Episode 205: Overcoming Porn Requires This One Skill You've Never Heard OfAug 06, 2023
I am Zach. And I'm Darcy. We're an L d s couple who struggled with unwanted pornography in our marriage for many years. What was once our greatest struggle and something we thought would destroy us, has become our greatest blessing in trying. Our hope is that as you listen to our podcast each week, you'll be filled with hope and healing and realize that you too can thrive beyond pornography and create the marriage you have always desired.
Welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. We're so glad you're here and we believe in you.
Hey everybody, and welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. I'm your host. Zach Spafford, and I'm looking forward to this conversation today. Today I want to talk about the one skill that you need to quit porn that you've probably never heard of. You're like, wait, what is it? Should I write this down? Get out a piece of paper.
Yeah, it's time. It's time to write this down. It's time to do something different. So when we think about how to quit porn, There's a number of key skills that we need to acquire and get really good at in order to become successful at minimizing using porn as an emotional management tool. There are skills of perception, which include being able to see what's going on more clearly and interpret it meaningfully, for instance.
Instead of seeing my pornography use as a fatal personal flaw, we start to take a look at our emotional state, and in the 30 or so minutes before we choose porn, we can start to look at our emotional state in the 30 or so minutes before we choose porn, identify our unwanted uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and urges so that we can begin to address those more directly.
There are also skills of action, which include having new, more effective ways of practicing your skills of perception, right? So what we just talked about, taking action in the direction of your values. So you might have to work on creating values in that new perspective section, and then also increasing our understanding.
Through consistent review of the choices that we are making that fall outside of our values. So we're taking action, taking the right kinds of action, taking action in the direction of our values in a more effective way, and we practice that over and over and over again until it becomes habitual. Then there are skills of willingness, which might include increasing our tolerance for discomfort.
Trying again after we make mistakes. 'cause we will make mistakes. We will consistently make mistakes throughout this process. But willingness to endure that mistake section and try again is essential to this. And then there's humility to just try things that you've never tried before. Not even knowing if they'll work, but being willing to try them because they might work and you've reasoned it out and you've looked at it and maybe somebody who has actually done this work has given you this as an idea.
And I think that's a really unique distinction because there are a lot of people who will give you all kinds of. Ideas, people who've never done this work, people who set themselves up as experts who are like, no. It's just like when I go to the gym. Yeah, it might be just like when you go to the gym, but if you have never done this work, your capacity to offer valuable insight into the exact structures that someone is dealing with in this particular problem is somewhat minimized.
I've often said this on the podcast, and I say it in other way, other places. If I'm looking for help to become a, an entrepreneur, I'm not just gonna ask somebody who has a theoretical knowledge of it. I'm gonna go to a guy who's made payroll, hired and fired people, set up a successful business, done the work because that guy is somebody that I can reliably.
Understand has the ability to do this work. So I'm not saying just try anything that everybody offers you, because that may not be helpful. If somebody says to you, here's an idea you may want to try, I would ask them their credentials. Have you done this work? Do you know what it's like to resolve this issue?
And that's not to say that people can't be helpful if they haven't done it, but it is to say it's more likely you're gonna get further. If the person who you're talking to has done the work, so having the humility to try those things. Even if you don't know that they'll work, you have a little bit of confidence in the person who's offering you that idea because they have actually done the work.
So on the podcast, throughout the many years that we've done this now, so we started in October or August, no, October of 2019. So we're four years into this almost. I've talked about new ways that you can think about this. I've talked about the steps that you can take, the action steps that you can take.
You may not have yet taken. I've also talked about how to be more willing, how to try things, how to create greater tolerance for the discomfort that you are going to engage in this process. But something I don't talk about a lot on the podcast, but I do actually discuss pretty heavily in my coaching is a concept called differentiation.
One of the reasons I don't discuss it as much on the podcast is that I really try to make this podcast as easily digestible as possible. Getting technical or using terms with meanings that are not readily apparent to the listener can. It actually kind of puts the brakes on any influence that I might have on you guys, and I don't want to, I don't want to intervene in that process because I hope that you can trust what it is that I'm saying without me getting super technical.
I. But I want to talk about this concept because I think it's probably one of the most essential skills that you've never heard of, much less had taught to you or even tried to practice. So let's start with the most basic, simple explanation that I can begin with. And then I want to dive deeper into what it looks like to become more differentiated in your relationship and how that actually helps you become more capable of putting pornography behind you.
According to one of my favorite authors, Dr. David Sch, who is the author of Passionate Marriage, which is a book I highly recommend if you're willing to slog through some really technical and deep and dense material, is people's ability to balance humankind's two most fundamental drives. First, our desire for attachment and connection on the one hand, and second, our desire to be an individual and direct the course of our own lives.
On the other hand, now, I often talk about this in terms of being able to be solid in my sense of self, connected with who I am and who I want to be and how I wanna show up in the world, while also being able to choose closeness with my partner, their life, and their ideals. This is a huge skill, and I think it's really often overlooked and very rarely explored, and it hinges on the idea that for me to function well in my life, in society, and in my relationships, I require only my own good functioning.
You may be familiar with the idea of another relationship theory called attachment theory, which is essentially that for me to function well in my life, society, and relationships, I require the good functioning of others around me, especially those closest to me. This idea makes an enormous amount of sense when we think about children and in particular young children, we can see how much more well-rounded and emotionally stable they can be.
When they have certain important and essential building blocks set up for them, by those who take care of them. This is just my opinion, but I think. That both of these theories are effective in the lives of most people at various times. In ideal circumstances, I believe that at some point, each of us will have been the beneficiary of someone who took care of us, who was making sure that we were fed and changed and clothed and given a place to live and offered an appropriate education.
Someone who was deeply engaged in managing our emotional reality to the best of their ability. And I think that that's important for a lot of reasons. I also believe that at some point, each of us must be willing to leave behind attachment theory and move into differentiation in order to become our most fulfilled selves.
I'd like to assume that you've been living an attachment theory for a significant part of your life, and that while it's helped you to get as far as you are right now, you might be ready to start moving. To a more differentiated life. And I say that only because that was my own lived experience. Maybe your experience isn't like that.
Maybe you've been differentiated and this is totally not helpful for you. But let me give you an example from my own life of what attachment theory looks like. When Darcy and I were first married and I was really struggling with pornography, I thought if Darcy and I can just have sex, whenever the idea strikes me, I'm ready for it.
She just needs to be ready for it. That might help me minimize the desire for porn, because I would be more sexually satisfied. A lot of guys that I talk to, their version of this looks like if my wife would do things that are more sexually engaging, or if my wife would not just lay there or if my wife would just.
Want me more so I didn't have to chase her all the time, then I might be more sexually satisfied and therefore I might not choose pornography. So if that's, that might be your reality. It might not be. But I think that of the many, many, many men and women that I've talked to, these are the ways that it often shows up for them in this particular vein.
This isn't the only way that we have attachment theory, but this is a very. A common reality for most men and women who are struggling with a pornography issue in their relationship. So my good functioning sexually required her to function sexually for me. So she had to function in a very overtly managerial way so that I was well managed.
So my good functioning sexually and morally required her to function sexually for me. On the flip side, Darcy would say that for her to feel loved and desired and maybe even safe, I needed to never look at porn so that she could know that she was enough. I. Not that I could be living up to the agreement that we had within our relationship, but so that she could know she was enough.
That's, those are different things, and I want you to distinguish those in your mind because the one is, we have an agreement and if you're not living up to that agreement, that doesn't work for me versus I'm not enough If you're. Working outside of the agreed version of our relationship, and I don't know how to handle that.
So her good functioning and self-worth were tied up in my good functioning of not choosing porn. To be honest, I don't think that was ever really true, just the way that I framed it out for you. But it gave us a platform to stand on and try our best to become better versions of ourselves. That's what it was at the time.
I can see what it is now, which was us being highly attached and highly anxious about the other's reality and issues. I can say now that the flaws in this particular argument are clearly evident to me, and I think they might start being evident to you if they're not already, but that was what I had to work with, so that's what we did.
It wasn't until Darcy and I started to understand differentiation that we were able to finally. Get some traction on moving beyond pornography and into thriving beyond pornography. And when I say understand differentiation, it wasn't like somebody handed us a book and said, here's what differentiation is.
We just started experimenting with it. Becoming more differentiated in our relationship. Started with me not getting lost in Darcy's anxiety over pornography. We had a lot going on. I had a career. We had a lot of children, and when we discussed pornography, I really felt very helpless to resolve Darcy's concerns.
That started to lead me to detaching her particular concerns about pornography and my role in the pornography that was happening in our relationship and. The anxiety that she felt from me as an individual, so I was no longer making what she felt or thought about pornography and the anxiety that she had about my use of pornography.
I didn't make that about me. I started to see her struggle with this topic as something that I could empathize with. But that was not something I could do anything about because even if I was not looking at porn, because there were lots of times I just wasn't looking at porn, she was still anxious about it.
I also allowed myself to choose greater closeness with her by just being present, allowing her to ask questions and answering them openly as meaningfully as I could while simultaneously not. Taking them personally or making them mean that I was bad or unworthy, or that I would never succeed at overcoming this problem.
That took a lot of internal work to recognize when I was feeling attacked or maligned and addressing those feelings meaningfully so that I could stay present with her as she worked on her side of the street. So I was doing the work on my side of the street. She had to be doing the work on her side of the street.
That's what she was bringing up. She was like, I wanna resolve this. I wanna fix this. I wanna deal with this. But. If I put my emotions into her trying to resolve it, she wasn't able to resolve it. 'cause I was trying to manage her and I had to do this because I had my own anxieties and my own issues with this particular struggle with my pornography viewing.
I had these feelings of, Worthlessness and I had a self-worth problem that I hadn't been able to address because I was working to manage her. And I realized that by addressing my own issues, I'd be able to show up more, be present, choose her, and not choose porn. Differentiation is, in a lot of ways, it's a trust exercise that can help you build a stronger relationship.
Not because everything will always go perfectly the way that you want it to, or even predictably. By becoming more differentiated, belonging to myself, more fully being the man I wanted to be, I was able to more fully compliment my wife's amazing innate capacities in our relationship. So you might visualize this differentiation the way you would see the yin and yang symbol.
And if you don't know what that looks like, just. Take a look on the internet, just Google yin and yang, and you'll see it. Each is clearly defined. Each of the entities within that yin and yang symbol, the black and the white, is within its own boundaries. It's perfectly complimenting the boundaries of the other, and together they make a whole that's more than the sum of the two halves in that space.
You are your own, you're unique, and you're defined. You also belong to someone who is her own. She is also unique and she's separate from you together. You create something that's not just each of you, but also both of you. I think of that as our family. Darcy and I separately are individuals who can create ma amazing things together.
We are this family, are all of our kids, and the relationship that we've built and all the amazing things that come from that, that are more than what each of us could have done on our own without the other pushing on. Us or being there to support us as we pushed ourselves. It's a difficult idea to conceptualize, for me at least, not to mention maybe the difficulty of actually putting it into practice.
For instance, in an effort to separate ourselves, we often push our partner away rather than reflect on the inner turmoil that we're feeling while choosing not to make our partners issues our own. That kind of distancing physically, emotionally, or mentally, makes it difficult to create something that includes each of you separately, but also creates something greater than the sum of its parts.
Another way of resisting differentiation is to unfold into your partner's anxiety and lose. Your sense of self. We do this by violating our uniqueness in order to make maybe keep the peace or get on the quote unquote same page as our spouse. What this creates is a relationship that's diminished because one party often rules and the other must obey without meaningful partnership or distinction.
In each of these instances, we have to be willing to endure the discomfort of changing the dance when we work on our solid self, it can happen. That a spouse will try to push all the buttons to get us back in line and keep the dance steps the same. I know that when I stopped doing things because I wanted to manage Darcy's happiness, it was hard on her.
Sometimes she would threaten divorce something neither of us actually wanted, but each time we worked on this, each of us got a little bit better at trusting ourselves to be okay and the other to be able to handle their own side of the street. W We try in our relationship, Darcy and I do to reflect inwardly when we feel anxious, not asking the other to manage our anxiety for us.
That doesn't mean we don't share our anxieties, but we look at it slightly differently. It's, let me tell you how I'm doing and what's going on for me, not, I need you to fix this. And we're not perfect. We don't always succeed in that particular moment, but in the end we really I would say we're batting a thousand pretty much.
This allows each of us to really dial in together and without freaking out that the other side is the problem. When something doesn't go the way that we want it to or that we think it should. We actually had a situation just like this the other day. I did something that Darcy didn't like and that brought her extreme embarrassment in the moment.
And to be honest, I'm not proud of the way I acted, but in the moment I felt justified. She reacted in a way that I thought was pretty much over the top and out of bounds. Something that I don't think she's actually proud of either. But that again, in the moment. She felt justified in doing it. Took us a couple of hours to cool down and work through our own parts of it, and I'd like to say that I was a little bit quicker because she was able to ask some really poignant questions at the moment that made me think, and I apologized almost immediately because I could see how that impacted her.
I also have a little bit of inside knowledge about some early messaging that Darcy got in her life that helped me. Process her reaction without making it mean as much about me as it might have done in the past. And as I pointed this out to her, I think that helped her actually process it as well, so that.
She could move beyond this without making it into as big a thing as it felt like it wasn't in the moment. And I'll be honest with you, it was very uncomfortable. We were stuck in a drive-through at Inn Out, so it was this long line and I couldn't escape, which is what I like to do. I'm kind of an avoidant person.
I actually prefer to step away from a lot of problems until they blow over. But what we saw on this issue was that. Once we were able to stop requiring the other to behave in a way that made us feel quote unquote safe, we could see that we could handle our own side of the street and still choose closeness with our spouse without getting lost in their particular anxiety.
How this applies to your journey beyond pornography and then into thriving, and by the way, this is the stuff that we work on in the membership and in individual coaching. So if you've been listening to this podcast for weeks, or months, or even years now, I invite you to just take action and sign up for a free [email protected] slash work with Thrive.
It's a good way to just begin the conversation and get some free help framing the problem more effectively. And I actually had a client sign up just this last month who, He had been listening to the podcast since 2020, so almost from inception. I think he said he started listening in like June of 2020, and that's a long time before taking action.
You don't have to wait that long. You can do it right away, and I think you'll be glad you did because I love these conversations. They're a great way to just start the process of moving forward if you feel like you're stuck and if you don't feel like you're stuck and you're moving forward and you just want somebody to help you keep that momentum.
That's a great conversation as well, how this particular idea that we just talked about applies to moving beyond and then thriving beyond pornography is in the shift away from over-functioning and under-functioning that may be going on because you're working to manage your partner's sexuality or anxiety around your pornography use.
So Darcy was trying to manage my sexuality around pornography use. I was trying to manage her anxiety around Pornography's use and. That wasn't working, that wasn't helpful. What we are doing when we differentiate is we free ourselves up to do the work on our own side of the street. We can then, once we're freed up, like I don't have to work on her side of the street.
She doesn't have to work on my side of the street. That makes a big difference in our struggle to maximize the amount of energy we can put into developing the right perspectives, the appropriate actions, and greater willingness that we actually need. To address the underlying issues that are nudging us toward viewing pornography by avoiding the discomfort that those problems are creating.
So when I'm uncomfortable or I'm stressed, I'm lonely, whatever it is that when you think in the 30 minutes before I look at pornography, what is it that is pushing and nudging me towards viewing pornography? Once I am working on my own side of the street, I can. Actually deal with that issue upfront and with as much power as I can, rather than having to manage my wife on the symptom of the problem, which is the actual pornography use.
When we differentiate, we get to stand on our own two feet, and then we choose who we want to be close to. That gives us a space to figure ourselves out, which when I think about the person that I wanna be, he's someone who is able to handle his own emotions. He's someone who does not need. Someone else to take care of his quote unquote needs, and he's attractive.
The person I wanna be is attractive to someone who can also do those things. I want my partner to be able to handle her own emotions. I want my partner to not need me to take care of her needs, even if sometimes I choose to take care of her needs, even if sometimes I choose to be close to her when it costs me something.
Yeah, that's a big difference, and I want you to see that because this is not an easy process. It's intimacy in a new way. It's intimacy at a different level than what you might be experiencing, and that has enormous dividends downstream. And I won't talk about all of the enormous down downstream dividends, the benefits, but I will say this, if you want a better relationship with yourself and with your spouse, This is the one skill that you need to be engaging in if you engage in nothing else.
But by the way, if you engage in this, you'll be engaging in all the other skills, I promise you, because you'll be like, oh I have to learn those so I can make this better. But if you do nothing else, and you engage in figuring out how to become more effectively differentiated, no matter what the cost is, You will begin to see those dividends in your relationship, in your day-to-day sense of yourself and in your intimacy, and also in whether or not you're choosing pornography.
All right, my friends, I love you. I am going to the beach this week, so I hope that you have a great week. We're taking the kids down to Malibu. If you are in Malibu this week, shoot me an email. You can come and have a beach day with us. We'd love to see you. We love doing this work. If you are. In Southern California and you want Darcy and I to come and have a conversation with you at your, church fireside or at a church meeting.
We would love to come and be a resource to you. That's what we love to do. So reach out to us, [email protected]. I would love to hear from you, and if you have not set up your appointment to get yourself moved beyond pornography so you can start thriving. Do it now, Zachspafford.com/workwiththrive.
Next week we are going, I'm gonna share a podcast that I did with a psychologist who is from Minnesota. He just reached out to me. He had heard about us through his, a relative of his that had met us at a, an event here in St. George. Amazing couple. And this guy, he's this is exactly what my people need to hear.
He is a clinical psychologist. And he reached out to me. So I did an interview. That's the episode that you're gonna hear next week and it's really a great conversation. So I highly recommend that all of you tune in. Alright, my friends, I'll talk to you next week. I.
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