She buried her face in her hands, shoulders heaving, “I can’t stop the questions and images racing through my mind. I hate them. What do I do?”
What an honest description of the spin cycle from a woman who discovered her husband’s porn addiction!
Every woman I’ve talked to who learns about her husband’s deception and destructive porn viewing can’t stop the tailspin that happens within her mind. (If she’s ever looked at any of those same images, often her guilt feels worse.)
So often, one of the hardest consequences of his porn addiction betrayal is the spin cycle.
I call it a spin cycle because it feels like you’ve hopped on a merry-go-round whose speed increases and tilts with every thought. You can’t figure out a way to get off or stop it. The images and your mind continue to spin.
As a child, I remember wanting to ride merry-go-rounds with the same delight of my friends. But, every time I tried, I felt nauseous for hours afterward. I couldn’t stop the spinning sensation in my head. And, because I’m fair-skinned, my pale complexion showed a green tinge to confirm the internal turmoil. I tried all the tricks: stand in the center and look down, fix my eyes on a point on the horizon, lay down and close my eyes and imagine I was flying. Nothing helped. I simply spun out of control, and my stomach rebelled. Every. Single. Time.
Telling me to “just forget it” and turn off these thoughts didn’t change my reality. And neither does ignoring or trying to forget about his porn addiction. The spin cycle continues until we interrupt it and change the trajectory.
Is it possible to stop the spin cycle?
Yes, it is. Just like when Dad grabbed that spinning merry-go-round to slow it down, we have to interrupt the thoughts in our minds. We must reach out with intent and grab ahold of it.
Here are five steps to stop the spin.
Grab your journal and write down every question.
Don’t edit your writing. Simply jot down every question that comes to your mind. This exercise helps you slow down the spin cycle. You transfer these thoughts to paper where you can look at them. But the most important part of this exercise is that they are out of your mind and onto something more concrete. Write until no more words come.
Don’t discuss these questions with your husband.
Not yet. After you’ve written down every question, walk away from them. In a day or…four, come back and look at these questions. Have any more come to mind? Jot them down.
Read each question.
Circle the ones that cause the most pain. If you know the answer to others, draw a line through them. Write the answer to the question if that helps close the loop in your mind. Rate the remaining questions according to their importance in your heart to get the answers.
Schedule a time with a coach or counselor.
If your husband agrees to meet with a professional, asking those most painful questions in the presence of a third party often brings a sense of control to the situation. The first few times we dealt with these questions, we had an unbiased third party present. It felt safe, and they could ask clarifying questions when mine was unclear, or the answers didn’t feel complete. Depending on your level of healing, his level of healing, and the health of your marriage, you may be able to ask additional ones when it’s just the two of you.
Journal your thoughts about the answers.
This step gets forgotten. Now that you’ve answered your questions, you need to process the answers. Do you need to do this with the coach or counselor? Did some further revelation come out that you struggle to reconcile? Then schedule a private session to work through your emotions. We did this with some of the questions I asked. But, maybe you need to get alone with your thoughts again and write. Talk with God about everything running through your mind—the positive and negative. Keep writing until you feel peaceful.
When I coach clients through this process, I remind them that the spin cycle isn’t a one-and-done.
You may be trucking along just fine in the morning, and then “boom,” something may trigger more doubts and questions. When that happens, do this process again. Grab that journal and start at Step 1. Even after fourteen years, I still get caught in this cycle occasionally. However, my encouragement comes from recognizing the pattern and processing through the issues more quickly these days. You’ll get to this point as well.
Triggers and the spin cycle come even after you forgive, work to heal, see growth and healing in your husband, and trust builds. Don’t be discouraged by this. You are human. So is he. Knowing how to respond with emotional intelligence, grace, confidence, and forgiveness each time eases the transition away from panic to peace.
You don’t have to ride that merry-go-round just because it starts to spin.
Remember as a child, I sought to find a steady point from the merry-go-round to fix my eyes on to calm my stomach? Today, I fix my eyes on God.
I choose to:
- immerse myself in the Bible, so I know who God is
- construct healthy, protective boundaries
- practice proper self-care
- nurture life-giving relationships
- live authentically with Dave
What does this mean?
The Truth of God’s Word
My daily time reading God’s Word, praying, and journaling anchor me. My hope is Jesus. He’s my stability in this unstable world.
Constructing healthy boundaries protects my mind, heart, emotions, and soul from as many unhealthy inputs as possible. This means I’ve had to distance myself from certain past relationships, changed some personal behaviors, and now choose to fill my mind with those things that encourage and challenge me to be the best me possible and filter all emotional responses through how God sees me. My value is not based on how others view me but on who God says I am.
Learning to understand what fills your cup to overflowing and what drains you allows you to know how to care for you. While others energize around others, I recharge in quiet. I love being with others, but I need alone time to recharge fully. It’s taken many years to know this about myself.
When do you need to disconnect from others? How much online time is good for you? When do you need to get outside in the fresh air? Take some time today to identify how you recharge from the inside out. Then, determine what adjustments you need to make in your daily routine to create space to take care of your heart, mind, and soul. Don’t compare to others. You are unique, perfectly created, and we need you at your best.
Wise Friend Selection
Who do you have in your life that builds you up and speaks blatant truth to you? Yes, you need both things. You don’t need false encouragement that pumps your ego, even though you may want it. We all want it. Let’s be real. Having experienced life-giving relationships now for over a decade, I’m not interested in a cheap substitute for this relationship. Name those who love you enough to accept you as you are and confront you when you aren’t behaving to your full potential. Cultivate these friendships. You’ll never regret it.
One beautiful thing Dave and I gained through our marital crisis is authenticity. I didn’t understand what this meant in my marriage until all the pretense I preferred suddenly got stripped away. Though painful, I’m so thankful. Dave and I now discuss anything and everything honestly. When fear rears its head and tries to seduce me into skirting the truth, and I recognize it, I take a deep breath and practice twenty seconds of courage to ask the tough question. A former boss often referred to this practice. He said that you tackle the thing that scares you most first thing every day. Then everything else seems simple. The results are always better than what fear whispers. I’m not rejected. Dave learns something new about me, and I discover I can trust him in this area as well.
Do we do this perfectly? Never. But each step of authenticity builds our relationship. It strengthens the decisions we made all those years ago to ask the tough questions.
What questions do you have that you are afraid to ask?
It’s time to start the process to get the answers, whatever they are. If you feel you need help articulating those questions, please reach out. I offer a safe, judgment-free space to process the initial shock, anger, pain, and questions. Together we identify your next best step. You are not alone.