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To Break Your Addiction to Porn, Connect with Your Spouse

He just knew he’d be going to hell.

Throughout almost a decade of his life, Gene had resigned himself to the idea that he was hopelessly addicted to sex and would be spending the eternities suffering for it.

A year ago he was convinced by a mentor in his church who had traveled the road before that there was a way out. It would require, however, this friend insisted, complete and utter honesty. Deep down Gene felt that what he was hearing was true. So, as painful as he knew it would be, he decided to be 100% honest with God, the leaders of his church, and with his wife. "I threw myself at God’s feet and put my neck under his heel. I was at his mercy. I opened up about everything. I half expected to be struck by lightning."

He wasn’t. Instead, his church leaders, including this mentor, were loving and helpful. They’ve also been patient, continuing to work with him regularly over the months. Compared to how it’s gone with his wife, that part has been easy.

Gene started out trying to be completely honest with Lillian, but when he’d talk to her about feeling tempted, "There would always be tears and hurt." Too often, when he wished he could report growth and successes, he had to admit faltering and failures. It became very difficult for him to open up. One day, he acknowledged to her that he was tempted: "I’m really struggling with wanting to call a prostitute."

What happened to Lillian when Gene said that felt catastrophic to both of them. "I started to wonder, ‘Who is this person I’m married to?’" recalled Lillian.

Gene said, "I saw that in her eyes. I couldn’t believe I’d done that to her again, hurt her so badly. These disclosures were like a punch in the face to her, and I was continuing to punch her in the face. I thought, ‘Not only am I not getting better from this addiction, I’m hurting my wife even more in the process by letting her in on the gory details.’ I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t shut down completely after that, I just substituted lesser disclosures for the real ones, the difficult ones. I struggled with the hard stuff on my own after that."

Not surprisingly, his addiction took a downward turn, as addictions do. And once again, he was alone in his struggle against it. Then Gene relapsed in a very bad and illegal way. Even worse, he secretly stayed caught up in that pattern over a period of four months. It all finally came out into the open. He wasn’t discovered; he mustered the courage to break the secrecy himself. He resigned from his job, was headed toward likely excommunication from his church, and was facing the possibility of incarceration. However, his life didn’t fall apart completely: Lillian decided to stay with him and try to work through the problem.

In addition to continuing to meet with his mentor, his church leaders recommended counseling. During my second session with Gene and Lillian, I explained to them that disclosing our behavior is the top, most superficial level of honestly. Revealing our urges and cravings requires honesty at a deeper level. However, the most difficult honesty, and the most productive, is deeper still. Think of it as honesty at the tips of the roots of bad behavior. Before we act out, we’re tempted. Before we’re tempted, there’s something else still. And here’s what that something is for most of us: there’s an emotional upset that creeps in like a cloudy haze and obscures our ability to think clearly and make the best decisions for ourselves.

It’s difficult to stay aware of what’s going on at such times—to be honest even with ourselves about how we’re doing. It’s easier to turn on some music or eat something or brood. All of these are easier than acknowledging that we’re feeling off, that we are emotionally out of sorts. And there’s something even more appealing than the radio or food or feeling sorry for ourselves: sex. Even if we don’t go to it straightaway, when we turn on the TV or start clicking around the Internet, we’re sitting ducks. Sexual content is never more titillating, never more erotic, than when it beckons us to step into its light and out of emotional darkness, into its warmth and out of emotional chill, into its blissful rest and out of emotional turmoil. No other drug can offer what sex offers at such times. And so we keep going back, despite all intentions and commitments.

Gene and Lillian have already traveled a long road. The road will be longer still. However, if they work on developing emotional awareness and expressiveness, they can be close again as a couple. Over time (and with professional help) Gene can develop the ability to reach out instead of acting out.

Feeling more connected with each other than before, and having more support from each than ever before, the distance of the road and the length of time it takes them starts mattering less. Patience is easier to muster. Somehow, each mile, each day, each step feels lighter and the entire journey more worthwhile when you’re walking hand-in-hand.

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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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