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 Every effort only made him more angry and withdrawn.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!