Thursday, December 17, 2015

You're Not Alone! Review of Meg Wilson's Book, Hope after Betrayal

You may be on a parallel path with many other women, but you'll experience some unique twists and turns as you work to recover from the betrayal trauma of your husband's sexual addiction. Here's what I love most about Meg Wilson's book, Hope After Betrayal: she's included the stories of several women, and there's enough variety to help every reader realize that, whatever her circumstances, she's in the company of other good women. 

Meg's husband confessed his sexual addiction to her and took responsibility for it. That facilitates the process of healing both individually and as a couple. But maybe your situation is more like that of Stephanie:

"When I showed the printout to my husband, his reaction caught me off guard. He turned on me, calling me a snoop—and worse. This was not how I’d imagined the discussion would go. Suddenly my problems were a lot bigger. Deciding the best thing to do was research, I bought all the books I could find on sexual addiction. I even made copies of key pages and left them in places where my husband would see them, hoping he’d be interested in reading them. I took a critical look at my appearance, which prompted some changes. Surely some sexier clothes would help keep my husband’s interest. I contemplated plastic surgery. I also made sure to be available sexually at all times. Every effort only made him more angry and withdrawn. I just need to find the right tactic . . ."

Stephanie's reactions may be natural, but it's easy to see how they can deteriorate into the craziness of blaming herself, feeling lousy about herself, and chasing his approval. 

This is where the kind and gentle light Meg shares pierces the darkness to reveal the way ahead. It's a path to sanity and safety, and for Meg and the women whose stories she shares, travelling it is a spiritual journey. 

One of her key encouragements is to resist getting pulled into revolving your life around your partner's sexual addiction. Easier said than done, of course, but she coaches us how to do it. In the process, shares the perfect scriptures to drive home her points. Like this one from the Apostle Paul:

"Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." (Gal. 6:4–5)

I may have read these Bible verses before, but I've never realized their application to this struggle. In Meg's hands they become love notes from God, customized to your unique situation and delivered personally by one of his loving followers who earnestly cares about you. 

With all of the pain that comes with betrayal, it's easy to demonize sexually addicted men. Meg does an amazing job of avoiding that pitfall. Her understanding of and compassion for men's sexual and spiritual struggles permeates the entire book. She even gives her husband the last word--in the final chapter he shares his answers to many of the burning questions I hear all the time from readers of this blog.

If you need encouragement, hope, and guidance because your partner acts out sexually and you're open to a Christian perspective, Hope after Betrayal will be an invaluable resource. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Choose the Bond of Attachment over the Bondage of Addiction

Our highly skilled hunting brain is going to be on the lookout one way or another. We can let it continue to be on the lookout for ways to look at porn and the kind of porn that will thrill us the most. Or we can put it on the lookout for little details about the people we care about. Then we can plant those details like seeds in our heart so that they can bear fruit later.

I was reminded this weekend of the joy that can come from leveraging our hunting brain in this better way.

At church every week I teach a class of 11-year-olds about the Bible. My friend Tyson is now my co-teacher and this Sunday was his first day meeting some of the kids. Each week before we launch into the lesson we chat for a few minutes. They've just spent 70 minutes sitting in the pews with their parents for the combined worship service, and it's nice to let down our hair for awhile and laugh and banter and hear about their week. Throughout the year I've learned a bit about their personalities, families, hobbies, and interests. Because I don't have the best memory, I jot down notes to myself about what I learn next to each child's name on a 3x5 card.

On Sunday for Tyson's first day with the entire group of nine students, I put together a quiz for him about the kids. On one side of the chalkboard I listed all their names, and on the other side I listed in random order something unique about each one of the kids. The list included things like, "talks in sleep, is double jointed, good swimmer, takes karate, loves pie, plays torchlight 2 video game, plays soccer, has diabetes, Percy Jackson fan." I revealed this second list one item at a time to Tyson and the class to give Tyson a chance to guess which child went with each identifying item. Before I revealed the first item on the list I told the class, "Whatever you do, keep a straight face if when your item is revealed. We don't want him to be able to tell it's you by the look on your face!"

Despite that caution, I could see each child's eyes widen a bit or their smile beam a bit brighter when they saw that I had remembered something special about them.

I've never seen the class so engaged as they were during the game and the following lesson. When our lesson was over and we moved on to another room in the church for singing time, one class member who is living with his aunt and uncle because his parents aren't able to raise him turned to me, nodded his head and said, "That was amazing. How did he know I'm a swimmer?" Another young man in the class, when he saw where I was sitting, came back two rows from where he initially sat down, plopped himself in the empty seat right by my side, and looked up at me with a warm smile.

When people know we love them and are interested in getting to know them, they seem to open right up. When they then see that we take seriously what they reveal to us, the connection is deepened even further. When we show later that we've been treating little clues about them as important enough to hold and recall, it melts their hearts and attaches them to us for good. Of course we enjoy the whole thing, too. The combination of feeling loving and loved is a special high we're motivated to seek even more of. Although it took more patience and work than the high of porn would have, its effects are more enriching and generative.

Today and for the rest of this week, continue your efforts to hunt for clues in the lives of those you care about--or even casual acquaintances for that matter. Clues about who they are deep down and what matters to them. Then hold those in your heart and look for opportunities to bring them out again later. And of course, please let us know how it goes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Discipline of Empathy and Its Dividends

My last two posts have focused on empathy. I've described it as taking a little version of someone else into your heart and then continuing to flesh it out so that over time it more and more closely matches the real person. 

In order to do this we need to do what M. Scott Peck calls "bracketing". We must hold aside our own experience, our "reality", for a time--bracket it off--so that we can more fully enter into another's. We can only see other people for who they are to the degree we stop projecting onto them our own "take" on reality. 

Reptiles don't bracket. Empathy enhances everything human about us, and it's one of the most elevated and dignified things we can do as human beings. 

One reason empathy brings out the best in us is that, when we are holding a fleshed out version of a loved one inside our heart, we naturally feel more loving. As we feel more loving, we are spontaneously motivated to act in loving ways. 

This reminds me of a review of our book, Love You, Hate the Porn, left by an Amazon reader. It may be the shortest review there, but it's one of my favorites: "Helping me think twice before I whack it to internet porn. I now think of my wife's feelings." Empathy changes us, and that change naturally shows up in our behavior. 

If it is true that "to know me is to love me," then the more we know someone the more we will love them. And few things are more rewarding that expanding the love we have in our life. I will address this further in a forthcoming blog post.

What I want to focus on today is another payoff of empathy: a better sex life. 

There's nothing for a woman quite like feeling that her man has truly let her in, that he is trying to receive her emotions and "get" her--what makes her tick and how she feels about what's going on in her life. There's so much talk about the G-spot, but when a man does this he is hitting her E-spot, bringing her the ultimate emotional comfort and fulfillment: a deep emotional connection with the one person who matters most to her: you, her man.

That feeling is what I call an emogasm, and women absolutely love experiencing them. I came up with that name after one of my clients, who absolutely loved connecting with her husband as he got better at empathizing, called their emotionally intimate conversations "brain sex". Believe it or not men, several of the women I've queried prefer emogasms to orgasms. But for most, they'll take all the enjoyment and connection they can get, so they prefer a toe-curling orgasm right on the heels of a heart-filling emogasm.

In his book, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, John Gray notes describes the importance of this emogasm-orgasm sequence when he encourages couples to take getaways: 

"A man needs to remember that sometimes before a woman can feel romantic, she needs to talk. If it is a long drive to the vacation spot, she can talk the whole way. Women particularly need to talk to let go of stress and leave it behind. 

"After this kind of long drive in which she can unwind, she's likely to arrive at your vacation spot and your new bedroom in a great mood. Suddenly, a whole new feeling emerges that could not have come up at home. She might want sex right away, or she might want to go out for a walk or enjoy eating out. But once she starts feeling taken care of, she can stop feeling as if she has to take care of others. In this way, her inner passions are awakened."

I would add: It's not just the talking that helps women relax, it's emotional engagement with you. On that drive to your getaway spot or during any other conversation, you don't have to try to focus super intently. Just relax and see what pops out at you from her side of the conversation. See if you notice anything about what's important to her and who she is, deep down. Be on the lookout for her to reveal any clues about what makes her laugh and what weighs her down. You're developing a more and more detailed "profile" of her in your heart. Make room for the little seeds of ideas and feelings that she is sending your way. Because you love her, they will sprout and grow over time in your heart and surely bear fruit. Some of the fruit you'll taste the very night of your getaway as she's receptive to your romantic overtures. Some of the fruit will ripen later as you treat her differently in little ways because of what you learned that night. 

Please don't hesitate to let us know how this process of Kicking Porn with Love is going for you. It will encourage us along in our own efforts!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hardwired to Please a Woman

As a man, no thrill in the world matches this one: seeing in the eyes of a woman that she is pleased by you and wants you. We are hardwired for that to be more rewarding than anything else we can experience on this planet.

My last post explored the choice we face as men: we can pursue this pleasure in the real world or in the virtual world. We can undertake this quest for female affirmation in a noble way or indulge in its addictive dark side.

Porn provides a bootleg version of this thrill. Even though those depicted are virtual women merely acting a part, the signal the brain gets is this: "She is so happy with me and only me that she wants me and only me in the most intimate, vulnerable, primal way!" That rings the bell of the brain's ultimate high striker carnival game. "I guess I'm the man then! Life is fantastic!"

The harder, but ultimately more satisfying, route to this ultimate form of satisfaction occurs in the real world. We can't just crave and click and come. We must dig deeper and muster much more of ourselves. It requires the investment of heart and soul.

Rising above the reptiles, we proceed thoughtfully and with loving care. We observe our intimate--or our potential intimate--to learn more about who she is and what makes her tick. We drop old assumptions ("I'll never make her happy") and treat her as the complex individual she is. She is not stingy with approval, but may merely have some struggles of her own that are getting in the way. As we observe and brainstorm and look for opportunities to understand and lift and care, things begin to turn around.

The reward is discovering that a woman is responsive to our overtures and deeply pleased by our efforts. Getting there is a process.

Fortunately, as men we are custom built to tackle this endeavor and ultimately succeed at it. We are hunter-gatherers, explorers and warriors. We can hunt for what makes her happy and gather data about what we learn over time. We can learn about her and discover the secrets that only a curious, loving eye can reveal to us gradually in the natural course of life. We can exercise the patience to pursue this quest over time. When discouraged we can soldier on with our sites firmly set on the wondrous future reward. We can soldier on because we're on a quest and we can envision ourselves arriving in the Promised Land.

Dopamine is familiar as the brain chemical involved in fueling addictive behavior. That chemical is also involved when we engage in goal-seeking behaviors of the healthy variety. Whatever reward we are going for, as Robert Sapolsky puts it in Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers, "dopamine plays an important role in the anticipation of pleasure and in energizing you in order to respond to incentives." Specifically, "dopamine and its associated sense of pleasurable anticipation fuels the work needed to get that reward." (p. 339, italics added)

The systems in the brain that give us the motivation and skill to accomplish all this with our woman in real life are the same ones that can also "get good" at pursuing porn. Those neurological networks can be on the hunt throughout the day for opportunities to look at porn and gather downloads for future self-pleasuring. It can explore and discover all kinds of smut within the online world of twisted, misguided sexuality. And it holds onto the dang habit like a valiant warrior would even after it's clear that it causes us more pain than pleasure. There it is, our hunter-gather-explorer-warrior nature with the pedal to the medal, heading in an unhelpful direction.

Fortunately, we can catch the brain when it automatically wants to pursue porn and set it on the track of pursuing legitimate, real-life loving. The idea is to catch ourselves when we get triggered and remind ourselves what we really want. Then direct our attention toward the noble pursuit of looking for opportunities to understand and satisfy our real live woman.

I learned a lot about this process from a man named Thomas Ladanye. He taught adult education classes about finding happiness and fulfillment. When he talked in class about his wife, Violet, and her talent as an artist, he exuded a sense of pride. More than once women would approach him and say, "I would give anything to have my husband understand and appreciate me the way you seem to cherish Violet."

Feeling it was safe to open up to him, they would mourn that, in his words:
  • They sometimes didn’t feel appreciated for their contributions to the marriage and the family. 
  • The things they personally wanted to do somehow didn’t seem to be as important as the things husbands and children wanted to do. 
  • There never seemed to be enough time for themselves. 
  • Even though they loved their husbands very much, they still felt a lack of “oneness” in their marriages because their husbands seemingly didn’t know and understand some of their important thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
This always made him smile inside because, as he put it, "I’d spent years not fully understanding and not fully appreciating my wife."

Thomas described how this all changed for him in an article entitled "How I 'Discovered' My Wife".

"I vaguely noticed that we almost never talked about anything but family or household business. Increasingly, I left decisions about the children to her while I merely mumbled ratification or voiced an occasional objection.... By neglecting my responsibilities as a father, I was increasing her burden as a mother; and I was doing very little as a husband to strengthen her in her mother’s role. I used to smugly tell others what a loyal, understanding wife I had, probably thinking that I was doing fine as the head of the family since she wasn’t complaining."

Eventually, some "a-ha" experiences started to wake Thomas up.

"I remember feeling surprised when I recalled how often I prayed that our children would reach their full potential... but I had never prayed for the same blessing for my wife. I was surprised again when I realized that I tended to arrange time in my schedule for my own hobbies or just-for-fun projects because it was important for me to be 'well-rounded,' but I wasn’t applying the same principles and guidelines for my wife’s life."

When he first encouraged Violet to study or learn or practice something she would like to do, she refused to consider the idea. "She thought she already had so many important responsibilities that she wouldn’t have time for 'outside' interests." Eventually, however, she decided to take a religion class.

"Any misgivings soon changed. Often she returned from class bubbling with excitement, eager to share a newly learned principle or to discuss the stimulating lessons. We began to have something to talk about besides work and the children. Taking care of the children that one evening weekly for a few weeks gave me increased appreciation for her contribution in the home—and let me catch up on lost contacts with our children. They sensed the differences in her and looked forward to hearing about her class too. The happiness was contagious.

"Later, from time to time, she took correspondence courses on other subjects... and finally mustered up the courage for a dream she had cherished for years—art classes. I wondered that, in over two decades of marriage, I had missed this important part of her, and was proud to see her art talent develop. She blossomed in confidence and our relationship was enriched and bettered, and our awareness of each other strengthened."

For your partner, it may not be religion or art classes as it was for Violet. If you asked her right now, she might not be able to even answer what pursuits and interests might be most meaningful to her. The intricacies of her heart might be revealed over time and with care not only to you, but to her as well.

Perhaps your relationship seems a far cry from Thomas and Violet's. Thomas, who died in 2011, wrote that article forty years ago and the experiences he described happened over the previous decades. Many women now pursue their own interests and careers and hobbies with a vengeance. Nonetheless, most of the women I talk to still long to be understood, respected, taken seriously, and listened to by their man. Just as men's prime directive seems to be "please your woman," one of women's seems to be "get support from your man."

So, even if you have the sense that your woman can get everything she wants and needs on her own with or without your involvement or support, try this experiment. When you're tempted to pursue porn, seek to discover your wife instead. Treat it as a mystery with the fullest pot of gold imaginable at the end. Keep notes on what you learn and then, please, share your discoveries with the rest of us. We have our own mysteries to solve, and yours may have completely different elements and clues and solutions than our own. But reading about what you learn along the way--even early on in the journey--will inspire the rest of us to keep working at it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Kick Porn with Love

When a guy masturbates to porn, he imagines a little part of him being received into a woman. It's a very entertaining thing to do with his imagination. So exciting, in fact, that it's tempting to go back and repeat the experience again and again.

Of course, there are problems with his porn and masturbation habit. Among others, it's a terrible waste of a fertile imagination. It sucks time and energy but returns very little in the way of true happiness or constructive real life results in our own life or the lives of any other human being.

There is a much more advantageous way to employ the imagination.

The Best Use of Imagination

Applying our imagination in loving and generous ways can be both entertaining AND fulfilling. In contrast to the experience with porn, we take a little part of other people and receive it into ourselves. We watch them closely and listen attentively to discover something about their personality, priorities, or preferences.  We let something they say or do spark our imagination. Then we hold that uniqueness or particular fancy of theirs within ourselves for a time until it can guide a kind word or act of caring that hits the bullseye for the person in a way that goes beyond their expectations.

Simple example: Shane knows his wife, Amanda, loves to cook fancy foods, but she's not an extravagant person. She's used to improvising and making do with what they have. So if her recipe calls for an exotic ingredient, she finds a cheaper, more readily available alternative.

One day she wonders aloud how her shortbread cookies--already delicious--would taste if she used real vanilla beans, as the recipe calls for. Later when she tries out a recipe for custard tarts, she mentions to him that these, too, call for vanilla beans.

A Loving Pursuit and its Payoff

Christmas morning Amanda opens up a little package to find a spice bottle with two vanilla beans inside. That eight dollar gift brought a huge smile to her face and a warmth to her heart that rivaled the time he bought her a five hundred dollar diamond necklace. Watching her, Shane can tell.

Sitting on the couch later among the carnage of wrapping paper and strewn toys, Amanda melts into Shane's arms and thanks him again for the vanilla beans. As she turns her head and looks into his eyes, he feels a jolt of electricity. In her kiss, there's a warmth and wetness that startles him. Already soul mates, it's as though they've melded at new depths. The effect lingers and remains palpable later that night. Never has she felt so receptive and responsive. He thinks, so this is what they mean when they say a woman is like clay in a guy's hands.

Love vs. Lust: What a Contrast!

Here's how porn hijacks our imagination: we can't help but notice clues that something appealing might be available. Our imagination reveals to us a path to fulfill our lusts. If that one gets blocked our ingenuity searches for another. We find a way to indulge in a sexual fantasy that excites and eventually "satisfies" us.

Here's how we take the alternative path and engage imagination deliberately in a loving direction: Keep an eye out for clues about what other people find important and meaningful. Over time, your observational skills and empathy will reveal things to you that you hadn't noticed before. Use your ingenuity to look for ways to offer something that uniquely matches or speaks to them in some way. Find satisfaction in the appreciative look on their face, their increased responsiveness to you in the future, and the deeper and more lasting bond they feel with you in the future.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Think of this not as a technique, but as a discipline that can be integrate into everyday life. It is a process of letting into your heart facets of other people and then building in your heart little "virtual" versions of your loved ones and associates and fleshing them out over time so that you can speak and act in increasingly loving ways that have more perfect fidelity to the real people they are. Living this way will thrill you in ways that you can relish forever.

As usual: If you decide to try out using love to help you kick your porn habit, please let us know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Resurrecting Sex After Betrayal Trauma

With Her husband Kyle three years into solid recovery from his sexual addiction, Bridgette wanted to let down her guard in the bedroom. Logically she knew their relationship was on the firmest ground ever. But when he wanted to explore, experiment, or expand their sexual repertoire, she suddenly felt very threatened. 

Irreconcilable Sexual Differences?

Kyle's desire for more seemed like a personal indictment of her sexual style. Was he was failing to appreciate what they shared together, which was already wonderful to her? It had already been a difficult and complicated road getting this far, and if their sex life wasn't enough for him yet... would it ever be? 

Whenever they focused on this topic Bridgette had the sinking feeling that perhaps Kyle was lapsing back into lust, that his old addiction was rearing it's ugly head again. Ugh. At times she felt deflated and defeated by it all. 

How Treatment Can Help

We used a therapy technique called Lifespan Integration to explore the mindset she went into when sex became a difficult issue nowadays. Not surprisingly, it ended up being the very mindset that was set in motion by the trauma of discovering seven years ago that the man with whom she'd always felt safest had betrayed her trust by masturbating to online porn. 

Using the guided imagery of Lifespan Integration, she put herself back into that scene seven years ago when her daughter was playing on the laptop and a smutty image popped up. Then Bridgette envisioned bringing her present-day self into that scene to comfort her younger self. Most important of all, we proved to her younger self that time had passed since then by showing her one or two events per year over the course of those seven years. Going through this timeline just takes a few minutes, and we repeat the process six or seven times during a single Lifespan Integration session. 

A Solid Foundation for Healing

It may sound odd to say it this way, but quite often our "younger self" doesn't even know that time has gone on since the trauma. A part of our brain is responding to life as though time has been standing still since that moment, and the trauma is still happening.

Of course, therapy could only facilitate healing for Bridgette because she had developed a deeper attachment to Kyle and a surer sense of trust in him. He hadn't been perfect, but they'd traveled the recovery journey side-by-side and had developed an emotional intimacy in the process that set the stage for more meaningful sex together. All their studying; work in Sexaholics Anonymous, S-Anon, and other support groups; and counseling both individually and as a couple had really paid off.

The Results for Bridgette and Kyle So Far

When I saw Bridgette last week, it had been two months since our Lifespan Integration session. She no longer viewed Kyle's adventurousness as disapproval. "He's not down on what we have, just eager to keep building this wonderful sexual connection we share."

Bridgette added, "When I changed the way I thought about his motivation, my emotions followed effortlessly. They haven't flipped back even though it's been awhile." 

Bridgette also reminded me of another process that had been key for her. She'd been frustrated and impatient at times with the "part" of her that kept freaking out about sex even though Kyle had proven his trustworthiness over the years. 

However, as she gave voice to that suspicious, scared part, "I was able to see that part of me as a vigilant soldier who'd done so much to bring me to this safe place. She just wasn't up to date on how safe I really am now! Honoring her intentions and all she's done helped me move past the paralyzing fear and see the situation more clearly.

It's inspiring to see couples like Bridgette and Kyle heal. They climb together out of the hole of addiction, but they don't stop there. They do what it takes to raise their relationship to entirely new heights. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Need a Tech Cleanse?

Here's a post I did for my latest visit with Brooke Walker on KSL Studio 5. I thought I'd share it here because we can all use a detox from screen time...

When does Social Media Savvy Cross the Line into Obsession?

Cathy remembers the moment she woke up to the downside of her Instagram immersion. It was at her nine year-old daughter, Megan’s, soccer game. When everyone else cheered, Cathy looked up from her phone to see Megan pump her arms in a victory V. “As Megan caught my eye, I gave her a thumbs up. It would be my little secret that I missed her goal because I’d gotten sucked in by that notification ping.”
It’s fun to catch up with friends, unwind and relax. We can even use social media to further our career.
But we’ve all found ourselves wasting time on social media. We know that bitter aftertaste that comes after a binge.

Some Benefits of Scaling Back

• Family balance. We invite other family members to limit their own screen time if we walk the walk.
• Better posture. Avoid the documented dangers of text neck.
• Better sleep. Too much screen time interferes with both our ability fall asleep and to drop into the most restful stages of sleep.
• Less anxiety. Immersion in technology ratchets up our stress.
• More happiness and satisfaction. We get a break from all the comparing and longing for what we don’t have.
• Better love life. If a TV in the bedroom cuts couples’ lovemaking in half, as one Italian study found, then what’s bound to happen when it’s not just one big screen but some little screens getting in the way as well?

Instead of Your Usual Tech Fix…

1. Breathe. Take two or three nice full breaths. Try doing it right before check your phone throughout an entire day. It helps stretch out the space between the urge and the response.
2. Feel. You might just feel the awkwardness that comes with breaking any habit. If your habit is super-entrenched you might feel some withdrawal symptoms. Settle into your boredom. Allow yourself to feel anxious.
3. Move. Take a walk. Your body and brain will thank you, instead of still feeling antsy the way they so often do after a tech fix.
4. Connect. Before there was live chatting, there were real life chats; enjoy more of those. Hug someone, give a foot rub, ask for a back scratch.
5. Express. Don’t give in to the urgency, give it voice. Let the Instagram junkie in you rant about why she needs to look so often and how great it feels to get those likes. Get the urgency out of your system by talking to yourself as you take a walk or writing out your yearnings and hankerings.

Take the Challenge–Do a 15-day Tech Cleanse!

Most people do better with a cleanse than a complete fast. Especially for moms, it’s hard to drop completely off the face of the Electronic universe.
If you’re going to do it, don’t just try a little harder to use your phone a little less. Your screen time will quickly balloon back up. Instead, tell friends and family you’ll going to take a break by cutting WAY back for a couple of weeks, and then do it. Better yet, challenge others to do it with you.
You might keep track of your time on your phone with an app like Moment and have a contest with your kids to see who can use electronics the least.
If, somehow, you manage to survive, we’d love to hear back from you in a couple of weeks about how it went and what you discovered. Studio 5 is considering running a follow up segment, so your input would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Seeking Contributors

Upon discovering sexual betrayal, many wonder whether they'll ever again be able to enjoy an emotionally safe sexual relationship. Can they heal and feel secure with their partner? If they end that relationship and start a new one, will they be able to trust enough to fully give of themselves sexually in their new relationship?

If you once experienced these worries and have gotten to a better place now, your experience can benefit those in the midst of this struggle. If you and your partner have a mutually satisfying and emotionally secure sexual relationship, your input will be invaluable. Even if your relationship still feels insecure, you could contribute by talking about what is missing that would help you feel emotionally safer when it comes to sex. 

Since sex is such a sensitive, personal subject, please feel free to respond anonymously. Even if you do include identifying information when you respond, your confidentiality will be protected and all identifying information will be well disguised in any future presentations of responses. Of course, your response indicates a willingness to have your input shared via spoken presentation, online, or in written form. Again, protection of the confidentiality of participants will be the highest priority.

You may respond to any or all of the following questions in one of three ways: 1) send an email to, 2) mail a hard copy of your response to Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D. 1258 w. South Jordan Pkwy #202, South Jordan, UT 84095, or 3) text or leave a voicemail (801-564-7566)  indicating your willingness to be interviewed by phone.


What have you and your partner done to help insure sex is about connection and healing?

What have you and your partner done to safeguard you from being further traumatized during sex or because of your sexual experiences together?

What factors and/or experiences helped as you've tried to rebuild your sexual relationship.

What factors and/or experiences hindered your progress in rebuilding?

What inner experiences (mental, emotional, physical) DECREASED you or your partner's sense of emotional safety? 

What external events (circumstances, partner's behavior or words) DECREASED you or your partner's sense of safety?

What inner experiences (mental, emotional, physical) INCREASED you or your partner's sense of emotional safety? 

What external events (circumstances, partner's behavior or words) INCREASED you or your partner's sense of safety?

Which aspects of healing your sexual relationship went quickly?

Which aspects of healing your sexual relationship progressed more slowly?

Some couples report experiencing the phenomenon of "one step forward, two steps back" when it comes to feeling emotionally safe about sex after betrayal. In what way did this occur for you, if at all? 

Did it help to take risks and stretch yourself to connect sexually? 

Did it help to honor your reluctance and prioritize emotional safety? 

What have you and/or your partner done that has helped you balanced risk-taking and insuring emotional safety?

What have the payoffs and rewards been? How have these evolved over time as your recovery as individuals and couples has progressed? Have the rewards of this work been worth the effort? Would you say you now enjoy a stronger sexual bond than ever? (I want to clarify that not fishing for one answer here. For many, the honest answer may be, "We were much better off before all this!")

What encouragement or wisdom would you share with individuals and couples who are early in this process?

What other question should individuals and couples providing input on this topic be asked? How would you answer this question yourself?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Become a Self-Control Judo Master

Becoming a Judo Master in the art of self-control is practically a superpower--it’s as close as we mere mortals can get. It will improve your relationships, your success at school and in your career, and your health. Plus, self-disciplined people are simply happier--happier with themselves, with the live they're living, and with other people and the world around them. I'll show you some of the research in a later post. 

But self-control is not easy, and unfortunately most people approach it the way the Karate master approaches a fight. If they confront a temptation that threatens their self-discipline goals, they brace themselves and gear up for the fight. They try to block every blow that comes. They try to resist the energy of the temptation with all their mental might. 

Mighty as their willpower may be and successful as this strategy may seem in the short run, you can't keep exerting your will forever. And they've pitted it against a bad habit which the survival-oriented part of the brain has misperceived as crucial to survival. So you have the battle of immense strength vs. immovable object. Not a recipe for success. Or contentment for that matter. 

Self-control that works over the long run is more like Judo. You make little moves to maintain your balance amidst the force of the temptation that pounds at you. You make moves to absorb energy, step aside, and let it pass. 

Self-Control Judo Lesson 1: Do Serious Damage to Your Craving State over the Next Seven Days

Your craving state is a recurring state of mind which often precedes sexual acting out. There's an advantage to the fact that it's recurring: any damage you do to the state of mind when you're in it will accrue over time and pay off when you find yourself craving again later. Like the matador who stabs one sword in the bull each time it passes, you can poke one hole in the craving state each time you're there. If you persist in poking holes, eventually the craving state will be so compromised that it won't be able to hold you captive. 

See how this is like Judo? You're not merely hoping cravings don't come, straining against them when they do, and then breathing a sigh of relief if you happen to make it through this time without giving in. Instead you'll be planning for the next craving, responding intentionally during it, and reviewing how it went afterward. 

The craving state is a driven state but you compromise its power to drive you by working your driving muscles in the midst of the craving. As you tap into your innate capacity for mastery, the tendency toward compulsion lessens. 

So here's the action step to take each day for the next week. At least once during the day, at a point when you catch your mind moving in the direction of sexual compulsion, perhaps in even the slightest of ways, exercise these five muscles that help keep you in the driver's seat of your life: pause, choose, observe, describe, interact. 

That may sound like a lot, but stay with me, it won't take long at all. 

Don't act on the craving, but don't just brush it off and move on with your day, either. Instead, choose to pause and do a little work with yourself. Observe a thing or two about what's going on. You might note what was happening before you started craving, how your mind is trying to talk you into indulging, or what you feel in your body at that very moment. Then type a brief description of what you just observed into your phone and post it below as a comment to this post. (Alternatively, you could text it to a sponsor or post it on a forum like the nofap reddit.)

Bam, quick as that, you've just leveraged five key faculties of human self-determination: intention, forbearance, perceptiveness, language function, and interpersonal engagement. These contrast with the way we operate when we're functioning at the reptilian level that's characteristic of addiction: then we tend to be reflexive, impulsive, entranced, unthinking, and solitary. 

Do this homework and you'll strengthen your sense of mastery amidst cravings. You might not notice a difference after one day, but I'm confident you will within seven. 

Leave a comment below about the difference it makes and you'll help motivate others to try it for themselves. 

I don't know when your bull will charge next, but it will. Get ready to stab away. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Daily Recovery Tool: Support the Vulnerable Self

It's a familiar part of everyday life: something happens that gets under our skin. We don't want to dwell on it, so we gather ourselves and move on with the day. Later, we may not even remember what bothered us--or perhaps that we were even bothered at all.

It's called adulthood: we don't have the luxury of whimpering over every little bump and bruise inflicted upon us by life. And we don't particularly want to dwell on the negative.

This way of coping works fine--most of the time. But there is a downside, particularly for those of us who are vulnerable to mental and physical health struggles, including addiction. 

We get so much practice that we get too good at ignoring our own distress. The problem is, we feel bad about something, and although we may think we've moved on, something inside us lags behind, still stuck in the distress. We try to focus on on what we think we've moved on to, but someplace in our body the strain and tension festers. The uncomfortable feeling pulses on, just below the threshold of consciousness. 

Distress that goes ignored may not fade. It may linger and fuel all kinds of dysfunction. 

To clear out this kind of toxic tension and distress, I encourage some of my clients to engage in the following practice twice a day. You can do it in five or ten minutes.

1. Tune inward and ask, what's eating at me today? Is there something--anything--making me feel off or out of sorts? 

2. Answer the question--mentally, aloud, or by writing, typing, or texting. Something along the lines of, "It bothered me when..." or "I feel bad that..." 

3. Support that vulnerable part of you that just voiced distress by empathizing and validating those feelings. For instance, "I get why that's eating at you. I can understand why that doesn't feel right. It's understandable that your feelings got hurt by that." 

4. Tune in to your body. Notice what you feel physically. The action is often in the gut or chest. sometimes the throat, shoulders, jaw, fists. Your eyes might water, as though you're about to cry. You may place a hand on that part of your body where you feel the discomfort or tension with the intention of conveying compassion by way of your touch. "Yeah, I feel that. I hear you loud and clear."

5. Whatever feelings come to light, simply sit with them for a minute or two. 

As you attend to your feelings, they may deepen or ease. Either way, your objective is not to make the feelings go away. Simply attend to them.

Don't worry, you're not creating pain or making it worse by dwelling on it. A part of you has been feeling this distress all along, you're simply shining the light of compassionate attention on it. We are being present with a part of us that usually operates outside our awareness. We're bringing onto the stage of consciousness what was previously happening offstage. 

There's no threshold of pain or relief that indicates you're finished. You're not on the lookout for an a-ha moment. Just be present with yourself, stay with what you're really feeling. Like you might sit with a friend who is hurting or in need. 

After a brief few minutes of this, then you're done. Go on with your day. 

Here's an email I got from a client, a junior high school teacher, sharing his experience with this exercise. I've added the numbers so you can see how his process coincides with the steps described above. 

Today was my first day back to school after the holiday break. Arrived a bit later than usual and sat down at my desk to look at lesson plans. I felt a heaviness and realized there was a feeling of some kind there that I could sit with. 

1. Ask: I closed my eyes and said, 'Okay, what's up?' 

2. Answer: 'Students will be here soon. There coming! I don't want to be here. I don't want to work! I want to relax, go have a nice breakfast. I want to be away from people. I want peace. I know I just slept in, but I want even more rest... warmth... to snuggle up, maybe even hibernate. Yes, that's it, I want to hibernate. Avoid everything, especially people.

3. Support: 'I get why you feel that way. What you're feeling is real. It's important. I'll sit with you while you feel that.'

4. Body: Still feel that heaviness. That's all over, but especially in my chest. And there's this clench in my throat. I placed one hand lightly on my throat, the other against my chest. 

5. Attend: I just sat there and let myself feel. 

A minute later I realized that this was the same way I used to feel when I was younger. I'd complain that I didn't feel well and sometimes my mom would let me stay home from school. I'd lay on the couch under a blanket and watch "The 100,000.00 Pyramid" her. She took care of me. I didn't feel like it was okay to avoid school, but I sure didn't feel up to going. There was some guilt over staying home. I felt ashamed that deep down I wanted to avoid. I had to hide the fact that I sometimes played up my symptoms. Then my brother would come home and say, "He's not sick! You make me go to school unless I'm in the hospital!" So today, it was different to sit with the feeling of wanting to avoid instead of trying to immediately pull myself together and put my nose to the grindstone. It was bittersweet. It felt like I was sitting with a younger part of me that had long ago been exiled. 

As I finish up I still feel tight in my throat and heavy in my chest. Feels like life is so harsh, it needs to be avoided. I'm a tender soul walking around like a turtle outside its shell. Life can be too bright and too harsh and too much. Okay, back to my day anyway!

The benefit of this exercise is not that it necessarily helps you feel better. Rather, it's that we stay connected with ourselves rather than detaching. And self-awareness is correlated with self-control. As we stay grounded in our actual experience of life instead of dissociating from that experience, we also keep a better hold of the steering wheel of our own lives.

Try it for yourself: A couple of times a day over the next few days, take five or ten minutes and go through the steps. Then let us know how it goes for you.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

He Sees Now the Damage from Porn

"Sure, I really should kick my porn habit. But it isn't that big a deal, it's not doing that much damage."

That was Julian's attitude throughout the first seven years of his marriage.

But then his wife, Valerie, got fed up and they separated.

Three and a half months later, three and a half months alone, Julian had an entirely different take on the effect of porn on Valerie and on their relationship. Together we made a list of the negative consequences of porn:
  • Decreased the trust she had in me
  • Fed an incredible sense of loneliness in her
  • Impaired our bond as a couple
  • Decreased the sense of connection we felt
  • Hampered my spirituality
  • Interfered with our friendship
  • Diminished her attraction to me
  • Diminished my attraction to her
  • Decreased the romantic feelings between us
  • Fostered my selfishness
  • Diminished our hope for the relationship and our future
  • Got in the way of my ability to be present
  • Led me to lie (for example, told her I was working on it when I wasn't)
  • Our ability to have and work for common goals fell apart
  • Worsened her body image
  • Fostered her depression and anxiety
  • Traumatized her
  • Diminished her trust in the entire male gender
  • She couldn't turn to me as a spiritual support or leader in the home
  • Attacked her faith
  • Harsh communication increased (I was more irritable)
  • We fought more
  • Eventually led to a desire to separate
  • Led to unrealistic expectations for a relationship
  • Decreased my ability to experience gratitude, appreciate awesome things about her
  • Got in the way of me being authentic
Can you relate to the damages Julian listed? As you consider your own experience and that of your partner's, are there any items you would add to this list?