The discovery and realization that your partner is a sex addict frequently activates a traumatic response. According to Claudia Black, an expert researcher in the field of trauma and sex addiction, there are some common symptoms associated with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that partners of sex addicts report:
1. Betrayal of trust
Fear of trusting self or others.
2. Emotional and physical pain and anguish
Range of emotions that at times feel out of control. Increased headaches, back, and neck aches, stomach problems.
Fear that something else bad will happen or be discovered any minute, resulting in constant need to dig for information.
Obsessing about the addiction and the events around discovery, and worrying about whether to stay or leave the relationship.
5. Loss of safety and security
Sexual, financial, and emotional fears increase.
The betrayal shatters the trust you invested in your partner. Your reality suddenly collapses and you question everything you thought was true.
In order to begin to restore the damaging losses, including your sense of stability, sanity, security, and emotional safety, consider the following:
1. Get help from a qualified professional. This means someone who actually has training and preferably certification, as well as experience in the field of sexual addiction.
2. Get tested for STDs and request that your partner also get tested.
3. Ideally, with the help of a therapist, create a stabilization plan. Here is an example/framework for developing this plan:
Stabilization Plan Worksheet
What are some stabilizing actions I can take to contribute to my emotional safety, stability, sanity, and security, and to promote my own healing?
Consider the following areas:
- Emotional (think about positive choices you can make regarding relational, social, trust, and security needs, therapeutic involvement, other support)
- Physical (think about positive choices you can make regarding sleep, medical, food, routine, living arrangements, financial concerns, safety, physical space, environment)
- Sensual, sexual (think about positive choices you can make regarding your body, physical touch, interactions, words of affection/endearment)
- Cognitive (think about positive choices you can make regarding triggers, topics of conversation that may be off limits, phrases or words spoken, etc.)
- Spiritual (think about positive choices you can make regarding church, off limit topics, triggers, what is helpful/not helpful, spiritual development/nurturing)
- Children (think about positive choices you can make regarding parenting and care for children, getting help, etc.)
These are requests I have for my partner:
- Emotional (think about requests you can make regarding relational, social, trust, security needs, therapeutic involvement)
- Physical (think about requests you can make regarding sleep, medical, food, routine, living arrangements, financial concerns, safety, physical space, environment)
- Sensual, sexual (think about requests you can make regarding your body, physical touch, interactions, words of affection/endearment)
- Cognitive (think about requests you can make regarding triggers, topics of conversation that may be off limits, phrases or words spoken, etc.)
- Spiritual (think about requests you can make regarding church, off limit topics, triggers, what is helpful/not helpful, spiritual development/nurturing)
- Children (think about requests you can make regarding parenting and care for children, getting help, etc.)
If my partner chooses not to honor one or more of these requests, I will take one or more of the following actions to restore my own stability:
Think least to most restrictive, actions you or he can take, such as verbal reminder of request, involvement with counselors, walking away, going for a drive, separation from situation, time out to think, etc.
4. Remind yourself that you have a right to all of the following:
- I have the right to be wrong.
- I have the right to change my mind and change course.
- I have the right to honesty in my primary relationship.
- I have the right to expect my partner to honor our mutual agreements, commitments, and vows.
- I have the right to say no to any request that feels uncomfortable physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually.
- I have the right and the responsibility to protect my children from the addict’s acting out behaviors.
- I have the right to take actions to protect myself physically, emotionally, sexually, and financially.
- I have the right to request any reasonable behaviors or actions that will create safety and rebuild trust.
- I have the right to be angry and to express it in responsible ways.
- I have the right to request a polygraph as part of a formal, therapeutic disclosure.
- I have the right to full disclosure of my partner’s sexual acting out behaviors, money spent, and the extent to which my children may have been impacted by my partner’s addictive behaviors.
- I have the right to request recovery check-ins and/or information about my partner’s recovery activities and process.
- I have the right to request that my partner sleep in another room or live elsewhere for a period of time.
- I have the right to receive proof that my partner has terminated a relationship and/or contact with an affair partner.
- I have the right to request that my partner follow the recommendations of his therapist, sponsor, accountability partner, or clergy member.
- I have the right to choose to have no contact with current or former affair or acting out partners regardless of their relationship to me or my partner (including family, co-workers, or religious leaders).
- I have the right to choose a boundary for myself (versus controlling another) regardless of the opinion of others.
(source: Vicki Tidwell Palmer, www.vickitidwellpalmer.com)
5. Find a therapeutic support group facilitated by a counselor and/or a community support group for partners of sex addicts (www.puredesire.org, www.sanon.org)
6. Learn about complex partner trauma (defined by CSAT Hope Ray, see reference below) which includes core betrayal, reality collapse, relationship disrepair, altered life state, and self betrayal.
- Core Betrayal: you recognize you were betrayed and react with tremendous feelings of pain.
- Reality Collapse: you recognize the betrayal was happening behind your back and react with feelings associated with being lied to.
- Relationship Disrepair: you react to your relationships in accordance with this new information and difficulties emerge in these relationships.
- Altered Life State: you experience dramatic changes in your functioning.
- Self-Betrayal: you seek relief from such acute pain and take measures that betray or disregard your self.
(Source:www.hoperaytherapy.com, copyright 2015 Walk Alongside, LLC)
7. Learn how to trust yourself again, listen to your heart, and ensure that your actions match up with what your heart tells you.
8. Request a formal full disclosure. It is recommended that you and your partner each have a therapist skilled and experienced in doing disclosures to facilitate this process. Much damage can result when staggered, incomplete, or unsupported disclosures occur. Skilled CSAT therapists will thoroughly prepare both you and your partner.
- Rather than asking your partner questions to find out truth, write down all of your questions that will eventually be included in the full disclosure. Think about it … right now you do not trust your partner’s words, so you will not likely trust the answers given to you. Keep in mind that people struggling with addiction have a strong tendency to tell partial truths or leave out important information. You deserve to know the full truth.
- Realize recovery and healing take time. Although you deserve to know the full truth immediately, please realize it takes a significant amount of time to uncover all of that truth. People who are addicted to any substance or process typically have many layers of denial or “cushions” which consist of rationalizations, excuses, justifications, and minimizations. These are the ingredients for the impaired thinking within the brain of any addict. They must peel these layers away in order to be totally honest. You cannot do that work for your partner.
9. Learn the difference between self-care and selfishness. Self-care is NOT selfish. Self-care simply means taking care of yourself, providing nurture and nourishment for your soul and body. “Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable and you are worth the effort” (Deborah Day).
I wish I could tell you there is a short-cut. I wish I could tell you every couple stays together who goes through this grueling process of recovery. I wish I could give you a formula.
But I can say that 100% of people – those who are willing to get help, willing to be truthful, willing to work hard, willing to make changes inside their own hearts and lives, and willing to move toward forgiveness – do experience lasting healing and restoration in their own souls, no matter the ultimate outcome of the relationship.
Take one day at a time, one minute at a time. Breathe.
Here is a resource listing I hope you will find helpful:
After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner has Been Unfaithful by Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD and Michael Spring
After the Affair is a book to help readers survive this crisis. Written by a clinical psychologist who has been treating distressed couples for 22 years, it guides both hurt and unfaithful partners through the three stages of healing: Normalizing feelings, deciding whether to recommit, and revitalizing the relationship. It provides proven, practical advice to help the couple change their behavior toward each other, cultivate trust and forgiveness and build a healthier, more conscious intimate partnership.
Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts by Stefanie Carnes, Mari Lee, and Anthony Rodriguez
When you discover that the person you loved and trusted most in the world is hiding a secret life as a sex addict, the result can be devastating. Facing that heartbreak is what this book is all about. The healing process will take time regardless of whether you decide to stay in the relationship or leave. Facing Heartbreak weaves real life stories with practical therapeutic advice and specific tasks that gently educate, empower, and guide the partner of the sex addict through a process of recovery. Using Dr. Patrick Carnes’ thirty-task sex recovery model, readers will learn to heal from the heartbreak and betrayal as they discover hope and healing.
Mending A Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts by Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D.
Where do I go from here? You are not alone. Thousands of unsuspecting people wake up every day to discover their loved one, the one person that they are supposed to trust completely, has been living a life of lies and deceit because they suffer from a disease – a disease called sex addiction. Stefanie Carnes brings together several authors to guide the reader through an assortment of topics like, How Do I Handle This? and, What Do I Tell the Kids?
Intimate Treason: Healing the Trauma for Partners Confronting Sex Addiction by Claudia Black & Cara Tripodi
Those in an intimate relationship with someone struggling with sex addiction will find hope and relief as they work through the exercises in this self-help workbook. They will also develop a better understanding of what is happening in their lives and find a path to healing and recovery. Author Claudia Black, PhD, is a renowned addiction and codependency expert recognized for her pioneering work with family systems and addictive disorders. Author Cara Tripodi, LCSW, is the executive director of Sexual Trauma & Recovery (STAR) in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
Surviving Disclosure: A Partner’s Guide for Healing the Betrayal of Intimate Trust by Jennifer P Schneider and Deborah Corley
Surviving Disclosure helps partners better understand the trauma resulting from the addict’s behaviors and offers a step-by-step guide for how to begin the healing process, prepare for the impact of living with an addict (even an addict in recovery), and deal with shame, anger and fear. The book describes what to tell the children and others, how to promote self-care and well-being no matter what the addict does, and how to set boundaries as part of rebuilding trust. Relationships can heal and partners can thrive after disclosure.
Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal by Barbara Steffens & Marsha Means
Sexual addictions and compulsive sexual behavior are growing societal problems, with as many as three to six percent of the world population affected. Your Sexually Addicted Spouse shatters the stigma and shame that millions of men and women carry when their partners are sexually addicted. They receive little empathy for their pain, which means they suffer alone, often shocked and isolated by the trauma. Barbara Steffens’ groundbreaking new research shows that partners are not codependents but post-traumatic stress victims, while Marsha Means’ personal experience provides insights, strategies, and critical steps to recognize, deal with, and heal partners of sexually addicted relationships. Firsthand accounts and stories reveal the impact of this addiction on survivors’ lives. Chapters end with “On a Personal Note” questions and propose new paths that lead from trauma to empowerment, health, and hope. Useful appendices list health and mental health care providers and clergy.
Confronting Your Spouse’s Pornography Problem by Rory C. Reid & Dan Gray
Addressing the modern issue of addiction to Internet pornography, this evaluation guides spouses struggling to find ways to confront this problem in their married lives. Calling on years of counseling experience and clinical study, the authors cover the most concerning issues of this sexual addiction, from understanding the importance of disclosure to reestablishing trust for the success of a long-term marriage. Containing valuable information gathered from experience, research, and the testimony of clients struggling to overcome these sexual addictions, this guide helps couples confront and overcome the hurdles of related activities such as illicit chat rooms, cybersex, and predatory behavior towards minors.
“Secret Spell,” courtesy of Francesca Dioni, Flickr CreativeCommons; “Hope,” courtesy of Sandeep Pawar, Flickr CreativeCommons; “Hand,” courtesy of Danny Chapman, Flickr CreativeCommons