Monday, January 31, 2011
The problem was the superhuman standard to which his boss held him.
He was expected to plan everything for a conference their entire team was attending. Other team members seemed to have time to spare, but Greg was always under the gun. When he tried to reach his boss to ask questions about their itinerary, his calls and emails went unreturned. When something fell through as a result, he was grilled about why it hadn’t been taken care of.
When he tried to improve their display for the convention hall, the fifteen bucks he spent on materials was held over his head. When there weren’t enough business cards for every member on the team, somehow he was to blame.
It was killing Greg. He felt like he couldn’t win. He hated to disappoint people, so to have someone over him who was continually unhappy was excruciating.
He was thinking about quitting.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “This is a great opportunity.” I must have sounded like a bubbly cheerleader rooting on my favorite gladiator. (Later he would tell me, “That was bizarre. You didn’t tell me to keep my job in spite of what I was going through, but because of it!”)
“How much better it will be to get free in your job than to get free of your job!”
He made a commitment to his wife and to God that he wouldn’t go to porn anymore. Now I was telling him he shouldn’t quit his job. He had the wide eyes of an animal right before it’s devoured.
For the rest of that session I did everything I could to try to help him unload emotional responsibility for his boss’s satisfaction.
Like my mentor, Craig Berthold, I role-played his boss and asked him to hold up some books from my bookshelf. “These are the boxes that hold my happiness.” Told him he wasn’t doing it well enough. Told him it would spill out if he didn’t tilt it just right. Asked him to raise it higher. Not that high. What’s wrong with you?Eventually he did drop the books in disgust.
I called his efforts idolatry. I told him that he could load sacrifices on the altar of pleasing his boss for the rest of his life--and yet his boss’s satisfaction was a god would never be full enough to stop demanding more.
Like Byron Katie, I encouraged him to say, “I accept that he will always be disappointed in me. I look forward to hearing his growl the next time I let him down.” Greg stuck out his tongue and held his stomach the first time he said those words, but it got easier as he repeated them.
I called Greg the next day to check in. He already sounded more relaxed. At our next session he looked more at ease.
He told me about an incident at the convention. Some materials had been left at the front desk of the hotel. No one on their team had remembered them; everyone had forgotten them. As he was loading materials up the elevator to where his team was setting up in convention hall, he had received three texts in two minutes from his boss: “What are you going to do about it?” “What are you going to do about it?!!” “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!!”
As he recounted the incident, the intensity of the texts wasn’t reflected on his face.
“I’m not going to quit. He may fire me. I just decided that I’m going to only do what I can and not get too caught up in how he reacts. I can only control what I do. It’s up to him how he responds.”
I could tell that he meant what he was saying, but I’m not used to seeing see that kind of shift in clients in one week’s time. “So you just decided not to get too caught up…”
“Yeah, like we talked about last time.”
“I know we talked about it. Just didn’t expect you to be able to really feel it yet.”
“I shared it in group therapy that night. It helped to have everyone there empathize and validate what I was going through.
“Then when I got home, Elise could tell that I was struggling. We’d been talking about how I need more touch, and that’s why I always offered to give her backrubs. She hadn’t given me a backrub in the thirty years we’ve been married. She asked if I wanted one. She has arthritis in her hands so I offered to let her use our massage wand. She said no and just used her hands and arms. It was divine. For over an hour she caressed me and hummed quietly. I turned over and she caressed my chest and arms.
“I kept sighing at first. Then I got really relaxed. After the massage she wrapped her arms around me and held me. She kept holding me to her. Talking softly in my ear. I felt like I was in this protective cocoon and everything was going to be okay. It had a very healing effect. After a while I felt like I didn’t need to be encased anymore. I relaxed and fell asleep. Slept like a baby. That next day I woke up feeling softer, looser. I knew then that everything was going to be okay, no matter what happened with my job.”
Now that’s good therapy.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
However... that brilliant light coming from the mouth of the cave won't incinerate, it will heal! Here are three reasons why:
1. Her measuring stick is horizontal, not verticle. I want to measure up in her eyes. However, when she measures, it's to see if we're close. It's her deepest instinct. More than whether I'm doing well or poorly in life, she's concerned with whether we're in it together.
She wants to know what's going on inside for me. She wants to be one, collaborating as partners. She wants me to let her in. Shame and pride can rule my inner world, but that doesn't mean it's the lens she sees me through.
Over and over again in my office I hear women tell their men: "Even more than your struggle with porn, I have a problem with your secrecy. You kept me out of an important part of your life. I can take working together on anything; it's feeling apart from you that kills me."
2. An unseen need for support can't be met. I'm going to reach for something when I'm in need--my wife or my addiction. If I hold back from revealing my struggle, how is she going to know that I'm in need?
Touch and talk are healing salves that can be applied once the everyday wounds are revealed. I know, I know, they seem like weak medicine compared to solo sex, but they truly start the healing process instead of just temporarily numbing the pain.
3. Our vitality depends on being real. When I let down my guard, I'm vulnerable. Vulnerability is a two-edged sword. I may feel anxiety when I go to a sexaholics annonymous meeting and say, "I'm a sex addict," but I also experience the exhilleration that comes from everyone there seeing me exactly as I am... and still embracing me!
Vulneability--being real despite the risk--is not just a way out of addiction, it's a key ingredient for a fulfilling life.
A double life ends up being half a life--or less. Between the highs of the acting out, we feel phony, disconnected, insincere, divided.
So when you feel the light on your face and you're about to lose your nerve, keep walking! You're headed in the right direction.
Vivian writes, “What should I do when I discover my husband has been viewing porn again after promising not to? Talking to him about it never works. He immediately gets very upset and defensive. He says this is HIS problem and HIS addiction and he will deal with it. He claims that he is more upset and disappointed in himself than I could ever be. Then he stops talking to me.”
Vivian, I wish I knew the key element that helps us as men reach the magical point where we allow ourselves to take off our armor and lower our guard. What exactly enables us to say “I’ve had enough of the @#!*% of battling this habit alone. The way I’ve been doing it’s not working. It’s time to go into therapy, do an online program, read about this problem. It’s time to deal with it in a more open way with my wife.”
Fortunately, most of us do get there… eventually. At various times this past week, three different men who had reached this point sat in my office with their wife or girlfriend. I told each of those couples that I wished I could share what they had with the women who email me and come up and talk after every presentation I give on the topic of pornography.
It’s probably the most common question I hear. Certainly the most earnestly asked. “My husband knows I know about his porn problem. He swears he wants to quit. But he refuses to talk with me about it. He wants me to leave him alone and let him deal with it on his own. I’ve left it alone for years but that doesn’t seem to be helping. He has relapsed as many times this year as he did four years ago when I first discovered the problem. I don’t want to give up what we have—what we could have. He’s great with the kids. He works hard to support our family. But the emotional connection between us is dying.”
It’s enough to make a woman wonder if her partner is as committed to her as she is to him. Or convince her that he just doesn’t care.
He is committed. He does care. Almost always, in my experience.
Here’s what he’ll say later once he’s being more open with you. I know because I’ve heard it before—and heard three new variations of it this week:
“I’m used to dealing with hard things on my own. I don’t like to see her upset. That’s not all. It feels so awkward to face this problem. So uncomfortable. When I read your blog, it’s like throwing on a bright floodlight. I read a case and think, ‘That’s not me.’ Then I read a little further and think, ‘That’s sort of me.’ Then I finish reading and realize, ‘Crap. Me all the way.’ I don’t want to be the guy I’m reading about. Yet I’m the only one in the bright room and that floodlight’s revealing everything. I don’t have the option of running from how I feel. I want desperately for things not to be so bad between us. Yet it’s in my face again that they are.
“So I tell her ‘I’m a textbook case, I guess.’ I push through the embarrassment and commit to keep working on it. Not just to her but to myself. I commit to God, even.
“As the days pass, it fades from the forefront of my mind. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I tend to forget about things—especially if they’re inconvenient or troubling. I don’t even call the dentist to set up an appointment. She’s been reminding me for three weeks to do it. At night I complain to her about the pain in my jaw, and then during the day I don’t call to make the appointment. There are two texts on my phone from her, one from this week, one from last, reminding me our dentist’s phone number. I still haven’t called.
“I want to forget about my pain. Pretend it’s not there and hope it goes away. And her pain? I hate it. It scares me. I’m afraid she might get tired of this and walk away from the relationship. That would kill me. She means everything to me. So you'd think that would motivate me to read and write about my recovery like she has asked me to do. So why do I put this out of my mind, go on with my life, and try to live like a normal person again? Pretend I’m someone who doesn’t have this serious problem? I know it doesn’t make sense, but I fall back into it even though I know it doesn’t help. I want to turn away from this and focus on other things. For years I have been wishing that would be the way I would finally overcome this problem.”
Here’s the good news: talking about the temptation to avoid the topic is as helpful as talking about the topic itself. Talking about the fear of being abnormal and unacceptable (to someone who’s willing to listen) somehow helps us feel more normal and acceptable. As reluctant as we are to talk, especially at first, talking really is a key element of healing. Eventually we find that we feel better when we talk, and that makes it easier for us to keep it up.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
- I'd rather leave at work all the stuff that's weighing on me.
- My job is so specialized and technical, there's no way she'll be able to relate to it.
- There's nothing she can do to make the stress go away, so why burden her with it?
Thursday, January 20, 2011
It sure seemed that way. Once, during one of our early counseling sessions, Esther was in tears telling Hugh how much she needed more time with him and wanted to feel closer. She pleaded with him to turn off the TV and come be with her and their three kids.
Hugh shrugged and shook his head. He didn't get why this was all so important to Esther. As I watched him and listened, I was almost convinced that Hugh simply did not need Esther as much as she needed him.
I wasn't entirely convinced, partly because Hugh had been hooked on porn for seven years of their marriage. That made me suspect there were "pressing needs" underneath his seeming independence. The biggest clue, however, was this seemingly aloof guy's sensitivity to his wife's displeasure:
"I hear her sigh and inside I clench up."
"If I keep the TV on after one game ends, I know she's going to be bent out of shape about it."
"I sometimes wonder, if I remain the person I am, will she ever have confidence in me?"
It may have seemed to Esther like all Hugh needed was to be entertained and well fed to be fine with his life. And yet he watched five hours of TV a night and was gaining a dozen pounds a year--and yet still did not feel fine.
If you watched and listened closely, it was clear that Hugh felt that the essence of who he is was a letdown to Esther.
He needed her alright. He needed her acceptance and approval. Its warmth would have been like the sun on his face on a bitter cold morning.
However, unlike Esther, when he didn't get what he was needy for, he didn't keep coming to her and pleading and letting her know how much he yearned for it. He simply assumed he wasn't going to get it from her, and then pulled away from her in order to feel emotionally safer.
He retreated. To the comfort of the couch in the basement where he watched TV. And silently hoped that she wouldn't come down and want to talk or ask him when he was going to get to this or that chore. Or simply stand behind the couch and sigh.
Turns out Hugh is just as needy as Esther. And he was getting as little of what he needed as she was.
Their old narrative slowly gave way as Hugh told Esther how sad it felt to him when he thought he'd never be good enough in her eyes. How that deflated him and his desire to keep trying. Made him feel like he couldn't bear to draw close to her even if he wanted to.
Once Hugh voiced it, Esther could do what came naturally to her once she knows someone's needs. She was more attentive to and respectful of what was going on inside him.
It's not that she started walking on eggshells, just being more restrained in what she conveyed. Especially now that she knew a lot more had been getting through to him than she once thought. Even a sigh could make him want to retreat! She started feeling like her acceptance and approval were the nuclear rods that could power an entire city. And she loved feeling that important to Hugh.
By talking about what was going on inside, Hugh interrupted his old pattern of retreating when he felt emotionally threatened. By softening the way she approached Hugh, Esther interrupted her old pattern of amplifying her complaints when she was in need.
It's no crime to be needy. In fact, it's part of life for all of us. The tragedy is when very meetable needs go unmet because we don't go to the trouble to put our finger on what they are or let our spouse know how they can help.
What are you learning about your own neediness--or your partner's--on this journey of recovery? What are you learning about how you can better help each other get those needs met?
I'm inspired by individuals all along the line. I love hearing from men who are mustering the courage and tenacity to get and stay porn free. I'm inspired by the stories of committed women who know their men are better than their worst behavior, and so hang on and keep fighting for what they value most.
I feel like my spot in the red rover line is getting stronger, and for that I'm indebted to to a few veteran bloggers who have offered encouragement and help to this novice over the last half year.
Dustin was kind enough to share with his audience my post, Five Reasons to Tell Her You Struggle with Porn over on his blog, Engaged Marriage. He has built an amazing community of readers. I was blown away by the passion of the discussion that followed that post.
My colleague and friend Laura Brotherson ran my post, Help for Husbands Stranded in the Sexual Desert. Again, the comments from readers were moving. Her website, Strengthening Marriage, is a goldmine of resources. In addition to her insightful blog, she has podcasts of her radio and TV programs. Of course her book, And They Were Not Ashamed, has for years been helping my clients heal their marriages.
Maybe I shouldn't admit this since I'm trying to swim with the big fish, but just a kind mention by Julie Sibert on her Intimacy in Marriage site doubled my traffic for the week!
Finally, thanks to the folks over at New Life Habits. Their willingness to run "Don't Lock Horns with the Devil" gave me my first (very addictive) taste of blogging.
I'll say more later about some projects I'm doing with Candeo and husbandandwife.com.
For now: keep a tight hold on the hands of those standing next to you! United, we can hold the line!
I'd love to hear what you (or someone else you're proud of) is doing at your point along the anti-porn, pro-relationship red rover line. Please share your stories by commenting below. They inspire the rest of us!
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Hannah writes, “Whenever I try to talk to my husband about his ongoing pornography problem, he immediately gets very upset and defensive. He says this is HIS problem and HIS addiction and he will deal with it. He says that he is more upset and disappointed in himself than I could ever be. Then he stops talking to me. I am starting to realize that he has never been ready for me to be the supportive wife that I’d like to be, that I’m trying to be. I’m not sure what to do. I am not ready to give an ultimatum—but sometimes is that the only way?”
My heart aches for you Hannah… and for your husband.
The other night my three-year-old son, Sam, had a cough. When Jenny tucked him in bed she put a humidifier on his nightstand and explained that he needed to sleep by it to help his cough go away. He seemed to get it. At two-thirty a.m., coming toward us down the hall we hear this little “cough, cough; slosh, slosh; cough, cough; slosh, slosh.” He staggered into our room with his little arms wrapped around that appliance. Not even pausing at my side of the bed, he trudged all the way around—cough, cough; slosh, slosh—to see: his mom. He knew what he needed when he didn’t feel good, and it wasn’t just a humidifier!
The most natural thing to do when we’re in need as humans (or any other primate for that matter), is to reach out to those who love us. It’s instinct, automatic, and there is not an age at which we grow out of this response. My aunt Ida, who died at almost ninety, lived with my parent’s at the very end of her life. This strong woman who was someone I could run to as a child, in turn, called out for my mom and dad when she hurt or got scared in those last weeks on her deathbed.
Deep down, your dear husband shares with Sam and Ida the same instinct: to reach out when he’s in need. However, there are reflexes that we humans can develop that cover over that deepest emotional instinct.
For instance, when I was younger I may have expressed needs and then felt ignored—and logged that experience away in my psyche as an important lesson learned. I may have discovered that when I talked about a struggle, that material might later be used to belittle me. I may have learned that, in our home, we don’t talk about what we feel, we keep it to ourselves. I may have learned that girls talk and complain, but we guys need to suck it up and tough out problems on our own.
My client, Darin, remembers sitting at the kitchen table doing his homework as his brother ran into the room with a picture of a nude woman that he had discovered in Darin’s room. Darin’s mom (bless her heart) exploded. From then on it seemed to Darin that she was the puberty detective: always hounding him, prying, and reminding him about the evils of sex.
My client, Jake, remembers starting to view pornography during the summer before his last year of junior high. His parents worked all day, his older siblings now had jobs, and his younger sister was always over at her friend’s. It seemed like everyone else had important things to do and people to be with. He felt left out, lonely, and most of all: that he was on his own to try to navigate the pull of this exciting and forbidden new world.
He didn’t do very well. Porn was such a potent and easy fix during that otherwise empty summer. He felt so guilty and ashamed about it that he concluded he would have to conquer it on his own.
Here’s the good news: whatever Darin and Jake learned when they were younger about how ashamed they should be about porn use… however firmly they concluded that they need to struggle on their own to get over it… however long they’ve been approaching the problem from that lonely mindset… they have a deeper instinct and they’ve had it for even longer! And, just like my Aunt Ida, they’ll continue to have it until the day they die. It’s the natural and automatic response of reaching out when we’re in need.
It may take a while to unbury it, dust it off, and trust it enough to start honoring it. However, I have seen tons of men do it!
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Sometime during our knight's courageous daily battle, a poisoned dart finds its way between the gaps in his armor. The paralyzing serum gets into his bloodstream--but fortunately doesn't kill him. By the time he arrives back at the castle, he's a shell of his usual self.
Here's the bind about being a heroic warrior: He can't walk in and say, "Help! I'm wounded!" Instead, he stumbles around and does his best to get the horse settled in the stable and bathe the little prince and princess. He listens politely as the countess talks about her day. But he doesn't really hear her. He's squinting and clenching his teeth over his own wound. He doesn't show her his growing blister or tell her his left side has gone numb.
It's just as painful to witness the emotional equivalent of the above scene among men in the throes of addiction. And it's beautiful to watch them develop true, deep, relationship courage, the kind that allows them to come home at the end of a hard day and cry out, "Help! I'm wounded!"
As Lyle was trimming a huge oak tree, one of the falling branches tore down a rain gutter and damaged the eave of a nearby house. For the rest of the day, one of the more experienced guys on the crew teased him relentlessly about his mistake. Then when they got back to the office, he razzed Lyle in front of their boss and the biggest gossip in the city offices. Lyle felt humiliated and angry.
Three months ago, he would have tried to just keep going as the poison serum coursed through his bloodstream. He wouldn't have talked to anyone about what he was feeling.
That night, he would have stayed up late listening to heavy metal music, eventually turned on the TV, and eventually found something salacious on cable to distract him from how crappy he felt inside. Then, the next day, he would have felt even worse about himself.
This time, instead, he took one of his more understanding coworkers aside later that afternoon. He mostly let out a string of profanities, but at least he was talking. "I haven't used that kind of language in years." Something about the whole #@!&$ department he works for. When he talked about the tree branch and the damage, his friend responded, "Everyone does that kind of stuff now and then."
When he got home, he didn't exactly cry out, "Help! I'm wounded!" He just let his wife, Katie, know it had been a hard day. He let all of his frustration and shame and feelings of inadequacy spill out. "...and then, to top it off, a woman in payroll got on my case about how I had reported my hours. She must have seen that I was totally shut down because she started backpedaling. She said, 'I'm not trying to be mean to you, I'm just telling you so that you avoid it in the future.' Inside it felt like, I have one more enemy I have to watch out for in this place..."
Talking with Katie didn't suddenly help Lyle feel all better. But these days he's staying sober despite the kind of emotional poisoned darts that used to send him back to his old ways. He's reaching out instead of acting out. He's dosing up on oxytocin instead of dopamine, and that's helping to clear the stress hormones out of his system. He's bonding with his wife instead of becoming more hooked on smut. It's a better life for our hero.