Episode 206: Overcome Pornography through Fighting For Connection - Interview with Brett Nikola

Aug 13, 2023


Episode 206

Zach Spafford: I am Zach. And I'm Darcy. We're an L d s couple who struggled with unwanted pornography in our marriage for many years. What was once our greatest struggle and something we thought would destroy us, has become our greatest blessing in trying. Our hope is that as you listen to our podcast each week, you'll be filled with hope and healing and realize that you too can thrive beyond pornography and create the marriage you have always desired.

Welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. We're so glad you're here and we believe in you.

Hey everybody, and welcome to Thrive Beyond Pornography. I'm your host, Zach Spafford. This week, Darcy and I are at the beach in Malibu. So if you happen to be anywhere near Malibu just north of Malibu. Actually, on the Pacific Coast Highway as you head north from Malibu. There's a beach called Leo Carillo Beach State Park, which is where we go camping, and we hang out with our kids for a week, and the cell phone reception is terrible, so send me a text message early.

I'd love to see you, Darcy and I, we love meeting people, we love having these conversations. You can come sit down by our campfire and hang out with us, and we will talk your ear off about porn, which is probably the like weirdest thing that anybody ever said. I promise we're not weirdos. We just love helping people solve this struggle.

This week on the podcast, I have an episode for you that I recorded with a man named Brett Nikola. He has a podcast called Fighting for Connection, and he invited me onto the podcast to talk about pornography and how in especially high demand religions, he's part of a high demand religion, and his family is part of a high demand religion, especially in high demand religions.

How we can resolve this struggle without making it so that we're bad or that we're horrible people without feeling all that guilt and shame. So without further ado, here is that interview and I will talk to you guys next week.

Brett Nikula: Hello, and welcome to the Fighting for Connection podcast. I'm Brett Nicola, a husband, father, and fun lover. Listen in as I share stories, tips and inspiration that will move you toward the connection that you want in your relationship.

Welcome back to the Fighting for Connection podcast. Today I am super excited to have with me a guest, someone that I've followed for some time here Zach Spafford, who has a podcast of his own called Thrive Beyond Pornography, and I've really enjoyed his perspective that he brings in that podcast. And I know that he's gonna have so much for all of you guys to learn from and resonate with.

So, reached out to him a few weeks ago and he was he was generous enough to give us some time here and to come on and share with us his story and many of the tools that he offers in the coaching work that he does. First of all, thank you, Zach, for coming on today.

Zach Spafford: Appreciate it. Yeah, absolutely. I'm happy to do it.

I love talking about this.

Brett Nikula: And maybe the first thing we can do, because a lot of my listeners probably don't know you as much as I do, I just wanna turn it over to you to introduce yourself, let them know a little bit about what you do, the work that you do, and maybe even how you got into this.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, absolutely.

I'm Zach, and Darcy and I work together with The individuals and couples who struggle with pornography. There are a lot of people out there who think, pornography's not bad, and we're not here for those people. Our goal is to make sure that not one more individual, or not one more marriage is destroyed by pornography.

We want to help people, men, women, couples, individuals move beyond this pornography struggle and begin a life thriving where porn isn't even a topic of conversation. It's just is yeah, well that used to be something I had a problem with and now I don't. We're the parents of eight children.

We, wow. We had a lot of kids. We had six kids, seven and under and and my wife said, I just want one more twice she said that. We have a lot of kids. My my wife is about to get us another dog, so it's a full house at our house. Totally. I love it. We love doing this work and we love having.

These conversations and just helping people thrive beyond pornography. Yeah.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. And you work closely with Darcy. Why don't you just share a little bit about how that came about where you guys were working together on this and just why it's so important that she's involved in this too.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. The truth is that I started this business and I was like, yeah, this is my calling. This is what I wanna do. This is how I can make an impact in the world. I, I have some other entrepreneurial ventures and they're great, but they don't help people resolve deep and meaningful difficulties and as we started to do the work, one of the things that we found on our end was that when a wife does the work together with the husband, There's much more success. Oh yeah. There's much more likelihood that they'll be able to move forward because we were seeing men, Darcy, and this is the work that Darcy and I did for ourselves.

I struggled with pornography for probably 25 years and before I found the tools and started to work through the tools, there was nothing. And it was just a lot of, I'm an addict and she's in pain and there's nowhere to that we could go to resolve this. We did the work, we found some very valuable resources that we applied to pornography.

And then as we did this work, I started to move forward and she would come along with me and then she would move ahead of me and I would come along with her. But what we found in our own life is what we apply with our clients, and that's those who struggle with pornography, when the wife is able to move forward with.

These same tools on her side of the street. It's a catalyst. Totally. It moves everything faster, everything more forward, and there's much more joy. There's much more intimacy, there's much more collaboration and all of a sudden it's mind blowing. And I say this, it's funny, a conversation with Darcy around the wife's side of the street with pornography is, it's worth a thousand dollars.

One conversation is worth a thousand dollars. I totally see it because in one conversation I can't tell you how many wives have come through the process and they're like, Hey, this is how I feel and I'm upset and my husband's a bad guy, and all these things. And one conversation with most of these wives and it's a 180.

Everything is different for them. Yeah. And it's extraordinary how quickly it can

Brett Nikula: change. Totally. , that just highlights the need that Darcy needs to come on here next. You'll have to plant a little bug in her ear about that. And that'd be awesome if she would come on and share because there are, I know a lot of wives who are listening to this who are wanting to get so much information and support.

And I think, hearing it from someone who's been there who's done that and has the experience that Darcy has is so valuable, like you share there. And maybe that's a good place to dig in here, Zach. I know I've listened to your podcast and I've heard much of your story, but I think it's so important that people know and hear that you've been there, you get it. And I wonder if you'd be willing to share what your story is here and what your struggle with pornography look like and bring me from A to Z Like what this look like for you.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. When I was about eight years old, I found porn for the first time. It was on a public playground. And then when I was a kid, the public playgrounds in our area had these giant dump truck tires on 'em that we would play in and out of. And I don't know why we ever played in 'em 'cause they always smelled like cat pee.

But so that's what we had. So that's what we played. Everyone knows what you're talking about. There's nobody who's ever been to a playground that's like, Nope, I don't get it. Yeah. Yeah. So I found a pornographic magazine and, at that point in my life, it wasn't like something I could get ready access to.

But I was curious and it was interesting to me. Fast forward a little while, we lived in Germany for a couple of years where pornography is extraordinarily available. I mean, it's, you go to a news newsstand and it's, you just, you can see it. Nobody's hiding it. And that created a lot more curiosity for me.

I was starting into 11, 12 years old. I was like, this is interesting. I knew that it wasn't quite right. It wasn't quite right for who I wanted to be. It didn't fit into my values. It wasn't the person that I had strived to be up to that point. I had good Christian parents who tried to teach me , the way to seek out the Lord and be a good person and be the person that, that I can be proud of.

And it just didn't fit. And then, we moved to Alaska for a few years, about four years we lived in Alaska. And I had a friend who was like, Hey, check out this movie that my brother brought home. And I. Again, curiosity and yeah. Just trying to figure out what all this sexuality is.

Finally, when I was about 18, my parents got the internet. I don't know if you've heard of this thing. You're, you're probably young enough that the internet has always existed, but it's always been there. Yeah. It didn't always exist for me. And I'm not very old. I'm that generation where the internet, I'm native to the internet, but I'm not.

Yeah. It's not part of my childhood. Sure. And, from there, it just became one of those things where I can get it anytime. Any place. Just trying to figure it out. And then also having this draw of, "why do I like this so much?" And also trying to maintain my values and be a good person.

I spent two years on a mission. I served in Rome, Italy, and I didn't have access to pornography there, but I, Rome is full of all kinds of nakedness. It's a pretty we'll call it a bohemian place. It's, but, and I still couldn't quite get past it. Got married, couldn't get past it. A few years into our marriage, couldn't get past it.

My wife was like, " maybe I'll just have more sex with you" or, come to me when I, when you have these urges and I'll help you, and all those things where she was trying to manage me and trying to resolve it for me. And that was not helping at all. Finally, when I was about 30 years old, my wife, met me at the front door. I had been gone to work all day. I went and met with my church leader and told him I was no closer to getting any further in this problem. I went after that, I went to a 12 step meeting and I come home after, something like a 14 hour day and my wife meets me at the front door and she's like, "I don't care if you look at porn anymore."

We had six kids, seven and under. We had just had twins, and if you have ever had twins, you know how much more difficult that is probably than having a single baby. And it's a different ballgame. Even if you have two babies close together, it's a totally different ball game. And she was just, floored, like she had no, we, our oldest was seven and we had two brand new infants and she was like I need your help.

I need your ear changing diapers, putting people to bed, helping me with dinner. I don't care if you go to those meetings anymore. I don't need you to solve this problem right now. Right now we have a real problem. And I was like, yeah, but I still want to solve this problem. It was important to me.

It wasn't just about her. It was important to me. So I stopped going to those meetings, I stopped meeting with people. I started to dig into my own brain. I'm that guy who's like me and YouTube, we can fix anything. And so I just started to learn and figure out and do experiments on my own mind and be like, huh, what's working?

What's not working? And through that process, my wife found a woman named Jody Moore, if you've ever heard of her podcast. She's great. Awesome. She's, my wife's like, "You know that thing you do to stop looking at porn? Jody just talked about it. Only she's talking about Diet Coke and trips to Target."

And I'm like, "yeah, that's how it works. I didn't know that's what you called it, but that's essentially what I'm doing." I started to learn that there was a whole vocabulary of tools available. Yeah. That I didn't understand what they were called, but I had been doing them. And then we decided on Mother's Day 2019, this is what we're gonna do.

And if you'd have told me on Mother's Day of 2018 that I was gonna become a life coach and talk about my porn struggle for the, help people solve their porn problems, I'd have been, I'd have told you, you were crazy. I'd have said, you know what? That's not real. You're insane. Yeah. But you know that was how we did it.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. Amazing story. And the fact that you really dug in and figured it out comes from an important place that I think it is. I. Is so important that it was something you wanted to do. It wasn't something that you were doing for Darcy, it wasn't something that you had to do. It was, there was like this inner drive to, to figure this out.

And I wonder if you can just share a little bit about why that was so important for you to figure this out.

Zach Spafford: It wasn't who I wanted to be. Yeah. I didn't wanna be that guy who was managing himself. And I wouldn't have said this at the time. I didn't understand it as well as I do now.

Yep. At the time I wouldn't, I didn't wanna be that guy who kept trying to manage himself through pornography, through arousal, su suppressing my emotions, suppressing my urges, suppressing my thoughts, and trying to be like, no, I gotta push all this out. And the only way to really maintain that is by keeping watching pornography.

And I hated it. I felt beholden to this. Externality that I couldn't control. Yeah. And I don't know anybody who likes being beholden to an externality. People who have jobs don't like jobs because somebody else is in charge usually. Yeah. So it's one of those things where I was just like, no, I need to figure this out so I can be the person that I expect myself to be.

And live up to the commitments that I've made to myself and to my spouse, and to my heavenly father. Yeah. That's, that was the broad strokes of it. And as I did this work, I can, as we did the work, and then as we went into becoming coaches, I can tell you that every step of the way the path was available.

It wasn't like I knew which step to take next necessarily, but it was like, okay, I can move into the darkness and I know. It's, we're on the right track. Yeah, it was great. Yeah.

Brett Nikula: And I appreciate you sharing there and being open and vulnerable about that. Because one of the things, one of the bigger misconceptions that I find when I'm working with couples and even in my own experience with pornography is it, as much as it's impacting and, creating a sense of hurt and relationships around the user the most hurt really seems to be with the user.

it's such a uncomfortable place and a place that I've talked with many guys specifically around this subject and. And I haven't found one that really enjoys the struggle with pornography. It's a, yeah. There's something to it that just really there's a lot of shame baked into it.

There's a lot of a sense of lack of control. It really hits on some vulnerable aspects of the human psyche, I think. And it's really painful for those people who are using it.

Zach Spafford: Yeah, I can take nothing from the pain that my wife felt, or that any woman who is totally is accompanying this process for some man.

And vice versa, this happens for women as well. Something like 60% of women. In the last month in the United States have viewed pornography. Yeah. And that statistic is about 85 for men. So this is not simply a men's problem. We'll probably talk about it from a men's perspective, mostly.

Because I'm a man and you're a man, but this is not exclusives. We know. But on the flip side of that, there is, there are often wives and girlfriends, fiances who are deeply injured and are struggling because of that. And I can't take anything from their pain. But what I can say is the more we address the problem specifically, and by the way, horn is not the problem.

It is a problem and it can be problematic, but it is not the problem. The problem for most men is that we are, we're not given a lot of space to be emotionally. Resilient, emotionally fluent. We are often told, I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, it was, rub some dirt on it. Get back in there, right?

Brett Nikula: Walk it off.

Zach Spafford: Right, walk it off. And that's really what we got is this, men are allowed three emotions, I often joke, hungry, horny, and angry. Those are the three emotions that most men are allowed to show. And if you think about it, if you watch tv, that's what you see. You see men who are hungry, angry, or horny.

That's what it is. I was watching the, there's a Netflix, or maybe it's Netflix, but Reacher, Jack Reacher, if you've ever read the books, I love the books. Jack Reacher's always hungry, and he embodies those three qualities. Hungry, angry, and horny. But the point is, The problem that we're addressing, not pornography, but the actual problem is that men are not emotionally fluent.

And I often say, I'm not trying to get you into the woo, I'm not trying to get you into this kumbaya state, but I am saying emotions have value. Yeah. And we can either address them directly and resolve them in a fluent and capable way, or we suppress them, we avoid them, and they come back and they, they bite us in the butt sometimes.


No, I think I've heard it said this way that, if you didn't use pornography, what would happen? You'd have to you'd feel a feeling. And it's that inability to feel that feeling of not using pornography, that you're actually trying to figure out how to navigate through and and when you don't have that fluency, when you don't have that ability to process through those feelings it feels like you, you only have one.

One option or possibility and that's to use. And I think, it's a difficult thing to navigate when you don't have the tools. So I think that's really what I want to dig into here. Next is the tools.

Go ahead. Before we go on to the tools, I want talk just one brief moment.

Hundred percent. Go for it to the wives. And this is not to shame anybody. This is not to say, Hey, you're doing it wrong or anything, because I do believe this is, this can be a very painful subject, but I want for the wives, and this is something, this is an analogy I took from my, my, my own wife gave me this analogy, so I can't even take credit for this idea, but I, if you're willing to hear a different way of thinking about this might be a nice place to start, which is essentially this.

What if your greatest struggle was something that your husband made about him? So if you struggle with food or you struggle with social media or anger with your children or just not being able to be up to your own standard in, in any given way. And every time you struggled with that, your husband made that about him.

You don't love me enough. You

Brett Nikula: Fill in the blank. Yeah.

Zach Spafford: Right. Whatever it is. And I just want you to think about it from that perspective for a little while. You don't have to take that on. You don't have to agree with me. I'm not asking you to, but I'm asking you to just take a moment and step into that possibility.

And if that were the case, how do you think you would react? And how much more difficult do you think it would make it, if that's the way that your husband interacted with your most difficult struggle? One of the things that I think is extremely important in this process is that we all take a step back, recognize our own fallibility, our own incapacity, to be the person that we expect ourselves to be on too many occasions.

And then love each other.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

So good. Yeah. It's it's that ability to move into the relationship the way that we want to, no matter how we feel our partners showing up and I think that ability to externalize the problem is so valuable to allow us to do that because when we make it means something about us, then we move into this reactionary place.

But when we can externalize it and see that. My husband's porn use doesn't have anything to do with me. It doesn't make it okay necessarily. It doesn't give them permission right. To do it, but it allows you to support them in it, which actually is probably in alignment with both of your goals. And that's to work through it and navigate through it and get beyond it so

Zach Spafford: Well, and I like that it's really more in alignment with both of your goals than anything else that you're doing usually.

And that's extraordinarily helpful.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

A lot of your work here, Zach is really aligning yourself with your moral compass, your goals your values, your future self, things like that. And I think we touched on this, that a lot of our conversation is gonna be around like managing pornography use and especially coming from like a male or husband perspective.

But I really think like a lot of these concepts can be generalized outside of pornography use. Yeah. And you even talked about that with a wife having a perspective of my own biggest struggle, I think we can look at this from that angle with many things.

And I guess I'll just ask you Zach what are some areas or other areas that you found like your clients have been able to use these tools or have found success with the same things that you're teaching around pornography use? And they're like, Hey, I was able to use it here. I was able to use it there in my relationship or otherwise.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. And I've coached a lot of men and women on food. Okay. Food is probably the number one most analogous thing to pornography. Mm-hmm. Partly because they're both internal. They are both these near needs. Right? So food is an absolute need. Porn is not a need, but intimacy and connection, I think really for a healthy human is basic need.

I agree. But that, that said, the idea that I have these internal struggles and they're both very difficult to extract my brain from and say, okay, how can I be as objective as possible about this? How can I address this in a way that isn't about eliminating the problem, but it's about being, getting good at moving through the problem.

Mm-hmm. And that's really the issue. Most of us feel like we either have to circumvent our problems or we have to ignore them or suppress them or avoid them in some way. And neither of those in the long run are probably your best bet. Mm-hmm. If you think about work, I know work's a great place to, to use these tools.

It's a great place to habitualize these tools in that there, there are so many things in our lives that we don't want to do at work. Whether it's, I. Specific type of report or a meeting with a certain client or something of that nature. Yeah. And being able to utilize these tools, knowing, okay, I can get good at going through I tell my clients, and this is a terrible sales pitch, I know, but I'm gonna teach you how to get good at feeling bad.


Because the better you are at actually dealing with the negative, unwanted, unpleasant feelings in your life, whether it's stress from work or just being with clients that you don't like, the more likely you are to achieve the long-term results that you're looking for.

Brett Nikula: Totally. And when you can do that, the pornography actually loses its control.

I I've seen so many people, and I've worked with so many people that are trying to figure this out, Zach and it's like they got like a defense system that like, It looks like they're trying to like, prevent some cyber warfare or something like that. They got blockers and Yeah. All kinds of things going on here.

And they haven't actually gained any sort of control. Their life is still controlled by this urge to use pornography and it's taxing on everybody. And there's, wives babysitting phones and it's just a, it's a mess. Yeah. So I think that's what it looks like when we're trying to circumnavigate around something like this is we don't actually gain any sort of control over it.

It just is controlling us in a completely different way.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. I have a friend who, he's really great with computers. He's a fantastic human, but he had all the blockers, all the tools, all the external IT systems.

Brett Nikula: Mm-hmm.

Zach Spafford: And then what his brain would tell him was, "well, am I safe? Am I really safe?" And so he'd go poke at the holes and see if he could get through the system.

And the problem with this idea that. So there's two, I, there's two main components I think that are happening here. So we believe something outside of us is in control and that we are not in control.

That is in its essence, the addiction model. Yeah. It's, I am not in control and something controls me.

If you've heard the phrase, we were powerless against our addiction, that's essentially what it's setting you up for. And then of course, the wives, they feel like, Hey, you have to solve this problem so I can feel Okay. And so they have relinquished control as well to someone who can't control how they feel.

Yeah. So we have all, we have a really difficult control problem that we're not really addressing. And in order to try and address that, we try to grasp sand. I don't know if you've ever heard that analogy. No. No. You're just holding on as tight as you can. True. And all the sand falls outta your hand, and it's just not possible.

Whereas, if you just stack it up on top and you're able to be there with it. Acknowledge it and not make it do anything in particular. The sand, you can, you can stack up quite a bit of sand on the top of your hand.

But the point is, if we want to take back control we, first we have to recognize what can I control?

And people come to me all the time and they're like what filter should I get?

Or should I have an accountability person? My personal experience with this is twofold. There is no filter that can keep you from finding porn. It doesn't exist hundred percent except the one between your ears.

That is the only filter that can keep you from choosing porn. Number two is there is no human who can keep you grounded long enough for all of the difficulty that you are going through to dissipate.

There's nobody, not your wife, not your accountability buddy, not your mom, not your dad, not your therapist.


Except for the guy living between your ears .

That's it.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: So if you want control back, you have to figure out, well, what can I control? And you can't control your emotions, you can't control your thoughts. What you can do is address them appropriately. Yeah. And this is the white bear pink elephant experiment.

I dunno if you've ever heard of this, but it's a fantastic experiment that shows us that the more we try to suppress or push away a thought, the more our brain will actually obsess about it.

Brett Nikula: Hmm.

Zach Spafford: And in that space, what happens is our emotional state brings that thought back to us. So let's say for the sake of argument, I say to you, Hey, you cannot think about anything related to warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies.

For the next two minutes. And if you do think about warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies, anytime in the next two minutes, I have a machine that's gonna read your mind and I'm gonna know, and we have actually hooked that machine up to your bank account and I'm gonna drain your bank account.

And if this were real

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: How much anxiety would be there? Even if there was only $10 in your bank account, you'd be like, oh no, you can't trade my bank account. That's not,

Brett Nikula: someone's gonna find out!

Zach Spafford: That emotion...

Brett Nikula:


Zach Spafford: ...charges this idea and then your brain goes, " what about that idea? Well, what about that idea?"

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: And the goal of the tools that we teach is to help you be able to walk through that idea objectively, which in turn is likely to decrease the anxiety about it. Yeah. That pain that we feel that we don't wanna feel, we're gonna learn how to get good at it. So we reduce the anxiety that we feel about it.

So our brain is less likely to say, Hey, what about, let's lemme give you a solution so you don't feel bad.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess my own personal experience and I think just listening to you that you'd agree with this, that while the filters aren't the solution I definitely think they're a tool that we can use to our benefit.

And this is, I guess coming just from personal experience that that to me it's if I don't want to eat Oreos, the best way I can do that is I can just make sure that there's no Oreos in my glove box and on my nightstand and everywhere around. And and what the filters do is they just give time for us to have, to make a conscious decision.

And I think that is, is so valuable and important Yes. In this that that you do have to engage your brain to make some decisions.

Zach Spafford: And I think it's about how we think about the filter.

Brett Nikula: Mm-hmm.

Or somebody

Zach Spafford: helping us, right?

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: It's, is this person here to help me stop? Is this filter here to keep me from choosing porn or is this filter here to give me a pause?

Brett Nikula: Mm-hmm.

Zach Spafford: That's the difference.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: And if we think about it in terms of, oh, this is here to help me give, create a pause. Like for instance, on my phone, recently I decided I was gonna take my web browser off. I've had a web browser for a very long time, but I found myself too often going to Yahoo News and scrolling YouTube shorts.

And so I said, you know what? I'm just gonna take that off my phone altogether. Now I have the power. There's nothing that keeps me from putting that browser on my phone.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: I could go into my phone right now, put a browser on, no big deal. I have the power. I'm a hundred percent in control of this.

It's not like I have to go to my wife and go, "Hey, can you give me a browser back?" But that extra step that I would have to take to get that browser. Gives me a moment to pause. Gives me a moment to step back and go, is this really what I want? And the answer is no.

Yeah. It's so good.

Brett Nikula: So we've talked about tools, but maybe I'd just focus this this conversation a little bit and have you share with the listeners some of the tools that you really find to be effective.

Let's say there's a listener out there who's been listening to our conversation and he or she is like, "I'm ready. I wanna, I really wanna do something here. And I wanna really put my pornography use to bed."

Zach Spafford: Yeah.

Brett Nikula: What are you telling them? What do you got for them?

Zach Spafford: Yeah, so that's a really great question.

Number one, you have to be willing I've been reading a book called The Obstacle is the Way, it's Stoic Philosophy. If you're not familiar with it it's great book. It's very it's very, focused, but there's three things that he talks about. The first is you have to be willing to be willing.

You have to have willingness to try and fail and screw things up and keep going. You have to be willing to have the right perspective. Perspective is huge. When I said pornography is not the problem, a lot of people listening are probably like, but it is the problem, Zach, and you're wrong. And that's fine.

I'm not here to try and convince you. But I can tell you that once we stop making pornography the problem, we can actually address a lot of the underlying reasons why we choose pornography. And then pornography becomes a moot point. So having the right perspective, having a perspective that will allow you to move forward rather than stuck in a dogmatic position that says, I have to eradicate something I have no control over.

That's just you moving to another idea. That's not a problem. If you wanna try it out for a little while and then go back to your old way of thinking, you can totally do that. But what I would ask you to do is an experiment on "is this working" or "is this helping me move forward?"

And then the third thing is action. You have to take action. Now, you can do it in any number of ways. I would highly recommend that you work with a coach or counselor, someone who has experience in this particular problem, because I can tell you, I went to, I can't tell you how many therapists I went to, therapists...

Brett Nikula: I believe it.

Zach Spafford: leaders, friends, family, none of them had any idea of what to do. They all had platitudes of just stop it. Or, this is gonna destroy your life, and so you should clearly stop doing it. But none of them had any idea of actually how to resolve the struggle. And taking action means, okay, what do I need to do next to find that counselor who can show me the way, how do I start on their program?

How do I work with that coach in a meaningful way so that I can just get 1% better today? And that's really what it's about is taking action, moving into a direction. I would tell you to look me up I would happily have a conversation with you.

But if you want to move forward, you have to. Have the right perspective. You have to take action and you have to be willing to fail. And if you're not willing to do those three things, you're not ready yet. Yeah.

So good. So good.

Brett Nikula: And then any like specific tools that you would say, Hey, this is something that, that you really use and utilize with all your clients or other clients.

Come back to time and again and say, Zach, everything that you taught me was awesome, but it was like this and this that really stood out. Anything like that you have?

Zach Spafford: Yeah, I'm trying to think of something really profound to say, but the truth is I focus on mindfulness techniques.

One that I came up with that I think is extremely helpful. Just for pornography, those who struggle with pornography is what I call nab. Notice a name, allow and ask, breathe, and be kind. And this is a technique to take a step back from your brain and just observe and notice, oh, hey, my brain is offering me my, my brain's saying to me, "oh, I deserve a break."

So noticing that. Yeah. And saying, "Why is that?" And then we name it, we, and I like, when I think of naming it's what's the plot of the movie that your brain is starting right now? . And the plot of that movie, "I just, I deserve to relax," is "I deserve to leave behind my moral values and set up, down this path towards pornography, and if I get there, which I probably will, then I'll just give in if I have to." . And that's the name of that movie for a lot of people. And yours might be slightly different, but what you're looking for is what's the thought that usually starts me down this path? And can I address that?

And can I call out the name of that movie? What's this gonna look like by the end of this situation? Yeah. And call out the name of that movie. And then "allow and ask." A lot of us, we've been taught, fight, we, we use these words all the time. Fight the new drug or I, I kept it at bay.

Or whatever it is. We use this battle language.

That's not gonna help because there's one person that you can never win in a battle against. That's yourself. You can never win. You have to learn how to work with your own mind. And if you're battling your own mind, you're gonna find that to be a pretty futile situation.

So we allow that thought to exist. That's not saying that we say that we accept it. That's not saying that we embrace it. That's not saying that we follow it. That's simply saying it exists, and that's okay. That's it. We don't have to do anything about it. And then we ask questions. What's the value in believing what this says?

Does this help me live up to the morals and the values and the person that I expect myself to be? And to ask these questions, you have to do it from a position of curiosity. A lot of times we come at these things from a position of a accusation or shame or guilt, and you have to be curious.

You have to be willing to drop those other ideas off for a minute and just be as curious as possible. Why do I want to avoid my life right now and choose porn? And the more curious you can be, the more effective this tool is. And then the next two steps are to breathe and be kind. Now the breathing is really just, it's a, it's an exercise in connecting with the present.

It is bringing you to the present moment where it's real and we're not. Going off into a fantasy land of, all the women who desire us, just because we asked the internet to tell us that we're desirable. . Taking those deep breaths is gonna fuel your brain. It's gonna fuel your body.

And when your brain and your body are fueled properly, we make better decisions. So just connecting with the present moment, being present in your own body and being able to fuel that decision making process from the most effective position is going to be essential to help you make the decision that is going to lead you towards your value structure.

You to hit that choice point and it's what goes away or what goes towards, and if I'm well grounded, I can make a move towards, yeah. And then the last thing is to be kind. And I think that we all wanna skip this and we all wanna beat ourselves up and be like, man, I should be over this porn problem.

Brett Nikula: Sure.

Zach Spafford: Please don't. That's not helpful, what would you say to the guy who came to you and said, "Hey, this is the problem I'm struggling with?" Be that guy for yourself. . Be the guy who is okay with hearing the struggle and be the guy who's willing to love yourself in spite of the struggle.

And just be kind to you because beating yourself up hasn't worked so far.

Brett Nikula: Zach, I love it. And if you have something profound to say, call me up. 'cause I want to hear it. That was awesome. That, that was and sometimes it's, it, it is just like really breaking it down and getting simple with it.

And I think the most profound thing you said there was that last part of being kind, at the end of the day, I think you who are struggling with a pornography issue or addiction or struggle or however you name that makes sense. And that is at the core of that kindness.

It's like, "how do I make sense with this?" and once we can see this, and we're not like beating ourselves up, but we're in that curious space of understanding like, this is what's going on, this is why I'm choosing this. We all of a sudden have way more clarity of how to manage it and how to navigate through it.

I think that is awesome. And I know we're coming up on time here, so I guess

if we're,

Zach Spafford: I'll talk about this forever. Okay. So you don't have, you don't have to shut this down for me.

Brett Nikula: Alright, sounds good.

Then if we have more time, I'd like to spend a little bit of time. We've talked to the women a little bit here, but I would want to see if there's anything more there, Zach that you would say to a wife who finds that.

She's struggling with a husband who is struggling with pornography and you talked about how to shift that mindset, and you can definitely go more into that. But I think also there's wives out there who, who are earnestly asking like, how do I help? How can I help my husband who I think sincerely wants to, put an end to this.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. And I'm always trying to be as cognizant of the struggle on the wife's side because, and I'll be honest with you, sometimes there are wives who are just like, I know this isn't about me. I've had I on my podcast, Amber, Josh, they're great. Amber knew about his porn struggle from the day they started dating, and then she knew it was never about her.

Yeah. And then there are wives who, this is a hundred percent about me and he's destroying us. And just being aware of that, breadth of experience and breadth of feeling. It is tough. And I wanna be sensitive to all of it. Sure. But I also want you to know that you can contribute positively to this scenario in a way that will help your husband be able to choose to open up to you and be more intimate with you.

And create a space of freedom for both of you to create an intimate relationship that is beyond what you probably thought was even possible. And, I'll try to do my best impersonation of my wife here and, I'm sure she would do a better job of speaking to this point.

But the truth is if it's not about you, then what is it about? And if we can dig into what is it about and be open and hear him, I know for me it was really tough. It was tough to come home and tell my wife anything bad. I was working in a large insurance company for many years, and I would come home and I would say, this didn't go right quite the way that I wanted it to at work.

And my wife instantly went to, are you gonna get fired? And it was just like, how can I share my reality with someone who cannot hear it? And if you want to be a wife who's helpful to your husband, be willing to hear his reality, be willing to stand in there and not get lost in the anxiety that he has about his own reality.

Because that is keeping him from being real with you. And you might think, if I'm not anxious about it, or if I don't push the buttons on him, then it's not gonna get resolved. I promise you he wants it resolved more than you do. But he doesn't know how, and he feels an immense amount of shame because he cannot solve this problem. . Men are problem solvers. We are. Right.

Brett Nikula: Totally.

Zach Spafford: There's, oh, there's this great video on YouTube where this husband and wife are sitting next to each other and she's complaining about how she has this just deep and abiding pain in her forehead. Have you seen this?

Brett Nikula: Yeah, "the Nail."

Zach Spafford: And she can't seem to solve it. And, and he's like, "well, what if we just took the nail out of your head?" And she's like, "it's not about the nail, Gary!" He just wants to solve her problem. . And she wants to be heard. . And I think if we just take that and we flip it onto the wives and we say, "you cannot solve his problem."

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: That's the truth. You can't solve his problem. You cannot have enough sex with him. You cannot be sexy enough. You cannot be, and I don't know how much of a kids program this is, so I'm trying to keep the ...yeah. Right. So you cannot be enough for him. You have to be enough for you. And then show up in the relationship. A hundred percent. Yeah. And then that gives him space to stop trying to manage you. And manage your anxieties and your feelings. Like the phrase I hate this phrase, "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." It's like, if mama ain't happy, mama needs to work on mama's happiness and show up as the person she wants to be.

Yeah. And dada needs to do the same thing. And so do the children. If we want happiness, we have to show up for ourselves. And if you wanna catalyze this growth within your husband, it's gonna be doing the work on your own end. It's working your side of the street.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. . And I wanna highlight that question because you buried it in there a little bit, but it's such, such an important question.

If this problem, whatever the presenting problem is, you can use this anywhere, isn't about me. What's it really about? If you can put that onto anything, all of a sudden it changes everything. What is this really about? What's this pornography use really about?

If it's not about me and all of a sudden we begin to see something completely different. I think it opens up all kinds of different possibilities that could be present there that I think are much more true than anything about you. Something that I think is so powerful to think about is , what if pornography was Target, or I like to use Oreos for whatever reason. I don't even like Oreos...

Zach Spafford: oreos is great

Brett Nikula:

...but what if it was Oreos? How would you handle a husband who , every time he saw Oreos, he just was compelled beyond his abilities to eat the whole pack. And he had Oreo crumbs everywhere and everybody kind of knew about this and he couldn't stop.

And just like to think of it in terms of that, like all of a sudden we can see oh, this isn't about us. And there is some struggle and some pain there too. And and what is that, Oreo addiction or pornography draw or whatever. What is that about? And now we can move into, I think, a.

More of the wife that or the husband, wherever you are that you wanna be, which is, I hear it so much from my clients that they really wanna be supportive. They really want to be caring. They really care and they really love, and they want to show up in these ways but they, it, they feel like this problem is so much about them that they have no option but to be angry and upset and defensive and aggressive and things like that.

And so when we can externalize it, realize that if this isn't about me, then what is it really about? All of a sudden we regain autonomy to be able to show up as a spouse that we wanna be.

And I think that's amazing.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. And I think a good way to think about externalizing it is what if this were happening, if you're a wife, what if this was happening to my favorite brother? What if this was what was going on for my favorite brother?

Brett Nikula: Wow. Yeah.

Zach Spafford: Would I take his wife's position and just rail against my favorite brother or would I start to think about it and go. " Why is this happening for him?"

And if we can do that it gives us a huge amount of possibility to be empathetic, but more than that, it allows us to know them.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: Because a lot of, I think the reason why men in particular do not want to share their reality with their spouse is because if we are known, we can be rejected.

Brett Nikula: Yeah.

Zach Spafford: And nobody likes to be rejected. I'm wifes don't like to be rejected. Husbands don't like to be rejected.

Brett Nikula: Yep.

I've shared that on this podcast. That that was my biggest fear in sharing my own pornography struggle with my wife, is that she would, she would realize, she would, it would be revealed to her who I am.

And that would be the end of our relationship. As I knew it, I didn't think she would leave me, but I thought that was the end of our relationship as I knew it, where she thought I was this, amazing, wonderful guy and that was well.

It's terrifying.

Zach Spafford: And I think that this is the thing that we miss, and I'm gonna give an example from the book, the Obstacle Is The Way, 'cause I just read it and it's such a pertinent example. So the, in World War ii, the German army was utilizing this tactic called Blitzkrieg. And essentially what it was, was just this hard and fast movement into a territory where everybody felt like they had to just lay down and surrender. 'cause they didn't wanna create massive casualties.

But by the end of the war, what the Allies realized was that if they could bend and not break, they could actually surround the German army and beat them up on the flanks, which was a much, much more vulnerable position. Yeah. And what I want you to see from that is that if we are willing to bend a little bit and not break, not make it about us, not make it about destruction.

So many people say porn destroys lives. Porn does not destroy lives. I have yet to see a roving band of pornographers trap anybody into their house, strap them down and say, we're gonna make porn and you're gonna watch. That's never happened in all of my experience. Now, if it has happened to you, I'd love to hear that story.

I'd be deeply interested in under understanding what happened. Sure. But if we are willing to say, porn isn't going to break us, we are going to choose to break us, or we are going to choose to flex, and if we can flex a little bit, we can attack this at its flanks and we are gonna be much, much more likely to succeed.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. Wow.

We've covered a lot of ground, a lot of different areas, and maybe I just toss it back into your court here, Zach. If there's anything that I really kind of glossed over or completely missed or anything that you want to plug in here in terms of topics or con conversations I'd love to hear it.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. For men, I would say you're not broken. This is your brain working the way that it's supposed to. It may not be set up the way you want it to be, but it is working as designed. And if it's working as designed, you can redesign it.

Brett Nikula: Totally. You have the capacity to change much more than you think you do.

Zach Spafford: It will not be instant, I'll be honest with you. We hear so many stories of instant success where, overnight, all of a sudden everything changed for me. . That's not usually been my experience. It is a process of learning how to habitualize the work. .

Now what that means is willpower and motivation, stop being the point. Because there's no amount of willpower that can solve an internal problem. There's no amount of motivation that can last long enough. I have worked with men who have been clearing and clear from porn for a year, sometimes two, sometimes three, and they come back to it not because they're deviants, not because they're broken, but because they have not redesigned the process of resolving what it is that's going on with them.

Totally. And when you do that, and this is something that I really wish people understood. This is about creating habitual ways of responding to your brain. . Because what the response cycle is that you have set up. It's a habit. And if you can habitualize something different, then you can succeed.

I'll give you an example. When I was a young man, I hurt my wrist, my right hand wrist, and I'm a right-handed guy, and I couldn't brush my teeth with my right hand, so I had to brush my teeth with my left hand. And in the beginning it was terrible. I don't think my teeth got very clean and I was always banging into my gums.

Totally unpleasant. But over time, and through trial and error and through practice and through creating a new habit of how to brush your teeth, I was able to brush my teeth quite easily left-handed. It was automatic and I didn't have to think about it. . That is the same process that you're going through to eliminate a pornography struggle.

. But you have to know the tools. You have to know how to do it. You have to be willing to try and you have to fail a few times. And then reevaluate. And if you're willing to do that, then guess what? You'll succeed. If you're not willing to do that. If you're, you want somebody to show up with a magic wand and change everything at no cost or effort, you're probably not gonna succeed.

Brett Nikula: Yeah. And a lot of times, language that we hear a lot is you gotta do the work and you gotta. Make this happen. And people have asked me like what is the work and what are the tools? And I think that's a, it's an awesome question, but it's hard to answer because the work is really finding the tools that work for you.

And that's why it's it's not something you can go and pick up at Walmart. Here's the get off of pornography toolkit. Because we're all unique, we all have a different response system. We all have our own triggers and the work is actually being curious enough to figure out what is happening for you and figuring out what you need to do to create a new habitual response pattern that overcomes that and aligns with your, your goals and things that you want for your future self.

And that's really the work that we're talking about here.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. It's not as if every tool will work for every person. Yeah. I gave one tool. I have many tools. . And some of them work for some people and some of them don't. . But there is a tool for everyone, and if none of the tools work, then it's a matter of making your own.

I have 197 podcast episodes plus bonus episodes on this topic alone. So that gives you an idea of how much we can discuss, or how many different avenues there are to cover. . To see if something can work for you. And for some people it takes one tool. For some people it takes half a dozen.

But if you're willing to try, you'll find the right tool.

Brett Nikula: Yep.

I agree. Yeah. So as we come to a close here we've briefly touched on a few places that they can find you, but maybe you can pack that all into just a short little blurb here. 30 seconds a minute.

Where can they find you? Where they, where can they get more of you? How can they listen to all these other tools that you're willing to share? Tell us all about it.

Zach Spafford: Yeah. You can find me at Thrive Beyond Pornography. That's our podcast. It's free on Apple and iTunes and all the awesome podcasts places that, , that you can find it. And I love doing it, if you have something you wanna ask and you want me to address it specifically, feel free to send me an email at [email protected]. I would love to chat with you. I would love to meet you if you want to sit down and have a consult and say, okay, this is what I'm struggling with, can we, is this a good fit to coach on? You can go to or Either one works, and if you want to see what it is that I do. Before you ever talk to me, 'cause you're like, I don't know about this guy. He's a weirdo. He likes to talk about porn on the internet for a living and that is the strangest thing.

Then go to and you can watch a whole webinar that I've put together for my clients.

Brett Nikula: Wow. Cool.

Awesome. Yeah. And I know there's gonna be people who come across this and this is the tool that they're looking for is all wrapped into you and the program that you've put together.

And I'm so happy to. Have been able to connect them to you. And I think, I continue to listen to your work and you have so many great points. And even if you're not struggling with pornography, I think there's a ton of great ideas and great conversations and perspectives and tools that you offer in your work.

And I think if anything here has resonated with you or you're like, Hey, I like Zach and I think he can help definitely think that they should reach out to you or tune into your podcast. 'cause I know I've gotten so much from what you're doing there. So thank you for me and I, on behalf of my listeners, I wanna thank you too for coming on board here and sharing.

Your conversation with me with all of them and being willing to do that, so thank you.

Absolutely. I love it. Thank you. Awesome.

This has been the Fighting for Connection podcast. If you've enjoyed this podcast and want more content like this, check out my Connected Couples campus, which can be found on my website,, and become the difference you need in your relationship.

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