Dear Sex Addict Husband:
Hi. I know I can seem like a bit of a scary person to you. I’m the woman who keeps encouraging your wife to call you on your stuff. I tell her to use her voice. I encourage her to feel her feelings without judgment (including the feelings she was having when she smashed the router last weekend).
However, I work with husbands as well (in a couple’s setting). As someone who had my own issues with porn as a child (starting at age 6) I have more empathy for you than you might think. That’s why I thought I’d take a week to talk to you… and I thought I’d even talk to you on your terms, about a topic I know you love.
We’re Talking Brain Science
In May, I had the privilege to attend (and even speak at) the New Zealand Christian Counsellor’s Association. The keynote speaker was Rowan Atkins’ (Mr. Bean’s) doppelganger: a psychiatrist by the name of Curt Thompson. Curt is one of those awesome neuroscience gurus… and he’s actually funnier than Mr. Bean. Consider looking him up on YouTube.
Curt gave me a number of ideas to pass on to you about how you can strengthen brain plasticity, thus predisposing it to change (e.g. healing from addiction). These include:
- Aerobic exercise – at least 10 minutes/day, 30 is better yet.
- Sufficient sleep – of a good quality. For good quality sleep, leave two hours between screen time and retiring; also those hours prior to midnight are the most important so try and get at least a couple of them.
- Healthy diet –it’s not just what you eat, but how; don’t eat too much or too fast – try and take 30 mins to eat a meal.
- Mindfulness — this means paying attention to our feelings, our environment (including the people in it), what’s going on in our bodies. Curt says: “what we pay attention to we remember, and what we remember becomes our anticipated future.”
- Meaningful novelty—take up a new hobby or learn something new (e.g. an instrument).
- Deeply connected interpersonal relationships — this involves vulnerability and being known. It also means allowing ourselves to feel. As Curt told us: “emotion is the energy around which the brain organizes itself.”
We need relational interactions for our minds to emerge – Curt Thompson
So much of what we learned at the NZCCA weekend was about how our brains need each other and God. We need brain-to-brain (or heart-to-heart) connection for our brains to grow and mature. We need that connection to learn to regulate our emotions – so that we don’t run to bad coping mechanisms when we are struggling with shame, hurt or low-self-worth. Curt told us, “We are not made to regulate (emotions) by ourselves – this is meant to be done in community.” When we are vulnerable with someone and they hold our gaze and make a safe space for our feelings, they are helping our brains learn to regulate.
That’s where your wife (maybe) comes in. Allowing her to know you deeply (including all the stuff you swore you’d never tell anyone about) is going to help your brain to heal and grow. Connecting with her vulnerably— i.e., being honest about the shame and pain (rather than being defensive, minimising or blaming)—is going to grow your brain’s capacity to deal with the pain of this world in healthy ways.
Regulate your emotions or they will regulate you – Curt Thompson
Now, pick your timing wisely here. Your wife has been eviscerated by your betrayal. She doesn’t actually owe you… well, anything. However, many betrayed wives are willing (in many instances) to walk with a husband who is able to be honest about his sin, and transparent about his weakness. If you are willing to regularly reach out to her and try to enter into her world, she will probably respond well. If she doesn’t at first, remember what I said above about what she owes you… and try again later. Whatever you do— for her sake and yours — keep trying to make that connection.
Now your wife is likely to need more help than you regulating her emotions – at least initially. In that highly likely scenario, you should be looking to get some of your personal support from a qualified, specialist counsellor and a support group that, like Jesus, is full of truth and grace.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
The more I understand about neuroscience the more brilliant I realize the bible is. If you choose to comfort yourself with mistresses (virtual or real), you will come to hate your wife: your own internal shame (and high-jacked brain) will see to it. If you choose to connect—eyeball to eyeball, heart-to-heart—with your wife (whom you can see), you will, in-time, addiction-proof your brain. You will grow in maturity, the fruits of the spirit and in the ability to, one day, love (connect with, regulate through) the God you can’t see.
In connecting intimately with each other we are practicing for heaven. Keep practicing. See her, and let her see you.
Lisa Taylor writes more to men struggling with addictive sexual behaviors, and their wives’, in the Beyond Betrayal Couples' Guide.
A song for you husbands from Australia's Paul Coleman Trio.