Episode 246 - Candid Conversations on Recovery - A Couples' Journey Through Pornography with Ariel Finlinson

May 20, 2024


Listen to the Full Episode:


Enjoy the Show?

Listen for free


Episode 246 - Ladies Talking Love Interview

Scarlett 2i2 USB-1: [00:00:00] Hey everybody. Welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. I'm your host Zach Spafford. This week on the podcast, I am getting back from the beach, but you get to listen to a great interview with our friend Ariel Finlinson. She has an amazing website, an amazing podcast called Ladies Talking Love.

You can find her at slash from pressure to passion. Go check her out. She's an amazing coach. She's an amazing host. I hope you enjoy this podcast of her interviewing us about pornography. Talk to you soon.

Ariel: I'm so excited to welcome Darcy and Zach Spafford onto Ladies Talking Love. Thanks so much for joining me, guys.

Zach Spafford: Hey, thanks for having us.

Ariel: I love, I love getting to have couples on. I don't do this very often. We usually have mostly women on, but I'm really excited, especially for the topic of pornography.

This can be a really heart wrenching, hard topic. And so I love that we get to have a couple who has worked through this and made their marriage. Way better than it was before as they've gone through this journey. So to start out, I would just love to have you guys talk a little bit about your story.

What got you into talking so openly about pornography and to feel so passionately about learning to thrive after pornography use?

Zach Spafford: Yeah, I think, well, it starts with me. I was using porn. I was, I didn't know how to cope with certain things in my life. And porn was a methodology that I used to manage , as I was climbing the corporate ladder and doing all the things that you got to do as a dad and a husband.

And, as I was going through the process of growing up and being in that role, I also was, Struggling to manage myself. And so I started to go to ARP meetings, like 12 step meetings. Uh, I worked with counselors. I worked with church people. I worked with everybody that I could get my hands on.

And I found that none of it was super helpful. And then at some point Darcy started to just talk to our friends and she was like, listen, I'm going to share this story. And I, you know, it's my story just as much as it is yours. And I had to kind of respect that because the truth was like, I couldn't say to her, Hey, , don't tell people.

Um, even though in some ways it felt like I was pretty much a deviant, I wasn't being a good human. So she started to talk to people and tell them what was going on. And, and that was.

Darcy: Most of the people that I talked to, a lot of them, had either dealt with it or were in the middle of dealing with it, and, and so that was, opened up a channel to discuss it with them, and then, also for me, I just, I'm not very good at keeping things in, it's probably like the ADD in me, and so, I hope.

Ariel: That's probably a healthy thing, right? We're not supposed to

Darcy: Yeah, and but it's like very different because a lot of people that I talk to or a lot of couples that we work with, they don't tell us soul and it's like very like quiet hush hush. But I think for me, I was like, no, I don't want it to be this secret, hidden and have around us talking about people who struggle with porn, like, they've got some like disease.

And so it was like, the more I talked about it, the more I feel like we were able to have open and honest conversations about it.

Zach Spafford: And so we started to find some traction in really just being open and real about it with people and starting to work on the internal stuff. all the external advice that we got, all of the 12 step stuff, all the stuff that church leaders offered us wasn't it was terribly valuable. It just didn't, it didn't solve the problem. It was like, you know, Hey, just stop it. It was a lot of platitudes that didn't make a lot of sense and didn't really give you any concrete activity to do. So as we started to do the internal work, I started to do the internal work, there started to be some success there.

And then Darcy found a podcast that, we love Jody Moore. We we've been on her podcast. She's great, but she started to listen to some of the things she was saying. And we were like, maybe we could do this, uh, for. Because people need this conversation and yeah, some of the things that she was saying were things that I was doing But that I I wouldn't have said that way like I didn't know the vocabulary.

I didn't have I was just doing that stuff. So as we started to think about doing it, we started to And we just started to take steps in that direction and then we decided Mother's Day 20, what was it, 2019, 2018, 2019, yeah, Mother's Day 2019, we were like, let's go for it. Let's do this. And that October we started the podcast and we started coaching people and helping them through this process.

Ariel: That's awesome. I love that. And it seems like, I'd love you to dive in a little more about. How it came up in your marriage? Because I think it sounds like you guys were pretty open, but was there a time where Darcy didn't know that you were using pornography? And how did that come up?

Zach Spafford: Mostly it was just Darcy finding me screwing [00:05:00] up is what it really was.

I wasn't terribly keen on being honest, partly because I didn't know how to solve it. I mean,

Darcy: partly because I was like, I can pretty much handle anything. But if you look at porn, I'm out. That was my mindset. And so I can see why he was like, I can't tell her this. Yeah. I had made threats in the past and it was like in 2008 was when I discovered that he was looking at porn and we got married in 2003.

So it was, what, five years into it. And it was earth shattering, like horrible, heart wrenching, lots of emotions, lots of anger. Lots of resentment, lots of fighting, betrayal, lots of yelling.

Zach Spafford: That was all on her side.

Darcy: I may or may not have thrown toilet paper rolls down the stairs at him, you know.

Ariel: Of all the things you could have thrown. I also threw a

Darcy: laptop.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, it was a work laptop. It looked like my laptop.

Darcy: It survived. It

Zach Spafford: did survive, which yay Dell laptops, I guess. But

Darcy: yeah, so. It was one of those things, like, for years where he would just hide it from me and I would find it and then, you know, we'd go through all the things.

Ariel: After the initial, after the initial finding.

Darcy: Yeah, yeah, and then it was like in 2015 where we finally, like, We're in a good place. In 2012, I, everything, I know all these dates because my, they coincide with when my kids were born. So my twins were born in 2012 and that was when we kind of stopped doing everything that we were doing up to that point.

I was in like betrayal trauma groups.

Ariel: Yeah.

Darcy: Online and I found them to be very, very negative. A lot of man haters in there and, and I didn't find a lot of value in it. Beyond feeling like I wasn't alone, you know, like it gave me a sense of like, okay, I'm not the only one dealing with this, but it also, after that initial, like having a community, I felt like it didn't really do a whole lot to improve our marriage and improve our relationship.

I felt like a lot of it was very negative. And I wanted to stay married to Zach because outside of his porn struggle, he was a really good guy. He was a good father, a good provider, good husband. Like, I wanted to be with him. I just, that one part, I just wanted to fix, you know?

Ariel: Yeah. Yeah.

Darcy: So I was like, okay, this is becoming toxic because, you know, I didn't want to constantly be viewing my husband as like this horrible person.

And so for me, I pulled away from that and we stopped going to like the essay groups and the addiction recovery meetings and we just started going at it on our own, like figuring it out. And so, yeah, it was like a three year process of like figuring it out to where we got to a place where I felt like we were good.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, I wish we'd had somebody who could have walked us through it because there wasn't anybody like, you know When we were looking around for help, there wasn't somebody who was like, hey You know, we have done this and not only have we done this, but we have a system and a process that you can follow that isn't just like our say so, but has some scientific backing.

And if that had been available, man, I, we would have moved heaven and earth to do that, but we, it didn't exist. So that was one of the reasons why we thought this would be valuable for people is because there just weren't any resources out there that we could find.

Ariel: And I think it's so powerful coming, uh, we of course want the research back, like this has worked for people, but also coming from a couple who's been able to work through it has so much power to share your story.

And so I'm so glad that you're talking about it.

Zach Spafford: Well, it's funny we say this. We're like, it's our favorite thing to do is talk about porn on the internet.

Darcy: Porn and sex. We're all for it. We can talk all night long.

Ariel: I'm the same way, except I usually don't talk about porn as much, but we are today. No, it's so true.

And I, I'm so grateful to have you be open because it is such It's a scary topic, like, at the beginning, and starting to work through it, and like you said, like, it feels like a bombshell went off if you find out that your spouse has been using porn and you didn't know about it, and it can be so hard.

Before we dive into some of the things that kind of helped you through it and some of the challenges, I would love you to talk about, just a little bit, Darcy, what made you Decide to stay because you said beforehand you had threatened like, if you look at porn, I'm out. How did you manage that bombshell that came off and kind of [00:10:00] shift to a place of I'm going to fight for this?

Darcy: I would say it was probably gradual, but I feel like a lot of what I said at the beginning was so much out of fear, right? I was so scared of it. All the stories that I'd heard growing up and all the messaging I received around pornography that I was scared of it So it was like a threat because I was like, "oh if he knows how bad I feel about this Then he'll clearly stay away from it."

A lot of it has to do with that But then also just I didn't want to end up divorced like I wanted to make our marriage work. At the time we had had four kids, and it wasn't, I, to be honest, I wasn't really in a position to leave, let's be honest, right? Like I got married young I had kids right away. I didn't finish my schooling. And so it was like, I didn't have a ton of options I felt like. And so it was like, "how can I make this work at least for now?" And I could have never imagined what it could have turned into in that moment, because it was, it was just so painful and hard to deal with it.


Zach Spafford: Yeah. I think part of it was that trapped feeling, but I think at some point there was a shift for you.

Darcy: Oh yeah. For sure.

Zach Spafford: And , it stopped being, I have to stay. And it started to become, I'm going to choose this because I want it. And, and that's, I mean, I think that's where you've been now for quite a few years.

Darcy: Yeah.

Ariel: And I bet that was powerful for you Zach as well to see that shift. In her.

Zach Spafford: Oh, it made all the difference. Yeah.

Darcy: Yeah. To be honest , it's so hard to talk about it in like just a short session. Yeah. Right. And in like an hour. There was a lot that went into that shift feed. But like for me, like I did a podcast episode about the six shifts I made to heal from betrayal trauma.

And a lot of it was just like, I changed my perspective and. Started addressing it for what it was instead of making it so much about me, in the beginning It was so much about me It was like i'm not enough like here I've worked out and i've lost all this weight and I feel so good and yet you're still looking at porn.

So Now i'm gonna get fat just to punish you which really just punished me You know because he just loved me. However, I was and it was just a lot a lot to deal with but You I feel like the biggest shift for me was just learning more and more about what pornography is and isn't because I feel like I always just thought, , oh, it's about sex, it's, it's about, I'm not enough, or maybe I'm not adventurous enough, or, like, he needs more than what I can offer.

I'm not beautiful enough, I'm not, yeah. Yeah, but really,, the more I started learning about it, the more I was like, wow, this is really similar to struggling with overeating, and struggling with shopping, and Scrolling on Instagram. Instagram, yeah, it's like doom scrolling, , and so Once I started to realize and understand what pornography was and wasn't, I was able to deal with it from a more, , compassionate understanding way versus it being like, this is an attack against me.

And, so that was a big part of it for me was just education.

Zach Spafford: And when you came onto the, onto my side of the street and you were, when you were on my team against porn, instead of, You're against porn. I'm against porn, but you're against me because I choose porn. That was a huge difference that made it so that I could really start to trust you.

, and I think it's an interesting idea, right? Because I'm the offender. You know, everybody out there is like, "well, no, you're the offender. You're the bad guy here. Why, why do you need to trust her?" But the truth is. If you want a relationship, there are, trustworthiness is essential in both camps. And, you know, when I would tell her what was really going on for me, whether it was about porn or not.

she didn't do a good job of handling it. It was very much, I, I was climbing the corporate ladder and I'd come home and I'd tell her about a rough day at work and she'd be like, are you gonna get fired? There was no like, oh, okay. Well, I know you can handle it. I can trust you.

Zach Spafford: It was very much, I need you to assure me that everything is okay, and I need you to manage me so that I am okay. And that was not, that was not a trustworthy position. Now that's not an excuse for me not to be trustworthy, but it is an understanding of the frameworks that we were working in. And once she was able to get into a place where she was okay, and then she was on my team, I could see showing her myself more clearly and offering her a better picture of who I really was.

That's tough to do. Yeah. Because you don't wanna be rejected. Yeah. And that was a huge shift. And I, you know,

Darcy: and it's just tough to hear because you know, you wanna look at your husband as this like strong, confident, what self, you don't see me that way Dan. And you're like, are you telling these

Zach Spafford: people that that's not how you see me all the time.

Darcy: Yeah. And you're like, [00:15:00] wait, oh gosh, you are. You are kind of broken and you've got some issues and you know.

Ariel: But I can be broken but you can't.

Darcy: Yes, exactly, exactly. Only I'm allowed to have problems.

Ariel: Yes, but I feel like that's how we grew up. Like everything we see about romance and love is like the strong guy who doesn't budge and the broken girl, you know.

So I think there's so much ingrained in us that it can be hard To recognize and shift that to be like, no, we can both be broken and bring our brokenness and heal together and become something better together.

Darcy: Yeah. It felt very threatening, right? To hear that from him. And

Ariel: I can totally relate with that because I feel like I, I jumped to doomsday conclusions on everything.

And that's something I'm working on and has been a really good shift to be like, Oh no, like. We can both be strong in ourselves and also broken in ourselves and rely on each other. And I think that's so powerful. You mentioned a little bit about it. Can you talk a little bit about this cycle? Like, what was this cycle you were in?

You talked about Darcy kind of relying on you to be that strong person for her, which was an excuse for using porn, but made it really hard to share that you were, and also to recognize that. That, you felt like you were carrying all this weight, which would make you go to this coping mechanism probably more often.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, there was, there, well, I mean, before I knew Darcy, I was viewing porn.

Ariel: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: And so there was this undercurrent and underlying problem that I wasn't really addressing, which was porn. The things that I thought about myself and the person that I was being and not living up to my own values and not dealing with my emotions.

I, you know, I joke a lot that men are only allowed to have three emotions, hungry, angry, and horny. And if I'm outside of those, I'm some sort of weirdo hippie. And if I'm not dealing with those. So I wasn't dealing with those. I didn't have any coping strategies for that. I didn't have any way of understanding, one, what it was that was going on for me, and two, how to deal with it.

And then, layer on top of that, now I have this huge responsibility of a wife and children, and she can't handle when I'm not a hundred percent okay. So I can't really show her any time that I'm not okay. Like I said, if I tell her, Hey, I had a rough day at work, even if I didn't have a rough day at work, but there was, you know, some back and forth, she's like freaking out, losing her mind.

And I'm like, she clearly can't handle anything. That's really true about me. Because if she knew who I really was, then I w then she would Go off the deep end. So I, I had to put on what I like to call the present itself. I had to say, okay, this is the person that I show Darcy. Just like when you go to work, there's a person that you show the people at work.

When you go to church, there's a person that you show the people that you go to. You can't share everything with everybody. It wouldn't be appropriate in most circumstances. But then there's this person with whom I'm supposed to be entirely intimate. She's supposed to know everything there is to know about me.

And I can't show her either. So now I have this problem because. I don't know how to deal with my underlying structural problems of how to, be an emotional human with thoughts that I don't really like and know how to deal with. Then I have to not share that with her because she can't handle it.

And then I have this problem that if I tell her about it, then I'm really a bad person. So all of this just kind of piling on in this cycle of like not being able to be intimate with someone, not being able to be known to someone really wears on you. And I think this is one of the reasons why, in part, men choose porn because it's something that it's, it has to be secret.

There are very few Christian people, religious people in general, like I've worked with Jewish people, I've worked with Christians, I've worked with Islamists, um, I've worked with a breadth of people and very few of them are like, yeah, porn's great. In fact, I've never worked with someone who thinks that because it's, it's, it's It's just not how the, how these things sort of work.

Right. So here I am in this place and I, I have this problem. I can't share it with her. And it just perpetuates itself.

Darcy: Well, I think a lot of it too, was self preservation of not wanting to share it too. Like there was, wasn't all just me.

Zach Spafford: Oh, yeah, no, totally. No, for sure. So it's, yeah. I just

Darcy: want, I don't want people that are listening to think it's all my fault.

Zach Spafford: No, it's not all her fault. Really it was, I mean, even, even the hard parts where she's saying, Hey, I can't handle you. And I don't want to see who you really are. That's all about self preservation too. It's a hundred percent self preservation because if I show her and then she rejects me. Then I'm, I'm the one who gets to feel bad, right?

So, so all of that self preservation, all of that is just protecting my own ego.

Ariel: And it's showing you, if she does reject you, that you're an awful person. Like,

Zach Spafford: yeah, no, what I think, all the bad things that I think about me are true. Right. Cause like, well, you're a [00:20:00] terrible husband because you look at porn and all of that is around self preservation. And this, these coping mechanisms, they're all about making sure that we feel good in the moment.

Sometimes at the expense of who we expect ourselves to be. And that, problematically, is a, it's just a cycle that self perpetuates.

Darcy: All the negative feelings that you have, just, it just perpetuates it. Because when you start feeling crappy, what do you do? You go and look at porn and it just keeps going and going around and around.

Ariel: And then you feel mad at yourself that you looked at porn and so then

Darcy: and then you double down you recommit But then you start down the path and then you feel bad again and then

Zach Spafford: well And it's so it's so demoralizing because they're most of us think that we have to like use willpower At some level or we have to we have to just like fight it it off and the problem with that is that we're fighting with our brain With a finite tool when we use willpower and motivation. And you cannot fight with your brain one, because you are inside your brain you are the person in there so you can't fight with that entity because it's just you fighting with yourself that makes no sense you can't punch yourself in the face and make you make the problem go away. And the willpower motivation there's not enough of that.

There's not enough of that in the world for you to deal with an internal problem. Those are great for externals, if you're fighting a war or you're in a battle or, you know, there's some sort of external problem. Like a lot of people use the, the Bible story of Potiphar's wife, right? So Joseph in Egypt, Potiphar's wife, Joseph's hanging out with Potiphar.

He's doing all the work for the household. And then Potiphar's wife takes a liking to him and he's in a room with her. And people are like, well, why don't you just do what Joseph did, which was run away. The problem is that Potiphar's wife is a real person, and you can physically move far enough away that there's no more temptation.

You can never run far enough away from your own brain. And so you have to learn to deal with the internal struggles with internal tools. And that's what I didn't have. So in this process of getting out of that cycle, I had to start to get good at being One feeling bad, which is like the worst thing.

Nobody, nobody ever grew up and was like, I'm super good at feeling bad. No, that's not a thing, but it is part of the process of growing up because you have to be able to feel bad long enough to move through it so that you can deal with the underlying problem, which is the story that made you feel bad.

And once I started to learn those tools, I was able to start stepping away from the problem and my brain stopped offering me porn for the most part, because it was like, don't have to circumvent this. I don't have to run away from this. I don't have to suppress this. Yeah. I can feel it when

Darcy: you're dieting and you're like, I'm not going to eat sugar, right? I'm not having sugar for 30 days. And then all of a sudden, all you want is sugar, right? Your brain is like so fixated on what you can't have. And, and that kind of happens a lot with pornography. It's like, no, you can't, you can't, you can never do this. It's not allowed. And it just becomes so much more enticing versus like, yeah, I can, if I want, like I can, if I want.

And that's actually true. Cause , you do look at porn. So that is actually more true than you can't. And then it's like, okay. Now I can, but I don't want to, it's like, I'm actually choosing not to engage with this versus I just can't.

Ariel: Yeah. I would love to hear Darcy, what was your kind of cycle in this?

Like during the time where you were as Zach described on the opposite side of the street, like what was your cycle when you would find out about porn use and where was your mind and your emotions? And then when you joined him and you're both fighting porn, what did that cycle How did it change and what did it look like for you?

Darcy: Okay, so to be 100 percent honest, when I first found out about it, and we started being intimate again, I was like, that's it. I'm going to be a porn star, right? Like I'm going to be like, I'm going to try so hard here. I'm going to do all the positions yeah. And I tried really hard and obviously that didn't work either.

So for me, I would just, I would find out about it, get very angry, lash out, Yell at all the things that I wish I didn't do right in and then

Zach Spafford: sometimes hitting

Darcy: yeah, and then we would kind of like work through it. I talked to my girlfriend and it would get better, but really it wasn't because he was just hiding it better, right?

This is in the beginning and then Once I started to realize, okay, this isn't like, he is hiding this from me. How can we actually address it? And then it became, okay, what's going on for you? what is actually going on here and how can we work together to solve this versus fighting each other on it?

I feel like for me, it was so much like he, Zach said earlier, it was like, porn was in the middle of us breaking us apart and we were on, both on one side, fighting it. [00:25:00] And then it was like, okay, how can we get on the same page of this? And for me, that was realizing that porn is not as big of a deal as I'm making it.

Like I'm giving it so much power, to control everything.

It was controlling my moods. It was controlling how I treated my children. It was controlling how I treated Zach. It was controlling how I talked to myself. And I was like, why am I giving this so much power? So part of it is taking back my power and realizing that I'm better than pornography.

And what I can offer is way better than pornography and way more awesome.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. Well, you're real and I think, two really important things to. To remember, no matter where you are in this process, the hurt is real and that's okay. It's okay to feel bad. It's okay to be upset. It's okay to have these just harsh feelings and there's nothing wrong with that per se.

The question you want to ask yourself is, well, what am I trying to accomplish? And if what I'm trying to accomplish is to stay hurt and be hurt, then You know, that's totally fine if that's where you want to be. But if what you want to accomplish is moving to a more enjoyable, loving, free, just comfortable relationship with your spouse, then you have to start to, you have to start to look at the problem differently.

And it's not, Darcy said, it's not that porn isn't okay in our relationship and it doesn't have to be okay in your relationship, but the level of power that we give it, the, the enormous weight that we put on it. Whether someone is viewed naked people on the internet having sex, that level of power kind of dictates how we interact with it.

And once we start to take back and empower ourselves, then it becomes a huge burden lifted. And then we become a team. And that's a huge difference in terms of really solving the problem. Because when she started to ask what was going on for you from a real genuine place of curiosity, rather than, "I need you to give me the right answers so that we can stay married."

Darcy: Like in the beginning, dead serious, there was a calendar that hung on the wall that I was like, cross off like good day, bad day, good day, bad day. Tracking it, there was just so much emphasis on porn. , I felt like it was all I thought about. , I joke that I thought about porn way more than he did.

I checked out women way more than he did. Right. Because I was constantly in that cycle of comparing myself to other women or what did he look at? Did he look at anything today? I felt like an obsession, to be honest, in the beginning because it was just like, my brain would just get hooked on it.


Zach Spafford: And I think it's also important to remember that when, when you really realized that you were better than porn, it wasn't like you were somehow a porn star, right?

Darcy: Definitely not. I've had eight children. So

Zach Spafford: you are still quite gorgeous. I think the difference is recognizing the realness where pornography is.

Unearned validation. Like nobody ever goes to the internet and is like, I would like to see this today. And the internet says, well, I don't really feel like it tonight. That never happens. Right?

Darcy: Yeah. I'm tired. The

Zach Spafford: internet just gives you what it is that you want, where when there's real, So intimate connection between two people, that, that is so much more enjoyable and more real.

Ariel: Because there's a price of vulnerability. There's a price to pay. You don't have to pay that price to go on the internet and look.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, and that's really the difference between what a real woman is and internet porn. It's that price that you pay to really get to know and to really expose yourself to your spouse.

Yeah. That's what's better. I don't know if it sounds better. I mean, the way I'm saying it, but that is what is better.

Ariel: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that is so helpful to bring so many things you guys brought up. I'm like, we might need to do like 10 more episodes, but I would love to hear a little bit about what you found that helped because you were doing like addiction recovery programs and all of these things working with church leaders.

What actually helped you both in this shift to seeing it as a coping mechanism and learning to cope with those big emotions and feel them and work through them instead of just going to Like, we all have something, right? Like, Instagram, scrolling, porn, whatever it is that we default to.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. Oh, go ahead.

Yeah, go ahead.

Darcy: The biggest thing for me, honestly, because remember when I was like, I was super hot when I found out who's looking at porn? Skinniest I've ever been. Been going to the gym all the time and I made that comment saying you're gonna have a fat wife now. I think I gained about That was

Zach Spafford: a literal [00:30:00] moment.

Yeah. That was not hyperbole in any way. Yeah, like

Darcy: I was joking. I think I gained She was

Zach Spafford: mad and then she was like you're gonna have a fat wife now. I think

Darcy: I gained like 40 pounds. And it was after the twins were born and stuff, and I decided like, I want to be healthy and I'd gotten so used to using food to cope with my emotions.

Ariel: Yeah.

Darcy: Like big time, right? Like having all these little kids and just,

Ariel: Chocolate in the pantry.

Darcy: Yeah, food became my best friend, right? It was always there for me. And so when I started to realize oh, I've really got a problem with overeating at this point. I need to do something about it and was open with Zach and realizing wow, we are really very much the same, like what he's saying and how his brain works around pornography was how my brain was working around food.

And yes, we put a different moral attachment to pornography, so I'm not saying it's, morally equivalent or whatever, but what was going on in my brain was the same thing that was going on in his brain. And I think for us, that was something that helped us realize, okay, this is really not about porn.

It's really not about sex. This is about dealing with our emotions. And how is it that we can deal with those emotions versus having the consequences of either looking at porn or overeating?

Zach Spafford: Yeah, what we didn't know when we were going through it was that we were using the tools of mindfulness and ACT.

A lot of what we were doing were, if you go to psychology and you look up ACT, acceptance and commitment therapy, or acceptance and commitment training, that, that system is what we were doing. But it was all trial and error on our part. It was just stuff that we had kind of understood from popular culture or things that we had experimented with.

And that's when the rubber really started to meet the road. And then as we started to say, okay, we're going to get into this and we're going to work with people and help them, we realized what we were doing was ACT. And if you, I, I don't know if you know Cam Staley, but he, uh, He's been on the

Ariel: podcast.

Zach Spafford: Oh yeah, Cam.

So he's a great guy.

Ariel: He's great. And,

Zach Spafford: and he talks about doing the research and he's like, I was going to prove that porn is an addiction. And he found out that he, that was not the case, right? That, that was really when we, Darcy, literally, I remember this. We were

Darcy: listening to a podcast. I was laying in the bed.

I couldn't sleep. It was like 1 AM in the morning. Zach's like passed out. Totally passed out. And I'm listening to this interview that Cam Staley did. And as I was listening to it, I was like, oh my gosh. Zach, Zach, you gotta wake up. She wakes me up from a

Zach Spafford: dead sleep, like. I'm

Darcy: like, this guy who's like a PhD psychologist is saying the same exact things that you're saying.

And like, it was just like a lightbulb went off and so we joke that like he got his

Zach Spafford: I got my, I got my PhD, I got my doctorate in, at the school of hard knocks. And yeah, we got his doctorate at, uh, I don't know, Idaho state, I think.

Darcy: But it was like realizing like, wow, oh my gosh, he's talking about this the same way that you talk about it.

Like, I kid you not. I would have thought that Zach was copying him.

Zach Spafford: No, you would have thought he was copying me. Well,

Darcy: whatever, , because I, we, I had no idea who he was, I was like, wow, this is crazy. To me now looking back, I'm like, yeah, it's because it's like true principles.

Like it's,

Zach Spafford: it's

Darcy: truth. And that's why, you figured it out. And he also figured it out. And you guys are saying the same thing. It was crazy.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and once we started to see that, we said, okay, this is what we have to use because the, the evidence and the data are really clear that, the 12 step type programs and some of the other programs that are based in fear and in motivation and willpower, those weren't working for anybody.

And there was no data that showed that they did, but you know, it was just the thing that people used. And then ACT came along and cam, in at least one of the studies that I've gone through where it shows, , you've got an 80 percent success rate.

Ariel: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: And it's like, whoa, this is a game changer.

Darcy: Cause if you've ever been to like addiction recovery meetings at your church or like essay, there's very few people in the group that are successful. Like I joke that there was this one dude that was everybody's sponsor.

Zach Spafford: Yeah.

Darcy: Cause he was the only one, the only one, and then like, which, which is funny.

Cause I. Like three years later, he had started looking at porn again. So,

Ariel: and it's so sad. Yeah. If you have something that works, like let's use it. Yeah. Why do we keep doing this?

Zach Spafford: Well, that's part of the problem is that one, we [00:35:00] have this culture where 12 step things, Al Anon and AA and Narconon and all of those have been so deeply ingrained into our societal structures for like 75 years.

I mean, if you go to court, For, an alcohol related issue or a sex related issue, they'll send you to a 12 step meeting. There's no basis for it. It's just, that's what they do. So, starting to recognize that there were actually tools that were helpful, using those tools, and then being able to share them, that was a huge shift for us.

Because in that space, we started to create, a lot of help for people who were pretty hopeless. Yeah. It's just so, such meaningful work.

Darcy: And I, I love it too, because I struggle with anxiety a lot. Me too. And depression. And I use these tools that, we teach people about pornography to deal with my anxiety and my depression.

And it's amazing how these little, just these little things make such a difference in how it is that you

Ariel: show up. Yeah. And I know we don't have time to go into all of them, but could you just briefly tell us, A little bit about some of the tools you mentioned. Mindfulness is a huge one. Yeah.

Zach Spafford: Mindfulness. I actually just built a new program called the thing you need to know to quit porn and. If you want, I will actually give you a link that you can,

Ariel: yeah, anybody who wants it can have it. I'll put it in the show

Zach Spafford: notes. Perfect. And I I'm just building it now, but it starts with understanding what the detour cycle is.

So there's this cycle that we all go through, which is there's this story in our brain that says. I'm not enough at some level. It could be I'm bored. I'm could be I'm lonely. It could be I'm not succeeding. There's a story. That narrative sets off an emotional catalyst, which is something we never want to deal with.

You know, I might feel lonely or frustrated or whatever emotion I'm dealing with. And then that is the thing that creates the escape offer. And the escape offer is Well, I, I need a break or I just deserve a minute or whatever it is. And if you're thinking about this in terms of your, your doom scrolling or your snack time or whatever, you can see the same, the same patterns, right?

It's, I don't want to deal with how I feel. So I'm going to go and escape into this other space where I've got dopamine and something that feeds me some good feelings instead of dealing with. What what my brain's been offering me and then especially it's

Darcy: like eating some chocolate during like mealtime when everybody's breaking down Right, you're like trying to cook dinner.

Everybody's whiny

Ariel: and I'm telling my kids you have to wait for dinner in here I yeah, you're like

Zach Spafford: And that's where the, that's where the next step in the detour cycle is. So there's five steps of the detour cycle is that rationalized bargaining. It's all right. If I just have a little snack right now, instead of waiting for dinner, cause I'm the one cooking, right? We all rationalize our behaviors. And then at some point there comes this values breach where we literally were just like, well, I've come this far.

I might as well keep going. And this, this tiny little detour cycle is the thing that once we start to get clued in to how it's working in our lives, we can then start to intervene. And so to intervene, you can do things like, a one minute meditation or box breathing, which are totally things that people just know what to do.

Like I say, box breathing, you might know what I'm talking about. But 10 deep breaths, you almost certainly know what I'm talking about. And these tiny little ways of moving through that negative emotion, instead of following the escape offer and all of the steps that follow it, start to put you into a position to get curious and ask questions.

And that's where mindfulness and ACT come in, where it's like, okay, here I am in this moment, I have this story, how do I deal with this? And one of the tools that we use that I teach people I call NAB, notice and name. So you notice the story, you name it, you just do it. Give it a name, say what it is, say it out loud if you can, allow and ask so you allow it to be there.

We're not fighting with it. We're not suppressing it. We're not trying to run from it. We're not trying to distract ourselves from it. We just stay put, get comfortable in that space and start to ask questions. Curiosity is your biggest tool in this whole thing. Because in curiosity, You can start to grasp the, the outer edges of it and dig into the middle.

And in that, in that framework, you start to have more capacity to solve the problem. Most of the people who are struggling with porn, the very first thing they do when they're done with it is they run from it mentally, right? So they're like, I got to distance myself from my behavior mentally so I can feel okay ish about what I did.

Instead, what you need to be doing is you need to dig in and you need to say, what is the data here? Why did I choose this? How did this happen? So just get curious, ask as many questions as you possibly can, and then dig in. Breathe and be kind. And these two steps are essential. Breathing is a way to connect physically with your body.

So you get that physical input in your body and you're connecting with that. And [00:40:00] then breathing actually fuels the body and fuels the mind, which your mind is the, is the thing that needs the most fuel in all of your, physical systems. To fuel your mind means that you'll have a better chance of making good decisions.

So deep breaths and then be kind. And this I cannot stress enough. Be kind to yourself. I mean, if you, sometimes I think the things that we say to ourselves, we would never say to anybody else, and they're not helpful. There's no benefit to being like, I suck, I'm horrible, I'm a terrible person. Being kind is more like, this may not be who I want to be, but I can handle it and let me move forward through it.

That's not to say that I'm accepting who I am or what I'm doing as the way that I want to live, but it is to say, I'm not a terrible person because I made this choice. I just need to figure out how to resolve it. And being kind to yourself in that space is so essential to this process. Within this new, it's a miniature course, but I think it really encapsulates the most important components of what it is that we do.

And it offers people. A real concrete way to address the problem, such that they don't have to feel like they're lost forever. Yeah.

Ariel: Yeah. They're addicted

Zach Spafford: forever. Which is

Ariel: powerful, it's so powerful to realize, Oh, I, I can choose and I can be a part of this decision instead of just feeling like it's gonna happen because you don't have any say in it.

And I think it, it just, it's, All the work Cameron Staley's done, and I love what you guys are doing, is so amazing to realize too that this is a coping mechanism for not understanding our emotions and knowing how to work through it. And so Darcy, I'd love you to talk for just a little bit about how you were able to separate yourself from Zach's pornography problem, because I think that's, you know, So hard as women, like you said, like I'm going to be a porn star.

Cause, and I remember a conversation before I got married, there was a girl I knew and she was getting married. And she's like, I think guys just look at pornography because their wives aren't like, you know, spicy enough and stuff, and this stuck in my head. for so long. I didn't know anything about anything back then.

And, and these ideas that like, oh, if my husband's looking at pornography, it's because I'm not pretty enough. I'm not good enough. All of these things that we bring in, how were you able to separate that?

Darcy: So I just, with your story that you had, I had a similar story that was like, Don't ever tell your husband no, because if you do, he'll look at porn.

He's going to cheat on you or he's going to look at porn. Oh, let's have sex out of fear.

Ariel: What a great idea.

Darcy: Okay.

Ariel: I think it's

Darcy: so sad that that's all we think about. Like that's the, the credit that we give men, you know, that that's awful. That's all they can think about and all they can handle. But I think for me, like separating myself from porn, part of it started when Zach started getting better too, like started, started making better choices and.

I was able to kind of separate myself more from it, but I think for me, it was just realizing that I am not a competitor with pornography. That I really offer something that's real and tangible and like working on my own self esteem because I always say like pornography just amplifies the holes that were already there, right?

So like, You think about it, most women struggle with like body image or self confidence or, you know, and pornography was that thing that like amplified all those. And so realizing that. That porn wasn't the cause of how I was feeling. It was that I needed to fix those things, those holes in myself. And so, you know, working on like my, my body image and how I felt about myself and gaining confidence in who I was, those tools helped me.

Versus like, you know, comparing myself to pornography.

Ariel: Yeah, your worth isn't just your body. And I think it's been powerful for me to realize that like, I know I am not the most attractive woman in the world. And I know that there are way more attractive women, but I think it's so powerful that my husband chooses And it's not because just my attractiveness.

Of course, I think attractive, being attractive to each other is important at some degree, but I think we put too much on that. And it's a really beautiful thing to realize. Like we choose each other, not just because we're the most attractive people in the world, because we're not. And that's been empowering for me to realize and to be able to step into and see the beauty of that choice.

Darcy: Well, and I think oftentimes we just want, you know, we want to have that idea that like, we're the only woman that our husband sees or, you know, like that I'm enough and that like, he'll never notice another beautiful woman or whatever, you know, but it's like, That's just a lie. Yeah. I, I noticed attractive [00:45:00] men.

Like I, you know,

Zach Spafford: what,

Darcy: but I can, are you serious? It's fine for you, but I'm sorry. I just confess Zach doesn't know this, but right. Like, obviously there's going to be attractive people around you and there will be more people with better bodies than you or more attractive than you or whatever. But I always, I want to be with my husband. He wants to be with me and yeah, there's always going to be somebody better looking than you. There's always going to be someone with a better body than you. And if that's what you're relying on to feel like you're enough, then you're never going to feel enough.

Ariel: And it's what you do with that, like, we're going to notice attractive people, and with porn too, it's like, but now where am I choosing to channel my sexual energy? And we can choose that, especially when we have the tools to not make porn a coping mechanism.

Zach Spafford: That's a huge component of the process for most men is saying, I do have this agency.

I do have this freedom of choice to choose porn, not because it's what I want, but because I'm a human, I'm a grown person. And that's not to say that it's okay. And it's not to say that it falls within my values, but it is something that I can choose. And once I really fully acknowledge and embody that, then I really have to ask myself the question of.

What do I want? And more than anything, I want Darcy. I want to be with her. I want to be close with her. I want the reciprocation that comes from a real relationship with a real human, not the transactional nature of pornography and the validation exchange or the monetary exchange that comes with that.

And that's a huge difference, I think, for most people. Once they start to really get to a place where they're like, I can do this if it's what I want. What do I actually want? Knowing what you want is a huge difference. Very often we take orders from externals, even our wives, especially our wives, right?

If Darcy came to me and was like, Hey, listen, I really need you to wear flip flops no matter what time of the year it is, because that's really what it looks like to be a good husband, be like, that's a little weird, but I guess I'll try. But more than more often than not, if we can. Step away from those kinds of external dictates like porn is bad for you and start to ask, well, who do I, how do I want to live my life?

How do I want to interact with my sexuality? Instead of just being told to wear flip flops or not look at porn or whatever it is and say, well, that's how I have to live my life. Start to own the position and be embodied within that position. You're going to be much more successful in that position.

Ariel: And I'm so sad where we already went over time, but I want to talk for just a little bit about.

What you've seen on the other side now, going through this process, working together to fight pornography, what, what's happened? Like what has changed in your marriage? And I'd also love for you to talk about how your sex life has changed because being able to show up authentically with the good, the bad, the ugly, And not just bodies and redefining sex for how we want it to be is what helps a marriage thrive as well.

It's not the only thing, because sexuality isn't the only thing, but that's a key component. It's a pretty good indicator. To have, yes, and it like, if anything else is going wrong, it is going to show up in sex. So I'd love to hear what has changed for you guys.

Zach Spafford: I think one of the things that we started to do is we started to not fight with porn.

And I, that kind of battle language, that existential crisis kind of language, really hinders, I think, the process because it becomes so much more problematic because of the way we think about it. So we're no longer fighting with porn. Porn is. And then, how do we want to live with it, right? Because there's no, I don't know of anybody in this world, in the modern reality that we live in, where pornography or nudity or nakedness, in media and, uh, in a variety of spaces, isn't coming up at some point in their lives.

I don't think that exists. You know, the average kid is now exposed to pornography somewhere between 9 and 11 years old. No one graduates high school without having been exposed to pornography in the, in the current reality. So when we take it out of this, it's an existential crisis. If you see it, it's gonna destroy you.

You have to fight it. And we put it into this reality, which I think is a much more correct reality. Pornography is. How do you want to engage or not engage with it? What are your values? So we start there. And then I think, I mean,

Darcy: we have really good sex.

Ariel: Oh, yeah. That's what we're all about. A couple hours.

Zach Spafford: Do you remember boys to men? Like, I don't know if you ever listened to the boys to men songs and they're like, I'll make love to [00:50:00] you, baby, all through the night, all that those songs. And I'm like, well, you might be too young for boys to men. But Like those songs where they're like, we'll make love for all night long.

And I'm like, how did that happen? Like 45 minutes max. And now, I mean, sometimes, sometimes when you go, when you go on a cruise and there's no children to bother you. Oh yeah. It's, it's totally. And the way I like to describe it is. It is, it's not about orgasmic exchange. Yeah. It's about getting lost in each other's body and enjoying the play that is exploring and being close and touching and finding parts of this or that that you enjoy touching.

And I think that's a huge shift. I mean, and, for Darcy, that was, when she started to be comfortable, you Was when that started to be possible.

Ariel: Totally.

Darcy: Which is really only a few years ago, really comfortable with my body and really loving my body and embracing it for what it is, it's not perfect, but it is my body and I want to enjoy my body and I want to experience pleasure in my body and I don't want to hate my body.

And so for me, that was a huge shift for me.

Ariel: But also being able to allow. Zach to love you and your body as it is. It's vulnerable and scary. And I think that's why so many women struggle with it because all the messages we've gotten are what we should, in big quotes, look like, um, or,

Zach Spafford: or be like, or act like, yes.

And on the men's side, there's a really important component that has to be addressed for almost every man, which is you have to be patient. I'm going to, I'm going to bring up my jet engine analogy. I used to analogize. Turning Darcy on to an old tractor that you had to, push the choke and jiggle the handle and make sure this is on and dial this and that.

And she said, no woman ever wants to be analogized to an old tractor. So.

Darcy: No, I think it was a client that said that. Yeah,

Zach Spafford: maybe that's what it

Darcy: was. Get a better analogy.

Zach Spafford: But. But I did have a, I did have a B2 pilot who I worked with and I asked him, you know, what's the startup sequence? How long does it take from start to finish to get that thing going?

And he said, it's about 45 minutes. And I said, perfect. So turning your wife on can be a lot like starting a B2 bomber. It takes time. It takes patience. Sometimes the sequence will change. Sometimes it will be completely randomized and you have no idea what button to push next. But if you're patient. And you're willing to wait and allow for her to just calm down and get comfortable and get into her body, you will get a jet engine.

It's unstoppable.

Darcy: And I think for me on my end, because this is mostly for women who listen to podcasts,

Zach Spafford: but you know, somebody is going to be like, Hey honey, you need to listen to this.

Ariel: Yes, for sure. I hope lots of men listen because it's important to understand women.

Darcy: Right. For me, like realizing I'm worth the time.

Yeah. And if I allow myself this time to get to where I'm Fully aroused and let's do this. It's worth it. Totally. , and also just making the time for it. Right. Like you've got busy lives, busy schedules, like making the time and make it happen.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. I would say that if your sex life is boring, one of the things that is probably missing is timing. That, that willingness to wait, to get comfortable and allow for arousal because once arousal comes so much more interesting stuff is on the table.

And that's a difference between men and women. Men, you know, there's a matter of friction. And once the friction is achieved, we're all good to an extent. But I think for women, when it comes to arousal, and I know I'm more aroused when you're more aroused. So in broad strokes, if you really want good, connective, enjoyable sex, especially as a man, you have to be willing to allow for the process.

Darcy: Yeah. And I'm gonna say as the woman, you have to be willing. To actually try. Yeah.

Ariel: Yeah. You have to allow them to focus on you.

Darcy: Yeah. Which is hard, right? Yep. You're like, or you've got your to-do list going on in your brain. Like we joke that you gotta like close out all the browsers in your tab. You know?

It's true. Especially when you're ADD and your brain's like everywhere and you're like, okay, we need to focus.

Ariel: Yeah. It is completely true and I. I think that it's powerful though, like bringing these two different types of arousal and how long it takes is actually part of the beauty and the frustration.

Because if [00:55:00] we were all like men, we wouldn't have long, all night long connecting experiences. And so we need both. We need. The faster arousal to maybe make these experiences happen more often and a woman to come in and be like, but it's going to be a long experience and we're going to prioritize that.

And that can, we probably don't have time to go into that, but that's one of my favorite topics because I think it's so hard, like you said, Darcy, to allow our spouse to focus on us. But I firmly believe, I've thought about this a lot and been really frustrated about it a lot, but I think that It's designed that way by God because women give so much in other areas of their life, in their bodies, with menstruation and birth and just all the things that often we do.

Breastfeeding. That in order to really get deep and be able to have the fullness of joy in our sexual relationships, we have to allow someone to care for us and focus on us. And that's part of being a woman. The beauty of it, even though it can be so frustrating. But what would you tell couples who are starting in on this journey?

What do you wish that they knew about overcoming pornography use and being able to thrive?

Darcy: How would you close it up? That it's totally possible. That, and it's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be like, okay, we learned this and boom, we're good. We never look at porn again, right? It's, it's a process.

It's learning. It's baby steps. It's making progress. It's having a little bit of setback and getting back on and keeping going . It's a process. It's not like me with that calendar where I'm like crossing out the days, right? it's a process of learning and growing.

And when you do it together as a couple and you're both working on your side of the street, it's a lot easier. I know for me in the beginning, I was like, this is your problem, solve it, figure it out. I didn't want to have anything to do with it. And then when I started to realize, oh, I've got some issues too I could work on and work on my own issues, then it goes so much better.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. Yeah.

Darcy: Like, when, when we have a man that Zach works with and the wife wants nothing to do with it, it's very different progress than when both the husband and the wife are both willing to show up and do the work together. It's life changing. Yeah. We almost don't even want to work with men alone anymore.

Yeah. , now we really want both of you there.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, I, I do work with a lot of divorced men and they're like, I want to take, I want to prepare for my next relationship by doing this work. So, but, but I think, uh, someone who's young and single and has never been married, I think for them it's a very different process than someone who's been married.

And someone who is married, it's a, it's even more of a different process because you're in that process together. And I a hundred percent agree with Darcy. This is doable. This is not. This doesn't have to be the boogeyman anymore. We have the tools. We have the skills. We have the information. All you need is someone to help you walk up the mountain.

when you work with somebody who's been to the top of the mountain, there's a big difference. You might go and get a map and maybe do it on your own, and that might be a little bit more adventuresome or maybe a little bit more difficult, but when you work with somebody who's been there, they can show you the pitfalls, they can show you the parts that you have to do and how that works, and that's really where the rubber meets the road, is when a husband and a wife get together and they say, listen, we have a marriage that's fine.

What we want is a marriage that's awesome, that's thriving, where we really do trust each other. We're like, I can handle you, and I want to know you, and I'm willing to wait for what it takes to get it done. That, that's a huge, that's awesome. That's what we do.

Darcy: Our number one thing is we gotta stop giving porn so much power.

Zach Spafford: Yeah.

Darcy: why is it that we let porn have all this power?

Ariel: Yeah. Oh, that is so empowering and it really is taking the fear out of it to be able to talk about it and face it together. Thank you so much. This has been an awesome interview and you guys have brought just such a beautiful way to tell your story and really take the fear out of this journey for people.

Where can people find you?

Zach Spafford: You can find us at Thrive Beyond Pornography, the podcast, so you can find that on most of your normal podcast systems. We have three groups of

Darcy: episodes. Yeah,

Zach Spafford: so if you really want to know us More than you ever wanted to know about it, go on there. you can find us at Thrive Beyond Pornography on Instagram, where the N in pornography is an X because apparently you cannot use the word porn or pornography on Instagram as your handle, even if it, if it's in educational

Ariel: and good.

Yeah, right. Get it. Uh,

Zach Spafford: and you could go to GetToThrive.Com [01:00:00] and,, and you can see us there.

Ariel: Awesome. We'll make sure and have all those links in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining me today. Absolutely.

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.