Each couple shares a sort of bank account, not an account built on currency, but rather one supported by trust. When the relationship is impacted by sex addictions or porn addictions, when one of the partners acts out sexually, that partner essentially bankrupts the account. They withdraw a large amount of trust that shakes the very foundation of the relationship. Someone in recovery needs to learn how to rebuild trust — to make the deposits necessary to get the trust account back to a solid level. But how do you that?
Recently a client told me how uncomfortable he was watching nudity or sexual scenes on television with his wife. Prior to getting caught in his out of control sexual compulsion behavior and being forced to deal with it, he and his wife enjoyed watching their favorite show, The Sopranos. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know that many scenes were shot in a strip club setting.
Now that he was beginning to distance himself from looking at porn, he worried that watching these scenes with his wife would trigger her or worse, encourage her to bring up the past. He so desperately wanted all of those problems go away. He didn’t want to have to address them anymore. Like so many of my clients, he didn’t want to rock the boat. He wanted his past problems to stay under the radar. The opportunity this guy didn’t see was the chance to “make a deposit.”
One way to build trust and intimacy in a relationship is to share what makes you feel vulnerable. For many people (especially men) this runs contrary to what we feel is natural. Most of us come from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought. However, self-disclosure is not only a big way to build intimacy and trust, but it also helps you to make yourself more accountable by opening yourself up you become more vulnerable. I know it may seem really risky, but I promise it’s a risk worth taking.
In the case of this particular guy, we talked about how he could he do just that. He realized he could say: “I’m afraid when sex scenes come up when we’re watching TV because I worry that you will get triggered and think of bad moments. I just so want these problems to just go away. I realize I need to be open to talk about them. Do they make you feel uncomfortable too?”
Although the use of porn or other sexual compulsion behavior certainly causes problems in relationships, the real zingers are the lack of truth, the secrets, the bold-faced lies. That is what happens so often with sex addicts and porn addicts. These erode the foundation of your relationship. Your partner doesn’t know where the next lie is coming from. She can’t tell what she can even attempt to believe. That’s why similar to self-disclosure, it’s important to practice honesty. Start by telling the truth about small things. In this way, you can make telling the truth a habit. Start small.
This particular client would routinely lie about mundane matters as well as bigger issues. So he decided to start with admitting to the small errors he had made, like admitting when he forgot to follow up on a task. For example, when his wife asked him if he remembered to follow up with a school matter for his child, instead of lying to avoid the conflict, he owned up to not remembering. He apologized for that and he made a plan to take care of the forgotten task the next working day. That way he added funds to his trust account.
3. Take the Initiative
You too can get off your heels, stop being reactive, and take some initiative. Rather than just being a physically present person (but an emotionally vacant one), you can show up in your relationship. Take the lead. Plan an outing. Anticipate how you can take care of a household chore without being asked, help with your kids, or with their homework. No matter what the task is, showing up this way builds trust and help your mate feel as though she is with a true partner.
Once you begin to change your behavior around your sex addictions and your recovery, these tools can rebuild trust in your relationship. Through self-disclosure, simple honesty, and taking initiative you also begin to build back the funds necessary to grow your relationship.