The Partner Experience
You may have experienced something like this.
You sit down at the computer you share with your partner. You can’t remember where you filed a document so you begin looking through file folders stored on the computer.
You click a file with a name you don’t recognize.
Suddenly you are presented with pornographic images too numerous to count. You see video files you never imagined even existed before.
Or, perhaps your partner’s phone is sitting on bedside table. You hear it buzz and so you pick it up, concerned it might be an important message. You open the text. You are confronted with the image of a secret sexual partner.
Disclosure of a sexual addiction can happen in countless different ways. But among the partners of a person who struggles with a sexual addiction the experience of disclosure is common. It is best characterized as a trauma event. We who work with sexual addiction call this Betrayal Trauma.
First, there is confusion: What am I seeing?
Then follows shock. This is accompanied by shortness of breath, a rapid heartrate, and hot flashes as your brain surges with neural chemicals that signal danger.
Next comes a rush of wildly conflicting emotion: fear, humiliation, dread, hopelessness, anger, rage, and despair. The pain may be so great that some may disassociate from the experience and go numb. Others may channel their emotional energy into highly expressive language and/or action that gives expression to outrage.
Overtime, the acute trauma of discovery becomes the chronic trauma of living with manipulation, lies, self-justifications, and even unjustified blame. You struggle with conflicting thoughts.
The person you thought you knew, is not the person he appeared to be. And yet, you love him. You are committed to him. Your family depends on him for its livelihood. You have years invested in this relationship.
Your identity, your friends, your reputation and your future are all bound up with this person you can no longer trust to keep you safe.
The spouse or partner of a person struggling with a sexual addiction must pursue recovery to restore personal health as well as to hold out the promise of healing of the relationship.
It begins with establishing safety of the spouse or partner.
At the early stages of recovery a therapist experienced treating betrayal trauma helps the client explore the experience while providing both objectivity and emotional support. This helps you safely move past the initial crisis while assuring residuals layers of pain do not that threaten emotional health.
Later the therapist coaches the client in setting boundaries and defining unambiguous consequences for continued violations of trust by the partner struggling with the addiction.
Most therapists will also direct you to a group of partners who have experienced the a similar pain and who are making a similar journey of recovery.
If you have experienced the trauma of betrayal, you owe it to yourself to invest the time in healing as well.
Image by: Contando Estrelas