What Are Boundaries in Relationships and Why Are They Important?

Boundaries are limits put on a relationship in order to establish the safety of an individual. These limits are for the purpose of maintaining the relationship to the degree that is emotionally/physically/sexually safe for the individual. This part is very important because good boundaries are not walls. Walls push people away and shut them out. When you establish certain boundaries in relationships, you are essentially saying to them, “This is what I need to feel safe in this relationship. If you can’t give me that, I can’t feel safe.” Boundaries are about needs not wants or what is convenient for you. Setting a boundary and telling your spouse that you can’t feel safe unless they put the silverware down properly in the dishwasher is not a healthy boundary. However, stating to them that you don’t feel safe having sex with them as long as they are looking and engaging in pornography and not telling you about it is a healthy boundary. Everyone has boundaries even if you don’t realize it (e.g. you probably don’t tell your pharmacist about your sex life). Healthy boundaries are ESSENTIAL to a lasting healthy relationship. When healthy boundaries are not established or respected in a relationship, emotional and relational distress WILL BE created. There are a number of requirements in order to use boundaries in a healthy way.

1) Good Intentions

The intent of the boundary has to be safety and to maintain the relationship on a level where this safety is respected. In other words, you shouldn’t use boundaries to control the behavior of other individuals or to punish them in any way (e.g. “You’re being a jerk today so you can say goodbye to any chance you had with having sex with me tonight!”)

2) Rational Mindset

Never establish boundaries when in a reactive/emotional state. Boundaries should always be established and expressed in a rational thoughtful manner where there has been sufficient time to think out the decision. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be feeling fear and worry when you express a boundary to someone. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to set healthy boundaries. You have to be willing to take the risks of losing possible connection to get healthier connection for both of you.

3) Follow Through

It is essential you follow through with consequences if your boundaries are not respected. If you are not willing to do this then don’t waste your time in setting the boundary in the first place. For example, if you state to your partner, “Bob, I want to understand how you are feeling, but I don’t feel safe to talk to you if you continue to speak to me with degrading and demeaning language. If you choose to use this language to communicate your feelings then I will have to emotionally protect myself by disengaging in the conversation.” Therefore, it is essential that you follow through with this promise. If you choose to get defensive and use the same language back then you are choosing not to respect your own boundaries and therefore, your partner will not either.

4) Clear and Specific

Boundaries need to be clear and specific. Vague expressions of boundaries can be confusing for your partner and yourself. Spend the time trying to establish specific limits for your safety and the consequences when those limits are broken or not respected by other individuals. What are your non-negotiables in the relationship? Non-negotiable are specific boundaries that will require separation or divorce if ever broken. What are your sexual, physical, and emotional boundaries that you are required to have to keep yourself safe and connected in the relationship? If these boundaries are broken, what would you need to do to continue to create safety for yourself?

5) Expression

Boundaries also need to be expressed when appropriate. We can’t expect people to respect our boundaries if they don’t know what they are. It’s wrong for us to assume people should know how we feel and what we need. This is one of the most common mistakes in relationships.

For more information about boundaries, I suggest reading Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend. Sometimes it can be difficult to see what boundaries need to be set in our relationship as well as how we should follow through with them. Seek guidance from an experienced counselor to help direct you in these decisions.


When Can I Be Happy?

In a lecture on vulnerability, Brene Brown discusses our tendency to be afraid of experiencing joy in our lives. She said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. I have never come across an emotion or affect [in my research] that is as difficult to feel as joy. Joy is probably the most vulnerable feeling or emotion that we experience. We are afraid to soften into it or lean fully into it because we are waiting… for the other the other shoe to drop” (clip from The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage).

In my experience as a clinician, I have seen this within myself and my clients. I truly believe that one of the biggest risks for mental health problems is when we refuse to find happiness in our present realities and relationships. Many of us often spend more time with our own fantasies than we do with the people who we claim to be the most important to us. We start to live our lives with what I like to call the “if/then factor.” We say to ourselves, “If I had more money, then I will be happy” or “If I had a different partner or a different relationship, then I could be happy.” We can do this for years never truly experiencing what it means to be happy or find joy in our lives. We long for the day when we can truly have joy. Then we compare our lives to those around us making assumptions that our “friends” have the happiness we seek. What many of us seem to forget in those moments is that our “friends” are most likely doing the same things to us in return. Many of us can’t see this because of our natural struggle as human beings to see the good in our present circumstances, whilst at the same time requiring little effort for us and others to see good in the lives of those around us.

Whether it’s waiting for the time when we can get married to the perfect person… or when we can have our first child… or when we can get our first house… or find our perfect career… the years start to pass by and the things that really matter to us in the end becomes neglected. The problem is that those things which bring us the most joy are often the things we are afraid of the most. Unfortunately, the relationships that we fear the most are the ones we come home to every day.

My challenge to those seeking joy in their lives is to start today with accepting the lot you have been given and chosen in life. Stay out of fantasy! Put down your cell phone or Ipad for the night and spend time with those you care about the most. Enjoy your time with them without thinking about your worries or fears of what’s to come your way. Don’t fret… I’m sure your worries and concerns will be there tomorrow when you wake up😉…

7 Things Happy People Do Every Day

We are all seeking for something in life. Some people seek after riches and success. Some people seek after love and relationships. Despite the differences in what we seek as human beings, we all have one goal…. Happiness. Everything we do is centered on trying to be happy. I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. However, after meeting with many clients who essentially say the same thing, “I just want to be happy,” I have observed seven things that happy people have in common and practice every day.

1) They don’t dwell on the negative

There are many things in life that we can see as a hole that needs to be filled, fixed, or covered up, but what if we could learn to be okay with having some holes here and there in our life. If you want to be miserable all the time, just remind yourself of all the problems you do have and all the things you don’t have. We all have problems we wish weren’t there and things we wish we had, but it’s not healthy for us to constantly dwell on them and the negative aspects of our lives. Happy people don’t avoid problems, they just learn to see the glass half full. They learn to practice gratitude for the things that they have in the center of life’s storms. Unhappy people avoid life storms as they would the plague and see them as a personal flaw. Happy people understand that there will always be storms wherever we go in life. They learn to look at the gifts that weaknesses or problems can give them by seeing an opportunity for growth and development as a person and not seeing themselves as a failure or innately flawed and one who belongs in the “exceptions to the rules” pile. Happy people don’t dwell on their problems or long for the things they don’t have. 

2) They understand the value of pain and emotion

Our society teaches us that emotion or pain is weakness. We learn over time that if we experience pain or emotion then it means that something is wrong with us. We do this so well that it is often unconscious. Happy people learn that pain is a part of life, and emotion is a part of being human. They learn to accept the feelings and emotions that they have and manage them in a healthy way through self-acceptence and connection. Unhappy people use addictions, distractions, or isolation as a way to cover up what they are feeling. Unfortunately, it brings more unhappiness and the cycle just repeats itself. Happy people understand the value of pain and emotion. 

3) They understand the importance of human connection

We weren’t meant to handle life’s problems on our own. We are hard-wired as human beings to connect whether we like it or not. Happy people understand the value of connection and leaning on people for strength and support. Leaning on people is not the only essential part of connection though. Giving and serving is just as important in fostering our connection with others. We feel a sense of value when we are trusted by others and are able to step outside of ourselves to think of their needs. Happy people understand the value of human connection by leaning and serving others. 

4) They learn to surrender

Just as human connection is essential to our happiness, so is a connection with a higher power. We not only need to lean on people for strength and support, we also need to lean on God. Regardless of what or who they call this higher power, happy people learn to stop leaning on their own strength to accomplish the things they need to and learn to surrender to God for power and strength to live the life they are seeking. This process can be liberating for us if we can learn to trust that this higher power will have our backs. Many unhappy people fail to do this because they feel that they need to prove something to themselves and others that they are not weak. They want to believe that they can defeat their personal demons with just sheer will power. However, as Hermann Hesse says, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” Happy people don’t feel they need to prove themselves and learn to surrender to a higher power for strength. 

5) They have a purpose in life

Happy people don’t live from day to day just seeing life as a bunch of responsibilities or problems that they need to take care of. They find a purpose and meaning in life. They see their priorities as areas of personal fulfillment. Work is not just work or parenthood is not just parenthood for happy people. They feel that they have something special to offer others in their career or as a parent. It gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They see their personal value in their responsibilities. They also regularly engage in activities that further develop their sense of value. This might be activities or personal hobbies that can further their sense of creativity and learning such as cooking, arts and crafts, or education. Happy people live their lives with purpose and meaning. 

6) They embrace vulnerability and change every day

Facing our problems and embracing vulnerability can be difficult and quite exhausting. It can be easier to stay stagnant in life and spend our days in our comfort zones. We feel safe here. However, living life without consistent growth and change will make us miserable. Happy people understand that personal growth and change can only happen by embracing vulnerability with themselves and others and taking accountability for their actions. They don’t stay in their comfort zones. They face their problems with courage and faith. They recognize the misery that comes in being stagnant on a daily basis. They know when to work, and they know when to play. Happy people make a decision to change every day through vulnerability and accountability. 

7) They forgive themselves and others

No matter how hard we try to live a perfect life we will always fall short. We end up making mistakes that hurt ourselves and others. We might not always be forgiven by the people we hurt…. but we can forgive ourselves, and we can forgive the people that hurt us. Happy people are able to have compassion on themselves for the mistakes that they make. They are also able to let go of the mistakes made by other people. They recognize that they sometimes have to bring up the past in order to learn to let it go and live in the present. Forgiveness to oneself and others is essential to moving on from past shame, hurts, and pains. Unhappy people carry the shame of their mistakes and the pains caused by others on their shoulders. They mistakenly think that they can leave the past in the past and not have to address those pains or feelings of shame. As they attempt to cover up their pains, the pains will follow them. It follows them into every relationship and gets repeated over and over again until they are ready to face what they are carrying. Happy people are able to face the shame of their mistakes and pains caused by other people. As they face these feelings, they forgive themselves and others and unloose the burdens of the past they have carried with them. Happy people forgive themselves and others by resolving the mistakes and pains of the past. 

There is No Such Thing As Normal

One of the most commonly used words in our society is normal. I hear this word a lot from my clients. It mostly comes out as, “I just want to be normal.” I think all of us have said this to ourselves at one point in our lives. The problem is….there is no such thing as normal. Normal is constantly changing. It changes with society as people adapt their culture and beliefs about the world and those around them. We can never really grasp onto normal. Dictionary.com defines normal as, “serving to establish a standard.” We use this word to divide society into those that we think are “normal” and those that aren’t. Unfortunately, we make this division within ourselves and often put ourselves in the “not normal” section leaving us feeling lonely and isolated from the rest of “normal” society. Seeing it in this perspective. Do we really want to be normal? Always changing to what people expect us to be and conforming to the standard. I don’t know about you, but it’s exhausting to me. It also never works the way we want it to. No matter how hard we try, we will always let people down. If we put our self-worth on the line with people, we will see ourselves in the pit of our failures until that’s all we can see. It’s dark in this pit. We can’t stop thinking about our failures and shortcomings, and we feel we don’t have the strength to get out.

Instead of using the word normal. Lets change it to “healthy.” Therefore, when we tell ourselves, “I just want to be normal healthy.” It gives us a little bit of hope and a direct path to go on to get there. For the most part, healthy living doesn’t change from culture to culture. There might be some differences here and there depending on the society, but there are some things that are just universal healthy living. Attachment is one of them. Regardless of the culture or society you are apart of, attachment (the emotional bonds between two people) is a necessary part of our happiness as human beings. We are hardwired to connect no matter where we go, and no matter what we tell ourselves, we need people. We need to love and be loved. We need to feel safe.

In spite of hating the word normal, I do use it on occasion. There… I said it. Sometimes I have clients ask me if it’s “okay” that they feel what they feel. A common phrase is, “I want to want to change. Is that okay?” I usually reply, it just means you’re normal. In other words, “you are exactly where you need to be at this point, and there is no difference between you and everybody else.” Sure, everyone has their own unique backgrounds, and some people have more talents than others. Although, in the end, we are all pretty much the same. We all struggle. We have all said to ourselves, “I just want to be normal.” We have all told ourselves at one point in our lives that we are not. I really believe that. This is why normal just doesn’t exist….because we are all technically normal.

Three Unhealthy Ways We Deal With Shame

iStock_000016192491LargeShame is something everyone feels on a consistent basis. We have both overt and covert shame. Overt shame is where we recognize the messages our critic tells us in our heads. These are things like, “You will just fail again like you always do” and “You can’t do anything right because you’re not good enough.” Covert shame is where we don’t recognize those messages but they are indeed inside of us and run our behaviors. This type of shame manifests itself more in actions.

In order for shame not to have power over our behaviors and turn the mistakes we make into more healthy emotions such as guilt, we need to be able to recognize it and label it for what it is. Paying attention to the ways we usually respond to shame will help us to see the shame that tries to bury us covertly. Brené Brown talks in her lectures about three ways we primarily deal with shame: 1) Moving away, 2) Moving towards, and 3) Moving against.

Moving Away

The way we move away from shame is by isolating ourselves when something shameful happens. We don’t want to confront people. We just want to hide and keep secrets. A good example of this is when someone makes a passive aggressive comment towards our parenting or even our character and it produces in us a shame response. Someone who is moving away from shame would respond to their comments by moving away from the person or conversation, ignoring them, or pretending like it never happened, but inside they are hurting. Another example is if a child walks in on their parents having sex and the parents pretend like nothing happened. The parents are feeling so much shame about being caught in the act that they are terrified about asking how their child might be feeling about the situation. However, most of the time when people move away from shame they are trying to hide their true selves from the world. They don’t want their loved ones to find out about those things that bring them the most shame.

Moving Towards

The second way we move towards shame is by pleasing people. We do this by trying to be the person others want us to be. We deny authenticity and adapt ourselves to what we think people want from us. We also try to fix whatever mistakes we have made by something we said or did that might have influenced how people view us. A good example of someone moving towards shame is when a child is feeling rejected and unloved by one of the parents and then tries to earn that love by being the “perfect” child. They might try and do this by cleaning the house or doing other things that he or she might feel would please the parent. In the therapy world, the term we often use to describe this type of response towards shame is codependency.

Moving Against

The two most common ways we try to move against shame is blaming and perfectionism. People who respond to shame in this way can immediately go to blaming themselves or others in response to a shameful event, or they just might try to prove the shame wrong by being their most perfect selves. Perfectionism can also show itself in moving towards shame, but perfectionism associated with moving against is about controlling negative emotions such as anger and anxiety by trying to control the environment around you. Addicts fall into this way of shame living quite often. An addict is often going from trying to control their behaviors and fulfill the expectations that they have put on themselves to feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by their failures to the degree of acting out. An example of this would be a wife catching their husband looking at porn and responding by telling her, “I wouldn’t have this problem if you would just give me sex more often!” People who move against shame often try to control their environment. Unfortunately, this can lead to controlling the feelings and actions of people who are in their lives.

It is a normal process of life to respond to shame in these ways. Shame is a self-protective reaction. We do this as a survival mechanism. However, because it’s self-protective it leads to self-consuming perceptions and behaviors. We learn not to see other people’s perceptions and walk into judgment towards ourselves and others. Being too caught up in our shame is a very lonely and isolating road. When shame comes up for me in my daily life, I take a few steps to manage it effectively. First, I label it. Second, I excercise compassion on myself and for what I have been through. Third, I reach out to important attachment figures in my life and heal the shame by bringing it into the light. Although, sometimes we might do all the steps necessary to manage our shame and we still let it take a hold of us. In these situations, therapy can be invaluable. We often need a professional to help us get through the deepest parts of our shame and guide us into managing it more effectively in the future.

10 Essential Steps to Overcoming Pornography Addiction

ID-10035090Overcoming pornography addiction can be one of the most difficult trials that an addict will ever have to face. They can spend years trying to find the answers they need to finally triumph over the problem. These are 10 essential steps that I feel are necessary for this journey. Of course, these steps are probably not going to happen in the order they are presented (nor should they). However, I do feel they are all important and hope that those struggling with this issue can gain some insight into themselves.

1) Establish Effective Fortifications

  • When an addiction develops in an individual, it creates patterns in the brain that are extremely difficult to rewrite. As a result, addicts are more susceptible to acting out when confronted with certain places, people, or things. One of the hardest things a pornography addict has to do is to give up those people, places, or things that trigger their addiction and lead them into a place they regret. Just like in war, if we want to protect ourselves from the enemy, we have to place fortifications around ourselves and our families to keep us from falling into the hands of the enemy. Sometimes these fortifications can be tedious and quite bothersome, but they are necessary for survival. An addict should be aware of those things that will lead them to a relapse. Some common examples of this are: smart phones, seemingly harmless websites, social networking sites, risqué television shows or movies, and late nights on the internet. Many addicts will attempt to rationalize some of these triggers, such as checking their email before going to bed or watching a movie without checking the content. However, no matter how much we think we need a smart phone to survive in this world, we have to decide what’s more important to us: a brand new smart phone or freedom from addiction. Don’t get me wrong, some people are capable of having their own smart phones or checking their emails at nights and still maintain recovery. However, what ever an addict’s individual situation might be, he or she knows what they need to give up to maintain recovery. They just need to stop lying to themselves to figure it out.

2) Find a Group

  • Addiction creates isolation and loneliness, which in turn, fuels addiction even more. Going to a therapist run group and/or a 12-step group can be essential for lasting recovery. I am not saying that all addicts are absolutely “required” to attend a group to recover from pornography addiction. I do, however, feel that it is highly recommended and extremely valuable to recovery. Being able to meet with others who experience the same problems can help to heal the shame that binds addicts. It can also help individuals get some insight into their own recovery process. If you have tried years to overcome an addiction and you still haven’t kicked the habit, it is necessary to reach outside yourself for answers and tools that you may need to recover. In a large part, if you knew all the answers, you would be clean by now.

3) Learn to Manage Your Feelings Effectively 

  • At the core of addiction is the inability to manage emotions; especially shame. Overcoming pornography addiction to a large degree is learning how to effectively manage the feelings that come up. It is necessary to be able to understand what feelings and emotions are “running” in the background. A large portion of our emotions are unconscious or subconscious. Meaning, we aren’t necessarily thinking about them or realizing that they are there. Subconscious means we can access them if we want to. Unconscious means that we are completely unaware that they exist. Setting some time aside on a regular basis to assess our bodies can be invaluable to reaching and understanding our emotions. What this looks like is basically allowing five to ten minutes in our day to “checking in” with our bodies (i.e. feelings and emotions). Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What caused me to feel this way? What is the story that I am telling myself? Where does this story come from?” These are some of the questions that can help to understand yourself emotionally. Above all, make sure that you ask these questions after a relapse. It is essential to understand why you do what you do and what leads you to the relapse. This gives you more power over your actions rather than being a blind follower to your addictions.

4) Establish a Daily Routine Centered on Recovery (Dailies)

  • I have heard many recovery addicts say that “Dailies” are what separates an addict with a recovery addict. They have given their success on the consistency of these routines. Dailies are divided into three main categories: Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional/Personal. Physical dailies are activities such as: regular or daily exercise, adequate sleep, and having a daily balanced diet. Eating junk food and watching tv until 2:00 am in the morning will just make you feel worthless which in turn fuels your addiction. Spiritual dailies are activities such as: prayer, meditation, scripture study, and service to others. These activities can give you the added spiritual strength that you need to stay in recovery every day. Emotional/Personal dailies are activities such as: recovery reading, making a phone call to reach out, music, positive affirmations, and journal writing. Taking on one or two of these activities per category on a daily basis can keep you in emotional, spiritual, and physical check throughout the day; especially if you use things as a replacement to acting out when you are triggered.

5) Accept What You Have Not Been Willing to Accept

  • One of the hardest things to do as an addict is to accept the things that you don’t want to accept. This is called denial. Denial is basically using strategies or techniques to help avoid facing painful realities and feelings. Overcoming any denial is absolutely essential to recovery. An addict spends a large portion of the addiction cycle using denial tactics. One of the best things an addict can do is face these painful realities and feelings he has since long denied. Sometimes you can face these realities logically, but your body does a pretty good job at keeping itself in denial. For example, one of the hardest things a client of mine had to accept was that he enjoyed looking at porn. I believe he understood this on a rational level, but he didn’t fully accept this in his heart. In order to accept this, he had to accept that there was a part of him that didn’t want to change. A part that he wanted to pretend that didn’t exist. A part that he didn’t want to own. A part that wanted to do “evil” and destroy his family. Addicts have to face three painful realities: 1) I have a problem, 2) it is a serious problem, and 3) only I am responsible for my actions.

6) Find an Accountability Partner

  • The best way to heal from shame is to share it with another person. It is important to get into the habit of doing this on a daily basis. It is necessary to find someone who we are willing to be accountable to when we relapse or are tempted to relapse. Sometimes people will use their ecclesiastical leader as an accountability partner. However, an ecclesiastical leader does not or should not be a replacement for this position. An accountability partner should be found in addition to your leader. Furthermore, other people will use their spouses as an accountability partner. However, spouses should NEVER be put in this position. Please don’t misunderstand, you should always be accountable to your spouse if you relapse into pornography or other sexual behaviors. Regardless, an accountability partner should not only know of your relapses, but they should know of the specific details of your relapse and how you went there. They should also know of your triggers and any feelings that need to be surrendered to them throughout the day. As a rule of thumb, I usually tell my clients, you need to be accountable to your spouse if you relapse in any sexual manner. Your accountability partner should know all the rest.

7) Learn to Surrender

  • Surrender does not mean that you should just give up and succumb to your addiction. It means that you can’t overcome this problem by yourself. As human beings, we like to feel powerful. We like to feel like we can do anything if we just put our minds to it. Because of pride, an addict continues to succumb to his addiction because he hasn’t learned that what makes men and women strong is not always fighting harder but learning to let go and rely on others for strength. An addict needs to surrender in two ways: 1) our surrender to God, and 2) our surrender to others. Your surrender to God depends on your willingness to not put God on the back burner any longer. It requires to have God as an essential part of your recovery process. You are essentially saying to God, “I am in this pit and I keep on falling down. Could you extend a ladder to help me get out? Also, if I can’t climb the ladder, can you come down here and help me?” Your surrender to others depends on your willingness to be vulnerable and share your true feelings with them. Others can consist of family, friends, or just people we want to connect with. It is essentially saying to people, “I need you. You are important to me. I need to feel important to you too.”

8) Deal with the Underlying Causes of the Addiction

  • Addiction always stems from a loss of attachment. In its most basic form, pornography addiction is designed to replace connection with people. We are hard-wired to connect. If we were raised in situations that made it difficult for us to obtain a healthy attachment (based on love, trust, and complete emotional safety) we seek to obtain this connection in other ways. Most addicts who begin their recovery say that they turn to pornography because it “feels good.” However, it is much more than that! As you start to learn about your triggers, relapses, and addiction cycle, you will learn how strongly connected your addiction is on your desire to be loved. Desires that weren’t fully met with important people in your life. Whether these are parents, siblings, or peers, it doesn’t matter. All are essential for building a healthy attachment and confidence in yourself. Sometimes it might be difficult for you to really understand the underlying causes of your addiction. That’s why it might be necessary to seek professional help to deal with the trauma that is associated with the problem.

9) Embrace Vulnerability

  • Vulnerability is much more than just admitting to others that we need help. It is embracing who we are as a person. We can spend hours a day as human beings trying to be something or someone for other people. We feel that doing this will make us feel loved, which in turn, will help us to love ourselves but it never does. It just leads to more shame, sadness, anger, and fear. If you want to feel worthy of the love of others, you need to be willing to love yourself first. Vulnerability by nature builds stronger connection, but you should not be vulnerable in order to obtain connection from others. You should be vulnerable for yourself. Vulnerability to others is another way of saying, “This is who I am and I am okay with it! Are you?” The more you can embrace vulnerability, the more power you will have over your addiction.

10) “Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up”

  • Overcoming addiction requires a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it can take years for an addict to learn the things they need to learn about themselves to be free from addiction. Unfortunately, this is a painful truth. As a result of this, you might lose faith in your abilities to change. You might look back on all the years that addiction has been a part of your life and feel tempted to give up hope. However, no matter how many difficulties or relapses you face, as Churchill once said, you must “never, never, never, never give up!” Relapse is part of the recovery process. I am not saying this so you can use it to rationalize your next relapse. If you did, then you are not really in recovery, are you? You might need to go back and look at the denial step again. I am simply saying that you must never give up hope no matter how many relapses you have. Addiction recovery is possible for any one that is willing to put in the work. One of my favorite things I hear from clients that have come to a place of consistent sobriety is, “I would never change anything. The things I have learned about myself was worth every pain….every relapse. I needed to go through it to learn what I need to learn and to stay clean.”

5 Warning Signs That Your Partner Might Be Looking at Porn

Being married to a porn addict can be a very difficult trial for the partner. In spite of the pain that a porn addict goes through in trying to overcome and continue the addiction, it is not as intense and traumatic as what the partner has to experience. A major factor that contributes to this pain is the complete lack of emotional awareness that an addict has for their partner’s trauma with the addiction. They can be so intensely involved in the addiction that they cannot emotionally comprehend their partner’s pain. Becoming aware of this pain and feeling it is one of the major steps in overcoming pornography addiction. In addition to this lack of awareness, the partner of a sex addict is often left in the dark. They go from day to day waiting and dreading to hear about the next relapse. They often get so anxious and fearful with this waiting that they find themselves almost wishing their partners would tell them they looked at pornography, just so they can be relieved of the intense fear. Even if it’s just for a small moment before they go back into the fear cycle. Experienced partners of porn addicts often come to know of the addict’s signs of relapse. However, there are many who are left in the dark for days, weeks, and even years. Here is a list of warning signs that are common for sex/porn addicts that every partner of an addict should be aware of. Keep in mind that I made this list to help promote accountability and healthy communication. It’s not intended to be used as evidence to support the casting of a guilty sentence based on a partner’s fears which may or may not be accurate. In the end, sometimes all that a partner of an addict can do is to just inquire and have faith that the addict is being honest and accountable to them. Acting on our fears and confronting an addict with all the fear and rage of an angry bull can often lead to more disconnection, increased paranoia, and a lower likelihood that the addict is going to be accountable. These warning signs can be helpful, but the greatest warning sign I have witnessed with all my work with couples who go through pornography addiction is the partner’s intuition. Even if you doubt your intuition sometimes, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself that you’re crazy. You’re “crazy” for a good reason.

  1. An Increase/Decrease of Sex and Physical intimacy
    • When an addict is looking at porn, they will most likely go on two extremes regarding sex and intimacy. Partners will either feel a pressure to engage in more sex or they will feel sexually neglected. If an addict desires to have more sex, they will often want to engage in activities in the bedroom that might make the partner feel uncomfortable. In addition, an addict’s sex with their partner will often be focused on obtaining a physical release of sex rather than increasing the emotional connection and intimacy with a partner. Keep in mind that it’s common for an addict to struggle with seeing sex as a means to increase a couple’s emotional intimacy even when they are not currently looking at porn. This tends to get better as an addict’s brain and relationship starts to heal from pornography’s affects.
    • Sexual neglect or rejection from an addict, the other extreme, can be common as well. The greater the pornography use and masturbation with an addict, the greater the likelihood that they start to prefer porn and masturbation over intimacy with their spouses. This is due to how they have trained their brains to respond to intimacy. Because of this you will often see an addict experience an increase in erectile disfunction or other sexual issues due to his’ or her’s continued use of pornography use and masturbation. One of the other more common reasons for sexual neglect in an addict is their intense shame. Their shame leads them to isolate themselves from their partners and thus avoid physical intimacy.
  2. Changes in Mood
    • Pornography use and masturbation can often cause intense shame in an individual. This shame will almost always lead an addict to isolate him or herself from the relationship; thus increasing emotional disconnection. If an addict doesn’t learn to manage and face their shame and other emotions it will often lead to “shame rage.” In other words, they can become very emotionally reactive and critical of their partners. It is easier for them to put blame and become reactive to their spouses or children then to face the pain of what the addiction brings. However, withdrawal  symptoms of a porn addiction can come with changes in mood as well. However, It is usually not as intense and frequent as what shame can do to an addict because of their continued use and secrecy.
  3. Changes or Neglect in Interests and Responsibilities 
    • As an addict gets further into his or her addiction… work, school, religion, and hobbies will start to decrease or become neglected. The addiction and the continued hiding and secrecy take up all of his’ or her’s time and mental efforts. They will often be forgetful and absent minded. They can also start to lose focus on important tasks.
  4. A History of Porn Use Prior to the Relationship
    • One of the most common things that I see in my office is when a couple comes in after a partner of an addict is exposed to the seriousness of an addict’s’ problem. Prior to this the partner was either unaware of past pornography problems or had very little knowledge of it. The addict will often tell the partner that he or she struggled with pornography use and masturbation in their past but they “kicked the habit” and are free from it’s hold. The partner will often say to me, “I knew he had looked at pornography before we met, but he made it sound like it wasn’t a problem any longer.” One of the best things an individual can do before they get married is have an extensive inquiry about past history of pornography and masturbation use with their partner so they are not left in the dark if the problem comes back a year or two later. If an addict didn’t have authentic recovery before he or she gets married then most likely the problem will be back fairly soon after the marriage starts. An addict knows when he or she is in recovery because they will know their triggers and how to deal with them, they will be accountable for their past mistakes, and they will have experience in dealing with the painful emotions they have put off for so many years as an addict.
  5. More Privacy
    • Another common sign of pornography or sexual addiction is continued privacy with computer and cell phone use. In my experience, an addict that is dedicated to his recovery and that has accepted accountability will not be overly-cautious with privacy regarding their cell phone and computer use. Late nights on the computer and obsession over being in constant contact with their phone is common for an addict. In addition, addicts start to become experts at covering their tracks. A common sign of this is clearing the internet and text history on a computer or phone.

Please remember that these warning signs do not necessarily mean that your partner is engaging in pornography. Also, most often when confronted, an addict will deny pornography use and become defensive. They will find a way to feed their addiction no matter what the cost is in the end. The best thing you can do as a partner is to take care of yourself emotionally by establishing boundaries and reminding yourself that his or her addiction has really nothing to do with you.

Take Some Time Out of Your Day and Watch This! You Will Thank Me Later…

Social networking and cell phones are largely designed to increase our connection with others, but in reality it ends up creating more disconnection. This is a great video describing the impact that social networking and cell phones has on our abilities to connect. It’s very well made, entertaining to watch, and very inspiring.