My partner is the sex addict.
Why am I the one that needs help? "
THE PLIGHT OF PARTNERS OF SEX ADDICTS
When sexual betrayal happens in a committed relationship, it’s the addict who we identify as the one who has ‘the problem.’ By the time the addict sees that his/her behaviours are out of hand, there is often an urgency to get help.
In these cases, most often the husband is the one is addicted. He is in crisis; he is engaging in high-risk behaviour; he needs help and the help needs to happen now.
But while our tendency is to focus on those who are openly wounded, we can easily overlook the ones who are hemorrhaging inside. These are the partners of sex addicts.
Life for partners of sex addicts consists of 2 parts: your life pre-discovery and your life post-discovery.
LIFE BEFORE DISCOVERY
Pre- discovery, you likely experienced:
- Feeling suspicious or having a ‘gut feeling’ that you ignored
- Gaslighting: Your partner made you feel that you were the one who had irrational fears and suspicions that were totally in your head
- Direct lies. Your partner looked you eyeball to eyeball saying that there was no reason for worry
- Feeling that you were in a loving and trustworthy partnership and you had no inkling that there was something awry
Once the truth comes out and the sexual betrayal is discovered by the partner, life as you know it will effectively never be the same.
Addiction doesn’t stay contained. It needs its own oxygen supply to spread. And when it spreads, the family system is the terrain where the wildfire burns.
Partners of sex addicts didn’t start the fire,
but they are the ones who are the quiet casualties.
LIFE AFTER DISCOVERY
Post-discovery, partners typically live in extremes experiencing:
- Extreme reactions: Acting out with rage or acting in by avoidance behaviours
- Extreme emotions: Feeling highly irritable/anxious or hopeless with depressive symptoms
- Extreme sexuality: Acting hypersexual or abandoning sexuality
These extreme reactions act like a lever, flipping on and off.
The idea of experiencing too much or too little is a trauma response and we often see this in partners who have discovered their partner's sexual betrayal.
THERAPY: THE CHALLENGE
Faced with shock, anger, denial, and disbelief after discovering the addict’s infidelity, partners have lost the one thing that they relied on: their ability to trust.
They face constant self-interrogation,
“How could I have not known this was happening?” or “How did I not see it?”
Ultimately the question that partners end up grappling with is,
“what is it that I can trust?”
This essential mistrust is a natural and protective reaction, however it poses a real challenge to partners seeking therapy because as much as they need it, they are often resistant to it.
As a therapist, my message to partners is,
"I am here to help you so I’m going to need you to trust me.”
But if a partner has been betrayed by the one person they trusted in their life, why would they trust me as a therapist?
Since this challenge is normal and is to be expected, the most adaptive thing we can do is address the resistance, confront it head on and seek to understand what the partner needs in order to build that trust.
Another layer of mistrust for partners can come from trauma that might have happened in the partner's life before the marriage. Most often partners have walked through the ashes of their own trauma histories from their family of origin or other relationships.
As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), as meaningful and important as therapy is for partners, another level of healing occurs when we are surrounded by people who have had a shared experience. this tradition is well established in 12 step groups which have have endured for over 80 years.
Groups provide a different kind of empathy and empowerment. When I work with partners of sex addicts, I strongly encourage them to connect in with groups such as COSA (Co-Sex Addicts). These groups specifically focus on supporting partners through the betrayal of the sex addiction.
It’s essential that partners of sex addicts understand 3 things:
- They didn’t cause their partner's sex addiction
- They didn’t enable it
- The addiction is not their fault
Partners need their own support to navigate hurt and betrayal of sexual infidelity.
Creating a solid therapeutic relationship can provide a bridge to emotional safety for partners of sex addicts and from there, healing is possible.
Tanya Fruehauf practices in Vancouver, BC. Catalyst Counselling provides therapy services for addiction, trauma and relationships.
RESOURCES FOR PARTNERS OF SEX ADDICTS IN VANCOUVER
AVALON RECOVERY SOCIETY (COSA Meetings) - http://avalonrecoverysociety.org/
TRAUMA INFORMED YOGA - http://www.finebalanceyoga.ca/
MENDING A SHATTERED HEART - available at amazon.ca
FACING HEARTBREAK - available at amazon.ca