In one of our group Zoom chats, our chat topics was, "What did you wish you already knew, upon discovery of your spouse's addiction? ". We had lots of great tips for first timers, so I summarized them here. Thanks to everyone who took part!
YOU ARE NOT "CRAZY" - Though you may feel confused, off-balance, not sure of what is real or not, this is a very common feeling among spouses of people who have problematic sexual behavior. We know this as "Betrayal Trauma". All addicts become masters of deception and manipulation to protect the addiction and avoid responsibility at almost any cost and know how to make you doubt your sanity or perception of reality. They call this, "crazy making" or "gaslighting." It's not you. It's the addicted person's attempt to avoid responsibility and the repercussions of their unhealthy and wounding behaviors.
KNOW IT CAN BE A ROLLER COASTER - The emotions brought about by significant partner betrayal are extreme. It’s the same trauma as if you were in a live battlefield, or a violent car accident, or witnessed or were the victim of a violent crime. You are likely suffering triggers, physical flashbacks, and feel that your life — and self — as you knew it has been shattered.
Give yourself some grace, and patience, and don’t beat yourself up for the sadness, depression, anger, fear, physical effects, and the confusion of still feeling love for your partner. You could feel fine one minute and crash the next. That’s common and over time, and with recovery efforts, you will feel different and go back and forth through different phases. You will not feel these emotions as strongly as you do now forever, as it sometimes feels. Recovery works, and you’re worth it, so work it.
RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE - You WILL feel joy again and recover from this. Decide TODAY that you will be among those of us who have not only recovered, but come out stronger, wiser and even more loving and connected than before this all started. (If your partner wants to find recovery and earn his way back into your relationship, recovery from sex addiction is possible too.)
RELATIONSHIP RECOVERY ISN'T THE ONLY RECOVERY. There are 3 unique but sometimes connected recoveries:
- Your personal betrayal trauma recovery
- Your partner's recovery from addiction
- The relationship recovery
Without the first two, the 3rd cannot happen. Please don't confuse repairing the relationship, with your own personal recovery. The wounds of betrayal deserve to be seen and tended to. Fixing the relationship, won't replace your own personal recovery.
SELF-CARE 24/7: FOCUS ON YOU and YOUR HEALTH - this is hard, but not impossible. We can't recommend this self-focus enough. It's hard to turn your attention away from the person whom you the love the most, and who hurt you the most, but this is the fastest route out of the pain. You must focus on your own feelings, your own self care, your own safety, your own security, and not look to your partner for instant relief. His illness got you both here, it's not likely he can do anything of real value yet, to help. Put yourself first. Learn about boundary creation, and enforcement, to create a feeling of safety.
ENACTING BOUNDARIES WILL EMPOWER YOU AND HELP YOU FEEL SAFE.
KNOW YOU’RE A BETRAYAL TRAUMA SURVIVOR - Experts trained in the trauma caused by the infidelity and deception of sex addiction, understand that shock and surprise of the level of betrayal and deceit has traumatized us. You’re likely going to experience fear, unwanted thoughts and images, and obsessive thoughts and be “triggered” by places, images, songs, photos, and even your spouse. You’re not crazy -- you’re scared and need safety. Speak to your therapist or coach about empirically based trauma treatment
modalities to ease the triggers
and symptoms. Treatment is very effective.
See our Module 3: Dealing with Triggers: Panic Attacks, Extreme Anxiety, Distress, Confusion
GET THE *RIGHT* KIND OF THERAPY FOR YOURSELF – the “WRONG” kind of therapy can do more damage!
For the betrayed partner: We require partner-sensitive providers who understand the nuances of infidelity betrayal trauma. APSATS (Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) trained provider therapist or coach. They are specifically trained in best practices for a good recovery for you as a traumatized partner of a sexually addicted person. Because they understand the addiction and its effects, they understand you, and your experience as a wounded, betrayed partner more than just a standard therapist with no experience.
If you can’t get a APSATS trained therapist or coach, look for therapists with specialized training in understand addiction, relational trauma, intimacy disorders, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) attachment disorders and attachment theory, or domestic abuse. Your safety, emotional validation and education on recovery will be their primary focus.
Your sexually addicted partner must take full responsibility of pushing forward for his own recovery. He can find the right kind of therapy in the CSAT directory. Note: If you can't find an in-person therapist, a telehealth or zoom session is better than an in-person provider who isn't properly trained in sex addiction recovery.
Pastoral counselors usually don't have the right training for sex addiction and betrayal trauma and can potentially cause more problems with harmful advice.
The wrong therapist, (inadequate specialized training) counselor or pastor can do more damage, enable an addicted person, or re-traumatize the betrayed partner. Shop around if you have to. To see personal experiences of being further traumatized by the wrong type of therapy see this thread
Read the experiences of women who were further harmed by well-meaning professionals who had outdated or no training in this kind of repeat infidelity:
Private Facebook Group for Recovering Spouses of Sex Addicts - "bad therapy thread"
Traditional marriage counseling is not the immediate answer early in recovery Sex addiction behaviors and betrayal is not caused by issues in the marriage, it is an individual's addiction, deception and betrayal and harmful behaviors problem. Until the betrayer gets counseling for his root issues that cause him to use these behaviors in his addiction, and until you get trauma treatment that helps you set and enforce strong boundaries of safety, traditional marriage counseling is not able to address these highly specialized problems.
More on why traditional marriage therapy doesn't help and what needs to happen before marriage therapy can be helpful: (links outside this website)
12 STEPS - A 12-step program can support you in your day-to-day recovery, in addition to therapy – but it can’t replace qualified therapy. A 12-step program encourages you to turn to your own spiritual life; rethink what you can control and what you can’t, and to take personal responsibility for your own healing, and even though we have been victimized by deception and betrayal, helps us avoid staying in “victim” mode. 12-step programs provide educational and inspirational literature and other tools to help you navigate your personal recovery. S-Anon is an example of one such group dedicated to healing of the spouse of a sexually addicted person. S-Anon reinforces you are not to blame, and not the cause of your own trauma, or your spouse's addiction, and that focusing on your own health and healing is healthy and nothing to feel guilty about. It helps get you out of isolation that is so common in all trauma and especially betrayal trauma, and helps you see that you're not alone in this experience.
NOTE: 12 step recovery programs are not a replacement for qualified sex addiction or trauma treatment. There are pros and cons to attending peer led groups. Sponsor advice offered by laypeople, and the 12 steps do not trump therapeutic advice. Take a layperson’s advice with a grain of salt or “take what you need and leave the rest”.
GET A FULL MEDICAL WORKUP INCLUDING AN STD TEST - Because of the progressive nature of the disease of addiction and the secrecy and distortion used by the addict to protect their disease, and hide their behaviors, we do not know in the beginning of the full extent of our spouse's behavior. To be safe, ask your medical provider for a full workup for STD’s. If you trust your provider, it’s a good idea to be honest about why, so they can also become part of your support system.
DON’T ISOLATE – All trauma victims tend to isolate and withdraw. It’s recommended you connect with safe people, because healing happens in community. Our brains need to process through our wounds and recapture who we are in the context of our relationships. Build a support system of SAFE people. Find support groups that specialize in supporting betrayal trauma partner recovery. Get hope, resources and support from others who have recovered from the effects of their partner’s sex addiction.
YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME AND YOU DIDN'T ATTRACT THIS INTO YOUR LIFE - Though these behaviors from your partner scars you deeply now, there is nothing you did that caused the addict to act out. Sex addiction usually has its roots in adolescence, and they was likely acting out in his addiction before you met them. There is nothing you can do to stop an un-recovered addict from seeking his drug and using. You are empowered to have boundaries around their sobriety, recovery efforts, the fruits of recovery (change and growth) and how they interact with you.
For more information see our Module 5: What Does Real Recovery from Sex Addiction Look Like?
CONFIRM YOUR REALITY BUT TRY NOT TO SPEND HOURS SEARCHING FOR EVIDENCE BEFORE THERAPEUTIC DISCLOSURE. We go back and search and look at past information or “discovery evidence” (web history, messages, etc.), to confirm our new reality. This is how our brain processes the new information in a healthy way.
We look for current evidence of our partner’s behavior to confirm whether their behavior is safe and trustworthy. This is healthy too and can be done with your partner’s knowledge, and they can lean into this need, as just one way they can build trust.
But if you feel like you need to hide the fact that you’re looking, you probably don’t feel safe yet. He probably isn’t able yet to authentically connect, show appropriate remorse and show empathy for the pain and damage he’s caused. That can lead to us still feeling unsafe.
You have a right
to look at browser history, location history, emails, text messages to confirm this new reality. It's normal to look at this evidence because you need to validate your new reality. If that doesn’t help you make decisions on participation in the relationship – you don’t need “evidence” - the way you feel, is all the evidence you need to set and enforce boundaries
Please try to limit the time you engage in this activity, as it can become obsessive and reinforce trauma. You can't "unsee" certain pictures, messages or other facts about your partner's sexual behavior. You can also become attached to the adrenaline that your brain feels when you "look” for something. If you feel worse after this activity, instead of better, then you might want to set some personal boundaries around how often you look, and for how long, or set a goal of stopping completely and using other methods to feel safe.
NOTE: This is NOT the same as "trust but verify" when you check on your partner's behavior with his knowledge as a way to establish trust.
EDUCATE YOURSELF – There are many myths, paradoxes and misunderstanding about sex addiction, even in the therapy world. Those myths only complicate and frustrate recovery and cause more confusion and pain.
Read books about sex addiction, betrayed partner recovery, trauma, attachment injury, listen to podcasts, by qualified, educated professionals. Also talk to others who have been there, and done recovery work, regardless of their partner’s recovery or lack of it.
“NO MAJOR LIFE-CHANGING DECISIONS” – this advice is often given because you’re probably in shock, and experiencing extreme emotions that are difficult to regulate, and so we’re advised not make any permanent major life-changing decisions quickly, like divorce or selling assets. We may be in trauma “flight” mode and big changes may appear like a relief, but also bring other losses and instability. Shock subsides, and emotions do change. Many people who make life-changing decisions during such an emotional time may regret those changes later when the strength of those emotions subsides. If you are in a dangerous situation, get the help of a qualified therapist to support and guide you into a more reasonable, safe situation. However, if in order to feel safe, you need to begin to pursue divorce – then do what you need to do! You’re an adult and you assume all the risk and benefits of your decisions. Your safety comes first.
ACTIVE ADDICTS NOT IN RECOVERY ATTEMPT SEVERAL METHODS TO AVOID RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR BEHAVIORS - They attempt to use deception, denial, rationalization, justification, entitlement, playing victim, minimizing what they did, minimizing and invalidating your needs or emotions, blaming you or anything else, gaslighting (manipulating you to doubt your own reality) promises to stop or get help they don't intend to follow through on.
CONSIDER THERAPEUTIC SEPARATION - Therapeutic separation is a physical separation for healing as individuals for the purposes of coming back together as a couple, not, “in anticipation of divorce” and can be instrumental in helping you decide if you if you want to salvage the relationship. Because emotions are so high, and enmeshment is common in addicts, it’s healthy to take some space where you can be sad, cry, scream, and vent out all your emotions without concern about your partner. It allows you to set healthy boundaries for yourself and reclaim “you” that we so often lose in relationships where addiction is present. It’s healthy for him to go somewhere by himself, so he can begin his recovery work, and he can also begin to reclaim his authentic self, (who he is without his addiction.) If you can’t afford separate residences temporarily, you try an in-house separation.
COUPLE RECOVERY- Recovery of the relationship is also possible. Most couples find recovery in the Full Therapeutic Disclosure process, guided by a professional trained in sex addiction recovery, and in conjunction with your own betrayal trained therapist. If you are considering reconciliation with your sexually addicted partner in recovery, because you are confident he is not acting out, and is not abusing relationally (no gaslighting, blaming, avoiding, etc.) the best approach is the Couple–Centered Recovery® Model devised by Dr. Jake Porter. This process includes, but goes beyond the Full Therapeutic Disclosure process for relationship repair and reintegration.
"Addiction is many times a manifestation of, or at least co-exists with, an intimacy disorder. By placing the clients’ primary relationship at the center of the recovery process, we believe couples can experience healing faster and deeper. With an emotionally-focused, attachment-attentive process, the relationship that was the source of injury can become the very place of healing. Through rigorous honesty, addicts learn to respond differently to their internal shame and grow in their ability to give their partners the intimacy they desire and deserve."
Dr. Porter has some excellent couple's recovery webinars available for single purchase, or via a monthly membership at:
Start here: Single purchase: Couple-Centered Recovery from Betrayal due to Sexual Addiction
Monthly membership for all videos Monthly Membership DV@Home Library
Be sure to sign up for Daring Venture's email list, as they provide several free resources throughout the year for couple's recovery and growth.
Also subscribe to his YouTube Channel for short, informative videos appropriate for couples to view together.
See our module where we describe the Full Therapeutic Disclosure process at a high level in Module 6: Coupleship Recovery: The Usual Milestones that Lead to Repair and Growth Together