In working with couples where sex addiction has blown up the trust and emotional safety in a relationship, recovery and healing can be an extremely long road. For individuals who discover that the person they love most in the world—and who are likewise supposed to love them back—has betrayed them through sexual acting out, it can feel like their world has been shattered.
The person they thought their husband, or wife, or life partner was…what they thought “was so” about their life and their marriage/relationship…how they knew to trust…what they make this betrayal mean about them and their own worthiness and attractiveness…and what their life will be like in the future…all of this has been dramatically and traumatically altered.
The couples who choose to do the work required to begin the long journey of healing may find their way to PCS and to my office. Most betrayed partners (I’ll say “wife” in this case) experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) severe enough to meet criteria for this disorder. Those symptoms can last a very long time—meaning many months, even many years—and are influenced by a variety of factors.
One factor that can significantly affect a betrayed partner’s healing process is “discovery.” Discovery means what is says…that the betrayed partner literally discovers that his/her partner has acted out sexually. This can be a one-time event, but more often than not, there are multiple subsequent discoveries over months (even years) that can hurt just as much, if not more, than the first. These subsequent discoveries are like cuts to an open wound, reinjuring the site of the wound, damaging whatever bit of healing that may have begun, and substantially extending the time that healing might occur.
If you are a sex addict and have betrayed your partner, but you are in recovery and doing “your part,” you might feel that that after 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years, etc., “It’s been long enough!” and that your partner should be ready to “Just get over it!” Or, you might say, “Honey, let’s put it behind us and just move on!” If that describes you, please know that there is a part of her that would love nothing more than to be able to do just that! Unfortunately, with sex addiction, the wounding is almost never a one-time discovery, and the pain can continue to get triggered. The last thing she needs is to feel criticized or shamed by her partner for “how long” it’s taking her to heal.
What she needs most from you now is to feel heard, understood, reassured; for there to be concrete evidence that you are faithful and working your recovery; and that you are accessible, responsive, and engaged in the relationship. If you struggle with providing the empathy your partner needs, then reach out to your therapist for help. Seek out a clinician who specializes in Partner Betrayal Trauma to help educate you. Talk with other couples who are further along in their recovery to learn about their journey. Participate in a support group such as Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA). There is light at the end of tunnel, but whether and how quickly you get there depends on how much of a true and patient partner you can now be to your wife.
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
Article by Gloria Gilbert, PhD