By Kim Buck, MAPC, LPC
Family Strategies Counseling Center
If you are a committed couple healing from the devastating effects of pornography addiction, you may often find this journey to be rocky and overwhelming. As you attempt to reconnect and create healthy attachment in your relationship, it can be difficult to differentiate between feeling “unsafe” and feeling “uncomfortable”. This is especially true when both you and your partner attempt to communicate your needs and wants to each other.
As I have worked with couples in recovery for pornography addiction in Mesa, Arizona, I have witnessed the essential nature of safety. Creating safety in all major areas of life is necessary for both of you in order to appropriately heal and be able to trust each other again. These would include spiritual, emotional, sexual, physical, and intellectual areas of life. Feeling unsafe would indicate there is some sort of harm being perpetrated in any of these areas. Some examples harmful behaviors are: physical violence, sexual aggression or betrayal, emotional blackmail, manipulation, baiting, button pushing, etc. Couples in recovery must take steps for protection by setting appropriate boundaries, and understanding and being able to communicate clearly what is expected and needed from each other.
If you are the partner, you have significant relational wounds tied to the lack of safety that accompanies the addict’s acting out behaviors. This may have the outcome of creating reactionary behavior as you desperately attempt to minimize the risk of getting injured. You may not be used to honest and upfront disclosure by the addict and feel overwhelmed by the truth being shared. At times this honest sharing of the addict’s feelings can be very unfamiliar and uncomfortable. These feelings are much different than feeling unsafe. There is not an environment of injury, but rather an uncomfortable situation that might feel frightening to you. At times you may be emotionally triggered by the situation and want to run away, freeze, or fight with the addict. The healthiest responses in situations such as this are most often the honest admission of feelings. This might look something like, “I feel upset and overwhelmed by what you are telling me. If you will give me some time to work through these feelings, I will come back and continue the conversation when I can be more present.”
If you are the one in recovery from pornography addiction, then you also may have the idea that your feelings might be unsafe instead of simply uncomfortable. You may not be accustomed to being transparent and upfront about feelings, needs and wants. Because of this the partner often does not react in a way that you would like, and then you may have the urge to run away, freeze, or fight all under the guise of, “I don’t feel safe.” Similarly you may not be used to your partner sharing his or her feelings in a transparent and vulnerable way. Again, there is no harm being directly perpetrated, but rather a lack of emotional tolerance for uncomfortable situations and feelings. An example of a healthy response might be, “I want to be honest with you and tell you what I’m thinking and feeling, but right now I just feel scared because I have hurt you again. I might need to take time to get some support and then come back to this conversation when I can be more present and grounded.”
One of the most difficult things to recover is “self”. As you continue to work on your own recovery and build up “self”, you will be able to stand in your partner’s truth and not want to run away from it. In challenging situations you will be able to find the emotional fortitude to not flight, fight, or freeze, but rather be present and able to hear. You will become clearer as to what is actually unsafe and what is uncomfortable. You will learn to appreciate these experiences because within them is where the real connection and safety you are yearning for is to be found. It is found in being vulnerable, honest, and compassionate. It is found in unabated truth telling and fearless honesty.
In summary, the road to recovery is challenging but worthwhile! After working with hundreds of couples in our pornography addiction recovery program in Mesa, Arizona, I can tell you that many find healing and peace. For a free 15-minute consultation about couples in pornography addiction recovery, please call us 480-668-8301.