One of my clients had had his marriage blow up in his face only months before. His pornography habit had been discovered yet again–after repeated promises of “I’m quitting now”–and his wife was so fed up she had left the house for a week. (It could just as easily been any other bad habit or addiction that had been kept secret.)
When he had contacted me, he was desperate to save his marriage and family.
Now I asked him, how would you rate things at home these days, as compared to before that phone call asking for help? On a scale of 1-100%, how much of the former warmth, closeness and romantic connection has been restored?
“More than 100%,” was his surprising answer. “Really?,” I asked. “How could that be?”
Before the crisis, he told me, his porn habit had blocked his wholehearted connection to his wife. He had been dishonest, hiding, guilt-ridden and preoccupied mentally, emotionally and sexually with hundreds of digital women.
His disconnection from his wife had not only left her feeling abandoned, even if she could not know why. It had also left him lonelier and emptier, and drained the relationship of vitality.
There had been a “third party” in the marriage—as there always is when there is a compulsion or addiction—and this parasite was damaging both of them, and the marriage too.
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Now he was more present, involved, attuned to his wife, and both of them were reaping the benefits. (His daughter was getting more of his investment, as well, to their mutual joy.)
He could give of himself freely, unconstrained by secrecy and distraction. “I can just be myself,” he said, without worrying about managing his habit and the lies that conceal it. And he was thoroughly enjoying being with his best friend and lover again, enjoying that affection and intimacy that only partners sharing everything in their lives can know.
Of course, there are good reasons to find this hard to understand. Let’s compare the marriage to a bank account. Loving investments represent deposits and selfish actions represent withdrawals. Certainly, the betrayal involved in the porn habit and the deceptions was like a huge withdrawal—wiping out what had taken years to accumulate. How could that be reversed in a matter of months?
Fortunately, there had been enough “funds” accumulated in the marriage account—warm memories, goodwill, shared commitments—that this incident did not wipe them out immediately and prompt his wife to leave him. Still, he had known emotional resources were very low and if he did not shore up the account somehow and fast, he was afraid it would quickly run into the red.
Now he was saying that not only had they managed to restore the former “assets” in their marriage, but they actually increased them!
This is because the crisis had caused him to reprioritize his wife and child, so that he was investing quality time on a regular basis. It had also forced them both to have frank discussions where they shared their deepest fears and concerns, and bared their hearts to each other.
I’m guessing that it probably also shook up the couple’s former pattern of over-focusing on parenting and living parallel lives. It got them back to focusing on each other (which is best for the child, too).
How did he do it? When I say he had come to me desperate, it is important to note he was also determined. He had told me how he had quit smoking before and he would do the same with this bad habit. He challenged himself and it mobilized his competitive spirit. He firmly set his intention—“No failure this time.”
He enlisted my aid. He did his recovery work. He brought his home office downstairs into the public area, so he would no longer be isolated and tempted. He would feel the presence of his wife and daughter and remind himself of who and what he really loved.
And he gave his time and energy to his family. They became his stress relief, his entertainment, his excitement, to replace his unhealthy habit. And it was paying off.
Is he doing everything perfectly? No. Is he immune to a possible relapse? No. Is it guaranteed he will not have any more painful and tense moments with his wife? No. Was everything in the marriage stronger than before? No, he conceded.
The trust is far from where it had been. He knew it will take time to rebuild that after he had broken his promises repeatedly. He has to prove himself reliable and clean for many months before she can realistically fully let down her guard.
But he has never been happier in his marriage, and they are well on their way to more than fully healing their relationship.
And I have seen other couples like his, where both the partners say that though they could never have wished for such a terrible crisis, their marriage is much improved. And they have grown immensely as individuals.
Therapist Robert Weiss expresses this hope well in the case of infidelity:
“You may not believe this, given the current state of your relationship, but in time, if you sincerely follow the [right steps], your relationship with your spouse can and will be better than ever.
“No, it will not look or feel the way it did before you cheated or while you were cheating, but that is a good thing, not a bad thing.
“When you become an open book with your mate, behaving in trustworthy, rigorously honest ways in all facets of your life, you become much more intimate and emotionally connected.”
From “Out of the Doghouse: A Step by Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating.”
And so, it can be better than before.
Written by John R. Williams, MA LMHC, Mental Health Therapist for The Center • A Place of HOPE. John seeks to not only empower individuals to find peace and fulfillment, but also establish warm and strong relationships. Located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more.
Once you have acknowledged the truth of your pain, you must decide to forgive. What if you understand all the pluses but still don’t feel like forgiving? The first step is to state your truth aloud, even if it’s only to yourself. Put into words how you are feeling and what has been done to you. Saying the words aloud is a way to let them go.
You might also try these written exercises to help in your journey of forgiveness.
- Draw what forgiveness looks like with crayons or markers, or paste in representative pictures from magazines. This may be hard. You have lived with anger for a long time. It is more familiar to you. You may need to remember how you felt when someone forgave you and what that forgiveness meant to you. Express how that feels in your drawing.
- After drawing a picture of forgiveness, write a letter to someone who may have hurt you. This is not an actual letter to send, but a way for you to verbalize in a safe way the forgiveness you need to extend. Instead of a “You hurt me because” letter, which emphasizes the action of the other person, write an “I forgive you because” letter, which will emphasize the control you are taking back for yourself. You are no longer the object of the action but the initiator of it.
Forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s a process. Someone bumps you in the elevator and says, “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Oh, that’s all right,” you say. You’ve forgiven that person. But on a subconscious level, you looked at that person and judged the reason why they bumped you and the manner in which they apologizes before you assured them, “Oh, that’s all right.” Even though the time from their bump to your acceptance of their apology was very short, your forgiveness was still a process that took into account a variety of factors, not the least of which was how you were feeling that day. If such a small event requires evaluation, think what the process must look like when applied to the incidents of abuse and pain in your past.
Start with prayer. Forgiveness is a tall order, and the power and strength needed to forgive are formidable. But remember that nothing is impossible with God. He is able to give you the ability to extend forgiveness. He is, in fact, an expert at forgiveness: he extends it to us all the time.
While I firmly believe that forgiveness is vital to a successful journey toward healing, don’t pile additional burdens onto yourself if you are unable to give instant forgiveness to yourself or to those who are responsible for your pain. This isn’t a bump on the elevator. The process of your forgiveness requires time, perspective, and patience.
No matter how hard you’ve tried to suppress your anger, it’s very near the surface. Any chink in your armor, and it comes exploding outward. Forgiveness is deeper down, harder to get to. You’ll have to dig for it, like any real treasure.
And while you are working toward this gem of forgiveness, place your wounded heart in God’s hands for safekeeping. Allow him to provide you comfort and safety. At the start of each day, deliberately turn to God and not to your behavior with food.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or disordered eating, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.
Turning over your life to God as the navigator is not an easy task. It requires you to give up control over your life, to listen to God, and pay attention to His answer. It requires you to commit to being obedient and trust even when you may not like it or understand it.
If you are looking for ways God can speak to you, here is a list of ideas:
- Seek counsel
If you’re already doing some of these things, congratulations! Rededicate yourself to the task. If one or more of them have become stale or rote, switch it up:
- Choose a different place or time to pray or meditate.
- Try using a journal to record your prayers or meditations.
- Read a different translation of the Bible. Try one that you’ve never considered before.
- Be more structured with your study if you haven’t been studying the Bible much, or, if you’ve been very diligent, change your study topics for the next six months; be more spontaneous. Start opening up the Bible at random, and study from there.
- Find a wise, godly person who you can be open and transparent with, seeking accountability and a sounding board for spiritual matters.
- Spend some time, each day, just calming your mind, opening it up, and listening to what God might want to say that day. Whenever possible, go outside and walk in order to get out of your environment and into His.
- Pay attention to what God is saying to you. Write it down as soon as you hear it. Use your journal or keep a small spiral notebook or pocketbook with you or available so you can make sure not to lose what you hear. Make sure to put it by your bedside, as God often has used the time of either going to sleep or upon waking to capture my undivided attention.
Look over this list and make note of the things you are currently doing. Then, consider one or two you have not been doing, but are convicted that you need to start. Think about any additional ways you understand God and can speak to you that are not listed. The list above is by no means the definitive one, so if you wish, include any that are a part of your faith tradition.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 38 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
Marnie was scared. She couldn’t believe how mad she’d gotten at the kids just now. She felt like a stranger, watching herself unleash on them over something stupid. She’d told herself to stop, that they were just kids, but she hadn’t been able to. The words and the anger just kept pouring out. Thank God, she hadn’t hit any of them, though at one point she’d really wanted to. That’s when she’d felt herself snap out of it. Dear God, how could she even have thought to do such a thing?
Marnie had looked down at those two terrified little faces and, suddenly, saw herself looking back. She knew what that felt like. What was wrong with her? How had she ever let herself get so out of control? Dear God, Marnie thought, what if it happens again and I can’t stop? Who am I? Who have I become?
As you consider the effect of childhood abuse on your relationship with others, I ask those of you who are parents, or who have access to authority over children, to give thought to how those relationships may be affected. Do you find yourself doing or saying things you swore you would never do or say when you grew up? Or do you find yourself giving in to childish requests and behaviors to say no, all to avoid a confrontation? Do you find yourself trying to be a “nice” parent more than a “good” parent?
If the parenting model you grew up with was fundamentally flawed, you may be at a loss to determine what is normal and what is not, what is helpful and what is harmful. You may go to the opposite extreme to avoid any semblance of harsh behavior. You may be terrified of becoming a monster yourself. You may gain satisfaction from finally being the one in charge. I implore you not to shy away from examining your own beliefs and behaviors about raising children, especially when it comes to discipline.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 37 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
“We’re only human.”
Have you ever heard this? If so, what does it mean? People generally say this when they want to excuse a mistake or minor failure of some sort. It is to make ourselves and others feel better after a blunder.
Even so, many people struggle with the drive to perfection. These people will say they hate making mistakes. If we pin them down, and they think logically, nearly everyone will agree that all people make mistakes. Knowing that, many are still harsh with themselves – and sometimes others – when they don’t live up to their own (often unreasonable) standards.
What is this all about? Why such a struggle with being human? Several possibilities may underlie this tendency, namely:
- You’ve grown up in a critical environment
- You’ve been exposed to strong, external social messages that mandate perfection
- Fear based on past consequences
There are other reasons for the pursuit of perfection, but these are rather common. Pay close attention to the last example above. There is a key hidden there. Unrealistic expectations are often the adult, non-conscious response to other contributors to perfectionism. What does that mean? People who grow up in a critical environment or with strong social directives often develop unrealistic expectations. In other words, the first two reasons can cause the last one. When this happens, it is usually outside our awareness.
Unrealistic expectations cannot be met and therefore generally lead to guilt. Repeated, consistent, or intense behaviors cause our brains to develop something called schemas. A schema is a “way of seeing or doing something”. Categories develop and overgeneralizations can occur – a “once that way, always that way” mindset is formed.
In the most basic sense, schemas are lists of accumulated rules that organize, motivate, and validate our thoughts and actions. This can be helpful so that we don’t have to think everything through. However, not all schemas are accurate. For example, if someone moves the coffee pot and you try to go on automatic to where it used to be, you won’t find it.
Therefore, one key purpose of a schema is to make us efficient. Schemas power our routines, automatic actions, and core beliefs. Changing a schema can change our thoughts and behaviors all at once. Imagine that you have a schema in your mind that says, “I am worthless”. If that is the case, then if your boss does not give you a promotion, you will likely say, “See? I knew it! I’m not good enough.” You might withdraw, avoid the boss, and eventually leave the company. However, if your schema says, “I am worthy”, then when you do not receive the promotion, you may say to yourself “I am capable of this work. Perhaps there is something more I need to learn for this company.” Or “I know I can do this. Perhaps the boss missed something. I will check with him.” Words, thoughts, and behaviors follow our schemas and it usually takes conscious awareness to change this.
Think about this the next time you want a cup of coffee. Once you decide you want it, you just go for it. At no time do you think consciously, “left foot move, right foot move, left foot move, grab coffee cup, press button on machine” – right!? This is because the schema in your brain for “go to coffee pot” is established, non-conscious, and automatic. Therefore, a healthy level of performance requires a conscious watching. In the beginning, you may need to pay particular and consistent attention to multiple areas of your life. Over time, however, as your schemas change for the better, your skills will likely become more automatic and easier to use.
At The Center, you’ll find people who understand that perfectionism is a myth. They do not feel guilty for their humanity and they find joy in helping others reach that place. Pursuing excellence is healthy. Expecting perfection from yourself (or others) can be debilitating and steals joy and our unique contributions. We at The Center know this and will provide guidance on how to form more realistic expectations of yourself and others.
Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board Certified Group Psychotherapist at The Center • A Place of HOPE. The Center, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders and more.
Once you give up on the idea of a future where your addiction is “manageable,” you must contemplate a future without the addiction in any form. The question then becomes, “Who am I without this?” The addiction has been such an integral part of your life that you have difficulty imagining what life could be, who you could be, without it.
This point was brought home to me last year. I was working with a woman who was trying to overcome a prescription drug addiction. Amy was in the phase of recovery where she was ready to accept the negatives of her addiction but fearful of what life would mean without it. During this time, she got a card from an old friend. She said they’d drifted apart because they no longer lived in the same state. Their correspondences, Amy told me, were usually a yearly holiday missive giving a personal and family update. The midyear card came as a surprise and contained a picture of the two of them that was more than thirty years old. Amy showed me the candid shot of a group of teenagers and asked if I could pick her out.
As I struggled to avoid embarrassment by choosing the wrong person, Amy said it was a picture of her church youth group getting ready to take off for a day hike. When I didn’t pick her out right away, she gratefully let me off the hook and pointed herself out. She lamented how far she’d come from that young, smiling teenage girl. “I can’t remember who I was,” Amy said, “and if I give this up, I can’t imagine who I’ll be.”
I believe this question of who you’ll be without your addiction is a common one. Addiction has the power to co-opt the person you are and change you into someone different, altering your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. The person you were becomes a faded, distant memory. You may look in a mirror and feel unsure of who you were, ashamed of who you are, and fearful of becoming anyone else.
I think people are fearful of giving up an addiction because they believe they will be in pain without it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in different ways, though rarely will they use the word pain. Instead, they say without their addiction, they will be frustrated or bored, anxious or afraid. They tell me the addiction, whatever it is, helps them overcome being depressed or angry. In the deepest throes of my overworking, my pain might have carried the name unsuccessful or failure.
Are you struggling with addictive behaviors and feeling depressed? Do you feel that your life is not in your control? The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and speak with a confidential specialist. Begin the healing process and have confidence that there is hope, and that joy is attainable.