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.
Free to Invest
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.
When you were growing up, you may have been told over and over, in a variety of ways, that you weren’t good enough, smart enough fast enough, thin enough, or just plain not enough of anything to please your parents. In order to numb this crushing sense of failure and the guilt that inspired, you began to control your anger by controlling your own body–how it was maturing and what you weighed. By concentrating on food, you learned how to temporarily drive out all painful thoughts.
Anger, fear, guilt, and shame may now be the only emotions you allow yourself to feel. These may be the only ones you’re comfortable with because you don’t feel worthy of the others. You don’t permit yourself joy because you have too much to feel guilty about. You don’t laugh because there isn’t any room in your heart for delight.
The roots of your dysfunctional relationship with food go deep into your past. You need to allow that past to come to the surface so that you can look back at the experiences of your childhood, now that you are an adult, and begin to put your life into perspective. As a child, you couldn’t understand what was happening to you. As an adult, you must. Only then can your healing go forward.
As you look to rediscover your childhood through adult eyes, below are questions and statements for you to answer.
- In my family, the thing I feared the most growing up was ______.
- My parents disapproved of me when I ______.
- These are the things that my parents put the most emphasis on when I was growing up: ______.
- My mother’s definition of success is ______.
- My father’s definition of success is ______.
- To be successful for me means to be ______.
- I turned to my physical appearance as a way to gain acceptance because I couldn’t ______.
- I feel guilty over being abandoned for the following reasons: ______.
- When I was growing up, I thought the following things were wrong with me: ______.
- Even today my parents still want to talk about the following things: ______.
It’s important that who you now go back and connect with the child you were, to help that child understand what happened. You must give that child the comfort you never received and provide that child with a sense of your protection. That child still remains inside of you. Until you can give it what it needs, your inner child will thwart the journey toward healing. The child inside is pleading with you not to abandon it on your way to health.
If you have a doll or stuffed animal, especially one from your childhood, get it. If you don’t, you might want to consider buying one that you’ve seen as an adult and wished you could have had as a child.
Hold that doll or stuffed animal. Hug it close. Give it all the comfort and love you never received. Tell your doll all the words of affirmation and acceptance you so desperately wanted to hear while you were growing up. Hold your doll and tell yourself (as if it were you as a child) that it wasn’t your fault. Remind your doll that you’re here now, and you’re not going to leave.
Keep your doll near to remind you of the child within. For right now, funnel your feelings through the doll. Later, you’ll be able to see it for what it is — a doll — and learn to give those feelings of love and comfort directly to yourself.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
When an emotional imperative becomes a physical compulsion, the desire to find relief can be overwhelming. In relationship dependency, the brain in the present has been trained to respond to certain conditions by the past. Because of ingrained dependency traits and past experiences, you have written your own list of what creates pleasure for you and what creates distress.
At first, your mind was in charge, but over the years your body has become highly influential. You find yourself in the backseat of your own life and responses. You have trained your body how to respond, and now it’s reacting in the way it’s been trained, even if you want to feel something different.
Retrain your Brain. Change is Not Impossible
The silver lining in this scenario is that you can retrain your body to react in a different way. Because we are conscious, thinking creatures and not merely reactive, instinctive creatures, we have the ability to change the way we think and feel.
Change is not impossible. People with phobias of spiders or airplanes or bridges have been taught how to experience and enjoy normal life without terror. People with phobias can learn to grow out of them.
Relationship dependency is really of phobia of being alone. We have seen many people over our decades of counseling learn to push through their fears. We have been privileged to watch as they embraced the essential value of their own self-worth. On this solid, personal foundation, they have restored and entered into relationships with something precious to give — not acts of subservience or demands of control, but the gift of a healthy self who understands, experiences, and gives love.
Understanding How To Change
If you have an idea that you cannot change because your brain has been altered, this is your dependency talking. Refuse to listen. Understanding the factors – emotional and physical – that contribute to certain behaviors, either with a single relationship or within a relational revolving door, is important. Because you may have trained your brain to react in a predetermined way, you can retrain your brain to respond differently. If retraining a brain was impossible, there would be no recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, or shoppers.
When working with someone who is fearful of heights, that person needs help understanding that climbing the stairs, or riding in an elevator, will not result in injury or death. They must understand the flawed nature of their own internal dialogue. The outcomes they tell themselves are inevitable are not true. Once they recognize how much control they have over their feelings of pleasure and distress, their brain can be retrained.
In the same way, you can understand that your internal dialogue, which predicts disaster if you are not in a relationship or if you are alone, is not true. You can take control by climbing back into the driver’s seat of your life and redirecting your brain to respond differently, to create a new template for what is pleasurable and what is frightening, inside and outside of a relationship.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. For over 30 years, The Center has treated thousands with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Recognized as a Top 10 Center for the Treatment of Depression, The Center utilizes the whole person approach to care. Dr. Jantz is a leading voice and innovator in mental health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
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.
Perfectionists walk an incredibly narrow road. There can be no deviation from the prescribed path, no sidetracks, and certainly no missteps. There can be no slowing or stopping for others, who are expected to keep up and keep straight, regardless. Perfectionists understand the road is going to be difficult and take great pride in navigating it successfully. They must be constantly on guard for any obstacle in the path, any breath of wind that might knock them off their course. Vigilance and an ongoing state of alertness are key.
With perfectionism, there is no standing down, no acceptable periods of relaxation. Perfectionism is, therefore, both exhausting and unattainable. Addiction can creep in and promise a form of momentary relief from the unrelenting anxiety of trying to be perfect. Addiction can also promise to numb those times when the reality of the unattainable becomes overwhelmingly hard to bear. Addiction promises you can spend a few hours looking away from the shame, blame, and guilt nipping at your heels unless you are perfect. Addiction promises to shield you temporarily from the fear that you are, sadly and tragically, like everyone else—flawed, imperfect, unworthy.
Angela felt she didn’t deserve to be happy. After more probing, I discovered she never had. Any success she’d experienced had been a sort of “cheat,” she said. If people really knew who she was or how much work she’d put into it or any number of factors, they would know she didn’t deserve success and it would be taken away. How could anything she did be worthy when she wasn’t worthy herself?
Angela grew up in a household where nothing she did was right. When she brought home good grades, it was assumed the teacher hadn’t applied the proper standards or she’d gotten away with something. Good things were suspect, but bad things were expected because of who she was. She knew who she was—the one who would “never amount to anything.” She was the one who would “never be like [her] sister.” The one who couldn’t “do anything right to save [her] life,” even though she always tried.
Angela was deeply ashamed of her addiction; part of her was also incredibly angry. She was angry because being trapped in the addiction proved she was weak and everything that had been said about her was true. All her life, Angela kept trying to “make up” for the mistakes she’d made, and the addiction kept putting her further and further behind. She’d never catch up, and with the weight of the addiction added in, catching up seemed to take more energy than she had. She’d been foolish to think she could ever do or be anything other than a failure. “What good is today,” she’d asked, “if I can’t have tomorrow?”
Angela’s addiction subverted the positive roles of shame, blame, and guilt and used them to convince her she wasn’t worth a positive tomorrow. She was especially susceptible to this tactic, since shame, blame, and guilt had always been used as weapons against her while she was growing up. Addiction strips away self-esteem. This can be particularly damaging when you started out with little or none in the first place, as Angela did.
For years, I’ve been speaking out against the tremendous damage done, especially to children, through the tactics of emotional abuse. My book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse has been a pivotal resource in this effort for more than twenty years.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.