Often, it is the partner of a sex addict who is the first one to look for help. An explosion has occurred at the centre of their lives, and at the same time that they might be dealing with some of the darkest feelings they have ever encountered, they are trying to find solutions for their acting-out spouse. People often describe themselves at this stage as crushed, numb, and overwhelmed; you’ve been traumatized.
In sex addiction, it is common that healing support is not looked into by anyone affected until there is a full-on crisis, and there is a good reason for that - you didn't know, and your addicted partner didn't want you to know. There is shame, deception and secrecy involved in all addictions, but it really takes the lead here – after all, drinking too much, for example, doesn’t necessarily lead to the breaking of wedding vows or the risk of a sexually transmitted infection. So this kind of acting-out is done completely behind closed doors, and the final admission often doesn’t come until someone is caught red-handed. Most people who are reaching out for support are in serious trouble in their relationship, with the law, their family-life, their work life, their health, a financial situation, or some combination of those, perhaps with some other addictive behaviour also in the mix.
By the time the wheels come off your life like this, you may have already been feeling crazy, knowing something is wrong. You may have been worrying about your spouse’s activities for a long time, but been told that you are seeing things, that you’re paranoid, you are untrusting. Finding out that you were right all along is cold comfort, because now you know for sure you have been betrayed, lied to, victimized, made vulnerable. Your partner needed you to feel crazy, and that is a terrible thing to have to accept. You may feel that you somehow contributed to the problem (you didn’t) and that you should be able to fix it. You may have tried to become someone else sexually, doing things you never dreamed of and are not comfortable with, trying to keep the relationship. You have perhaps discovered that trying to control your partner, talk with your partner, fight with your partner doesn’t work. You also may feel very alone, as this is really difficult to talk about with friends or family, especially if you are feeling ambivalent; some people will say “walk!” when that’s not where you are, some will judge, some will talk. During a time of confusion and humiliation, all conversation can feel risky, only increasing the feeling of isolation. Who is there to support you? A little homework reveals lots of groups for sex addicts, but what about you?
You need a safe place to go where your loss,
grief and anger can be acknowledged.
Your goal for reading this page may be finding treatment for your partner, but it is necessary to assert that partners need support too, as does the couple-ship. Even if you have decided to end your relationship, the wound you have suffered is real. Partners often report that they don't recognize themselves since they found out. It is not uncommon to be uncontrollably reactive, to experience frequent intrusive thoughts, and to become addicted to stalking - the sense that you might not yet know everything can be intolerable. Your life is not what you thought it was, and the entire history of your relationship is being viewed through this ugly new prism. These are some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which is the result of living with a sex addict – other symptoms include not knowing who you can trust, inability to function at work, difficulty reading, feeling “shell-shocked”, having disturbing dreams. The first trauma might be the day you discover you are living with a stranger; the trauma is repeated as you learn the ways your partner has and will lie and manipulate in order to continue the addiction. Whether or not your partner gets help, you need a safe place to go where your loss, grief and anger can be acknowledged. If you have already accessed some therapy, and found yourself feeling shamed, judged or given advice, please do not participate any further with that therapist. You deserve and need compassion, resources, and a safe place, not blame and more self-doubt; you also need counselling around the issue of sex addiction, not sex therapy – there is a vast difference.
I would like you to know that there are solutions for you and your family. I am specifically trained in the treatment of sex addiction and partner betrayal trauma. In addition to providing the tools of recovery for the sex addict, (which include testing to discover if sex addiction is, in fact, the problem), a formal disclosure is usually called for, wherein the addict (in treatment) is supported in preparing a comprehensive document for the partner regarding all of the acting-out behaviours. This is a difficult three-part process, requiring that all stakeholders be supported and ready, and forms part of the work I do with partners as they repair and restore their lives after this fundamental betrayal. I commit to being present with you as you undertake this healing journey.
There is a path to follow, and a different future to plan for. You will not be shamed for wanting to stay, or for wanting to leave – whatever you choose, your life will be better now that this reality is in the open and being dealt with.
For more information, please see our page "What Is Sex Addiction?"
Article about partner trauma by Omar Minwalla, Psy.D.
Institute for Sexual Health
Los Angeles, CA.
Article about disclosure by Heidi Kinsella, MA, LMHCA, NCC, ASAT Family Counselor,
Gentle Path at The Meadows, Wickenburg, AZ
Call Us: (604) 754-7629