In my previous article, I discussed the emotions that often accompany the discovery that your partner is struggling with sexual addiction, as well as defining the trauma that this discovery has likely brought upon you. As a reminder, the word “trauma” originates from a Greek word that means “to wound or to pierce.”Please bear in the mind that someone who is sexually addicted has to meet certain criteria to be diagnosed as such; while someone who has committed infidelity in the relationship, may not qualify for sexual addiction.
Signs of sex addiction can be found in this article that I wrote on the topic. Sexual addiction comes with risk-taking behaviors that may involve either health risks such as sexually transmitted diseases because of unsafe sex, emotional risks concerning relationships, financial risks, and so on.
In this context, we expect the addict to find it extremely difficult to cease these behaviors in their own strength without help, and these behaviors will have a negative impact on the life of the addict just as any other addiction would be expected to.
The World Health Organization has now defined Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder within the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as follows:
“Repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities, and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behavior, and continued repetitive sexual behavior despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it.”
The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), the same organization of mental health professionals who have educated and trained Certified Sexual Addiction Therapists (CSATs), is now launching a new, specialized program for Certified Partner Trauma Therapists (CPTTs) in an effort to better equip mental health counselors to help partners of sex addicts recover and heal in their own right. I am engaging in this new field of specialization, in an effort to help you, the partner of a sexually addicted person, walk the path of healing and hope.
The Grief Process
I want to make it clear that it does not require the death of someone to occur, in order for us to grieve. We grieve many losses in life the loss of an ideal/wished for outcome or life; the loss of a relationship or friendship dynamic; the loss of a job; the loss of a pet, etc.
When you have discovered that your partner is struggling with sexual addiction, the grieving process is natural. You have now lost hope for the relationship. The grief stages do not need to be experienced in any particular order, nor should one expect to pass through every individual stage. However, you can expect to experience some or all of the following:
Denial: A defense mechanism to keep the shock of what has happened from really hitting home and becoming real.
Anger: This emotion shows up when someone or something we value, we perceive to be in jeopardy. Do you value your relationship? Your family? Yourself? Your partner? Expectations of what this relationship would look like? Anger is inevitably going to show up if you answered yes to any of these.
You may be angry at your partner for betraying you; angry at yourself for not knowing or paying attention to red flags; angry at God for allowing this to happen to you and your family, etc. Processing this anger and separating your emotions from the truth, is vitally important.
Bargaining: “If only” statements tend to show up in this phase. “If only I had…”, “If only he had”, etc. This is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability; attempting to regain control through a series of “if only” statements. You can expect guilt to show up in this phase, as you attempt to make sense of the new painful reality and bargain your way out of it.
Depression: When we have experienced a serious loss in life, the natural and organic emotional response is sadness. This emotion will likely stick around for awhile and may join forces with anger or other emotions throughout the grieving process.
Acceptance: This phase will bring an acceptance of the painful reality and usually cause one to embark on some sort of program of change. Before we can change anything in our lives, we must first accept reality for what it is, and then decide to act in light of that reality. The only way change can occur, is for acceptance of reality to take place.
Boundaries are meant to protect what is on the inside of us. Our first God-given boundary is our skin; our skin protects everything inside of us. Typically, when someone has had that first, God-given boundary violated (via sexual or physical abuse), they will tend not to have boundaries all their life.
When their “no” was not heard or validated, subconsciously they developed a belief that they do not have a right to say no to things that do not benefit their life. I love a quote from Vicki Tidwell Palmer’s book (mentioned below)
“During the most toxic years of our relationship, I held the belief that boundaries were obstacles I set around his behaviors to control him. After years of recovery, I have come to understand and know that the boundaries I set around his behaviors are the tools I use in order for me to feel safe and protected. The boundaries I set around my own behaviors are the tools I use to gift him with the opportunity to trust and feel safe with me.” Moving Beyond Betrayal, p.41
In order to evaluate whether or not your relationship can be saved, you will need to begin exercising boundaries, and allow your partner to either respect and adhere to them, or violate them. If your partner continually violates that which makes you feel safe or able to develop trust why would you possibly stay with such an abusive person?
During our time together, we will walk slowly through a boundary-setting process. First, we will discuss and establish non-negotiable boundaries. These are limits that you see as absolutely necessary right now. Examples of non-negotiable boundaries may include things like requesting that the addict enter treatment right away and adhere to a recovery process; all pornography will be removed from the house, from tech devices, etc. This set of boundaries are so serious and vital to you, that they must be observed for you to even consider remaining in the relationship.Emotional boundaries are limits that serve the purpose of preserving your mental and emotional health, as someone who has endured betrayal. What do you need to be able to heal? If your partner has an accountability partner, would you rather they confide in them during moments of temptation, rather than you?
Would you prefer to have disclosure take place only during joint therapy sessions? Will you need help with kids or schedules so that you can attend therapy and support groups? Because of how crazy one can feel after this level of betrayal has occurred, it is essential to make space for working on your own healing and recovery. You need support now, perhaps more than ever before.
You may be wondering, “Do I need to have more sex with him/her now, to keep them from acting out again?” Though, some partners may feel this pressure and experience false guilt concerning this allow me to answer this for you NO.
In fact, if your partner has been promiscuous with other people, you need to go get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and try to avoid unprotected sex with your partner until you and your partner have gone through a formal disclosure process. Setting clear sexual and physical limits will help the healing process not hurt it. Creating a template according to what feels right for your health, emotional well-being, and sanity is what this is about.
And finally, we will work together to create boundaries around people, places, and things. What is it that you need in order to feel safe and begin to heal? Perhaps it is something like replacing the bedding in your house; accountability software being added to all tech devices; refusing to attend community gatherings where an acting-out partner attends; insisting a new driving route be taken on the way home from work; an agreement about who will be informed about what has happened, and who will not get to know, and so on.
At times, more complex boundaries may be involved, and you may want to seek legal counsel to help you establish and impose such limits. Remember, these boundaries are a perimeter of safety that you are setting around yourself. Boundaries are not about controlling your partner; rather, they are your expressed method of response in accordance with what your partner chooses to do or not to do.
For example, “you have the freedom to drink every day and night as you have been, however, in light of you exercising your free will to do that in response, I will use my freedom of choice to not be around for that. I will protect myself by not subjecting myself to further abuse.”
If you are the partner of someone who is struggling with sexual addiction, please know that there is an abundance of help for you. To begin with, there are several great books out there to help you become better acquainted with what is happening to you and your partner. I recommend the following:
Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Dr. Mark Laaser
Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts edited by Dr. Stefanie Carnes
The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Dr. Patrick Carnes
Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts by Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT
In addition to these books, I highly recommend viewing the documentary film “The Heart of Man” on your streaming device, along with your partner.
Together, we will make use of curriculum created by Certified Sexual Addiction Therapists (CSATs) through IITAP, to work through this process of healing, step-by-step. We will work on validating your emotions throughout this process, strengthening communication skills so that you can clearly identify and state your needs, we will explore unhelpful behaviors you may feel compelled to partake in because of the betrayal, and much more.
Throughout this process, the Lord is with you and He is for you.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:30
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.- Philippians 4:13
If you have experienced sexual betrayal by your partner, please do not hesitate to reach out to a Seattle Christian Counselor today, so that we can walk through the healing process with you. You deserve a safe place to process the trauma, establish boundaries surrounding your partner, validate your emotions and process them, make a plan for how to proceed in the future concerning full disclosure, and more.
I am passionate about helping partners of the sexually addicted move through this process and find their strength while leaning on the Lord for His power and guidance. You are not the first and unfortunately, you will not be the last to experience such deep wounds with desperation for healing.
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. – Psalm 6:2
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise. – Jeremiah 17:14
Consider reciting a prayer such as this, while you endeavor to do the best that you can do each day:
“Father, help me to keep my focus on you when the pain and hurt are overwhelming. Help me to be faithful and to see the good and blessings that surround me. Please strengthen my mind, heart, and body, and heal me today. May the Holy Spirit guide me in peace and comfort today. In the Mighty Name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.” (BibleStudyTools.com)
“So many things in this life…”, Courtesy of Raj Eiamworakul, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tears in the eyes”, Courtesy of Luis Galvez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Singles Awareness Day”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Finding My Roots”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com, CC0 License