You, Me and Shame

There are moments when recovery from sexual addiction is a war against shame. That can be especially true in sexual intimacy.For a man in recovery, sexual intimacy with his wife can be a battle against old thoughts and shameful feelings. It can have an impact on his ability to stay engaged mentally, emotionally and even physically. In fact I’ve talked to 3 men in the last week who’ve lost an erection in the middle of sexual intimacy because their shame was so present. The guilt and shame associated with having previously committed adultery, for blowing up the family, for hurting his kids, for viewing outrageous pornography can be overwhelming.

For each of those men there is a wife who, sometimes equally, struggles with shame. The shame of insignificance and questioning if he’s thinking of the other woman. The shame of incompetency and wondering if she is being compared to women from the porn pictures. For some wives all the old messages come flashing back and the allegations are levied against herself: I’m not enough, I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too prudish, If my body were different, if I didn’t have a checkered past, etc.

Here are a few tips to deal with shame as it pertains to sexual intimacy:

1) Pause – Stop the process and take a timeout. Many men, and women, will try to continue and just get the thoughts out of their head. They’ll try to ignore it, refocus, turn the lights on or off, change positions, say different things and so on. Don’t try to get around it; instead work through it.

2) Talk about it – Yes, it may ruin the mood. But the mood isn’t the most important thing! Your personal and marital healing are the most important thing. If you’re the husband, remind your wife that you love her enough to not have sex with her while another woman or pornographic thoughts are in your head. Talk about the pain it brings up, engage empathy and let your heart break for the situation. That conversation may not be pleasant. Here are 2 ways it could go:

“Honey, I’m stopping because I’ve got old memories in my head and I can’t get rid of them. I don’t want them, I wish I didn’t have them, I wish I had never done the horrible things I did. I am so sorry that even this sacred place in our relationship is ruined. I’m sorry.”


“Let’s stop. I’m thinking of how some of the women in porn seem to enjoy sex so much and you just don’t seem to enjoy it at all.”

Hopefully you see a difference. That second one is a direct quote from my someone in my office. As you might imagine, that conversation did not go well.

If you’re a wife, honor yourself enough to use your voice and share your pain and disappointment with your husband. You don’t have to shame in that moment, but you can express your hurt. And you can ask for reassurance. Give him a chance to assertively say that he is in fact NOT calling up old memories and is fully present with you.

NOTE: Guys, whatever you do, DON’T use pornographic thoughts or memories of a mistress to stay engaged in sex with your wife. This will only cause you more damage in that you are still not connecting in intimacy with your spouse, instead you are connecting with intensity via euphoric recall.

3) Don’t make sex the focus – Instead, make the focus intimacy. Make the point of your being together connection, vulnerability, security and reassurance. Sometimes we can experience that using our bodies, other times (especially in early recovery) we need to experience that with our words. If you’re having difficulty shifting the focus invite help from support folks or a counselor. 

Remember that recovery is about intimacy, not intensity.



3 thoughts on “You, Me and Shame

  1. Wow. This message really hits home for me. Thanks Jason, I will read this mutiple times to learn the lessons here.

  2. Is there a way to make these PDF “downloadable”? I’d love to be able to click a link on the right-hand side where I can save this and share with others, or come back to it throughout my day. Thanks so much for all you do!

  3. This was much appreciated. My husband and I have been working through his sexual addiction issues for almost 2 years now, post EMB. Thank you for the EMB Program; what a difference it has made in our marriage. Not only for him but for me as well. I get as much as he does our of your blogs Jason; I just turn them around to fit where I’m at on this side, instead of where he might be. Your articles and the “Kitchen Conversations” have given me direction and guidance in this journey.

    This article hits on the “one place” we are both not connecting. We have had several open discussions about it, good ones I might add, and were very honest about our feelings on it to each other. It doesn’t appear to be a real issue for us at this time, however, we both have expressed that we want to work towards intimacy in that area of our marriage. We haven’t put a “timeline” on reaching that so as not to create pressure and ruin it, but we are not really moving towards that either. We sit in the same place with it, not really knowing how to get there. We both have our own stumbling blocks and are stuck where we are. I know for me, I struggle with the comments he used to make about other experiences he had in the past during our sexual moments. Those thoughts make me want to back away from sex with him, and make me feel angry at him. He has his own shame with it, so we just “avoid” it. Not good…we know.

    We haven’t given up on wanting that experience of intimacy together. We continue our work on this journey together; I’m working and learning to respect and trust him again and he is doing his work in building that trust and respect. I am so proud of my husband! He has been diligently working at this and determined to stay above it each day for almost 2 years now. Of course he has his struggles, but now he has the tools and resources (God) to battle it! God bless

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