Husband Material

How To Help Your Partner Heal (with Carol Sheets)

December 25, 2023 Drew Boa
Husband Material
How To Help Your Partner Heal (with Carol Sheets)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

How can I help my partner heal from the impact of my porn and sex addiction? Psychotherapist and author Carol Sheets reveals what sexually betrayed partners need most, and how you can "help her heal" when you create safety, practice empathy, offer validation, and take ownership without going into shame. This episode is super practical and full of great ideas!

Carol Juergensen Sheets (LCSW, CSAT) also known as "Carol The Coach" is the author of many books and workbooks about sex addiction and partner betrayal. She is also the creator of ERCEM: Early Recovery Couples Empathy Model.

Carol is also a guest speaker at The Porn Free Man Online Conference on January 5-6, 2024! Join us at thepornfreeman.com

Books and workbooks featuring Carol Sheets (these are paid links):


Learn more about Carol at sexhelpwithcarolthecoach.com

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Husband Material podcast, where we help Christian men outgrow porn. Why? So you can change your brain, heal your heart and save your relationship. My name is Drew Boa and I'm here to show you how let's go. Today, we are talking about how to help her heal through the power of empathy, practicing relational skills, building your muscles and not going into shame while you are relating to your partner. If you are married, this is going to be incredibly helpful for you. If you're not married, this can be an important episode for you for the future or just for being able to understand what your brothers who are married are going through as we learn how to help our partners heal. Carol Sheets is supremely qualified to help us with this conversation and I think you guys are going to love what she shares. There is probably no one better who has done more work and who has created more quality resources for husbands to help our wives who have suffered the consequences of our actions and be able to repair a relationship. Enjoy the episode. Welcome to Husband Material. Today we are with Carol Juergensen Sheets, psychotherapist and coach. Author of Help Her Heal, an empathy workbook for sex addicts to help their partners heal. She's also the founder of Urcom, which stands for Recovery Couples Empathy Model.

Speaker 2:

It takes Help Her Heal and my book Help them Heal and it merges. How do couples deal with the need for more empathy in their relationship?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely so. That's what we're going to talk about today and that's the subject of our session at the upcoming porn-free man conference. Carol, thanks for being with us.

Speaker 2:

Oh, I am so excited. I have admired your work for so long and I love the husband material thing. I believe that men need that inspiration and also that role modeling. So I'm all about the show, I'm all about the work you're doing and I can't wait for the conference.

Speaker 1:

It's going to be awesome. Yeah, we're going to be focused on how you can help your partner wife, girlfriend or future partner heal Carol. What is the number one thing that partners need?

Speaker 2:

Well, they need safety and they need stabilization, and to be able to have that, they need to know that their spouse, boyfriend, whatever is really feeling remorse wants to make her feel safe and is going to go the extra mile to do that. After all, he caused this crisis and he's going to do what it takes to help her heal.

Speaker 1:

And so many guys want to be that safe container and yet we struggle and we so often make things worse unintentionally.

Speaker 2:

I would agree with that, and that's because oftentimes men don't have the relational skills they need to begin with. They weren't taught them. It's not their fault, but they weren't taught those skills. And then, when discovery occurs or a slip or relapse, they go right into guilt and then shang, and that prevents them from leaning into their lives. And so what I teach men to do is to practice those relational skills and empathy, even if she's pushing him away. Do know, drew, that oftentimes women will be especially hard and critical because they don't want to get duped again and they can't even believe the changes that they're seeing, and so they actually spend time keeping him away and being very angry. And what does that do to a couple ship? Well, understandably, it makes him want to back down, but that's a natural response on her part. She's just making sure she can be in a safe place to not get duped again. And what I believe about partners and partner sensitivity and husband material is that truly it's all about the partner. We all have to help her feel safe again, and that is an arduous task.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing to actually do it, and you really highlight the power of empathy. Can you give some examples?

Speaker 2:

Well, one of my empathy skills is AVR, and that is where he is to acknowledge the challenge and the struggle that he caused, validate the pain and the primary feeling and then reassure her of his intention, the work he's doing, the forward movement. Well, men get really tongue tied and so they might read the script, they might get it wrong, they might stammer and stutter, and that was off-putting to the wife who said you're supposed to be making me feel better and you can't even do this. Well, the truth is they need to have lots and lots of practice, and the beautiful thing about what we're doing I know you do it in husband material is we have the men practice with each other and we have men who portray the partner. And I don't care what man is portraying the partner. He gets it right every single time because he's heard it, he's seen it and he's one removed from having to be on the hot seat and doing it, so he can really project a partner that's in pain, that is in crisis mode and who has suffering deeply. And so the empathy that goes wrong is usually because there has been some criticism and he gives up, or he's not doing it perfectly and he gives up. And I always say two things, both about AVR and about empathy. I say, with empathy, then let's break it down into something you can do. Don't worry about the V in the R, but just acknowledge that you know you caused your pain, that you're the reason for the season and that you haven't forgotten that, no matter what and when a man can convey that over and over and over again, it brings down her reactivity and Her fears and then her defenses go down and then they can connect. Yeah, her main goal is to keep herself safe after she finds out that she didn't know who she was living with, she didn't know he had a past. She can't believe in the future and she really doesn't know if they'll ever Recoup from this horrible, horrible situation. So that's when empathy goes. Bad is when he quits, when he gets tongue-tied, when he doesn't say please, let me have a do-over, I want to try it again. But men are, I find, in this field, pioneers. We're all pioneers and they're getting it right and they're helping each other and that's the beautiful thing. And, and you know, empathy is about four things. Empathy is about perspective taking and being able to take her perspective 24 7. And it's about doing it in a non-judgmental way. So if she freaks out and she's yelling or she's crying hysterically or she's hating him, for the moment he doesn't sit there and think this is never gonna work. She's crazy, I did so much damage, she's not gonna get healthy and he becomes very judgmental and defensive and we have to help him not do that, because that will indirectly tell her that he can't be the man she wants him to be. And the truth is, partners do want their husbands to be the men that they want them to be and they do want to be together and and I see that over and over and over again very few get divorced.

Speaker 1:

It is something I often hear when guys will say, oh, there's no hope, I think it's over, but the reality is the the fight that they just had is proof that their partner still cares and is still here, still showing up, and yet we so easily Go to shame. How can we stop being defensive and really take ownership of the harm we've caused without going to shame?

Speaker 2:

Well, that's a two-fold answer. The first thing is to say To yourself as an, an addict in recovery my job is to hold her pain, and so I might need to create a force field around me. I might need plexiglass in my own mind so I can see and hear, but I won't take it on and in.

Speaker 1:

Like Teflon.

Speaker 2:

Yes, exactly the Teflon which I've been using for years and years and years. Imagine spraying yourself with Teflon so that you hear what she says. But you let it roll off because if he goes into shame, if he goes into shame, he makes it all about him. Yeah and then that, of course, really interferes with what he was trying to accomplish. So I said it's too full, because he has to hold her pain or, as you put it beautifully Right out of my book, contain the pain. Yeah, then the other thing he has to do is to know that. You know this partner betrayal is not something that'll get immediately better and, as a matter of fact, that traumatized brain takes anywhere from Nine to 18 months to begin to heal, and that's if he's working with her. You know. If he's getting really defensive, if he's slipping, if he's relapsing, it's a to write back to ground zero. And so he has to know the timeline of what it takes for a partner to get better, and that timeline is it takes nine months to a year and a half to begin to feel safe again, and that's if he's doing good work right. Then it takes another 12 to 16 months for the partner to do the anger work and to feel the grief and To mourn the loss of what she thought she had, what she'd fear she'll never have again, and what maybe she has even in the moment. And that's a natural byproduct Betrayal. And so it's normal. It's natural, and I actually, in my, help them heal. Talk about how can he help her to do that before, to be there to be a witness, to hold it, and Then they can get over to post-traumatic growth, which you and I both know couples can get over there. That may be a three to five year process. However, the other thing about Shane is that he has to practice additional Mind stories. He has to say to himself you know she's yelling right now, but that's not about me, that's about my past or I am really working on being the best person I can be, or I'm not going to give this addiction the power to take me back down again Because I'm feeling defensive right now because she doesn't trust me. This is natural, normal and necessary and if I contain her pain and sit with her and Help process it with her, it will move us forward faster and then, if he can help, it restores his self-esteem and that increases the Vulnerability, that decreases the shame, and that's what we're always looking to do. We don't want him to wear the chain blanket. We want him to feel guilt. What he did was wrong, but shame means he's a bad person and and addiction was the bad thing, not the person. Amen. His addiction did not mean she wasn't good enough. She's good enough. They may have had some marital problems, they may have had some sexual problems, they may have had some problems around kids and finances, but that's not why he was an addict. You know he was an addict and and became an addict way before I even met her more than likely childhood, at least adolescence and so I wanted her to know that and I wanted her to know it right up front. Back in 2007, there wasn't one podcast about partner betrayal not one and now we know there are so many incredible podcasts for partners to get supported. The second thing I wanted her to know is that I was not a threat with her husband. You know women who've been betrayed by sex workers and fair partners and provocative web chats. They start not trusting anybody that they don't know, and even some of the people they do know, and I wanted them to know that I really cared about them. I cared about him and I cared about them together. I want them to know they can get better. I want him to know that he can help her to get better. And when you can nurture a relationship, teach them relational skills as easy as knees to knees, reflective listening. Look at the left eye, the window to the soul, and don't say anything as a man, reflectively listen to what she's saying and repeat it back verbatim.

Speaker 1:

That reflective listening exercise might seem simple and redundant, but oh, it is not. It is really challenging and if you've never done it, practice with some of the guys you're connected to, or even with your spouse, and just try to use the exact words the other person is using. So difficult, especially when there's so much conflict and history in that relationship. I mean we really need to get our reps in. We need to build this muscle.

Speaker 2:

Right, I work out every day, don't you?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, well, I try. We need to develop our emotional and relational skills, and one of my favorite exercises of yours is making a list of how have I wounded my spouse.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, there's two in the beginning of HelperHeal. One is how did I wound my spouse? And they are to come up with 25 ways, and so they may need to look at how did I wound her emotionally? How did I wound her physically? How did I compromise her safety, her health? How did I wound her self-esteem? How did I wound her community? Because once a spouse has been betrayed, she goes to that grocery store and she doesn't know who knows and she doesn't know who may have participated in the affair, in the betrayal. So everything about her is shaken. And the worst thing is that oftentimes she wonders where God was and she thinks how could God have let this happen to me? Was it because I did this? Was it because I snuck out of the house when I was a teenager? Was it because I was promiscuous in college? What was it that caused this? And that is a lot of self-reflection that goes nowhere but keeps her in shame. And so the woundedness exercise shows her that he has thought through the many ways that he's done that, and then it helped them heal, because that's an exercise for him to practice and read to his therapist, read to her, read to his group, but then I actually have them come in together and write down how she was wounded and we play the match game. We see how many of the answers were the same and what answers did he or she have that the other person hadn't thought about. And it's really enlightening when she sees that oftentimes his answers are even better than hers. Then she walks away and goes. He gets me I have no idea he gets me so intensely and that's the same thing for the willingness exercise. I asked him to write out 25 things he is willing to do to repair the relationship. That'll be frequent check-ins. That is a big thing. That's the number one thing partners want are check-ins on a regular basis, initiated by him, but it may also be he'll go pick up the kids. He'll suggest she go get a massage. He'll wash the dishes. He'll pet the dog. I mean there are all sorts of things that men may not have done prior to that, if they take an interest in it, really rebuilds and repairs the relationship. But regardless, I asked them from the get-go. I know this seems incomprehensible and you don't know, because you don't know the truth yet and you don't know if his actions will be consistent. But what is your intention for this work and what is your intention for the marriage? And more oftentimes than not, there's a contingency for her and that may look like well, if he does his work and follows his recovery tools and makes a consistent effort to be relational and be in good recovery, I will continue to work on our marriage. That's a beautiful intention statement. She has every right to be hesitant. And then for him, who's in the doghouse, who's filled with shame, in the first session he just says I'll do whatever it takes to build that trust and to get her to love me again. And even if she can't, I'll understand it and I'll make her life as happy as I can until she decides she wants something else. And so those intention statements are powerful, as is for the work, just asking clients individually what do you want for this work? And then they have to stay out loud. I want you to put us back together, if it's possible. That's a cold, chill moment when they're admitting that vulnerability and giving you that trust.

Speaker 1:

Obviously, it's incredibly powerful to do this with Carol or someone who's trained in Ercam or AppSats. Also, you're going to get a chance to do a little bit of this work at the upcoming conference with us. When we come to our session, carol's going to lead us through AVR and some other awesome exercises that will not be shaming. That will be empowering and practicing these relational skills.

Speaker 2:

Yes, as well as building that anti-shame muscle so that they can stand strong and appreciate their own work, even if it's not perfect and even if it takes a long time. You've got to have that appreciation for what you're doing individually and as a couple, because what you appreciate appreciates. I can't wait to give new exercises to the guys because I'll tell you I think I did tell you this, drew I teach this to professionals so they can teach it to their clients. My professionals have a hard time with it. It is a hard tool but once you learn it, it makes all the difference. It's hard for professionals. It's going to be hard for people that are experiencing relational and sex addiction recovery, but they do a better job of it, believe it or not.

Speaker 1:

It's so validating to hear you say that it's hard, even for the professionals, because some of us are feeling like gosh, this is so difficult, I don't know if I can do this, or maybe thinking there's something wrong with me, because it's been years and we're still getting into the same old, stuck places.

Speaker 2:

To do that requires validation of her. That's not the first place somebody goes when they're feeling so responsible for somebody's pain.

Speaker 1:

Some examples of some scenarios that we practice at husband material and maybe we'll practice at the conference are being hit with comment like you never loved me, you went back to porn, didn't you? There's more that you haven't told me about. I can't believe you. I don't think you really want to stay married to me, things like that. When that type of energy comes at us, we naturally freeze. It's so hard to get out of my world and into that perspective taking of wondering about okay, what's she experiencing, what's underneath that?

Speaker 2:

The most powerful thing a man who's in that situation, who's really doing a great job but understandably she's having a hard time believing it the most powerful thing he can do is to remind her that he knows he caused the pain and that he hasn't forgotten, and that he knows that it will take a long time to repair and he's going to be with her, doing everything he can to rebuild the marriage. When he does that, even if she says yeah, right, she walks away feeling more at ease, feeling more grounded and secretly smiling because she's hoping it's true. She may have just said some really hurtful things, but women tell me, oh my gosh, he said exactly what I wanted to hear and I say did you tell him? No, I didn't tell him. Why should I be a cheerleader for something he should have always done? I say because we're all human and we need to know that we're making a difference. She'll look at me and she'll say, okay, I'll work on that. I'll work on that, and I mean she does. She ends up working on it, but she's got to be encouraged to give him a little bit more positive regard.

Speaker 1:

And noticing the small victories.

Speaker 2:

And they need to be finding something that they can do together that gives the world a little bit of purpose. Whether it's working at the humane society or doing the church, charity, food bank, or reading at their son or grandson's elementary school, even if it's not in his class. It's something they can do together to begin to build their connection muscle. And that's mandatory. And I have them do that by at least week eight, and here I'm saying this takes three to five years, but by week eight I'm saying I want you to try some new things that you know you would have liked to have done before all this addiction took place. I want them to be forward thinking and I push them and I stretch them out of their comfort zone. That's definitely what I do with the men, because this stuff isn't easy and it's not natural and there's a part of them that doesn't want to be vulnerable because they hurt so badly for how they've hurt. And we all know hurt, people hurt. Well, we're undoing that. We're saying, no, you hurt someone. Now you be the rock, the strength and the place she can go to find safety. And that seems like such an oxymoron and that's what we teach.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, how would you adjust this message for a man whose wife seems very closed off to any idea of doing some of this work together?

Speaker 2:

I have forever believed that one person can do the work. While the other person shut down, while the other person is too angry, one person can do the work. So that's where I would really coach the addict to do the next right thing, even if it's not well received. I worked with a man and his wife. They didn't go on a vacation for the first five years after discovery. He wasn't in the house. They didn't go on vacation. She basically wouldn't let him talk to his daughters and one of the sons. I mean, there was so much conflict, anger, tension, probably hatred. And you know what that man did? He read more trauma books on partner betrayal than I have in my library. He could have taught the course. He actually did a book study in his 12 step group on partner betrayal books so that he could educate other people and did a video for me on how it's okay not to have sex. It's okay not to have sex for I think they're going on eight years now, but there are doing vacations. She has to let him move back in. I mean, progress is slow but he hung in there and you know what he said to me? He said I did this to her for 42 years. And if I have to have no sex and if I have to endure anger, sadness and her loss, I'll do it because I caused it. But I'm going to stick in the game because I love her and I want this to work. What stamina, right? What emotional stamina.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful and brave and strong and inspiring.

Speaker 2:

And empathetic.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, empathetic. And also just what a great example of holding on to desire while also releasing the outcome.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And they did have a big family and he did want to rebuild that and he knew that she'd have to have more trust in him before that could happen. Now, you know, I started to tell you that empathy is about perspective taking. And he was a master at taking her perspective and saying you know, she's traumatized and it's going to take a long time and I'll do whatever it takes. And he did that non-judgmentally, so he didn't look at her and say she was crazy or say she was damaged goods or say she would never heal. He continued to have faith. He was a very spiritual man. And then in Helper Heal, Chapter 2, we go right into feelings, because men aren't encouraged to feel their feelings or even recognize them, and so part of good empathy is recognizing her emotionality and then linking it to emotion. And of course, I keep it to the five because I say it's just so much easier to put everything under the umbrella of anger, sadness, loneliness, fear and happiness when I used to do that with teenagers. There's only five feelings, Everything falls under them and they'd like well, why is there only one good feeling? Why are all four of them bad? And then you got happiness. And that's when I would say you know what? They're not all bad. They're natural and normal. And, as a matter of fact, anger, if dealt in a healthy way, will motivate somebody to build a house, save money, get a separation. Some of our couples do need therapeutic, formal separation they do. Her brain needs to calm down, but most of the couples I work with they want to stay in the same home. Maybe they'll be in the basement and the second floor, but they want to be part of that household and empathy is the glue that can provide them a safety to take the little steps. I'm a baby step girl. Give me baby steps, True, and one of the questions I ask couples is hey, how would you rate the quality of your relationship today? And so I'm going to ask you, Drew, how would you rate the quality of your relationship today? It's going to change every day, but today, Seven. Seven. Okay, what would it take to make it an eight?

Speaker 1:

That's such a good question. What would it take to make it an eight? I think if I had written a kind note of appreciation to my wife that she could wake up to or find during the day, that would definitely take it to an eight.

Speaker 2:

Wow, and that would be something very small. Right, We've reduced it down to a chunkable goal by doing something very little. Anybody else might say if I vacuum the living room before I leave for work, if I tell her I want to do a knees to knees when I get home, if I tell her that I want to share a fear that I have about myself, you know, whenever a man is vulnerable around the person he loves, there's a very good chance that she'll be eager to hear what in the world that could be, because men do such a good job of really hiding themselves and their feelings and their pain and their hurt. Boy, if he does everything he's supposed to and help her heal and that's broken down into understanding her brain, looking at feelings, checking out what she may need, working with triggers, doing the empathy, understanding, communication, followed by not going into shame If you can do all those things and get the good practice, then it's time for them to work more together and for her to be open to the changes he's been making. And, unfortunately, most of the time that does take a coach or a counselor. Were the ones that can sing his praises a little bit and say did you see any of that? Did you notice that he was different than he was a year and a half ago? How communication is he really listening to you now? And most of the time they may roll their eyes, but they'll shake their head because they do notice. They're just scared again that if they're too kind he'll get complacent and he'll quit. I say that won't happen. He needs to hear that.

Speaker 1:

And there's also foreboding joy.

Speaker 2:

Exactly the fact that once it gets better, there's fear that that other shoe will drop and just when she wasn't thinking, just when she was hoping it had changed, he'll go out on her again. He'll look at porn. Foreboding joy is horrible, you know. The best example is Renee Brown when she says when a mother looks at a kid who's a Hellion and is very difficult, and he or she's sleeping in bed and the mother goes, they're calm down. I like this, I love this, I love my child, this part is easy. Then she thinks what's going to happen tomorrow. How long is it going to last? When you have foreboding joy, you can't relax into what is, and especially working with partners is keeping them in the moment and not as worried about the past, which of course hurt them terribly, and not fearing about the future. When they can stay in that moment and give themselves a lot of self-care and constructive compassion, we get them to sit in the distress a little bit more and realize that it'll get better and better and better. But it's part of a partner betrayal. I want them to learn how to be able to cope despite what happened to them, because I know you work with men, but I work with both, and the one thing I don't want a partner to be is defined by partner betrayal. She is so much more than a betrayed partner and I want her to get back to that place for herself.

Speaker 1:

Oh great, yeah, I love that we can play a role in that. Mm-hmm Carol, what's your favorite thing about post-traumatic growth?

Speaker 2:

Oh man, I love post-traumatic growth. I think Patrick Karn said it best. He was on my podcast and he said you know, out of great suffering comes transformation and out of transformation comes giving back. And that is post-traumatic growth. Little or big, it all matters. And Lord knows there's been a lot of suffering in this relationship, but there's been a lot of growth. And when those two things can occur simultaneously and every religious philosophical belief system has those three factors in it, they believe suffering, transformation, growth. I'm not going to discount what all of our great spiritual teachers said. I'm going to make it happen, I'm going to work on it and, of course, the truth is I give them the space and they make it happen. Yeah, mm-hmm. Thanks, carol Drew. It's been a pleasure and I can't wait to do some teaching and role-playing and inspiring and empowering. That's what we're here for.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's going to be awesome at the Porn Free man Conference January 5th and 6th. And if you would like to connect with Carol and get some of her resources, including Help Her Heal, then go down to the links in the show notes and you'll find everything there. Guys always remember you are God's beloved Son and you, he, is well-pleased.

Helping Partners Heal Through Empathy
Healing and Rebuilding Trust in Relationships
Improving Relationship Quality & Overcoming Betrayal
Post-Traumatic Growth and Giving Back

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