Edition 100 2 part -- Estimated Read Time: 10 minutes
The Symbiotic Relationship of Pornography Addiction: The Addict and Betrayed
Working with couples struggling with the relationship of pornography in their partnership can be a titter—totter of emotions. One partner is entrenched in seeking pleasure at what ever cost and the other partner is lost in a flood of emotions that leave them betrayed and hurt. I talk a lot about the negativity and damages of pornography and sex addiction. I dialogue a lot about how it will affect the person’s brain, ruin their relationships, etc. That information is important for society to understand, but let’s be honest, it can also get kind of discouraging. So let’s look at the other side of the equation. While the effects of porn are bad, struggling with it doesn’t make someone a bad person. I receive a lot of stories from people who are not only going through a struggle, but also who have recovered from it and still are keeping pornography out of their life. Regardless of how long they’ve grappled, recovery is more than possible.
Part I - Pornography Addiction
All in all, fighting pornography or a sexual addiction sounds easy… Just quit! Right?
Recovery is a journey and a process. More often than not, therapists and psychologists see that pure willpower, quitting cold turkey, and just white knuckling through your problems don’t really solve anything. This is because addictions are made up of many different facets of the person’s life and often tied to deep-rooted issues. It would be easy to blame a porn obsession on a high sex drive, but that is almost never the case. In fact, many porn regulars even suffer from severely low libido. The following is a general stage-by-stage guideline when you are looking at your pornography habit. This is not exhausted nor the only steps to working with pornography or sex addiction. In fact there is also not defined time periods that these stages take place; however, implementing and understanding these stages is significantly helpful.
The main problem people frequently face at this point of their recovery is negativity. Porn has gotten a handle on their lives and it has really messed some stuff up. There are plenty of potential emotions:
This stage may force a little more structure than the others. It might involve putting filters on your devices or restricting your access to them all together. Staying off of things like social media, dating apps or anything with easily accessible sexual content.
This stage is a place to develop:
Meeting with a professional therapist that specializes in this field.
Now it’s time to start building your muscles and expanding your strategies. You’ve learned a lot and you’re doing some really good things, but you might be having trouble gaining some real long-term traction.
It’s important to take inventory of the pros and cons of your recovery thus far.
What are some triggers?
Are you able to find peace and comfort away from the pornography? How?
What were you doing before your setback? How was your day going? Are there other habits (video gaming, eating junk food, drinking etc.) you are binging on that lead you to watching porn?
Ask yourself the following questions do you or your partner…
Do you recognize any rituals or behaviors regarding your relationship with pornography?
You will probably need to start examining some of the deeper issues of your porn obsession at this point. Which can be hard, but be patient and thoughtful. Try to see past the basic urges and look at what is driving you to watch porn. (A great place to work with a therapist). You’ll also need to practice your in the moment reactions to triggers and temptation. I invite client’s to look that the magic number 168 – start working with all 24 hours of your 7-day week, create a foundation for learning about your patterns with not only porn but life habits. Start writing down all your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts associated with your pornography relationship. At this time I encourage you to start sharing with your loved ones too.
At this stage, you’re doing really well. You’re probably starting to see pretty long streaks and you’re becoming a master at getting out of the addiction cycle. However, sometimes this stage can be just as difficult, because it comes with its own set of complications. I encourage clients to consider being aware of your comfort and acclimating to your newfound thinking, emotions and behaviors.
It is really important to stay attentive—remember that you got here because you got good at the little things, but if you let them slide you could end up sliding back. Although, your slide back is traditionally not going to bring you back to a full blown porn habit. But you should be careful!!!
Another thing to watch out for is cognitive dissonance or justification. This means that you convince yourself that you’re doing well enough to watch a little porn. Maybe you convince yourself that you deserve a reward, maybe you believe you aren’t officially struggling anymore, that you are someone who can now reasonably restrain your porn patterns. No matter how you look at it, you start to say it’s all right to watch porn again. This is the behavior that got you stuck in the first place. The mind games we can play…
You may have 30, 45 or even a full year under your belt. Being porn free does not mean your trigger free. The most important thing to realize is life is tough; it is full of emotions and challenges. By working your program and talking about it with family, friends and your support system you will be able to soften your anxiety and worry about relapsing. The fact is the urge will temper and be less intense. Your challenge will be creating a new script with yourself.
Writing New Stories
New growth brings new challenges, so remember what you have learned and be aware of new traps. As you build personal resilience and positive connections, you will have the capacity to avoid and withstand the past behaviors and continue to grow. Things to start to consider as you develop your separation from pornography.
Continue to learn about the patterns you did engage in
Continue to develop empathy for your partner
Continue to turn to your friends, family and loved ones to build relationships
Continue to strengthen emotional intelligence
The most important thing when you are writing your new story is to be vigilant in being humble and listen to the people within your inter circle. There is a potential that a variety of deceit, lying, and disloyalty as well as betrayal has occurred. In the following we look at what betrayal trauma looks like and signs to be aware off.
Part II- Betrayal
Here’s the thing about Betrayal Trauma
As a partner or family member living with someone addicted to pornography. It creates a feeing like you are losing your mind. It puts you on an emotional roller coaster and it never feels easy, you are tossed in opposite directions until you are begging for mercy or you break and ricochet over to one of the extremes just to find some relief. For example, feeling like that tea kettle ready to blow.
There are many researchers that talk about Betrayal Trauma, to understand the science and theory behind the way that we pair-bond and what happens when that attachment is damaged, as well as, learn about the interpersonal relationship you may have with your partner it’s important to take time for yourself too.
Every betrayed partner is dealt two blows at once when they discover their partner’s sexual behavior (i.e. porn or sexual).
The first knock is the body punch of betrayal; a astounding breach in trust that changes your relationship in permanent ways. I say in a permanent way because just like a “old school” tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed out of its container…. Try to put that back in without a mess. This is why it’s important as the betrayed to seek help too.
The second hit is the dreadful realization that your partner has been extravagantly and skillfully lying and manipulating reality in order to cover up their behaviors. These blows slam into your heart and in an instant plunge you into a whole new world.
When this happens the person that was your stable base and source of comfort is now a direct line to pain and suffering. In the following are some things to consider as you explore working with your betrayal trauma.
It’s Not Codependency
One of the biggest things I hear often is “I feel stuck, obligated… Is this codependency?” We all want this story of perfection, trust and honesty. When this is broken our bond that was developed is broken.
As our connection develops through perhaps getting married, combining our homes, having children together, or working toward common goals, we become more and more interdependent with one another. This is not codependency I’m talking about. This is healthy, normal, reciprocal dependency. It is what makes relationships fulfilling and pursued after.
Identifying And Voicing Your Triggers
At first you may not understand or even realize your being triggered. Identifying the triggers takes time to develop and a lot of support to nurture. It is important to have safety, security and trust with a professional to process your triggers. With time and support you will build empowerment that creates confidence and clarity in what you see has the truth.
Breaking The Pattern
When you find your partner has betrayed you there is a ton of emotions and insecurity that comes up. Finding the patterns will help create new “safe-bases”. Imagine a child with their blanket or “lovie” and then take it way… Not a good thing. Nor is it a good thing when you are betrayed. You will have mutual work and understanding to do regarding this relationship to porn and your partner.
This overpowering and rapid change in our sense of security and connection sends our bodies into panic and brings up the fear center in our brain like a giant earthquake. When our fear center goes into overdrive our ability to think and reason diminishes quickly and our ability to function takes a plunge. This is the trauma part of betrayal trauma.
Moving on in your Journey
For most betrayed partners this experience is not short-term. Betrayal has long-term effects on the ability to trust, to feel safe, and to reconnect and re-engage with openness and vulnerability. Here is where your partners ability to share empathy and understanding for what their role in this is vital in helping support you in healing.
The goal is synergy between the addict and the betrayed with empathy, love and compassion for each other’s goals are witnessed, heard and acted upon. Joining in a safe therapeutic environment both parties will have the opportunity to share their vulnerabilities in a manner conducive to healing and understanding each other.
Dr. Ryan Westrum, is a specialist working with individuals and couples to heal, support and educate about pornography addiction and the betrayal trauma that comes along with this epidemic. You may reach Dr. Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him at 952-261-5269.