By Floyd Godfrey, LPC, CSAT candidate
The emotional turmoil that pornography and sexual addiction creates in a marriage can be devastating. After working with hundreds of porn addicts and their wives in our LifeSTAR program in Mesa Arizona I’ve seen first-hand the turbulence that occurs. On some days your wife may seem compassionate and supportive, while on other days she seems angry and upset. When she experiences a trauma response she may swing from anger to rage, then spiral into depression or anxiety. You may feel as though your marriage is on a roller coaster that never stops.
If you are the addict it is extremely difficult to stay levelheaded in your response. It’s easy to get sucked into heated emotion and become very upset yourself. However, your marriage will stabilize more quickly if you can practice some simple tips for communication.
Also, remember that the when your emotions are highly activated, your brain moves into limbic functioning. This is the area of the brain that monitors your non-thinking activities. This is also the area of the brain where addiction is wired. Consequently, when your emotions are high and you move into limbic mode, you will be more likely to slide into addiction.
Start by preparing yourself ahead of time. Mentally prepare for the next breakdown in communication with a visual image of maintaining your cool. See yourself within your mind remaining calm and ‘bracketing’ your emotions. Rehearse these thoughts every day say they can come to your mind easily.
Whenever possible, allow your spouse to finish anything she wants to say. If you ever find yourself formulating a response before she’s done talking, then you’re not listening. If you ever find yourself getting defensive before she’s done talking, then you’re not listening. If you ever find yourself generating a solution before she’s done talking, then you’re not listening. Stay grounded and confident. Simply allow her to finish talking before you respond. It takes practice, but you can do it.
When the moment comes, try using this simple formula with a calm tone:
1. When I hear you say… or when I see you do… (describe it),
2. What I think about that is… (describe your thoughts),
3. What I feel about that is… (describe feelings you have),
4. What I’d like to request is… (ask for what you need/want).
Remember to stay calm in your tone. Stay calm in your mind. You can take personal time later to work through any emotions or frustrations you are having during the discord. This is called containment. Stay grounded and speak peacefully even if your insides are exploding.
If she responds with blame, anger, rage, shame, or other intense emotion, then move into a “broken record” response. Remember to stay calm in your tone. Stay calm in your mind. The broken record tool affirms what has been said, and comes back to the main point. You won’t want to start arguing over details or specific content. Be careful, because most couples slide into discussing content and the conversation spirals into negativity. This broken record tool is a simple pattern:
“You may be right, AND… (restate what you feel and need).
–or- “I hear you, AND… (restate what you feel and need).
–or- “I gotchya, AND… (restate what you feel and need).
An experienced therapist named Thomas Tullos, LPC, CSAT instructed that “You must not interject any ‘buts’ into your broken record. Simply learn to stay in the broken record. Also stay away from data and content. The couples ability to learn containment as they communicate will be essential for lasting recovery work.”
If you can learn containment in communication with your spouse, you will be strengthening the process of recovery from your addiction. You’ll be training your brain to stay away from the limbic processing and to stay present. This is opposed to addictive processes. And while you’re doing this you will also be strengthening your relationship with your spouse.
It can be frustrating and painful to move into this form of communication. Be patient with yourself and keep trying. I’ve witnessed many men who successfully learn to communicate effectively and find it both strengthens their recovery and improves the relationship with their wife. We can help you if you need professional counseling to work through pornography addiction in Mesa Arizona and communication issues with your wife. Give us a call for a free 15-minute consultation about your unique situation: (480) 668-8301.
 “Boundaries” presentation by Thomas Tullos, LPC, CSAT, at IITAP CSAT module 2 training, Jan 16, 2015, Phoenix, Arizona.