Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Does My Boyfriend Look at Girls Online?

Rachel's boyfriend Carl never talks about it, but there's evidence on the computer that he spends a lot of time looking at other women's bodies. Today she found evidence in the clothes hamper that those images are satisfying more than his curiosity. This kind of discovery is confusing and disturbing to many women. 

Regular visitors know that this blog explores how porn impacts relationships and what we can do about it. Today I'd like to share some insights from another therapist who works in the field of sexual addiction. 

Todd Frye, Ph.D., runs a sexual addictions provider certification program at MidAmerica Nazarene University. In this video he gets to the heart of the matter: porn addiction is an intimacy disorder. I'm excited to share it with you.

Here are a few of the insights he shares:

"Most people who struggle with intimacy struggle with the capacity to acknowledge what's going on inside of them and share that. Intimacy in Latin is intimus, which means innermost. They don't have the capacity to be reflective enough to know what is going on inside them and share it in a way in which someone else can connect with that, relate to that, and respond to that. [Intimacy] also has components of empathy, the capacity to give comfort, protection, and attunement to someone else....

"They don't learn how to take their pain, their sadness, and their joy to someone else and share it with them and experience it with them so that in turn that person can in turn offer a response that is a natural antidote to how they feel, that's validating and creates connection. They tend to isolate more, they tend to withdraw. The way to lower their anxiety is to isolate themselves and pull away.... 

"Just because I isolate myself, the need to connect with people doesn't die, doesn't just go away. So they position themselves to need something that's non-relational to feed this inability to connect or manage their mood. They use sexual addiction as a way of doing that."

Thanks Dr. Frye, for articulating these truths so well!

Image: graur codrin /

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revisit the Moment You Got Hooked on Porn

Wyatt's eyes were closed and his face was flush. Watching his eyes flit beneath the lids, I knew his imagination was taking him on a wild and vivid ride back in time. He was going back to that moment when he got hooked on porn.

He could see the 12-year-old he once was. He felt for the kid. He spent most of that summer home alone. Older brother, his usual partner in crime, was off working in the laundromat at the strip mall halfway across town. Dad was at work and it seemed that Mom was always off with little sister helping at dance practice or traveling to competitions. Then Wyatt had the falling out with the gang of buddies in his neighborhood over a kick soccer ball game gone bad. He couldn't believe what poor sports they were. After that, it felt like all of the usual avenues for excitement were shut down. He rode his bike around town for a while, but that got old. Then he started watching a ton of TV.

The pictures in the magazine he found in the grove of trees near his home weren't hard core by today's standards. Wyatt had never tried drugs, but he couldn't imagine a drug unleashing a more potent euphoria than the warm, eager looks of those women. Their inviting, yet concealing poses knocked the breath right out of him. To say that he felt compelled to hide the magazine so that he could come back and look again is too weak a way to put it. His chest was heaving with breath, even his head pounding as he left the grove that day, wondering when he could return.

That is where the adult Wyatt imagined stepping into the path of his much younger self. He escorted him home and into his room, where he'd feel comfortable. He wanted talk to him about what had just happened, share his perspective as someone older and wiser. He wanted to help.

"That was something else, wasn't it?" He asked.

Still dazed, his younger self faintly nodded.

"I want you to know that what just happened inside of you is completely normal. It's not a good thing for women to expose themselves in that way for men's entertainment. It's not good for them or for the men who view it. But the fact that you had such a strong reaction is understandable. God gave you the gift of your sexuality. It's this tremendously potent life force within you, and what you just saw awakened it more powerfully than anything you've ever experienced.

As Wyatt watched him in his mind's eye, it seemed that his younger self was taking this all in.

"Your reaction does not mean you're a bad kid. Nothing of the sort! You're a good kid. In fact, you're a fine young man! Don't let that experience convince you that there's something wrong with you, that you're not a an upstanding, righteous individual. You don't need to feel ashamed that you were drawn by those images and feelings. You could have walked away from the magazine when you saw what it was, and that is the best way to handle it in the future, but it's understanding that you found it so riveting.

"That's one of the problems with pornography. It is riveting. As pleasurable as it can feel, it can also take control of your life. That's one of the reasons it will be better for you to avoid viewing it in the future. And that's one of the main messages I came back to give you: the conclusion you came to, that you have to go back and look some more, you can't pass up that opportunity, is incorrect. You can say no. You're better off avoiding it than indulging. To the degree that you pass on pornography, your life will be better.

"You just concluded that you need more of that in your life. Well, you don't need pornography the way it feels like you do. Part of the reason you don't need it the way it seems to you right now is that this hard time, when it feel like you're alone all the time and it seems like life is passing you by... this time is over. It's not happening anymore. I came here to show you you're not still stuck here. Time passes. Life gets better.

"Let me show you these pictures of how you grew up to become me: Here's you at 13 on the track team. 14 at your cousins' ranch riding horses. 15 practicing football with the high school team. 16 with your beat up red Toyota..." And so on Wyatt went, up to the present day. Then he imagined bringing his younger self into his home as it is now.

His younger self had all kinds of questions: What's it like to drive a truck? Is that really your boat in the driveway? When did you get a dog? As he answered the questions, Wyatt realized that this part of him that was most hooked on porn was not his adults self. It was a part of him that had been oblivious so far to the passage of time. In a way, this made sense: only a part of him who hadn't tasted the toxic fruit of porn in his life would still find it so magical and inviting.

"You don't have to go back there," Wyatt said finally. You don't live back there in that loneliness and addiction anymore. You don't have to live that way, vigilant for an appealing distraction from pain. On the lookout for an escape. You can stay with me and the dog and the boat here.

"If you stay here, and your job is no longer to look for opportunities to look for sexual stimulation, what would you like your new job to be?" Young Wyatt thought about that. "I want to look for other ways to have fun."

That sounded like a good compromise to Wyatt's adult self. He needed more fun in his life.

(The above account is a brief excerpt from a session of therapy technique developed by Peggy Pace called Lifespan Integration. To be effective, the process actually requires multiple "trips" through the client's timeline. If you think Lifespan Integration might help you, here is a directory of therapists who have been trained in the method.)

Image: photostock /

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Not that She Won't Forgive You

"I feel bad that I can't let it go," Anna said through tears. Then she pressed her palm to her chest. "But there's still this heartache. There's this catch inside me that says, He still doesn't fully understand. He still doesn't get what his porn or his affair have done to me. It feels like, If I forgive him now, before it's 100% clear, I'll be putting myself at risk. I could think we've moved on, moved past it, and then somewhere down the road when he's tempted again, he'll give in. And yet still have no idea how it kills me. I can't afford that. So there's this part of me that won't let it go.

To Jonathan's credit, he just sat there, listening, trying to understand. I've seen husbands apologize and promise and plead. I recall one who'd preach wonderful sermons to his wife about forgiveness, quoting the Bible and Gandhi and Voltaire. Should have saved his breath.

I complimented Anna for opening up and Jonathan on the receptive stance he was taking. I encouraged them to let it continue throughout the week. I gave him a copy of two bullet point lists (You can find one of them in this earlier blog post. The other one is in Chapter 4 of our book). "Use these questions as a guide. They are the kinds of questions that help many women open up and let their feelings known about their partner's sexual acting out."

That week was an eye-opener and heart-softener for Jonathan. And a huge relief for Anna. The discussions they shared were revealing and intimate. In some ways, they felt closer to each than ever before.

Looking back, Jonathan wished they'd gotten to that depth of connection earlier. "Before, I was all about trying to avoid her having hurt feelings. I was constantly vigilant of the triggers that brought up old feelings for Anna. I stopped wearing cologne to work because she asked me about it once and I didn't want her to worry. And yet I discovered that there was nothing I could do to prevent her from having concerns, from having those old wounds reopened. We'd drive through some part of town and she'd be in tears. Can't go there anymore! We'd see a movie and she'd pull away from me. Stupid Hollywood! I was so misguided! Now I've learned that the key is not to walk on eggshells all the time to avoid making her feel bad. I need to be sensitive, sure. But when she does get scared or the wound is reopened again, those times are opportunities! I relish the chance to talk out whatever it is that suddenly made her feel bad. I can let her know I really want to get it. It's a chance for me to let her know my heart goes out to her when she hurts again because of what I've done."

"It's made a huge difference to know that he doesn't view our deep conversations as a chore anymore," Anna nodded. "It's how I heal. And he's the one I want to heal with. It doesn't matter who else cares and is willing to listen. When I hurt the most, I need Jonathan to hear me out."

Jonathan reached out and squeezed Anna's hand. His gesture spoke volumes: "I'm here for you. From now on, I'll always be willing to listen."

As I think back now about Jonathan and Anna, I don't recall her ever again mentioning that it was difficult to forgive him.

Image: graur codrin /

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Do We Go to Porn When It's TLC We Need?

In my last post I talked about Paul, who tended to go to porn when he felt down. As he learned to reach for support when he was in need, it helped him avoid relapse. Why did Paul even need therapist to help him change that habit? Why didn't he simply recognize on his own that he needed TLC when he felt deflated and seek it out?

Here are three key reasons we go to porn instead of seeking the emotional support we need:

1. We tend to deny everyday emotional bumps and bruises. As we are going about our day and something happens that we feel bad about, we don't typically take a moment to even acknowledge the "ouch." After all, we're men. As one of my clients put it, "As a commanding officer, I have a duty to be strong, or at least appear strong. The army doesn't pay me to be in tune with my upsets and doubts."

We fail to realize that these little buried emotions can linger and fester. Since we don't acknowledge those initial hits, later in the day when we still feel out of sorts, we max not even remember where those bad feelings started. We end up with little more than a vague sense that things feel off today.

2. Porn is a potent narcotic. Since we're not clear about the problem, it's no wonder we can end up pursuing a faulty "solution." The brain is good at going back to a way it has experienced relief before. Sexual fantasy and masturbation become a habit that provides that release.

Even after we discover that pent up feelings are at the root of our relapses, it can be a challenge to give up porn as an easy and reliable source of immediate relief. Our solution may be misguided, but it's also addictive.

3. It feels more manly to be horny than to be needy. Consider Earl, for example. Once we discussed it, he had an easy time seeing the connection between emotion and relapse. He went home and let his wife, Helen, know that he'd be opening up when he felt bad. She was receptive, even eager to connect with him when he is in need. He was convinced that her attitude would pave the way for him to do it in the heat of the moment. And yet in our next session, he described calling her the day before because he was feeling off--sort of lonely--at work. "It was nice to talk with her and I felt better after hanging up, but I never was able to spit out the reason for the call."

As hard as it is to make ourselves vulnerable, we can do it! Once we do, life gets much easier. It's not only that we're more able to stay in the driver's seat of our lives and abstain from porn. As we become more comfortable being real, we become more relaxed overall. And the connection we feel to our partner catapults the joy of that relationship into a whole new territory.

Image: graur codrin /

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We Go to Porn When We Need TLC

Paul had a hard day at work. His rear end hurt. His eighthour shift at the call center was long and boring. He thought about his buddieswho still worked at the car wash and longed for the good old days. He came homeand slumped over the kitchen table and unloaded all his complaints to his mom.
“Oh, honey,” she cooed. “It’s so hard to make these kindsof transitions. Life’s not nearly as fun as it used to be. I can see how hard itis right now to hold the course, even though you thought it would be the best wayto pay tuition.”
After a couple of minutes, Paul got up from the table,nodded an appreciative look to his mom, and walked downstairs to get ready forhis workout.
Paul has learned to check in about what he’s feeling. Hehas discovered that when he spills his emotions in this way and senses that hismom’s heart is going out to him, he feels some relief. It helps him “reset”emotionally.
When we find ourselves disoriented by unsettling emotion, we are genuinely in need. Fortunately, the human nervoussystem has a way of getting us what we really need when we need it. Ourattention narrows to the one thing our survival seems to depend on. We becomeextremely motivated to seek it. The brain becomes like a pit bull that won’tlet go.
Our genuine survival needs are all that way. We needoxygen, and if  we are ever deprived ofit, the brain makes sure nothing else matters until we get it. We have moreleeway when it comes to sleep and food, but if we’re deprived long enough,eventually we become single-minded and driven until those survival needs aresatisfied.

Our need for compassion and support when we’re strugglingemotionally is just as essential to our well-being. Connection with a loved-oneat such times is our emotional oxygen. Take a deep breath of it, and we ourbrain resets and we can move on with life. When we’re denied it, we can’t easilyturn our focus to other things. We stay narrow-minded, shut down, and functionat a much lower level than usual.

If we can’t acknowledge what we feel, reach out tosomeone close, and sort it out with them, then we fail to reset in the most fittingway. We remain emotionally distraught and cognitively compromised. And,unfortunately, primed for a relapse. The brain is craving relief from thedistress, and porn provides a powerful distraction. But it’s only apseudo-reset, not a genuine solution. Soon the original distress returns, andwith it with the added bite that we let porn into the driver’s seat of our livesagain.

That’s how it used to go for Paul. Fortunately, he takesa better path now when he’s feeling downhearted.

Image: photostock /

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Terrariums. Simple and fun.

Ever wondered how to make a terrarium ?
The folks at POTTED - have a great tutorial that is easy to follow and will offer lots of inspiration.

I vaguely remember making a terrarium back in the 1960’s with my mom. We used a small oval fish tank and colored aquarium gravel. It was probably pretty gaudy looking when we finished but it remains one of those memories where as kids we were encouraged to create arts and crafts without any derogatory judgement.

I tried my hand at making a terrarium a few days ago.
I used a glass domed cheese serving dish , a glass vase and a small glass candle votive holder.
Inside the containers I placed moss, shells, succulents and some willow branches.

It was pretty simple to make and I am inspired to try making a few more for the upcoming gift exchange season.

From terrarium

From terrarium

Monday, October 17, 2011

New ON LINE Garden Lifestyle magazine : LEAF

The debut issue hit the web waved on October 17 2011.
The cover shot is a beautiful photo by Saxon Holt shot of a garden designed by Topher Delaney.

I think it is rather fitting that Topher made the cover issue, She is after all, a female landscape design trailblazer that has done much over the course of her 30 year career in brining to the forefront the field of site specific sculptural landscaping.

and check out page 66 - an outdoor fire sculpture that we designed for a family in Squaw Valley

Friday, October 14, 2011

High Branch, Sweet Fruit: Why the Best Sex is between Committed Partners

Porn ruins real sex. Fortunately, great sex can heal the porn-numbed brain.

It's fun to see the sexual rescusitation of men whose desire had been numbed and deadened by pornography.

First, they had to take a leap of faith. They were willing to bet that connecting with their wife would be more exciting and fulfilling, in the long run, than the thrill of porn.

That's not an easy leap for some men. When they turn from porn, with its top-of-the-scale intensity, sex with a familiar partner with a real body can seem bland. Many men find that they can't even get aroused any more during sex play with their wife. That can be scary and frustrating. It's tempting to fall back on the old standby.

Couples who patiently stay with it and push through that initial difficulty can eventually enjoy the best sex they've ever had.

Here's why: the dopamine rush from porn that deadens our sensitivity is not permanent. The body recovers. When it does, appetites can return to a healthy level. We can begin anew to want our partner deeply. Skin-to-skin contact becomes a thrill again. The warmth of eachother's bodies is immensely gratifying. We get back to where the mere scent of our partner drives us wild.

Make no mistake: this sweet fruit is on a high branch. We can't just be physically and mentally monogamous. We have to connect in a way that is different from the sexuality portrayed in popular media.

Our culture definitely has been pornified. We have come to expect intense arousal followed by intense stimulation followed by intense orgasms.

The best sex proceeds in a more nuanced way than that. It demands that we take the time to connect, express love, touch each other, hold each other. We orient toward this other human being who resides in the body in bed next to us rather than focusing narrowly on our own desires or their body parts. The best sex expands and invites our entire soul in the process rather than contracting down to the fewest ingredients that make up the easiest recipes for pleasure.

Abstain from porn. Hold each other. Speak lovingly to each other. Let your skin and her skin be the interface by which your hearts speak to each other's. Press your skin to hers; hold her skin greedily against yours. Let that most basic pleasure of contact and warmth soothe you. Be patient. Over time, it will excite you again. When it does, don't focus on the goal of the climax. Don't abandon each other chasing after dopamine. Stay with one another on that wondrous plateau of connecting and mutual pleasuring.

Have more sex. Not just more frequency, but more depth, more length, more breadth. Share that togetherness during lovemaking that doesn't come at any other time. Share that exclusivity. Be reminded of that priveleged status that each of you hold in each other's life. Let sex be an expression of all that.

The kind of connection you'll develop is spiritual and emotional, but it's not just those things--it's also chemical. With this kind of lovemaking we bathe each other's brains in oxytocin. Oxytocin bonds us more intensely to one another. It makes my partner more attractive to me. It makes us want each other more. And over time we become more sensitive to each other. Think of that! What a cool process: we are being sensitized! Just the opposite of what dopamine does to us, deadening and desensitizing over time.

So don't give up! Stay together! Dump porn! Have faith in the process! And make more love--not just more often, but more lovingly.

Here's good news: even if erectile dysfunction has been a problem, a limp penis can't stop you from this kind of lovemaking. And don't worry, it's only temporary. Your verility will return.

Your lives together will be better than ever. We see it happen all the time. There are lots of couples in the process of doing it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Becoming Immune to Cravings

Okay, so maybe immune is too strong a word. But we can get to the point where urges have much less power over us.

Consider Russ: He's a 34 year old married father of three boys. When I started working with him a year and a half ago, he already knew what made him more vulnerable to relapse. From his file I read in the notes of one of our first meetings:

"When I get weighed down with stress, like at work, temptations come more easily to mind. The list of things I need to do keeps growing, and I can't attack tasks fast enough to keep up. I get this feeling in my chest like a band is tightening. I have a harder time breathing and I'm prone to sighing more. That oppressive feeling can linger even when I get home. I may try to play with the kids, but I can't get into it. If Cheryl asks me to do soemthing I think, Why can't she do it? It's like the stress has totally taken the wind out of my sails."

Looking back at my notes from those early sessions, I also find this admission: "Neither Cheryl nor I are good at sharing concerns, feelings, frustrations. It's how we were raised. Both of our families are averse to admitting struggles and talking about how you're really feeling. I remember as a kid when we stayed with my grandfather after his hip surgery to help him while he recuperated. One of his neighbors said, 'Hubert, why are you limping?' He said, 'I'm not limping!' Likewise, I remember walking in one day after school to find my mom in tears. I said, 'What's the matter?' She answered, 'I just need to buck up.'"

Well, that's one family legacy Russ and Cheryl won't be passing on. Here are some excerpts from the notes of my most recent session with him:

"I've been breezin' through the last couple of months. It feels like everything in my recovery is coming together. Initially I thought that our sexual relationship would have to be going well in order for me to feel good, overall, about things. However, we still aren't having sex or touching each other as much as I'd prefer. We tried scheduling sex on a regular basis, but that didn't work well for us. But I just don't get upset about it the way I used to."

"I guess the biggest difference is that Cheryl and I are talking well about hard things. I talk about whether or not I get tempted. If a tempting thought pops in my head, I can share it with her. But most of what we talk about are emotional struggles, hers and mine. Even little things. She opened up to me when she lent out our rice cooker and it came back with the teflon scraped. We're recognizing how important it is to talk feelings out instead of keeping them pent up.

"It was especially helpful this month when I suffered a big disappointment at work. The chief operations officer put me in charge of a really exciting project. I thought, They're finally recognizing my talents and giving me a shot. Unbeknownst to him, some hotshot in another department went to the CEO to turn in his resignation. In an effort to keep him, the president told him he could be in charge of the project that had just been assigned to me. So they brought me into the CEO's office the next day and ripped the rug out from under me.

"I feel such a lack of accomplishment at work. I get so bored. I feel underutilized and so rarely challenged. Then, finally there's a ray of sunshine, and it's quickly snuffed out. I told Cheryl my sob story that night. She let me cry on her shoulder. The next day I talked it out with her again. In fact just about every day that week we had long, heartfelt discussions.

"Funny thing was, on Friday afternoon of that week I went to my parents' house to set the DVR to record a game I didn't want to miss. They have unfiltered internet access and all the satellite channels. A year ago, that would have been the perfect setup for a relapse. It's the end of a long week at work, especially a week like that. But that day, I walked into their house, set the DVR, shrugged off the other possibilities, and then left. I sat down in the driver's seat of my car and thought, Woo hoo! I'm in the driver's seat of my life!"

Sometimes it's hard to work in the field of addiction. But hearing from clients like that Russ about victories like that make it all worth it.

Image: photostock /

Monday, October 10, 2011

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Craving Tenderness

Frank's struggle has spanned half a century. He got into porn before he was even a teenager, and now, at age 63, he still considers it an addiction.

When I started meeting with Frank over a year ago, he succumbed almost daily to temptation. Lately, he sometimes goes weeks between lapses. Despite his improved track record, there are still times when Frank gets swept away by the stiff current of craving.

A couple of weeks ago, Frank had given in to the urge two days before our session. It was a good chance to take a step back and consider what put him in a state where he was more vulnerable.

"I felt bad that day. Carol was coming home from her sister's place in Arizona. I told her to wake me up when she got home. Well, I woke up at about 6:00 p.m. That's the middle of the night for me since I work graveyard. I was surprised to hear the TV on in the other room. I thought, She got home and didn't even bother to wake me up. I was annoyed."

Later that night, in his office at the plastics manufacturing plant, Frank got online and masturbated to pornography.

"Did you talk to Carol about how you felt?" I asked

"Not really," Frank responded. "I asked her why she didn't wake me up, but then I had to run off to work."

"If you had talked to her, what might you have said?"

"I wouldn't have talked to her. I don't want to put that burden on her. Especially after what I did that night when I was feeling bad. I don't want to put the blame for that on her."

"It's not that you'd be blaming her," I insisted, "just opening up to her about important, tender feelings. I role played for him what he might say: 'It was so good when you called from Blanding. I missed you this last week. The house seemed empty and my whole day revolved around you getting home. Then, when I woke up discovered you were home, and concluded you simply hadn't bothered to come wake me up, something collapsed inside. You're so important to me. If I start to feel like I don't matter to you, it feels lousy inside. I can go through the motions of the day, but not whole-heartedly. There's a part of me that keeps feeling wounded and vulnerable."

Although I put more tenderly than Frank would, I could tell by the tears welling in the corner of his eyes that I'd touched a chord.

When Frank and I met again this week, he said "I talked to Carol about opening up to her in that way. She said she'd welcome it. She's been wanting that kind of closeness for years."

That week, when Frank had a bad day, he came home and spilled his guts. "I had all these errands to run, but I sat for the longest time waiting at the doctor's office. Then, when they finally took me back, they had to keep poking me trying to get blood. It took three different nurses and over an hour to finally collect it. Now I'll only get five hours of sleep tonight. It'ts so frustrating."

I could imagine Carol: "Oh, Honey. I'm sorry you had to go through all that. It must have been so frustrating to have everything slow you down as you were trying to get things done and get back here to bed on time."

"I bet you slept better after talking to Carol," I said.

"It sure has felt better," Frank admitted. Then he described the kind of changes in his pornography struggle that  I've come to expect over the years as I've seen couples learn to connect more deeply and emotionally: "Mind doesn't tend to wander to sex as much... urges are easier to dismiss..."

Rock on Frank! Keep it up and before long you'll be firing me. As much as I've grown to love you and enjoy the time we spend together a couple times a month, I will welcome that day and celebrate with you that landmark on your path of recovery!

Image: Ambro /

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Way Out of Porn Addiction

Greta said, "Stan's been telling me every time he has a pornography relapse, but his rate of lapsing has been the same for a months now. Honesty and openness with me doesn't seem to be helping him kick the habit."

This is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from visitors to this blog and from the women who come up and talk to me after I give a presentation on pornography addiction.

There was still a missing piece in Stan's recovery. He was open about viewing pornography after the fact. That was a great foundation for the work he needed to do next. Stan needed to become more aware of what set him up to relapse, and be more open about it with Greta. For many men, this becomes the heart of their ongoing recovery.

What's Eating At Me?

Most of the time Stan went along doing fine. Sexual temptation didn't even faze him. I encouraged Stan to watch for those times when sex suddenly became supercharged. "Cravings for our addiction are like a divining rod," I said. "They tell us there's something else important going on. Take inventory of what's happening in your life. What have you been going through? Most importantly, how are you feeling about it?"

It didn't take long for Stan to put this idea into practice. He got online to do some homework for his business class during his lunch hour at work. At the bottom of the webpage about a silicon valley company he was researching, there was a link that was mildly sexually provocative. "I felt the pull to click. I tried to dismiss the impulse and move on. But then I was reading a different news feed about the same company on another site, and again I felt lured by a thumbnail of some scantily dressed celebrity. It was frustrating because I'd been doing well for a couple of weeks. I shut down the computer and called Greta. I told her that I was following your suggestion to call when I was struggling. She reminded me that I was supposed to not just open up about temptation, but also spill my guts about what else was going on at the time.

"I told her, 'Homework is a real drag. Here I am eating my peanut butter sandwich so that I can study the entire hour. A couple of guys brought back Mexican takeout, which I can smell from my cubicle. I get feeling pent up in this place when I don't leave at all during my entire shift. And what do I have to look forward to when I get off tonight? Instead of going golfing with you, I get to go sit under the fluorescent lights in the old business school building and listen to a lecture. I want to keep working toward graduating, but do get feeling sorry for myself sometimes in the middle of the sacrifices we're making now."

Greta's was sympathetic. "Oh, honey. I'd rather go golfing with you tonight, too." Both of them were quiet for a moment, but Stan could tell that she was letting her heart go out to him. "Thanks for talking to me about what's going on inside for you," Greta finally said.

"Sure you won't get sick of hearing my sob story?" Stan asked?

"Hey I want to be in this together with you. I feel closer to you when I know what's eating at you. I want you to let me in like that."

Vulnerability Is Harder, But Works Better than Porn

When they told me about their conversation that day, I knew they had launched into a new stage of recovery.

Stan and Greta's transition into openness about emotion had come fairly easily; it's much more difficult for some couples. It's quite an adjustment to develop the habit. It's hard to let out what's eating at us and making us more vulnerable to unwanted urges. However, often, nothing else will help us reset and get back to feeling mentally free. To purge the urge, we first need to spill our guts.

Strong emotion puts us in a regressed state of mind. It's uncomfortable and we want a way out. Outwardly, we may try to--and even appear to--move on with our lives, but our feelings can stay stuck on yuck. We still need a release. This is when the addictive sexual behavior we've been trying to avoid can start to seem so attractive again. Our brain knows it would provide a quick escape from the muck when more reasonable alternatives just don't seem to hit the spot. The other things we try don't give us any traction out of the regressed, vulnerable state into which we've dropped.

Pouring out our heart, expressing vulnerable emotions, is a response that respects and matches the state we're in. More so than trying to snap out of it or distract ourselves by doing something that feels good. Spilling our guts may seem like whining and it may seem immature, but that's just because our vulnerable state calls for the same kind of soothing young children need. We freely give that TLC to them, but we hesitate to seek it as adults or give it to each other. But guess what? We never grow out of our need for empathy, compassion, and understanding. When we feel bad, when we're downhearted, when our spirits are dampened, we need tenderness and caring. As appealing as porn can be at such times, it offers nothing more than momentary distraction.

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