Saturday, December 29, 2012

My boyfriend secretly binges on porn. Should I bring it up?

Here’s a dialogue I had recently by email:

Kimberly: My boyfriend and I are in our second year of living together. I noticed when we first started dating he liked porn. Now it’s getting worse. He treats me like gold, so I don't want to bring anything up. What do I do?

Dr. C: What concerns you about it?

K: It’s getting expensive: he spends about $100 a week. And he’ll watch two or three movies in one sitting. He calls me to see where I am before he starts the next one to make sure I won’t come home while he's online. I know because I have the log on and see the times. It didn't bother me when it was every now and then, but now its every day. I’m afraid it will lead to other things. If I bring it up, it will push him away.

C: I see. Well, your concerns are legitimate. Here’s how I see it: consider this your chance to see if the relationship can handle legitimate concerns. If it can, the connection you already have will deepen and strengthen and become more secure and close. If not, do you really want to be with someone who won’t take your feelings seriously and address them together with you as a couple? How good a relationship is it, really, if he uses the fact that you brought up genuine concerns as a reason to distance himself from you? I realize everyone's ideals and preferences are different, but that sounds like a recipe for long-term @#!*% to me.

K: So what should I do?

C: If it were me, I would bring up my concern and hope that it reveals my partner  to be considerate of me and my feelings. If he is, I would rejoice that the relationship is as good as my instincts told me it was. We would then be on a path to deeper connection. If he can’t tolerate it, I would mourn the loss—but be thrilled that I found out now instead of burying my head in the sand because I didn't want to test it and find out.

K: Thanks

C: You're welcome. I hope it goes well. Please let me know what you decide to do and how it goes. Many women share your dilemma and will benefit from hearing how you sort it out and the path you decide to take--and how that goes. I'm glad you reached out.

K: Because I’m in a situation where I really love him and financial issues are a big factor, I may let it ride until I’m done with school. This is not the first time I've had a partner who's done this. I know from experience how it will end if I bring it up. So for now, until I can get a grip on my emotions, I will keep calm. Men will always look at porn. I broke a trust by snooping. If he wanted to end the relationship I think he would be distant rather than trying to please me all the time. So for now I’ll leave it. If I do decide to leave I wouldn't want him to know it was over this, I would want it to be on my terms.

-      -    - 

Okay Readers, I'm usually the one trying to offer help, but I need your help here. Please help me understand! I can't fathom how Kimberly could have arrived at this point. And not just her: how could our culture have devolved to where women find acceptable such a life situation and relationship M.O.? I know from the email I get that many do settle for it, or at least think they should because their friends and their experience tell them it's as good as things get with a guy.

They don't want to be nags; closed-minded, uptight prudes. So they try to go along. But deep down the whole thing sits uneasy with them. Late at night in weak moments they type google searches like "boyfriend looks at porn” or “Why can’t men ever get enough porn?” and end up at my blog. Then they ask—tentative, almost apologetically, “Why does it bug me? It shouldn't, right? After all, it’s just porn. I would hate to set things back by bringing it up.”

Since starting this blog, I've been blown away by how many women Kimberly’s age feel more hesitant and unsure about initiating emotional intimacy than men of my generation were about initiating physical intimacy. We were indoctrinated that sharing emotions is just as important for a woman as physical affection is to a man. We became convinced that to expect the one without being willing to give the other in return was selfish and sexist.

As one who bought into this way of thinking and spent years trying to put it into practice, I have to confess that my emotional connection with my wife Jenny is now as fulfilling and important to me as our physical relationship (not to downplay the physical!). So I have to wonder how we've gotten to the point where a woman can be two years into a relationship, which has been sexual from the start, and yet feels like trying to get to "first base" with him emotionally would turn him off and scare him away. And she doesn't want to do that because she does truly love him. What about expecting to be loved in return?

Is this the kind of relationship we want our little girls to feel obligated to put up with when they’re older? He gets to share his bodily fluids, but sharing your concerns is too much? Come on! Can’t we recommend as a general rule: never open your legs and let in a man's penis who won't open his heart and let in your feelings?

Sorry, if I'm sounding harsh it's only because I think that too many women--and their men for that matter!--are missing out on so much potential joy. It breaks my heart. Do I sound old-fashioned when I talk about relationships as a source of joy? I must admit, I do sometimes wonder what happened to the world I thought I knew. It makes me livid at our pornified, hypersexualized culture for doing this to women like Kimberly and their men.

To me this seems like the new sexism, where women squelch their own voices, sparing their men the job.

How do you see it?

Friday, December 14, 2012

See Through Your Cravings

The craving state is the linchpin of addiction. The draw of sexual acting out spikes and the reasons to avoid it fade. The very essence of the craving state leaves us vulnerable because we no longer have our wits about us; our usual capacity to think and solve problems is compromised.

Relapse is one sure way out of the craving state. We give in to the urge and indulge ourselves. Then reality very quickly snaps back into view. Regret and shame flood in. 

Resistance of urges, on the other hand, seems to only leave the craving state intact. The draw remains and continues to pull at us. I've often heard from clients that the didn't act on impulse, but rather felt worn down by craving and eventually gave in because they wanted out of the torture, they just couldn't take anymore the harassment--and eventually the torture--of the temptations that pounded away at their consciousness.

Rather than fighting or giving in to urges, try working with the craving state differently. Try this Lifespan Integration booster technique and see if it helps:

1. Identify what you feel physiologically and where you feel it in your body when you crave. You can certainly do this on the fly when you are actively craving. However, it works best to do a little preparation by focusing on what craving feels like to you when you're not feeling it spontaneously. Attend to the bodily sensations in a curious way. Notice the details: are the feelings diffuse or localized? What happens to the sensations as you attend to them over time?

2. As you stay focused on those feelings in your body, let go of the current situation or craving. Stay with the feelings in your body, but let your mind float back in time--maybe even way back. Notice when else you've felt those feelings in your body. What memories go with those bodily sensations? Quite often what arises for my clients is a past experience that played a formative role in their addiction. I call this a "hook experience."

These hook experiences can be divided into two types: those which trigger "euphoric recall" and those which trigger "deliverance recall." To illustrate euphoric recall: one client remembered finding a discarded pornographic magazine lying in field as he walked home from school and being very intrigued. As he viewed the magazine, curiosity gave way to euphoria. It was like a whole new exciting aspect of life was opening up to him. Deliverance recall is different but just as powerful. Another client recalled finally leaving on a family vacation that he'd been eagerly anticipating, only to discover that his parents fought the entire drive to the lake just as they did at home. When they arrived at the condo he locked himself in the bathroom and collapsed to the floor in despair. After laying there for minute, he started touching his genitals and felt his disappointment about his family situation fade as he began to lose himself in the pleasure of sexual stimulation.

3. Design a brief message you might give a young person you care about who was right now in the very situation you found yourself at the time of the hook experience. For instance, you might say: "That might seem great because it feels so good, but you'll want to be careful in how much you pursue it. You don't want it to take over your life. If you let your fascination with sex get out of balance it can interfere with your focus on other good goals and get in the way of relationships. It can even hook you on fake fantasy sex and interfere with fully enjoying sex with your real future partner." Or perhaps, "This may seem now like the best way to escape bad feelings, but I've learned over time that it's better to face feelings and deal with problems head on."

4. Create a timeline by identifying 8-10 events that have happened since that hook experience. These will provide you with some chronological handles for your younger, more vulnerable self to hold onto as he or she climbs out of the outdated mindset and into present day reality.

Some clients find it odd or hokey, like it's a figment of pop psychology, to think about their craving state as coming from a younger self. That is the way we frame it to help the right brain grasp what we're doing as we go through the process of this exercise, but it can be explained differently to the left brain: We've long known that consciousness is not the continuous flow of one stream, but is actually made up of frequently shifting "ego state"s that enhance our functioning by taking over to handle the various kinds of situations and experiences we face in everyday life. Most of these ego states are adaptive and we don't give them a second thought. Others come into being as we face extreme situations or experiences, like our hook experiences. These ego states and the thinking and behavior they generate may make sense to some degree at the time they are adapted, but life moves on and evolves and becomes more complex. It's not very adaptive or productive when we unintentionally--and often even unconsciously--shift back into old ego states that are characterized by overly simplified perspectives (such as "Sex is the most important thing in life!") and behavioral imperatives (such as "Don't ever pass up the opportunity for sexual excitement.")

5. Practice the booster technique quite a few times when you're not in a craving state to prepare yourself to use it in the heat of the moment. This is best done with the help of a therapist who has been trained in the therapy technique called Lifespan Integration. Take yourself back to the hook experience by recalling an incident during which sex was euphoric or offered deliverance from distress. Mentally put yourself there, back in time, in that experience. Notice what you feel in your body and exactly where you feel those sensations. Now, bring your present-day, adult self into that scene. Imagine taking your younger self away from where he or she was and to a safe place like a peaceful beach or a mountain grove. In a compassionate way, deliver the message you've designed. Tell your younger self that he (or she) is a good person and you know he's not trying to mess up his life, but you have a different perspective, adopted over time and with maturity, that you want to share with him. Then tell him gently but firmly that time has moved on and that hook experience IS OVER, and IS NOT HAPPENING ANYMORE. Prove this to him by showing him pictures of the scenes on your timeline. Show him all 8 or 10 scenes in chronological order. Then imagine bringing him into your home as it is now. Tell him he lives here now with you, and he's not back there anymore going through that hook experience. Notice what he wants to do here and now if he's no longer stuck back then and there. Often clients see their younger self truly enjoying being a kid again without the worries he took on at such a young age. Or they see their younger self enjoying genuine childlike spontaneous pursuits rather than getting hooked on porn or masturbation at such a young age. Their is a recovery, retrieval, or return to developmental needs and pursuits that were short-circuited by too early or too intense sexualization.

These repetitions are the process of Lifespan Integration therapy and, as I said, they are best done with the aid of a therapist trained to conduct this technique. However, some of the best therapy can occur outside formal sessions in the heat of the craving moment. That's why I call this next step a booster technique:

6. When you find you're suffering cravings, do a simplified version of step 5 above. Feel what's going on in your body. See if it matches what you felt back in the hook experience you identified. Perhaps the feelings in the body when you're craving go with a different hook experience or don't link up with a particular hook experience. Either way, sense that it may be your younger self, a less informed and mature part of you, that is experiencing this craving. Bring your present day self into the scene and let that younger self know you're here for him. Offer a message of encouragement, gentle correction of perspective, or reassurance that he'll be okay even if he doesn't pursue sex right now. Then show him a few (perhaps 3-5) of the events from the timeline in chronological order to prove to him that time has passed. Let him know he is in the present, with you here and now and these days you've learned to think better of it when you're tempted to pursue sex in that way.

As always, I respectfully request that you let me know how it goes if you give this technique a try.

Thanks and keep up the great work!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Hurts that My Husband Won't Talk About Porn

Dear Dr. Chamberlain, 

I have been married for 12 years. I have recently found porn on my husbands phone. Since the beginning of our relationship we had problems. Every thing else was perfect but there was no intimacy there. He was not interested in sex. I have to beg him for it. He was happy if we only did it every three or four months. We had loads of talks about it and every time he said he will try but after few days he forgets about every thing I said. It happened so many times that I stopped asking him. There was a time we did have sex for two years. He was not slightly bothered. He said he will go doctor to say why he has low libido. I didn't have any clue that he was addicted to masturbation and porn. I found out accidentally. When I asked him he totally denied watching it. When given proof he admitted he wanted to watch it. I explained to him all my feelings: how it hurts me, I feel ugly, I don't trust him, and I feel very disrespected. He promised he will stop, but he didn't. He was constantly lying to me. Now I wonder if he may have finally stopped watching porn, but I am sure he still masturbates. I don't know what to do. He won't go counselling. To this day he has never said sorry to me. He has a very cold heart. I just don't know how can i make him open up to me. Can you believe that for last 12 years we've had same routine for sex? He just wanted to do it quickly. I wanted him to be more open up to me. I have said and done every thing i can think of. We have three beautiful kids. I am slim and good looking. I feel he just not interested in me. I feel like leaving him. The worst thing is that he has been doing it for long, long time with out me realizing it. That entire time I was blaming myself. Can you please help me? I am depressed and very lost. I don't know what to do.


Hi Najat,

I'm so glad you reached out. Sorry I was slow in responding. Your heartache was hard to read about. I feel bad that you're suffering because of sex, when what you really want is to have sex be something fulfilling, gratifying, and something that brings the two of you close. Because you said "everything else is good," I suspect that your husband's hesitation to talk more openly about this is due to shame, and not out of ill intent. I would encourage you to extend an invitation to him along these lines:

"I know sex and porn have been painful topics for us to discuss, but I'm so glad I know more about you now than I did before I discovered you were into porn. Although it's been a hard thing for me to discover, I would always choose knowing you more rather than less because I care so much about you and we have so much in our relationship that's good. I don't want unknown wedges or walls to stay between us, I want to understand whatever the issues are. Even though I'm sure you can tell this is a difficult issue for me, I think it gives us a great opportunity to work through something and be closer together as a result of working on it together rather than separately. I can tell that part of you wants to draw away from me and deal with this on your own and let me deal with my feelings about it on my own. But we do have another option. We can draw together and work through it as a couple. Would you be willing to do that? To not let this stay a wedge, but be something that we connect over? The biggest hurt to me isn't that you've been into porn, it's that we've been disconnected and distant. Now, you may be off porn but I still feel so far apart from you. Can we connect and work through this together so that I don't have to feel so separate and alone? After all, you're the most important person in my life and more than anything I long to feel close to you."

If you're willing to try that, let us know how it goes and then our readers and I can offer more suggestions.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Life Without a Shock Absorber can be Rough for Awhile

In a recent post, I wrote about the courageous path of dropping addiction as a shock absorber and tolerating the emotions that come with experiencing life on its own terms. Last week I saw these principles put into practice in real life by my client, Don. It took my breath away and left me in awe of his courage and commitment. I hope you find his efforts inspiring as well.

Don is approaching two years sober. As addictions go, his was a bad one. His job managing an assembly line has always been four days on, four days off, and on some of his days home alone he spent 8-10 hours online surfing porn.

In the past month Don has faced:
  • Hearing his 14-year-old daughter call her step-father “Dad”
  • Feeling “bludgeoned” by his ex-wife because he didn’t have enough money to cover all of his daughter’s volleyball fees
  • Sensing his girlfriend Pam’s frustration over all of the difficulties (including some legal battles) with his ex
  • Feeling left out of all the excitement over the birth of his 21-year-old daughter’s new baby, his first grandson
  • Pressure from his boss to cut costs and become more efficient because their entire company has lost their old profit margin cushion

Even much milder stressors were known to drive Don to porn in the past. I asked him what it was like to face such immense difficulties without that narcotic. His face was flush as he described the emotional pain he’d been in. “There’s a dark cloud hanging over me. I’m waiting for my ex to hit me with some new demand or court filing. I’ve never felt so uneasy. My stomach cramps up. Even Pam’s getting overwhelmed as she tries to support me through all this. I feel like a bad dad, like I’ve failed my kids, and it feels terrible most of the time.”

I asked Don how he was making it without relapsing to porn.

“It helps that I created routines during better times that help keep me away from porn. I don’t spend nearly as much time online anymore. Covenant Eyes helps—both to filter content and also because I know Pam can monitor what I’m on. And I have X3 on my phone.”

Based on the heavy feeling I had just listening to him talk about everything, I got some sense of the agony Don was in. “In the midst of this all, somehow you’re managing to stay away from porn,” I marveled.

“If I were acting out, I’d be more numb to it all. Sometimes the rationalizations kick in: ‘Why not go find some porn? Why fight the urges? You’re not being intimate with Pam anyway because of all the stress.’ That would be nice on the one hand, momentarily at least. But I don’t need the guilt on top of how bad things already are. I want my relationship with Pam to work. I don’t want to let her down. Even if we weren’t together, that life’s just not for me anymore. That’s not the person I want to be. As hard as it is sometimes, I have to remember that real life is better than that vortex I used to be in.

After my session with Don was over, I shut the door of my office and a spontaneous prayer of gratitude poured out of my heart for the privilege of being an eyewitness to raw courage. Here’s a guy who has found in his recovery an amazing level of commitment and fidelity, not only to Pam, his partner, but to life itself. Spending time with men like Don fills me with a desire to be a better, braver man myself. I offer my heartfelt thanks to you, Don, and to the rest of you who are like him. We celebrate you and the better world you’re helping create by refusing to settle for anything but your best self!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sex that Cultivates Attachment, Not Addiction

In my last post I highlighted Gary Wilson’s TED Talk, The Great Porn Experiment. Today I’ll share some other wonderful resources he and his wife, Marnia Robinson, have developed.

Their blog at "Psychology Today" is a  clearinghouse of information and science-based advice on sex and love. They propose an alternative to the myth that's common in our culture: that porn enhances desire and spices up a couple's sex life. The science they cite shows why the reverse is often true. That is, porn sometimes actually dampens the sex appeal of one's partner over time and impedes sexual performance. They show how bonding-oriented sex can strengthen relationship, and how much (and why) sex can improve a couple's sense of connection over time. I found their website years ago while researching the varying effects of dopamine and oxytocin. I'd seen the research on dopamine summarized elsewhere, but they shared such a vivid portrayal of this dopamine depletion research participant, I finally "got" how my addicted clients suffer when they're in the throes of withdrawal. I've found treasure after treasure at (Marnia's site), and I still haven't combed through everything there. Most impressive and inspiring to me have been the entries on their forum from individuals who are kicking the porn habit and finally tapping into the joy only accessible when monogamy is accompanied by mental monogamy.

Marnia's book, Cupid's Poisoned Arrow indicts our culture's pornified view of sex and reveals what's possible in a relationship when the focus of sex turns from orgasm to connecting. It's one of the books I recommend most frequently in my therapy practice. It gives couples an entirely new vision of how to truly love each other physically. As you read you'll think, "No wonder so many relationships fail! No wonder the divorce rate's so high! No wonder, even among couples who stay together, so many end up constantly bickering or cool and distant with each other.” Even if you don't implement fully the practice of Karezza, these books will radically alter the way you think and act between the sheets.

Life can be rough, but your primary relationship doesn't have to be. Amidst all of the other struggles in life, it should remain your refuge. If you don’t enjoy that kind of relationship yet, don’t fret it. Invest the time and energy. I promise: rethinking your time between the sheets can turn the most important relationship in your life into the most satisfying.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Sexy Incentive to Abstain from Porn

Many of my clients have found porn to be addictive, but are trying to kick the habit because it violates their values and morals. They list as incentives for quiting things like "my wife will trust me more," "I'll be a better role model for my kids," and "I'll be in the driver's seat of my own life."

Unfortunately, when cravings get intense, their resolve to give up porn because it's the right thing to do softens. In the cold light of day porn porn seemed so wrong, but in weaker moments it feels so right.

I've been impressed by the reinforcement these folks can gain from an entirely different avenue of incentive. For many, the facts about what porn can do to their sexual vitality seem to be just the additional weight needed in such moments to tip the scales and avoid relapse. And it makes sense: since there are times when sex becomes more salient, why not consider data that carries weight with the desire-driven brain instead of relying solely on moral reasons for abstaining from porn?

This TED Talk by Gary Wilson, "The Great Porn Experiment," is a relatively new resource that examines the effects of internet porn on consumers. (Erectile Dysfunction in young, otherwise healthy men is the most striking one, but the breadth and depth of distressing side-effects will amaze you.) He adds credence to his case by showing how abstaining from porn ameliorates these symptoms. Gary is an engaging teacher. The slide show that illustrates his talk drives home his points superbly. Although he has lots of fun with the topic, his big heart shines through and his deep care for men stuck in a porn rut is unmistakable. He provides just the advice and hopeful future vision they need. Viewed half a million times already, his talk has become an invaluable resource for puzzled porn gluttons and their lovers throughout the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Steady Diet of Connection Helps Prevent Relapse

At our most recent bi-monthly check-in, Paul reported: "I haven't had any relapses. In fact, I haven't thought about it much. Not thinking about porn much is a good thing, but I also haven't given much thought to my recovery, which concerns me a bit. I need to stop, stand back, and assess how I'm doing every now and then. Go inside myself and evaluate the state of my recovery."

While I agreed with Paul that he should be careful not to get too complacent, I was even more interested in what had enabled him to get to this point where he wasn't battling the urge for porn on a regular basis, as he had been for so long. 

As we explored how things were going in Paul's life, we eventually arrived at the topic of his relationship with his wife, Susan. "There's more connection and empathy there. I more often think about what she does on a day-to-day basis. When I consider the sacrifices she makes for our kids and our family, it really warms my heart. Sometimes I'll call her or write her a note just to say I appreciate her or check on how her day's going. 

"In the evenings after the kids are in bed we might read a book together. Sometimes we just sit by each other and watch a show. But we try not to fall in to the routine of just watching TV. Sometimes we play Scrabble. One night we played Cranium, even though we had to make our own rules since it was just the two of us. Another time we tried to build a house of cards, which is more challenging than it sounds. It was fun to do something out of the ordinary."

Paul had recently launched a business of his own and he and Susan were raising three young children, so I knew that there was no less stress in his life than before. And yet it was becoming easier for him to avoid porn. "You're connection with Susan is really making a difference, isn't it. And it sounds like the closer the two of you feel, the more empathy you have for her."

"I do find it easier to let in her feelings," he acknowledged. "The other night she said, 'Today my anxiety is back in full force.' I sat down by her on the couch and said, 'Oh Honey, I'm so sorry' and caressed her for a while. 

"She has told me that feels more emotionally safe now. And I see the effects of it. She's not continually asking if I've been having problems with porn. She's also more confident. She seems to connect with me better. We work together better to get stuff done around the house. If we've had a little spat about money or how one of us handled something with the kids, we come back together and apologize. I feel closer to her than I have in a long time. 

"She's less likely to snap at me if she has a problem with what I'm doing. The other day she was upset that I yelled so loud at my son's soccer game. We talked it through in the car afterwards and later it didn't feel like we were still at odds with each other. These days we come together pretty quickly like that. 

"She did lose her temper at me one weekend when I was leaving everything around the house for her to do while I sat and watched a golf tournament. But then I got my butt up off the couch and pitched in more. She came back around pretty quickly. We could both joke about it later."

I thought about all of Paul and Susan's interactions. They spent time together having fun. They shared experiences winding down at the end of the day. They worked through "ruptures" in their attachment and came back together quickly. A sense of good will permeated the relationship. 

From all I could tell, they were dosing up regularly on oxytocin with each other's help. Oxytocin is the relationship chemical, the cuddle chemical, the biological superglue that bonds us to each other. In lab animals it's been shown to reduce cravings for all kinds of addictive substances and behaviors. It increases a sense of contentment. 

Plus, oxytocin helps us stay true and faithful. It's the chemical that shows up in animals that are monogamous and mate for life. Consider that: this elixir can insures even a prairie dogs, with all the self-control of its fellow rodents, life a lifetime of fidelity to one sexual partner. It enables one to continue to find a current mate irresistible, crowding out the hankerings to flirt with and lust for other partners. 

Unlike rodents, we don't have to accept the current level of oxytocin that we are blessed or cursed with. By operating as Paul and Susan are, we can foster it's production--and then sit back and enjoy its wonderful effects.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deep Empathy Prevents Relapse

Almost three months into recovery from his sexual addiction, Troy was feeling overwhelmed by his girlfriend Heather's pain. "I've made the decision to get better. I'm trying not to beat myself up about the mistakes I've made. But then she brings up the very things I'm trying to get over. To be honest, my biggest trigger these days is talking with Heather. How much longer will she be in the depths of despair about this?"

I knew Troy's struggle was genuine, but I also knew Heather had barely begun to unload the pain she felt over Troy's porn use, illicit online chatting, and the live sexual encounters he had arranged with women he'd met online. For their relationship to have a chance of surviving and for her to forgive him, I knew she would need empathic discussions with him almost daily over a period of nine months or so and then more intermittently after that.

My assignment to Troy was to ask every day how Heather was feeling and encourage her to talk about it. His job was avoid these various human reflexes: apologizing, clarifying, promising, reassuring, explaining, and defending. Instead, we encouraged him to:

1. Take her hands in yours or put your hand on her knee if she's comfortable with either of those. Engage in some kind of touch even if it's just resting a hand on her forearm or shoulder. Imagine that touch as a bridge that enables you to better sense her emotions. Tune in and allow yourself to receive what comes through to your heart by way of that physical contact. As you listen to her pain, let that touch be the conduit that helps those feelings flow your way, like a ground wire that taps electrical energy from where it's building up and conducts it safely to where it can diffuse. (Of course, only include touch in this process if she finds it permissible. Respect her desire for physical distance if she finds physical contact aversive at this point.)

2. Look her in the eye. You don't have to make it a staring contest, but make sure you don't avoid her gaze, either. Keep checking in with how she's feeling--and really letting it in--by gazing into her eyes and trying to sense what it's like to be her right now. Neuroscientists have discovered that we have mirror neurons that enable us to empathize and genuinely feel what another person is feeling. These neurons are "turned on" as we see the expressions and micro-expressions in the eyes and on the face of someone who is feeling an emotion. When we look into the eyes of someone who's feeling an emotion, we find ourselves naturally feeling that same emotion ourselves.

3. Notice where in the body you begin to react. Is your gut starting to clench? Is your chest tightening as you hold your breath. When someone is in pain, especially the person we care about most, it's natural to want to pull away from the emotion or put up a wall to keep that emotion out. While these reactions may be reflexive, they're not conducive to empathy. Take whatever energy you feel in your body and consciously move it from your gut or throat--or wherever--to your heart. Open up your heart and let yourself feel for her. Allow that energy to move you instead of trying to fight against it. Attend to the feelings that arise in your heart.

4. Keep up the above processes as you track what she's saying and how she's feeling. Listen and let yourself feel. Listen and let yourself feel. Listen and let yourself feel.

This is the process of empathizing. Notice what's missing. I didn't encourage Troy to say anything to Heather. It's not that he was forbidden to speak, it just wasn't the first priority. Too often, we have a strong urge to speak to try to make things better, but this process isn't about fixing a problem, it's about simply joining a partner exactly where they are emotionally. It's not about helping her out of the mud puddle of her pain, it's about sitting down with her in that puddle and better sensing--experiencing for ourselves--what it's like for her.

Although this process didn't come naturally to Troy, he wanted to make things better and entered into it wholeheartedly.

I did't see Troy for a while because he did most of his therapy with a colleague at my office. Over a year later, I checked in with him again. I was impressed by what he reported:

"It's been quite an experience to see--and really get--how much I hurt Heather. You can't imagine the destruction. It's almost like I killed someone. It's as much as you can hurt someone without breaking the law and going to jail. I want to go back and do it over. The nightmare is, I can't. The best I can do is never do those things again. And that's easy compared to the alternative. I could never do those things again, given all their devastating consequences."

Later in our session we talked about situations that used to put Troy at risk. "There's a switch inside of me that has flipped. It has changed me, altered my very constitution. I could never again repeat some of those actions. I went on a two-week long trip for work recently, exactly the kind of situation that would have put my relationship with Heather "out of sight, out of mind" before. I was amazed to discover that I found myself only able to respond to women the way I would have if she were right next to me. Of course, that's the way I wanted it. I wasn't looking for a way to forget her. But it was strange to me how natural it was. I didn't have to bring her and her feelings to mind. They are a down-deep part of me now. Taking care of her is like taking care of a part of myself."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cool but Scary Approach to Recovery: Tolerate Feelings and You Won't Need an Escape!

Tony had just gotten back from his family's last trip of summer and was struggling to pull out of vacation mode. He had one more day off before he had to go back to work. After sleeping in, he had a hard time getting started on his "to do" list. He felt ineffective and out of sorts. 

"Days like that are uncomfortable and taxing," he recalled the next morning in our session. "I tried to pull myself out of it. I started talking to myself, 'If I don't get those chores done, the world isn't going to come crashing down. It's okay that I have to go back to work tomorrow. And when I'm back in the office, I can only do what I can do. It's okay if I'm not given the opportunities I want, if my boss keeps assigning me menial tasks and none of the bigger jobs I'd love to dive into.' I remind myself, 'My boss's opinion of me does not define who I am and in the end doesn't really matter.' I tried to hold back the tide of those thoughts and feelings, but they kept pounding away at me. I had to fight them all day. It got tiring." 

Two times later that evening Tony came close to going back to porn--once on his iPad and once while scanning movie titles on Netflix after his wife and kids had gone to bed. The thoughts and feelings that weighed on him had depleted his energy and deflated his hope, leaving him wanting a fix. 

What had gone wrong? How could he handle things differently in the future?

Although it was perfectly natural for him to try to convince himself that what he was going through was "okay" and "not the end of the world," it hadn't worked. Throughout the day, his life had seemed distinctly NOT okay. I encouraged Tony to consider another way he could have handled those feelings: 

"What would it have been like to accept the fact that you don't feel okay, that you're in a state of mourning the loss of summer? What if you'd let yourself fully experience the depth of sadness and loss of vacations and camping being over for the year? What if you'd focused on the knot in your throat instead of trying to turn your attention from it? What if you'd let yourself shed a few tears? What if you'd accepted that you're often anxious at work and feel underutilized there. What if you'd fully entered into the aggravation of things not going well at the office these days? Acknowledged how painful it is that your boss doesn't think highly of you? You spend a big chunk of your life at work and it is important to you. It would be heavenly if your boss thought the world of you and saw you as his go-to guy! Sometimes life slams you in the face harder than others. Staring at those painful realities made it a hard day, a not-okay day. What if you settled into that off kilter feeling and let the emotions and thoughts and the day itself simply be what they were, instead of trying to talk yourself out of them?"

Tony wrote me this email a few days later: 

The good thing about recovery is that I can feel emotions again. The bad thing about recovery is that I can feel emotions again!

Learning to face my emotions rather than running from them is the most difficult part of recovery for me. I have turned away from and masked almost all strong emotions in my life through pornography, sex, distraction, working, or even movies and reading.   

Almost every time I relapse, I can trace the process backward to a strong emotion I was escaping. Unfortunately, at times my efforts at recovery have oriented toward adding one more layer of escape and avoidance: I'm tempted to soothe a hard day by going to porn... and then I try to escape the urge for porn by reciting a scripture, counting the floor tiles in the store, starting a conversation. Well, those things don't necessarily "work" in the sense that they typically don't address the original deeper emotion--the feeling of inadequacy, the anxiety, the fear, the loneliness. Going to porn doesn't directly address those feelings, but neither does counting tiles or starting a conversation. It's just an attempt to distract myself from my original distraction (porn). So no wonder the sexual urges keep pounding at me: the underlying feelings that drive them are still as potent as ever! The fact that I'm constant fighting is a sign that what I'm doing isn't working.

I need to really face the issues.

So I’m trying now to orient myself to the strong emotion in a direct, head-on way. I'm practicing accepting it, giving it some time, and not trying to "fix it" right away. 

During our session you asked me, “What would be there if you didn’t say to yourself ‘it’s ok, people don’t have to like me’, or ‘All I can do is my best,’ or ‘I don’t need that drug anymore.’ If I didn’t say that to myself, what would I use to cope?" Wow. Maybe nothing? I don’t know what would be there. Fear? I’d certainly be afraid that if I didn’t fix the emotion or soothe it somehow, then I’d relapse for sure.  

What I’m discovering is that there doesn’t have to be anything there. I don’t have to "Fix that emotion right now!" I can choose to stop and feel the emotion. Accept it. Realize that it is an emotion. It's not good or bad, it just is.  And it’s ok for me to feel it. I can feel sad. Angry. Alone. I can think through what caused it, why I don’t like it, and even challenge the idea that it's bad for me to feel it. 

It's an amazing thing to challenge the assumption that distressing emotions necessarily mean that things are "all wrong" right now. I've always been convinced of that: When I feel bad, it means something's wrong. And the sure indicator something's wrong is how bad it feels! It always seemed to me that in an ideal world, the things that were making me feel bad would be different than they were. What a shift it's been to entertain the possibility that this messy world is ideal, even though it feels bumpy and off sometimes! 

If I feel inadequate, I can stop and feel it, and realize that its okay I'm feeling it. The reason I feel inadequate is because I'm in touch with the gap between who I am and who I want to be. I want to be the very best husband, father, son, brother, and friend. It's painful that my life isn't there yet because I do love the people in my life. Love + Imperfection = Pain. I'm in pain right now. If this is the price I pay for the depth of my feelings for my loved ones, then I'm willing to pay it. That love--and I guess maybe even the pain that goes with it--is something that enriches my life, not something I should escape.

Beautifully said, Tony. Thanks for sharing your journey, and for letting me share it with my readers. 

If addiction has been an escape for you the way it was for Tony, try out this experiment for the next three days: Radically accept the full catastrophe of what you go through and how you feel about it all. Then please write and let us know what it was like and what you learned along the way.

This is your mission, should you choose to accept it... (And I won't look down on you at all if it scares the daylights out of you.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Join Us: 3-Day Healing Experience

Bolster Your Recovery
Thu., Aug. 16 through Sat., Aug. 18.

  • Develop Self-Compassion (Research shows it's a key to self-discipline)
  • Learn to Use 5 Potent Relapse-Prevention Tactics
  • Discover How to Mute the Brain's Craving Switch
  • Become Closer than Ever: Facilitate Recovery through Relationship Bonding
Call 801-255-1155 to register.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How Can I Get Over Him Looking at Porn?

Dr. Chamberlain,

My name is Tamara. I found your blog searching, "do all men look at porn?" on Google.

I don't really even know exactly what to say to you. Except that I don't know what to say to my husband and it seems like you have put together a really informative website.

I found porn on my husband's phone for the first time in our 10 years together. I brought it up to him but thought I could be cool with it, and just kind of acted like I didn't care. But then I found it again. And realized I couldn't not care. It really hurt me. I ended up flipping out. He said he wouldn't do it again but I just don't know.

Everything I am seeing and being told by friends is that it's totally normal and I'm being irrational. I want so badly to discuss this with my husband but I feel so ashamed. Ugh. I really hate that I'm so hurt and sad and trying to get past it, but at the same time, I'm slow to discuss this with him because I don't want to keep bringin it up and make him feel badly, if that makes sense.

I was actually told by a friend of mine that I'm just trying to beat him up about it. Which is far from the truth.

I want to feel about him the way that I used to. I feel ridiculous trying to hide my tears randomly throughout the day. I hate that I am not over this. It's 5 months ago, he told me he wouldn't do it anymore. He said all the right things, really. Said he could understand my point, held me, told me I am beautiful and sexy. Makes love to me. Told me he could do without anything I didn't want him to have.

Also, in the course of me trying to shut up and not care I (immaturely) broke the cell phone, and the replacement phone. I find that I keep looking at the videos he watched and feeling betrayed all over again. It's almost like a cut that won't heal because I keep picking the scab.

I had our 4th baby in march. Since then with breastfeeding and dieting and exercising I've lost almost 40 lbs. Everyone is complimenting me, I was feeling great. But then last weekend my husband asked me if I still take a multivitamin, I said, yes why. He went on to say that he was just worried because he doesn't think I've been eating right and was concerned. Seriously? Fine, I would hope if he thought something was wrong that he'd speak up out of concern. But I wanted so badly to tell him that his choice of porn didn't really do a lot for my self image. Do you think I didn't notice their little young flat bellies and lack of stretch marks? Is it really that crazy to think I'd compare myself to those girls and then think , hmm, he doesn't get an erection and jerk off when he looks at me in my underwear. Seriously, the most horrible scathing remarks were just flying through my mind but all I could do was smile then go in the bathroom and cry, look at a video and smash the cell phone on the ground. While of course, running the water and having the fan on so he wouldn't hear. Because I'm trying to let it go and not beat him up about it. But what's happening is I'm beating myself up.

So, I don't know. Should I bring it up to him again? I have told him how I felt and he did listen. And didn't brush off my feelings then. So does that mean I should just keep trying to put it out of my head and focus on how great he is and how wonderful he is to me? And do you have any advicce on how I could go about doing either of those courses of action?



Please don't be so hard on yourself for reacting "irrationally" and for having such intense feelings in response to the revelation of your husband's involvement in porn. You're trying to get past it, but the hurt lingers. You hate that you're so hurt and sad. You feel ashamed for reacting in what you feel is a ridiculous way. But there are perfectly good reasons for your strong reactions.

The relationship with our primary attachment figure is quite a primal thing. Our reaction when that relationship seems threatened in some way is more visceral than logical. Our world starts spinning and we feel disoriented. We panic and feel very driven to act. Our instinct is to scrutinize the threat (your impulse to watch the videos), monitor our attachment figure and our connection to them (for some that means seeking sex to make sure he still wants it, checking his internet use) cling (needing frequent contact and reassurance), and protest (letting him know how much you're hurting because of what he's done).

I saw these attachment instincts in operation last week when my friend talked about losing his job. Sure he was concerned about how they were going to pay their bills and make ends meet. But what really dialed his number--to a degree he hadn't expected in the least--was how threatening it felt to him to suddenly lose his status as provider in his wife's eyes. He'd felt a sense of confidence and admiration coming from her for almost twenty years, so there was no logical reason to doubt that she'd stick with him through this difficult time. Yet he suddenly needed to have her nearby--in fact right next to him--for periods of time every day. He found it hard to breathe and sleep. And he found himself in tears when she looked him in the eyes and promised she'd always be there for him and they'd make it through this together.

Tamara, there's only one way your husband will be able to help you feel more secure. That's for you to open up to him about the tenderheartedness you feel right now. It seems so clear to me that he will respond well to that. So far he has done everything he can to help you feel more secure. However, he hasn't helped as much as he can, in part because you're keeping from him the depths of your need. Your current level of emotional intensity, your current level of need doesn't mean you're weak. It speaks to how much your husband means to you!

Go to him and lovingly taking his hands in yours and looking deep into his eyes. Tell him that you appreciate all he's done to address the issue and help you feel more secure. But then open up to him. Perhaps something like, "Honey, I love you so much... you mean so much to me... that the very idea of something coming between us... that you turned away from me and sought out other women's bodies to get sexually turned on... especially at this time when I'm feeling insecure about my body because of age and recovery from pregnancy... it has totally turned my world upside-down. I feel panicky. I don't want to doubt you because I know how much you love me. You've done everything you know to help me feel secure again. But would you be willing to keep working with me if I need more help from you? If no one but you can help me heal the hurt that's in my heart, would you be willing to stick with me and do whatever it takes? Will you listen as I keep voicing my irrational fears? Can I vent to you even if it's sometimes anger at you? Are all my feelings safe to bring up? Will you be here with me to listen and feel them with me even if they seem crazy? I need you right by me. I need to be able to open up about what's really going on inside. I want to keep feeling about you the way I've always felt. I need to look into your eyes and know that you're joining me in what I'm going through, even if I don't always get it. I need you now more than I've ever needed you before. Will you be there for me even in the dark place of this struggle I'm having now?"

If he's willing to listen, pass along this pointer on how to do it in a helpful way. He can draw close physically, touch you in some way, look you in the eye at least some of the time, and let his heart be soft and open to your experience. If he feels himself start to clench his jaw or tighten his gut, soften those and move that energy to his heart. He is to just let himself feel with you whatever you're feeling. Empathize. That feeling will show on his face and reassure you that he's letting your feelings in. He is with you in them, not distancing from them. He is "joining you in the puddle," as we sometimes put it. He can put into words what he senses you're feeling if it seems fitting, but that's not the most important part of the process. 90% of the communication between the two of you will be nonverbal. Over time he can also make promises about the future or apologize for hurting you or reassure you he still finds you attractive, but for awhile at least he should have those instincts standby as he merely empathizes and validates what you're going through.

Tamara, give your husband this chance! He is the very kind of guy who gives us guys a good name! Sue Johnson has said, "To suffer is inevitable, but to suffer alone is unbearable." Some suffering will continue for you, no doubt, but you can also experienc immense relief if you'll reach out and open up to him.

I know this probably sounds like very intimidating path. Thanks for taking the time to really consider it. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Self-Compassion is Central to Change

I had a session this morning with Dustin, who had recently relapsed. Before giving in, he'd suffered through four or five days of subtle indicators that a girl he was dating was no longer interested. He found himself in a state he described as "nebulous." He was in distraught. His brain craved relief. He went back to porn.

Toward the end of the session I asked, "Dustin, if you had a friend who had been suffering that way, you probably wouldn't have handed him your phone and said, 'You can access porn on this. Maybe that'll help. Give it a try.' What would you have said to him? How would you have tried to comfort him?"

"I'd have said, 'Things are going to be fine. You're better than this. You'll get over her and move on with your life. Don't worry about it.'"

Ouch. If I were his friend, I wouldn't really feel understood. I'd know that he wanted to help, but his attempt just minimized my pain. I would have felt felt like my hurt was being dismissed. If I were his friend, I'd have known right then that I'd have to look elsewhere if I wanted empathy. He wouldn't be the one that I could share my heartache with and have there as a support while I was mourning the loss of my dream and licking my wounds.

"That's what you'd tell a friend? Is that what you've been telling yourself?"


"I can tell you wanted to be supportive, but did you notice how you encouraged him to distance from his emotion? The message seemed to be that he shouldn't be reacting this strongly in the first place, and the sooner he got over it the better. Is that the way you feel toward yourself?"


"Well, it's no small thing to sense that a relationship is slipping away. You were once in this privileged status. You two were developing this sense of exclusivity. You were infatuated, so was she, and you could tell she liked you. If you heard a funny joke you couldn't wait to share it with her. Not with just anyone, but specifically with her. She was the first one you thought about. You looked for any kind of excuse to text or call. It was a bright spot in your day. And you loved sensing her reaction. But then suddenly things started going cold. There was ambiguity where you once felt confident. You kept floating stuff out there and checking her response. And you kept getting the cool vibe from her. Or there was no response at all. That really ripped the rug out from under you, emotionally. That hurts!"

Dustin's eyes had reddened.

"It's understandable that you were hurting. Anyone going through that would have felt bad. The heart really aches at times like that. Feeling those reactions to an experience like that is a part of being human. It's okay that you were going through that. It wouldn't have been more preferable for you to not be impacted by her withdrawal--to have been calloused and cold-hearted about it. Or to have suffered for a day and then whoosh, suddenly it's 100% behind you. Heartache has a timetable of it's own, and we're just along for the ride."

Then I encouraged Dustin: "Try this on and see how it fits. What if you had said to a friend--or to yourself, 'Ouch. You're really hurting right now over this, aren't you. What the two of you had together meant a lot to you, and when it got ripped away it tore a piece of your heart out with it. Your heart just aches, aches, aches.' Then imagine that once you joined with your friend--or yourself--in their emotional state in that way, you were silent for a time. You just sat there with them, having let them know you were feeling for them, and let your presence and patience speak for itself for a time. You just settled into the emotion they're feeling and didn't run from it, didn't rush to get away from it. You were willing to just sit there and feel their sadness and heartache. Just be there with them for a time. What would that have been like?

I'll be the first to admit that I've never said something like the above to a friend. In fact, this exchange might sound very odd between a couple of guys. Perhaps a compassionate response a guy might actually utter would be something like, "Oh, wow. Ouch. That sucks. Sorry to hear that, man. I know how much you liked her." But I wanted to keep talking to help Dustin get in touch with his feelings. And I was having Dustin imagine saying it to a friend because I thought he might be able to muster more compassion toward a friend than he had for himself.

Dustin admitted that it would have been very different for him to respond that way to a freind, but it was an even further stretch to imagine having that kind of compassion for himself.

"Nonetheless," he concluded, "as odd as that seems to me now, I know for sure that my typical way of handling emotional pain does not work. I run to porn when my life gets really hard, and then porn makes my life even harder. I can see the potential value of trying your way out."

That's all I could ask of Dustin. And it's all I ask of you. Give self-compassion a try. Then please let us know if it helps.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Open Your Heart, Pop Out of Your Rut

Perhaps you've noticed that familiar inner patterns automatically kicks in as soon as you...
  • Sense that you're being criticized
  • Sense that your spouse is withdrawing from you
  • Discover an opportunity to feast on lust
  • Worry your partner is lusting after someone else
  • Feel disrespected by your kids
  • Feel left out by your friends
  • Are disappointed in your own performance
  • etc., etc., etc.
We cherish our human capacity for resourcefulness and innovation, but how creative do we really permit ourselves to be? So many of our inner responses follow these old tracks created more by our programming than our preferences, by our conditioning than our consciences.

Once we find ourselves in those inner ruts, the behavior patterns we manifest become quite predictable as well. We engage in some version of fight, flee, or freeze. We accuse. We blame. We criticize. We escape. We pull away. We put up a wall. We numb out. We bite our tongue. We pretend we aren't affected.

Our mental ruts have channelled us into behavioral ruts... which then push our loved ones and associates into self-defeating and self-perpetuating ruts of their own. Life becomes a continual round of Emotional Groud Hog Day. New, potentially fresh interactions--sometimes even with brand new people--but somehow they end up feeling eerily familiar. A new day!... but lived in the same old, same old way.

Here is an experiment to try out. It just takes a minute, but when it works the difference can be profound:
  • Acknowledge a defensive/protective reaction has come up.
  • Notice what you feel in your body and where.
  • Thank that reaction (or part of you) for trying to help.
  • Ask it to stand by (It can always take back over if it's really needed).
  • Move the energy you're feeling in your body to your heart.
  • Reengage with the situation or interaction in a deliberately open-hearted way.
Do it two or three times a day when you feel the gravitational pull of outdated, unwanted emotional reactions. Then please leave a comment below on how it goes for you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

She's Mad Over Porn? Here's How to Win Her Back

She's mad because you secretly kept going to porn. On a deeper level, she's mad because you let your relationship needs take precedence over hers. You'll win her back gradually as she sees you prioritize her relationship needs, sacrificing yours for her sake and for the good of the relationship.

How you did damage by putting your relationship needs first: As men, we need more than anything to feel her confidence and trust, her approval and acceptance. When she sees you as the man who meets her needs, it's better than winning the lottery. When you're the guy she instinctively looks to look to when she is in need, you feel strong, competent, confident.

You're so driven by this role you play in her life that when you wake up in the morning and don't feel like going to work, you don't mention it. You don't whine. You suck it up and strap on your boots and trod out the door to slay the dragon. You take pride in it. You want to be the guy who takes care of things, not the guy who needs propping up and coddling.

When she expresses appreciation for your efforts--or better yet, when you just catch a look of admiration in her eyes--your heart soars. A year-end bonus from work is nice, but pleasing her is the real bell you're trying to hit as you swing the mallet in the high striker game of life. It's hard to put into words the potency of her appraisal. Nothing in life means more--on an emotional level at least--than how you're doing in her eyes.

Now add this to the mix: You get caught up in porn. You know she'd be upset if she knew. Logically, you may tell yourself that it's not good to keep secrets, but very little in your makeup or history prepares and primes you to open up about this. You know it would hurt her to know. But perhaps even scarier: you know your stock would fall in her eyes. You'd go from the hero to the villian pretty quickly. And maybe you haven't even been the hero lately. It feels like you cannot afford to give yourself one more knock in her eyes.

You might consider telling her. You might decide to tell her. You might even plan it out. But as that dreaded time nears, all you can see are reasons not to. Thoughts of impending disaster bully your good intentions out of focus. And the worst part of the doom you imagine is your loss of esteem in her eyes.

So you do what you're good at doing, as a man. You suck it up and strap on your boots. You determine to take care of this on your own without burdening or disappointing her.

One problem is that porn is addictive and not an easy habit to kick. Another problem is that you're more vulnerable to the pull of a numbing escape like porn when you need emotional support but you feel disconnected and aren't getting support because you're trying to deal with something difficult on your own. The addictive nature of porn keeps drawing you to it and your isolation keeps pushing you to it and over time you get more and more stuck.

You put your need for her admiration ahead of her need for closeness with you, and look where it got you. In a twisted, demonic downward spiral, you are becoming less and less worthy of her admiration. Neither of you get to enjoy the lifeblood that would nourish your emotional vitality.

How you'll win her back by prioritizing her relationship needs: You'll realize that the bar of her admiration and approval is lower than you ever before suspected. You're not going to stop going to work every day, checking the oil in her car, or trying to be a good dad. That part of your relationship--taking care of her in practical ways--was never broken in the first place. (If it is in your marriage, that's another blog post for another time.) But when it comes to her emotional needs, you'll realize that she doesn't need you to perform as much as she needs you to draw close.

So when she gets mad and starts crying about pornography, you don't only use that as motivation to perform ("I'll go to more 12-step meetings and read more books"). You don't only defend your performance ("I swear I haven't even been tempted to look since you caught me"). Before you do those things--or perhaps instead--you walk closer, touch her in some way if she's open to it (but respect her need for distance if she's not), let her know that you see that she's upset, tell her that you want to hear more about what's going on inside her. Your goal is not to fix her feelings (remember, performance is your lifeblood, not hers) it's to be with her while she's feeling them. Feel them with her. Empathize with what she must be going through. Tell her that it's understandable she'd be hurting the way she is, given what she's going through. Let her know you're not going anywhere, that you'll stay and listen and feel with and just be with her, if that's what she wants and needs, for as long as she needs you close by.

Of course, at first she's going to vaccilate back and forth between wanting distance and closeness. But you can let her know you're available and then respond when she does want you close.

As you draw close and stay connected in the midst of her porn pain, you're training at high altitude. Later when her pain is over something else, you'll be better prepared to give her exactly what she needs.

Then you'll come home from work and she'll ask if you remembered to pick up the milk like she asked. When you see her blush and the fallen look on her face, you won't run back out to your truck and drive off to the store, resenting how easily she gets upset and cataloguing in your mind how much you do for her and how little she seems to appreciate it. You won't resent her for withdrawing her approval "over something so miniscule."

You won't do any of that because you'll realize that she's not trying to deprive you of your emotional lifeblood. She's just feeling deprived of hers. She spoke (about the milk) and when you forgot to pick it up she was afraid that perhaps what she says isn't always heard or taken seriously by you. She starts to worry that maybe she's not a priority.

And you can help her in the midst of the relationship need she's having right then. You'll walk right up close to her and touch her if she's open to it. You'll empathize, "Did I just blow that?" She'll start to cry and even she will be surprised at the strong emotions that flood her because of the forgotten milk. Of course, those strong feelings are not over the milk, they're over feeling unimportant or forgotten, and both of you will be starting to understand that. It's not nearly as much about your performance as it is about her need to feel connected to you.

You'll empathize. "Oh, Honey that really hit you hard, didn't it. You get wondering if I even listen to you. If what you say even matters to me. If you matter to me. I can understand why that feels so threatening to you. Come here." As she softens, perhaps sobs, you'll hold her tight. You won't say, "Don't cry" and you won't rush through this part of it because you'll know how important it is. You're so important to her that when something threatens her connection with you it feels unbearable. If anything is worthy of strong feelings and tears, it's the importance of your relationship. You'll be content to just have that time with her, both of you feeling the depth of how high the stakes are, how important each of you are to the other. You'll be letter her feel and letting yourself feel with her, feel for her, and it's no longer something you'll feel the need to rush through or run from.

When the time's right, not to fix her sadness but to share your real feelings, you'll pull back and look her in the eye and say something like, "You matter so much to me. It hurts me to see you feeling like you don't. I don't ever want you to feel that way. But I know sometimes you will and I accept that. Thanks for letting me know that you were."

As you consider this all now it may sound like you'll have to become a detective, expertly watching for every little clue that something deeper is going on so that you can figure out what it is. Well, guess what: there's always something deeper going on, but it's not rocket science. Your wife always has a need to feel like the two of you are together, a team. That you're involved in each others' lives, hearts, and minds. That you want to hear what's going on inside her and are willing to share what's going on inside you. If she's upset, 85% of the time it will be because she feels the threat of an unexpected, undesirable distance or disconnect. Assume that's what it is and empathize with her over that. Trust me, if you get it wrong now and then, she'll forgive you.

Some magical things will happen when your woman sees that you're putting her emotional needs first in this way. First, a deep level of trust is gradually restored. She comes to understand that your need for admiration will never get in the way of her need for connection. Or if it starts to, she trusts that you'll correct course once you realize what's happening. She knows on a deep level that if you struggle with porn, you'll be open about it. Why wouldn't you? There's been this fundamental shift in the very core dynamic that fed the secrecy!

Secondly, your acceptance of and shared immersion in her emotions help acclimate you to emotions in general. It will become easier to see and talk about your own. You'll more readily discuss what's going on inside and reach out to her for support when you're in need. And all of us, even men, have those times when we're in need emotionally. No longer will porn have such a potent pull in those moments of emotional vulnerability. You'll getting your emotional needs met, not just numbed.

Finally, and this one's the real treat, the cherry on top: you will have developed a new emotional lifeblood. You will treasure closeness with her. The emotional connection and openness you cherish will feed and enliven you in a way you've never experienced before. To be real with this woman who means the most to you, to have her be real with you, and have no barriers between the two of you... this intimacy in your relationship will awaken parts of your soul you didn't even know existed and escort your life into a new and rewarding dimension. And here's one of the coolest, most mind-blowing parts of the whole thing: when she looks at you then, even with all of your weaknesses and past mistakes, when she looks deep into your eyes with such openness and presence that all pretence and faking is impossible... and then you see a deeper sense of admiration and approval than you've ever seen before... you will realize at that moment that the initial seeming sacrifice of your own emotional needs is now returning to you a hundred fold.

That will be a great moment.

[I say that will be a great moment, but it may seem that, given how hard things are now, you will never get there. Don't let hopelessness defeat you! We specialize in helping individuals and couples through rough patches. Call me on my cell phone now (801-564-7566). I've started providing 20-30 minute phone consultations at no charge. You're not alone and you don't have to do it on your own. Wherever you are now, there is a path to a better life. Please trust me, it's true. Our conversation may lead me to recommend a therapist in your part of the country. Sometimes I pass along a fitting book or a helpful website. Some of the people who call end up reading one of my books or become clients at our clinic. Some just thank me for my time and encouragement. Regardless of where the conversation takes us, in all the years I've been doing this no one has ever said that they were sorry they made the call.]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Willpower Boost #4: Mediate Inner Conflict

[IMPORTANT NOTE: This is an extremely powerful technique I'm providing you for free. In exchange, I don't just want you to read this, I want you to try it out. I want it to help you. I don't just want it to help you, I want you to come back and comment (using an alias if you'd like) about how it went so that your story can help others. Thank you.]

Lance felt worn down by the battle that raged within him. He'd periodically indulged in pornography since he was a teenager, but over the last couple of years the obsession had been growing and the indiscretions had become more frequent. Now it felt like he was under a constant barrage. He didn't give in to temptation every week. Nonetheless, every day he suffered in some way because of pornography. If he wasn't being battered by the guilt and irritability of the post-orgasm hangover, he was looking down on himself for having this as an ongoing problem. Either that or being tortured by the urges and cravings that pulled him, relentlessly once they started, toward his next indulgence.

We talked about the stress of owning and running a retail business, the challenges he and his wife faced with their teenage children, the potent draw of porn, the shame he felt when he'd lapse, his desire to be strong for his family, and his goals for the future. As we explored all of these, I could tell that every area we discussed evoked strong feelings in Lance. I got the feeling that being in his head must be like living in a chaotic courtroom with prosecutors and defenders grabbing for power and shouting over each other.

I shared the image of that intense, noisy courtroom with him. "Fortunately, there's also a part of you who's a wise judge. Perhaps up to now he's been sitting quietly at his bench, patiently listening to everything going on. Now it's time for him to step in and mediate. He can demand that all these other parts of you speak one at a time. He can listen compassionately to their perspective and take their vote on a plan. But he will also be firm with them and keep them in their place. After taking all input and trying to see the big picture, he will be the one to determine the most fitting course of action."

We first let the part of him that likes to go to porn have a turn speaking. He visualized this part of him as having tattoos and a nose ring. The name he came up with for this part of him was Raunch.

"Ask Raunch why he keeps coming around," I said. "Ask him what his job is."

"Somebody has to lighten up and make sure we have a little fun around here," Raunch said to the judge. (I think of the judge not as a part of Lance, but as his deeper, true, Wise Self.) "Everything else you do is for everyone else," Raunch continued. "I mean look at you:. You don't really like that shirt, you keep wearing it because you don't want to buy new clothes. Those car stereo speakers you got for your birthday are still in a box in the basement. You say no every time Brian invites you to go fishing. And you've had a toothache for three months but you still haven't scheduled an appointment with the dentist. If it wasn't for me, you'd never do anything for yourself!"

I encouraged Lance: "See if you, your Wise Self, can respond to Raunch in a firm but compassionate way. What would you say?"

"Wow. Thank you for bringing this imbalance to my attention. I appreciate it. I can see now why you've been so insistent when I've been trying to get you to go away. Thank you for not giving up. Those are all important things. And I'm sure there are so many others. Please keep letting me know when you see that I'm getting out of balance. But your solution to all of this, to view porn, really doesn't meet a need. In fact it doesn't help in any way at all, other than providing an escape and an instant high. But that's followed by days and weeks of suffering. The gratification is not worth the pain that comes afterward, and you know that."

"I never knew that," Raunch said. "I never thought much about it anyway. It's not my job to think about that stuff. I leave that for you to deal with. All I know is that all work and no play makes Lance a dull boy, and I'm trying to spice things up. Life is for living, not sacrificing and suffering."

By now Lance didn't need any coaching from me to keep the dialogue going. "Life is for living, and part of living is sacrifice," Lance said to Raunch. "I'm not afraid of suffering, but I do thank you for alerting me to the fact that I do need more balance in my life. Moving forward, I will take your perspective into account. I can arrange things more to your liking. I'll start by calling up Brian and planning our next fishing trip. Plus I'll get Brandon (Lance's 17-year-old son) to help me cut the holes for those speakers. He owes us money for his last traffic ticket anyway."

"You know," Lance said to me, "As I'm getting to know this part of me, I see that the name Raunch doesn't really fit. I think the name Dreamer would fit better."

As Lance listened in a compassionate but firm way, the inner tugs and pulls started to become more understandable. I could foresee that this awareness would help him shift from a state of inner conflict to one of greater integration, peace, balance, and inner cooperation.

"You've done a remarkable job of remaining patient, calm, and wise even though dreamer first showed up in his most extreme form, and even seemed like Raunch. But you don't usually respond so well to Dreamer. Is there another part of you that usually steps in and reacts to Dreamer--maybe locks horns with him?

"I get so frustrated," Lance admitted. "I feel like throw up my hands--at myself! 'Come on! What's your problem?! What are you thinking?! You know that going to porn makes everything worse!' That part of me hates it when Dreamer has come in and run the show for awhile. He wants to take back over with a vengeance and never give up control again. He sets new goals about being spiritual. He calls me a hypocrite for teaching Sunday School when I don't live the Gospel. He say's I'm a miserable father and lame example to my children. Sometimes he's even told me my wife would better off without me."

"What should we call that part of you?"

"He's Freaker. He considers the fact that I'm not perfect reason enough to freak out. The fact that I go to porn--well that just sends him over the brink, apoplectic.

"As Wise Lance," I suggested, "Ask Freaker what he's trying to accomplish."

Lance sat for a moment, then tears formed in his eyes. "Freaker just wants to be good. He knows what leads to happiness. He wants a peaceful, calm life. Dreamer's actions have hurt Irene and the kids. His heart has been absolutely crushed by that. He loves them so much. He wants porn and all its consequences out of my life. So he's been trying to annihilate Dreamer. He is the part of me who loves the fact that I was on my high school Seminary Council. He loved it when he heard from a neighbor lady back then that any mother would trust their daughter on a date with me. He can't believe how far I've come from that and is very troubled by it. Freaked out by it, even. He thinks life should be so simple: live righteously and thus be happy. And he never wanted his life complicated by sin in this way."

"He's not really a freak, is he. More a guardian of virtue."

"Yeah, I think that's what I'll call him. Guardian. That certainly allows him more of the dignity he deserves."

Lance's inner conflict was starting to calm. He was fleshing out the parts of him that were behind the voices that used to get lost in the din of inner chaos and turmoil.

It may take awhile to get to know the parts within you that keep the familiar tug-of-war going. You might get bogged down trying to even hear these inner voices, let alone sort them out on your own. This is why therapy is often so valuable: it amplifies previously unheard whispers and shines the light on former blind spots. Feeling stuck may be part of addiction, but things don't have to remain that way. Recovery is characterized by feeling freed up and by a sense of expansion as knowledge grows and hope starts to thrive. We can help you get on the path of recovery and stay on it even when the going gets tough. I hope that you'll call today and get the process started in your life. My cell phone number is 801-564-7566. Please leave a message if I don't answer--I'm the only one who listens to those voicemail messages, so you can trust that what you say will remain confidential. I know it takes courage to pick up the phone and dial, but it may end up being one of the most important calls you'll ever make. Whether you do decide to get in touch or keep working on your own, I wish you the very best. You deserve it!