While recently in session with a client, he told me how uncomfortable he was watching nudity or sexual scenes on television with his wife. Prior to getting caught and forced to deal with his out of control sexual behavior, he and his wife would enjoy their favorite show, The Sopranos. Many scenes in the show were shot in a strip club setting and now that he began 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 desperately wanted all of these problems to go away and not have to address them anymore. Like so many of my male clients, they don’t want to rock the boat and just want their past problems to stay under the radar.
The opportunity my client did not see was the chance to make a deposit. Each couple shares a sort of bank account, an account not built on the usual form of currency but rather one supported by trust and intimacy. When a partner acts out sexually, as in this case, he essentially bankrupted that account. He withdrew a large amount of that trust and shook the foundation. A person in recovery needs to learn how to build trust and in turn make the deposits necessary to get the account back to a solid level. How do you that?
A big way to build trust and intimacy in a relationship is to share with the other person what makes you feel vulnerable. This often runs contrary to what men feel is natural. Most of my male clients 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 allows the addict in recovery to make themselves more accountable. You open yourself up and therefore make yourself more vulnerable—a risk that is worth taking.
In the case of my client, we talked about how he could he have done just that. What he came up with was, “I’m afraid when sexual scenes come up in movies because I worry that you will get triggered and think of bad moments. I just so want these problems to just go away but realize I need to be open to talk about them. Do they make you feel uncomfortable too?”
Although the use of porn or other compulsive sexual behavior certainly causes problems in relationships, the real zingers are the lack of truth, the secrets, or the bold-face lies that erode the foundation. Our partners worry about where the next lie is coming from or what they can even attempt to believe. Similar to self-disclosure, practice honesty. Start small. Make telling the truth a habit. Start small.
My client would routinely lie about mundane matters along with the bigger issues. We practiced with the small things like admitting he forgot to follow up on a task. When asked 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, apologizing for that and making a plan to take care of that the next working day. That’s adding funds to the account.
Take the Initiative
Get off of your heals and being reactive and take some initiative. Rather than just being a physically present person but an emotionally vacant one, show up in your relationship. Take the lead. Plan an outing. Anticipate how you can help with your kid’s homework or taking care of a household chore without being asked. No matter the task, showing up this way builds trust and lets the other person feel as though they are with a true partner.
These are all simple ways to change your behavior around your addiction and recovery and allows you to build back the funds necessary to grow your relationship.