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The Benefits of Disclosing Slips

Quinn and Martha both look back on it as the turning point in his recovery from a pornography habit. It was when Quinn committed to Martha that if he ever lapsed back to pornography, he would let her know within sixty minutes. If they couldn’t talk, he’d let her know by code through text or a voicemail. Their key phrase would be “a problem with the credit card.”

Quinn was convinced that this promise alone would put the final nail in the coffin of his porn problem. Martha wasn’t so sure. After all, he had expected other steps in the past to be just the thing to help him put it all behind him once and for all.

It turned out that Quinn relapsed a few times during the first year after he’d committed to within-the-hour disclosure. It still bothered Martha every time it happened, and she let Quinn know that. Nonetheless, great things came from it. It changed the dynamics of the struggle between them, the struggle within Quinn, and the struggle within Martha.

A couple of months after signing their new contract, Quinn called Martha at 4:15 one afternoon. He explained to her that he’d been reading the news online during a slow time at his office. One of the links on a mainstream news website had been titillating. He clicked. Links on that site were even more edgy. He followed that trail back into familiar territory, clicking and clicking around through the smut for several minutes. Then he came to himself, clicked out, and with the effect of that potent drug still reverberating through his system, Quinn had picked up the phone and dialed his home number.

It was a victory, but it hadn’t been an easy one. “The way my heart raced when I looked at pornography again after months without viewing it was nothing compared to how it pounded as I waited for Martha to answer the phone.” He had walked outside into the parking lot so that he could talk more freely with her about what he’d done. Both he and Martha, at my suggestion, avoided asking about the nature of the content (like which celebrity did Quinn find irresistible and why?). Instead, they talked about how many minutes it had gone on, whether it escalated to courser content over time, whether he had masturbated or not. They also talked about what had been going on in the hours and days before his lapse. Were there any warning signs that he’d been at risk? What had his thoughts been? What was going on emotionally that might lead him to hanker for an escape?

Quinn’s honesty had profound effects. (With all the benefits, it’s no wonder “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one of the ten commandments.) Martha explained, “As we’ve talked after his lapses, I noticed things I never had before. These were things that had completely escaped me because he had never allowed me close enough to his struggle to see it clearly, to see it for what it really was. I could tell right away that he wasn’t going to pornography as a way of turning away from me and toward other women. He’d lapse into it to turn away from life, to escape. It was a drug to him. I could never compete with porn, not because I don’t have a supermodel’s body, but because I’m a real live person. He associates me with real life. I’m not a blissful escape, and I don’t think he expects me to become one.”

Another thing occurred after Quinn opened up to Martha immediately following his second slip-up. “I was angry at him again,” she recalled. “All I said to him that time was, ‘Really?! Can I not even go to book club for two hours? Really?!’ I was so mad. He didn’t even try to talk to me about the details, and it was a good thing because I wasn’t in the mood. I just couldn’t believe that he was still going to keep going back. I thought, just like all the other things we’ve tried before, even this one isn’t going to work. However, in the following weeks, I started to notice some of the tightness inside me easing. I realized later what it was: the threat of secrecy was no longer this cloud looming over our relationship, over our lives. I still didn’t know how he was going to do today, but at least I knew—really knew—how he’d done right up to yesterday. In fact, I knew that if he’d had a problem and gone back to porn, it would have happened within the last hour. That was comforting, to at least know what we were dealing with. He might still be struggling with an addiction, but at least he was being real with me."

As I keep working with couples like Quinn and Martha, I’ll keep sharing the benefits they report of working together to retrieve their marriages from the jaws of porn. If you’re in the same boat they are, I’d love to hear what you’re noticing and learning along the way.

Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D. is a psychologist and clinical director of the ARCH, Addiction Resource Center for Healing, in South Jordan and Clearfield, Utah. He has authored and coauthored several books, including, Willpower Is Not Enough: Why We Don't Succeed at Change, Confronting Pornography, and Wanting More: The Challenge of Enjoyment in the Age of Addition. His new book, Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity (with Geoff Steurer) will be published in 2011. Mark has provided continuing education for therapists in cities throughout the United States on the topics of healing addiction and sexuality. He and his wife have seven children.

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