bruises. As we are going about our day and something happens that we feel bad about, we don't typically take a moment to even acknowledge the "ouch." After all, we're men. As one of my clients put it, "As a commanding officer, I have a duty to be strong, or at least appear strong. The army doesn't pay me to be in tune with my upsets and doubts."

We fail to realize that these little buried emotions can linger and fester. Since we don't acknowledge those initial hits, later in the day when we still feel out of sorts, we may not even remember where those bad feelings started. We end up with little more than a vague sense that things feel off today.

2. Porn is a potent narcotic. Since we're not clear about the problem, it's no wonder we can end up pursuing a faulty "solution." The brain is good at going back to a way it has experienced relief before. Sexual fantasy and masturbation become a habit that provides that release.

Even after we discover that pent up feelings are at the root of our relapses, it can be a challenge to give up porn as an easy and reliable source of immediate relief. Our solution may be misguided, but it's also addictive.

3. It feels more manly to be horny than to be needy. Consider Earl, for example. Once we discussed it, he had an easy time seeing the connection between emotion and relapse. He went home and let his wife, Helen, know that he'd be opening up when he felt bad. She was receptive, even eager to connect with him when he is in need. He was convinced that her attitude would pave the way for him to do it in the heat of the moment. And yet in our next session, he described calling her the day before because he was feeling off--sort of lonely--at work. "It was nice to talk with her and I felt better after hanging up, but I never was able to spit out the reason for the call."

As hard as it is to make ourselves vulnerable, we can do it! Once we do, life gets much easier. It's not only that we're more able to stay in the driver's seat of our lives and abstain from porn. As we become more comfortable being real, we become more relaxed overall. And the connection we feel to our partner catapults the joy of that relationship into a whole new territory.

Image: graur codrin /

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We Go to Porn When We Need TLC

Paul had a hard day at work. His rear end hurt. His eight hour shift at the call center was long and boring. He thought about his buddies who still worked at the car wash and longed for the good old days. He came home and slumped over the kitchen table and unloaded all his complaints to his mom.
“Oh, honey,” she cooed. “It’s so hard to make these kinds of transitions. Life’s not nearly as fun as it used to be. I can see how hard it is right now to hold the course, even though you thought it would be the best way to pay tuition.”
After a couple of minutes, Paul got up from the table, nodded an appreciative look to his mom, and walked downstairs to get ready for his workout.
Paul has learned to check in about what he’s feeling. He has discovered that when he spills his emotions in this way and senses that his mom’s heart is going out to him, he feels some relief. It helps him “reset” emotionally.
When we find ourselves disoriented by unsettling emotion, we are genuinely in need. Fortunately, the human nervous system has a way of getting us what we really need when we need it. Our attention narrows to the one thing our survival seems to depend on. We become extremely motivated to seek it. The brain becomes like a pit bull that won’t let go.
Our genuine survival needs are all that way. We need oxygen, and if  we are ever deprived of it, the brain makes sure nothing else matters until we get it. We have more leeway when it comes to sleep and food, but if we’re deprived long enough, eventually we become single-minded and driven until those survival needs are satisfied.

Our need for compassion and support when we’re struggling emotionally is just as essential to our well-being. Connection with a loved-one at such times is our emotional oxygen. Take a deep breath of it, and we our brain resets and we can move on with life. When we’re denied it, we can’t easily turn our focus to other things. We stay narrow-minded, shut down, and function at a much lower level than usual.

If we can’t acknowledge what we feel, reach out to someone close, and sort it out with them, then we fail to reset in the most fitting way. We remain emotionally distraught and cognitively compromised. And, unfortunately, primed for a relapse. The brain is craving relief from the distress, and porn provides a powerful distraction. But it’s only a pseudo-reset, not a genuine solution. Soon the original distress returns, and with it with the added bite that we let porn into the driver’s seat of our lives again.

That’s how it used to go for Paul. Fortunately, he takes a better path now when he’s feeling downhearted.

Image: photostock /

Friday, October 14, 2011

High Branch, Sweet Fruit: Why the Best Sex is between Committed Partners

Porn ruins real sex. Fortunately, great sex can heal the porn-numbed brain.

It's fun to see the sexual rescusitation of men whose desire had been numbed and deadened by pornography.

First, they had to take a leap of faith. They were willing to bet that connecting with their wife would be more exciting and fulfilling, in the long run, than the thrill of porn.

That's not an easy leap for some men. When they turn from porn, with its top-of-the-scale intensity, sex with a familiar partner with a real body can seem bland. Many men find that they can't even get aroused any more during sex play with their wife. That can be scary and frustrating. It's tempting to fall back on the old standby.

Couples who patiently stay with it and push through that initial difficulty can eventually enjoy the best sex they've ever had.

Here's why: the dopamine rush from porn that deadens our sensitivity is not permanent. The body recovers. When it does, appetites can return to a healthy level. We can begin anew to want our partner deeply. Skin-to-skin contact becomes a thrill again. The warmth of eachother's bodies is immensely gratifying. We get back to where the mere scent of our partner drives us wild.

Make no mistake: this sweet fruit is on a high branch. We can't just be physically and mentally monogamous. We have to connect in a way that is different from the sexuality portrayed in popular media.

Our culture definitely has been pornified. We have come to expect intense arousal followed by intense stimulation followed by intense orgasms.

The best sex proceeds in a more nuanced way than that. It demands that we take the time to connect, express love, touch each other, hold each other. We orient toward this other human being who resides in the body in bed next to us rather than focusing narrowly on our own desires or their body parts. The best sex expands and invites our entire soul in the process rather than contracting down to the fewest ingredients that make up the easiest recipes for pleasure.

Abstain from porn. Hold each other. Speak lovingly to each other. Let your skin and her skin be the interface by which your hearts speak to each other's. Press your skin to hers; hold her skin greedily against yours. Let that most basic pleasure of contact and warmth soothe you. Be patient. Over time, it will excite you again. When it does, don't focus on the goal of the climax. Don't abandon each other chasing after dopamine. Stay with one another on that wondrous plateau of connecting and mutual pleasuring.

Have more sex. Not just more frequency, but more depth, more length, more breadth. Share that togetherness during lovemaking that doesn't come at any other time. Share that exclusivity. Be reminded of that priveleged status that each of you hold in each other's life. Let sex be an expression of all that.

The kind of connection you'll develop is spiritual and emotional, but it's not just those things--it's also chemical. With this kind of lovemaking we bathe each other's brains in oxytocin. Oxytocin bonds us more intensely to one another. It makes my partner more attractive to me. It makes us want each other more. And over time we become more sensitive to each other. Think of that! What a cool process: we are being sensitized! Just the opposite of what dopamine does to us, deadening and desensitizing over time.

So don't give up! Stay together! Dump porn! Have faith in the process! And make more love--not just more often, but more lovingly.

Here's good news: even if erectile dysfunction has been a problem, a limp penis can't stop you from this kind of lovemaking. And don't worry, it's only temporary. Your verility will return.

Your lives together will be better than ever. We see it happen all the time. There are lots of couples in the process of doing it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Becoming Immune to Cravings

Okay, so maybe immune is too strong a word. But we can get to the point where urges have much less power over us.

Consider Russ: He's a 34 year old married father of three boys. When I started working with him a year and a half ago, he already knew what made him more vulnerable to relapse. From his file I read in the notes of one of our first meetings:

"When I get weighed down with stress, like at work, temptations come more easily to mind. The list of things I need to do keeps growing, and I can't attack tasks fast enough to keep up. I get this feeling in my chest like a band is tightening. I have a harder time breathing and I'm prone to sighing more. That oppressive feeling can linger even when I get home. I may try to play with the kids, but I can't get into it. If Cheryl asks me to do soemthing I think, Why can't she do it? It's like the stress has totally taken the wind out of my sails."

Looking back at my notes from those early sessions, I also find this admission: "Neither Cheryl nor I are good at sharing concerns, feelings, frustrations. It's how we were raised. Both of our families are averse to admitting struggles and talking about how you're really feeling. I remember as a kid when we stayed with my grandfather after his hip surgery to help him while he recuperated. One of his neighbors said, 'Hubert, why are you limping?' He said, 'I'm not limping!' Likewise, I remember walking in one day after school to find my mom in tears. I said, 'What's the matter?' She answered, 'I just need to buck up.'"

Well, that's one family legacy Russ and Cheryl won't be passing on. Here are some excerpts from the notes of my most recent session with him:

"I've been breezin' through the last couple of months. It feels like everything in my recovery is coming together. Initially I thought that our sexual relationship would have to be going well in order for me to feel good, overall, about things. However, we still aren't having sex or touching each other as much as I'd prefer. We tried scheduling sex on a regular basis, but that didn't work well for us. But I just don't get upset about it the way I used to."

"I guess the biggest difference is that Cheryl and I are talking well about hard things. I talk about whether or not I get tempted. If a tempting thought pops in my head, I can share it with her. But most of what we talk about are emotional struggles, hers and mine. Even little things. She opened up to me when she lent out our rice cooker and it came back with the teflon scraped. We're recognizing how important it is to talk feelings out instead of keeping them pent up.

"It was especially helpful this month when I suffered a big disappointment at work. The chief operations officer put me in charge of a really exciting project. I thought, They're finally recognizing my talents and giving me a shot. Unbeknownst to him, some hotshot in another department went to the CEO to turn in his resignation. In an effort to keep him, the president told him he could be in charge of the project that had just been assigned to me. So they brought me into the CEO's office the next day and ripped the rug out from under me.

"I feel such a lack of accomplishment at work. I get so bored. I feel underutilized and so rarely challenged. Then, finally there's a ray of sunshine, and it's quickly snuffed out. I told Cheryl my sob story that night. She let me cry on her shoulder. The next day I talked it out with her again. In fact just about every day that week we had long, heartfelt discussions.

"Funny thing was, on Friday afternoon of that week I went to my parents' house to set the DVR to record a game I didn't want to miss. They have unfiltered internet access and all the satellite channels. A year ago, that would have been the perfect setup for a relapse. It's the end of a long week at work, especially a week like that. But that day, I walked into their house, set the DVR, shrugged off the other possibilities, and then left. I sat down in the driver's seat of my car and thought, Woo hoo! I'm in the driver's seat of my life!"

Sometimes it's hard to work in the field of addiction. But hearing from clients like that Russ about victories like that make it all worth it.

Image: photostock /

Monday, October 10, 2011

Craving Tenderness

Frank's struggle has spanned half a century. He got into porn before he was even a teenager, and now, at age 63, he still considers it an addiction.

When I started meeting with Frank over a year ago, he succumbed almost daily to temptation. Lately, he sometimes goes weeks between lapses. Despite his improved track record, there are still times when Frank gets swept away by the stiff current of craving.

A couple of weeks ago, Frank had given in to the urge two days before our session. It was a good chance to take a step back and consider what put him in a state where he was more vulnerable.

"I felt bad that day. Carol was coming home from her sister's place in Arizona. I told her to wake me up when she got home. Well, I woke up at about 6:00 p.m. That's the middle of the night for me since I work graveyard. I was surprised to hear the TV on in the other room. I thought, She got home and didn't even bother to wake me up. I was annoyed."

Later that night, in his office at the plastics manufacturing plant, Frank got online and masturbated to pornography.

"Did you talk to Carol about how you felt?" I asked

"Not really," Frank responded. "I asked her why she didn't wake me up, but then I had to run off to work."

"If you had talked to her, what might you have said?"

"I wouldn't have talked to her. I don't want to put that burden on her. Especially after what I did that night when I was feeling bad. I don't want to put the blame for that on her."

"It's not that you'd be blaming her," I insisted, "just opening up to her about important, tender feelings. I role played for him what he might say: 'It was so good when you called from Blanding. I missed you this last week. The house seemed empty and my whole day revolved around you getting home. Then, when I woke up discovered you were home, and concluded you simply hadn't bothered to come wake me up, something collapsed inside. You're so important to me. If I start to feel like I don't matter to you, it feels lousy inside. I can go through the motions of the day, but not whole-heartedly. There's a part of me that keeps feeling wounded and vulnerable."

Although I put more tenderly than Frank would, I could tell by the tears welling in the corner of his eyes that I'd touched a chord.

When Frank and I met again this week, he said "I talked to Carol about opening up to her in that way. She said she'd welcome it. She's been wanting that kind of closeness for years."

That week, when Frank had a bad day, he came home and spilled his guts. "I had all these errands to run, but I sat for the longest time waiting at the doctor's office. Then, when they finally took me back, they had to keep poking me trying to get blood. It took three different nurses and over an hour to finally collect it. Now I'll only get five hours of sleep tonight. It'ts so frustrating."

I could imagine Carol: "Oh, Honey. I'm sorry you had to go through all that. It must have been so frustrating to have everything slow you down as you were trying to get things done and get back here to bed on time."

"I bet you slept better after talking to Carol," I said.

"It sure has felt better," Frank admitted. Then he described the kind of changes in his pornography struggle that  I've come to expect over the years as I've seen couples learn to connect more deeply and emotionally: "Mind doesn't tend to wander to sex as much... urges are easier to dismiss..."

Rock on Frank! Keep it up and before long you'll be firing me. As much as I've grown to love you and enjoy the time we spend together a couple times a month, I will welcome that day and celebrate with you that landmark on your path of recovery!

Image: Ambro /

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Way Out of Porn Addiction

Greta said, "Stan's been telling me every time he has a pornography relapse, but his rate of lapsing has been the same for a months now. Honesty and openness with me doesn't seem to be helping him kick the habit."

This is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from visitors to this blog and from the women who come up and talk to me after I give a presentation on pornography addiction.

There was still a missing piece in Stan's recovery. He was open about viewing pornography after the fact. That was a great foundation for the work he needed to do next. Stan needed to become more aware of what set him up to relapse, and be more open about it with Greta. For many men, this becomes the heart of their ongoing recovery.

What's Eating At Me?

Most of the time Stan went along doing fine. Sexual temptation didn't even faze him. I encouraged Stan to watch for those times when sex suddenly became supercharged. "Cravings for our addiction are like a divining rod," I said. "They tell us there's something else important going on. Take inventory of what's happening in your life. What have you been going through? Most importantly, how are you feeling about it?"

It didn't take long for Stan to put this idea into practice. He got online to do some homework for his business class during his lunch hour at work. At the bottom of the webpage about a silicon valley company he was researching, there was a link that was mildly sexually provocative. "I felt the pull to click. I tried to dismiss the impulse and move on. But then I was reading a different news feed about the same company on another site, and again I felt lured by a thumbnail of some scantily dressed celebrity. It was frustrating because I'd been doing well for a couple of weeks. I shut down the computer and called Greta. I told her that I was following your suggestion to call when I was struggling. She reminded me that I was supposed to not just open up about temptation, but also spill my guts about what else was going on at the time.

"I told her, 'Homework is a real drag. Here I am eating my peanut butter sandwich so that I can study the entire hour. A couple of guys brought back Mexican takeout, which I can smell from my cubicle. I get feeling pent up in this place when I don't leave at all during my entire shift. And what do I have to look forward to when I get off tonight? Instead of going golfing with you, I get to go sit under the fluorescent lights in the old business school building and listen to a lecture. I want to keep working toward graduating, but do get feeling sorry for myself sometimes in the middle of the sacrifices we're making now."

Greta's was sympathetic. "Oh, honey. I'd rather go golfing with you tonight, too." Both of them were quiet for a moment, but Stan could tell that she was letting her heart go out to him. "Thanks for talking to me about what's going on inside for you," Greta finally said.

"Sure you won't get sick of hearing my sob story?" Stan asked?

"Hey I want to be in this together with you. I feel closer to you when I know what's eating at you. I want you to let me in like that."

Vulnerability Is Harder, But Works Better than Porn

When they told me about their conversation that day, I knew they had launched into a new stage of recovery.

Stan and Greta's transition into openness about emotion had come fairly easily; it's much more difficult for some couples. It's quite an adjustment to develop the habit. It's hard to let out what's eating at us and making us more vulnerable to unwanted urges. However, often, nothing else will help us reset and get back to feeling mentally free. To purge the urge, we first need to spill our guts.

Strong emotion puts us in a regressed state of mind. It's uncomfortable and we want a way out. Outwardly, we may try to--and even appear to--move on with our lives, but our feelings can stay stuck on yuck. We still need a release. This is when the addictive sexual behavior we've been trying to avoid can start to seem so attractive again. Our brain knows it would provide a quick escape from the muck when more reasonable alternatives just don't seem to hit the spot. The other things we try don't give us any traction out of the regressed, vulnerable state into which we've dropped.

Pouring out our heart, expressing vulnerable emotions, is a response that respects and matches the state we're in. More so than trying to snap out of it or distract ourselves by doing something that feels good. Spilling our guts may seem like whining and it may seem immature, but that's just because our vulnerable state calls for the same kind of soothing young children need. We freely give that TLC to them, but we hesitate to seek it as adults or give it to each other. But guess what? We never grow out of our need for empathy, compassion, and understanding. When we feel bad, when we're downhearted, when our spirits are dampened, we need tenderness and caring. As appealing as porn can be at such times, it offers nothing more than momentary distraction.

Image: photostock / (

Friday, June 3, 2011

Getting Back to Magnetic Sex

Most couples remember a time when sex drew them together, made them want to cling hungrily to each other. Making love magnetized them, and so magnetized, they wanted even more sex.

Oh, to spin 'round again in that happy circle!

Is it still possible? Or does monogamy inevitably foster monotony? It sure seems to for many couples. In a response to my article on Corey Allan's Simple Marriage blog, a reader I’ll call Josh wrote:

“My personal weakness is for watching strip teases.... What I find thrilling is seeing a beautiful woman with a great body who is proudly, happily, and excitedly stripping her clothes off for her special viewer. I’m turned on to her excitement and willingness to share her sexiness.

“My wife suffers from very low self-esteem. She thinks her body is ugly, and the thought of doing a strip tease for me terrifies her. I’ll agree, she doesn’t have a model body. But I believe that if she had that confidence, she would be very sexy to me. She used to be addicted to pornography to dull the pain in her very unfortunate teenage life, so she knows the ‘standard of sexiness.’ She won’t allow herself to believe she’s sexy, therefore, until she has a supermodel body. Personally, I get very discouraged because I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. One reason I go to pornography is because I have a need to feel deeply attracted to a woman, and though I love my wife and she’s my best friend, her insecurities prevent her from being deeply attractive to me.

“I am drawn to pornography because I want to feel that thrilling attraction to a young woman. I fantasize that she is my mate, and that she is willing to give me that sexual excitement over and over again because she loves me. However, when my wife finds out about this situation, she is very hurt. She feels that she has been replaced, and becomes frightened that she will be tossed aside and abandoned, confirming that she is worthless. It’s a lose-lose situation.

“Watching pornography also lowers my self-esteem. It makes me feel like an animal. When I’ve been watching it often, I undress women I pass in the street in my mind, then evaluate them based on their sexual excitement potential. I generally tend to have far more passionate sex and more intense orgasms, but that’s because when I’m making love with my wife in the dark, fantasies of making love to the women I saw on the screen send my imagination into overload. Then, I am left feeling depressed that all of those beautiful women are not my mates, that my mate is really not that sexually attractive at all.

“While watching pornography is extremely exciting and a motivating factor pushing my wife to be a sexy partner, I also feel guilt about watching it, it leads me to be dishonest with my wife and my employer, and makes me feel disappointed in my wife and feel regret for marrying her. It also makes me critical of her, which pushes her in the opposite direction of healing from this problem. I am therefore doing everything I can to eliminate pornography by attending a weekly addiction recovery group with other men who have lost their wives and children because of it.

“But that alone is not the answer. I am desperate to figure out what can be done that will help my wife gain the confidence and the emotional security to feel that she can open up with me sexually and be a really fun and enticing sexual partner.”

Josh and Kaitlin are in a downward spiral. Their problem is shared by many couples.

Our sexual sensibilities have been so swayed by pornography, we’re now more focused than ever on appearance and performance. Our porn-saturated minds have been backed into a corner of consciousness during sex. Heightened awareness loops back and forth between the brain and the genitals, what we’re seeing and how we’re doing, but rarely ventures anywhere else. Outside stimulants (pornography or even another human being) are there to be "consumed" as "input" by the brain in order to have the desired effect on the genitals, which hopefully then has the desired effect on the dopamine circuits of the brain, and so on. Our partner becomes little more than "the other body" rattling around within an otherwise vacuous energy system.

To be emotionally on our own during lovemaking is particularly lonely. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that it disconnects a couple when one partner gets lost in the depths of delight at the cusp of orgasm. Neither does stimulating one's own genitals during sex. Rather, the human connection is hindered rather than strengthened when a porn-saturated partner is routinely "out of it" during sex, "lost in their own world," allowing their interest in their own stimulation or performance to eclipse this living, breathing human being who would like to connect with them. Sex, which can so potently attach us to our beloved and electrify the relationship becomes just another mood altering drug. Being another person’s fix can feel pretty empty.

A more deeply personal, emotionally engaged sex life is one of the best reasons to give up porn and one of the greatest rewards for doing so, but it requires a new approach. It's a challenge to practice relationship-oriented sex when auto-eroticism has been the familiar path of least resistance.

Here’s how I responded to Josh:

“To enhance the likelihood that sex will connect rather than detach the two of you as partners, pay attention to the loop of energy and communication that flows back and forth as you express and receive physical affection from Kaitlin.

“As the two of you begin to come together physically, focus on what you feel in your heart when you attend to her. Then, let the touch of your hand on her shoulder blade, the press of of your hips against hers, express that energy. Look into her eyes to see what’s in her heart. Are the signals you’re sending by way of your touch making it all the way down into her soul?

“Perhaps not yet. That’s okay, keep trying. Use your voice. Might your words and your mmm’s and aaahh’s pierce through the fog of separateness and reestablish that precious soul-to-soul link? By way of your voice, convey your feelings. Messages so sent need not stop at the ears or the brain. Let them reverberate more deeply.

“Skin and lips and tongue and even genitals may be the concrete means of communication, but the messages are being sent spirit to spirit.

“Let yourself receive her words, her touch in the same manner. Making love in this way awakens entirely new possibilities and vitality. You’ll rise above the stimulant/brain/genital loop that has isolated you from ‘refreshing’ input from Kaitlin, this real, live, warm, breathing, human other.

“The focus turns from appearance and performance to mindful attunement to what’s real now–two individuals and a dynamic mix of feelings, sights, sound, textures, and smells. Lovemaking as a vehicle to connect soul-to-soul and mingle your very essence with hers brings a new level of excitement and immediacy. Porn, sex toys, and your wildest fantasies can’t hold a candle to what emotional connection does for sex.

“As the two of you are becoming intimate, what if Kaitlin expresses hesitation and self-doubt? Ask her to give you the gift of staying in touch with what is genuinely passing between the two of you instead of reverting to what she thought she saw in the mirror earlier in the day or the sexual trauma that occurred back when she was single. Keep your mind on her when it’s used to wandering to the strip teasing mental mistresses. You may keep the light on so that you can look deep into her eyes in hopes that she will see that you don’t want the dissatisfaction of mutual disconnection anymore. Express your willingness in this way to really be with her here and now.

“Here is another human being giving you the gift of her attention. If she feels insecure and her eyes downcast, she is being emotionally real with you in that moment. Don’t regret that, be with her there, in that feeling. Let it into your heart. Then let your heart respond to that and convey that response by way of touching her cheek, looking at her, embracing her, vocalizing words and soothing sounds. It may be compassion you’re conveying, but also a different view: an appreciation and a hope that she will allow in the esteem you hold for her and your desire for her (and no other woman) to come out from behind her shield and play with you sexually, fully share herself with you. It will require sacrifice to truly be with each other in this way, but what each of you gain will be well worth what you’ll be giving up.”

Because of the discouragement he had expressed, I assumed that Josh and Kaitlin might have a way to go to get to what I was describing. Imagine how delighted was to get this response from him the very next day:

“Thank you very much for the advice. I spent a good while thinking about this, and realized that although we have had erotic lovemaking before, we are not initiating it now. I talked to Kaitlin about this, and we both realized that my fears of being sexually disappointed and frustrated and her fears of being a disappointment were preventing us from initiating erotic lovemaking. We discussed what it took for us. Talking, snuggling, and then stripping is what we came up with. Then, we decided that we would set up specific days of the week to do it, so that with experience our fears will subside and our ability to let go and connect will get stronger. I also believe it will lead us to have a less stressful approach to life as well!

“Thank you for your post. Connecting with her emotionally is something we’ve had difficulty doing, in bed and out, but we found something that really helps. 6 months ago we heard about and tried Harville Hendix’s Imago Dialogue, and it has revolutionized our communication. It used to be our conversations were riddled with fear and pain, but after the dialogue, we’ve both been able to calm our fears and communicate clearly and listen with a open heart and willing mind. I highly recommend it, even though it seems weird at first. I’ve also been encouraging Kaitlin to calm down and ‘feel’ instead of stressing out about ‘performing’ for me. Connecting emotionally as you mentioned is definitely something I will be thinking about.”

Has your lovemaking has become routine? Do you feel cut off from your partner? Get back to heart-to-heart sex. Let us know what you learn in the process.

Image: photostock /

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Only You can Ground Her Emotionally

On page 31-32 of our book, Geoff tells the story of Teri, who uses the word "gruesome" to describe her life with Ken since she found out about his involvement in pornography. Ken could have easily reacted defensively--"Life with you hasn't exactly been a picnic, either!"--which would have left her feeling misunderstood. If he hadn't been her "ground wire," letting her pain pass through him at that time, it would have continued to build for her. She may have felt the need to use even stronger language the next time she was hurting. 
Instead of defending himself or attacking Teri, Ken asked her to tell him more about what the word gruesome captured in her experience. He asked her to let him in on just how much she'd been hurting. She talked those feelings out, and as a result she felt more understood by him and safer with him. As a result of conversations like that one, over time her feelings toward Ken had been softening rather than heightening.

Since then Ken has kept trying to listen to Teri when she's upset instead of pulling away from her. Her anger has continued to transform over time. Recently Ken sent this email to Geoff:
"Teri has been so close and we've both felt very connected. She has not had an anger episode for 51 days. What a wonderful milestone! Yesterday was the first time and it was really not an episode. It was so much better. We sat and talked about what she was going through. She did not pull away and get depressed, laying in bed. She was not quiet and did not reject my offers to be there to listen.  We were able to talk.
"She said that watching my progress toward re-baptism into our church is bringing up all the old feelings in her. She's reminded that it's because of my betrayal that we even have to be going through this in the first place. She told me how hard that is for her. I responded that it is hard for me as well. She said, 'I hate it when you say that! Why do you say that?' Just because I was having a hard time, too, I said.

"She said, (mind you I understand that this is the anger talking) that she did not want to go to the baptism. I said, I can certainly understand why you would not want to. We sat there for a while and did not say anything. I just kept rubbing her back. After several minutes she asked what I was thinking. I had just finished reading Love You, Hate the Porn, so I said, 'I'm thinking about how glad I am that we are here together sharing the pain, and that we are not alone.' She said 'we are not sharing the pain, we are just talking. It doesn’t help the pain.' I said that it may not seem to help right away, but for me it does make a difference later. It drifts away so much faster when I've shared it instead of keeping it inside. She just listened and said 'hmm.'
"After a while she said she was angry. I told her I was sorry she was. She said she hated it when I said that. She hates it because, although she knows I mean it, I have said it so many times. (The funny thing is she always tells me an hour, a day, a few days later that it did help.) I know at the moment she is in angry mode and doesn't really want anything to help. In fact she told me 'I want to be angry.'  I just said 'That's okay. I'll be here with you while you are angry.' 
"She instructed me as to which spot her back needed rubbing. She asked why I wasn't getting angry back at her anymore if this topic is still hard for me. I told her that, having gone through 34 years of internal struggle, I was sick of feeling that way inside. I know for me the anger just festers and takes me to false beliefs and places that I don’t want to be anymore, so now I follow my exit plan of the things to think of to get out of that place. If I were to try to figure it out how to handle my anger in the moment, it would take much longer to get out. I would be like a general trying to make an exit plan in the midst of being defeated. I told her that this works for me, but it's okay for her to be angry if she wants to. She said, 'who would want to stay angry?' There was a slight, 'c’mon that is silly,' in her tone, a disconnect from her statement from a few minutes ago that she wanted to stay angry. I said 'You're right, no one would.'
"The trust is still building. At one point in our conversation she talked about sharing her story again in group therapy. It brought back up a lot of scared feelings for her. Virtually all of the ladies in her group are on the verge of divorce. She asked why I was such the exception. All of the other guys seem to be relapsing and struggling with the addiction still. Why are you the only guy out there that is not relapsing.  After a bit she said, 'You have all become master liars. You could be lying to me right now. How am I supposed to know that you are not lying to me?' 
"It was so peaceful to not get defensive, to not have feelings of fear or feel unappreciated for all the work I have done. I knew she just needed reassurance and to feel safe again after her discussion with the women in her group group rocked that. I just said to her, 'There is no way of you knowing. I know it's hard to trust me. I did lie and hid and you're right, I could be lying now. I'm not, and all you can do is look at my behavior and the things I'm doing that are different than what I used to do. I do my daily plan of action and you see the way I interact with you and the kids now compared to the way I used to. Those little things would change if I were acting out again. She said a soft 'Uh, huh' in agreement, as I was instructed once again to rub her shoulder. 

"She now told me to rub her hip that had been sore. We lay there on the bed with each other until we had to get the kids ready for school and I had to get ready for work. When I left we had a long embrace.  There were no words said other than 'I love you' from both of us, but there was an understanding that we are okay together. What I heard in that embrace was 'Thanks for being there for me and allowing me to feel and share. The pain is better.'  We kissed and the next time we saw each other there were smiles, love, safety and security in our relationship. 

"The big difference for me at this stage in recovery is the positive feeling I have about this experience. I see these discussions as extremely valuable and productive instead of something to be avoided at all costs. Sure she has difficult emotions, but the point is: she expresses them to me. She wants me to touch her and soothe her. She wants me to stay right by her and be with her. She may say some things that sound contrary to that, but I know to look under the conversation, which is by far more important. I know not to react from the hip at a statement. I understand that decades down the road I will still have to offer safety and security to her, and as I show patience and love she will respond in kind. In this way our bond will become stronger and stronger and our connection will be eternal."

When Geoff sent me this update from Ken, he said, "What a blessing to be involved in this great work." I couldn't agree more. Wow. When I witness the heroic efforts of couples like Ken and Teri, I'm blown me away. What a privilege to see love conquer pain and connection defeat separation. If that hasn't happened for you yet, don't give up! You'll get there, and the victory will be even sweeter for all the pain you've suffered in battles along the way.

Image: photostock /