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.