In the last few blogs I’ve hopefully enlightened my Fledglings how partners of sex addicts have symptoms similar to people with PTSD.
We started our journey first in Understanding PTSD where I defined PTSD, listed symptoms of PTSD, educated how PTSD relates to ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and presented different kinds of treatment for PTSD.
In Sex Addiction Induced Trauma, I explained the thirteen different dimensions that were developed by Dr. Omar Minwalla specifically to understand the different types of trauma that partners of sex addicts suffer from. And in More Trauma in Partners of Sex Addicts, I talked about the key points that Barbara Steffens co-wrote in her book The Sexually Addicted Spouse.
It’s important to remember, that treatment for the partner is just as important as treatment for the addict. The following blog will focus on that treatment.
A Shift in How the Partner is Treated
My former spouse and I sat in the car waiting for our daughter the other day. I was scrolling through the email on my phone, stopped, and asked, “Did you happen to get the email about the initial 4-week Partner of Sex Addict group?” We still get emails from the counseling team whose emphasis is on sex addiction.
“Yeah, but I haven’t opened it up yet.”
“Check this out. The focus for partners is so different then it was when we first started with treatment.” I read the email. “…Topics to be discussed are the Multi-Dimensional Trauma Model, trigger management, self-care, boundaries, gaslighting, and sexual trauma. You had none of that available for your recovery.”
My former spouse was short-changed in her recovery and I was not educated enough to learn how to help her heal when she needed it most. The focus in our recovery was heal the addict and help the partner come to terms that she’s a codependent enabling the addict’s behavior. It’s no wonder why I assumed that when I had sobriety from my addiction all should be better. I had no idea the damage my actions had caused my former spouse or how my behaviors continued to trigger her.
What follows is part one of two separate blogs where I pulled information from watching Marnie Breecker’s video about using a trauma based treatment plan for the partner of a sex addict. This blog will focus on the trauma piece and the next will focus on what the couple needs to do if they make the mutual decision to heal their relationship.
Once again, I want to reiterate, that the topics discussed are biased from the viewpoint of a sex addict and my own personal recovery. Everyone’s recovery is different and what I might have missed may be of importance to you. For this reason, I highly recommend that both the sex addict and the partner watch this ideo so you can both jumpstart your treatment and healing with a solid footing.
It is definitely encouraging to see this change in the therapeutic community.
Treatment Induced Trauma
Marnie became a partner specialist for Sexual Recovery Institute when she noticed no one wanted to work with partners. In 2008, the theory was: partners are crazy, borderline, and neurotic. They were treated as codependents who were just as “sick” as the addict.
What was later found, was that neglecting to look at the trauma piece in therapy for the partner created further trauma in her recovery.
When people come in for help they become more traumatized by the helping professionals. This is because they’re stigmatized, labeled, or made to feel blamed. They get questions such as “what’s your part in this?” and “why did you end up with him?” That adds more trauma.
Many partners have trauma, followed by more trauma, then even more trauma.
It’s crucial that the addict be educated about partner trauma at the beginning. It can be hard for many because it quickly brings up shame and defensiveness.
Additional Trauma in Partners
Partners get traumatized in two ways. First there’s the initial trauma of the event. The partner is overwhelmed with feelings of shock, loss, and grief. As a result of experiencing this shocking information, people’s own traumatic responses can become traumatic to them.
For instance, partners may start drinking, smoking cigarettes, or they aren’t present parents. Often times, the partner is trying to get information, looking at things, and is so emotionally distracted and busy that she’s not attending to life or the kids the way she should be.
“I don’t know if I want to hear this Rafiki!”
“Many times, doing what we don’t want to do is exactly what we need to do,” Rafiki replies.
“This is just hitting too close to home.”
“That is why you’re doing it. Don’t give up just because life gets difficult.”
Many times, doing what we don’t want to do is exactly what we need to do. Click To Tweet
Don’t give up just because life gets difficult. Click To Tweet
Partners might start to isolate, which may be different from when they were outgoing and social. Their own responses to the trauma end up becoming further trauma for them. Partners may be confused thinking, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” They feel completely disoriented and lost. This is traumatic because they’re losing their own sense of identity of who they were prior to when their world came crashing down upon them.
It’s important to recognize that some behaviors that are labeled codependent are actually safety seeking behaviors from a trauma perspective. Some of these include looking at emails, phone receipts, calling numbers that you don’t recognize, tracking devices on cars and phones, etc.
Early Stage is Triage
It’s important to understand that the beginning is not therapy. Both the sex addict and the partner need more education at the beginning. The greatest barrier to a couple’s repair is the inability for the addict to recognize what the partner is going through and what they need.
“I was faulty of this.”
“I don’t know of any sex addict who isn’t faulty of this at the beginning.”
“But I never saw it. I was so blind to my own pain and my own guilt. I got so wrapped up in me, I never saw her.”
“Phoenix, you may have had a slow start, but you are finally catching up to the rest of the pack. Don’t lose momentum now.”
Marnie explains, “I will be sitting in a room watching a couple interact and I’ll be praying that the addict or the betrayer will say something. I know what he should say. And he’ll come back with a very defensive comment. You can tell that his shame has been activated and he’s speaking from shame as opposed to speaking to his partner. All she needed was to be seen and heard and for him to get the pain. That’s extremely hard for the addict because of their own level of shame and their own trauma.”
I feel my shame come on me like the ground just opened below and I’m starting to plummet into an endless pit.
“I couldn’t see her. I never heard her.”
“You weren’t ready to, Phoenix,” Rafiki brings me back to present. “Can you see why she needed the separation? Can you see why she needed the divorce? You had to work on you. You had to break through your own trauma.”
“It’s too late though,” I complain.
“You’re future tripping again. Stay in the present,” Rafiki commands. “What’s important is that you finally DO see. You CAN hear. You can be the friend she has asked for.” Rafiki pauses for a moment. “I want to remind you. You are divorced. Without complete commitment from both parties in the relationship, it’s no longer your responsibility to help her heal.”
“What about our girls? What about her not able to be present with them because of my actions? What about her healing from what I did to her?”
“You helping her heal is your choice. Reconciliation between parents in a divorce is important for their children. That’s a gift you will give your girls as you model forgiveness, healing, and growth. But reconciliation does not mean getting back into relationship as partners. Reconciliation doesn’t mean you should be your former spouse’s confidante or her best friend helping her navigate life. It means letting go of the past and being friendly with one another. If you stay friends with a hidden agenda hoping the two of you will come back together, not only will you hurt yourself again, you will hurt her in the process. You need to do this from love without expectations.
“Continue to reach out to fellowship, take care of Little Phoenix, catch yourself when you start fantasizing, and keep meditating and tapping. Do what you need to do to take care of you. You both know what it is you desire and you both know that she only wants a friend. This will be your biggest challenge. I have faith. I have watched you transform. You will be ok.”
Multi-Dimensional Trauma Model
Marnie talks about a few of the thirteen dimensions of trauma that a partner needs to heal from. It’s important that the partner addresses each of these in her recovery. For the complete list, please read Sex Addiction Induced Trauma.
The existential belief, the belief that this person will keep me safe for the rest of my life, is shattered. Partners start to doubt and distrust others. If the person they were the closest with could betray them, so can everyone else. There is a disintegration of a sense of self.
The constant lies, secrecy, and crazy making (gaslighting) by the addict causes emotional trauma for the partner. It seems like the addict is coming home late or getting texts that they don’t want the partner to see.
The partner’s intuition is that something is off kicks in and she questions it. The addict turns it around and says, “You must be the one having the affair.”
Questioning one’s reality is very traumatic. It’s denying one’s reality. Many times, the betrayal has been going on for many years, which means the emotional abuse has been going on for many years also. The partner may not have been aware of it on a conscious level, but the energy has always been there.
Emotional abuse can take the form of lying, deceiving, belittling, gaslighting, side tracking the conversation, transferring blame to the other partner, and all forms of verbal abuse.
“I see how I did all this to my former spouse. One thing Marnie didn’t mention was flipping the conversation. I used to do flip it a lot.”
“Phoenix, that’s how you learned to survive your childhood. It was the only way you could be heard in your family. And even then, you still weren’t heard.”
“Yeah, I first became aware of it when we started seeing our couple counselor during the separation.”
“And once you became aware of it, you’ve worked towards changing that. Change doesn’t happen overnight.”
“I also see how I felt this way with my former spouse’s male friend. Many of my first blogs was the struggle with what I intuitively felt about their relationship and how my feelings had been minimized in the past.”
“You need to remember you were going through a divorce during this time. Your former spouse had no intention to have a relationship with you and, as you told me, your couple counselor would constantly remind you that she never once changed her mind. This doesn’t minimize your trauma triggers, your childhood wounding, or your emotions. Of course, that was painful! I hurt listening to the pain you were going through.
“You’ve always wanted to heal your marriage. The gift your Higher Power has given you is that you now can relate, to some extent, what you put your former spouse through and why she needed out. That struggle you had with her friend finally opened your eyes to her pain; it has allowed you to see and hear her.”
Life Crisis Trauma
Here you have a couple living a normal life on the surface; they have kids, they have jobs, and they are managing a household. Then, suddenly, there’s discovery of the betrayal and their life is thrown into utter chaos. Sex addiction treatment is so expensive and so specialized. Who’s going to take care of the kids? They need to now go to couple workshops, couples therapy, individual therapy, 12-step meetings, group therapy.
Trying to manage all the chaos that’s going on is very intense.
On top of that, there’s the effect on the partner. Ultimately, the diagnosis of PTSD and the symptoms of trauma that now surface. There’s physiological alterations, hypervigilance. We see the same things with partners that you would see with any other trauma.
“I just flashed on how much trauma I had over the death of my mother,” I tell Rafiki in an ah ha type moment. “I experienced so many of the same symptoms. For months, I feared death at every corner, not only for me but for my girls and my former spouse. I never thought that those reactions were trauma triggers.”
“I make up there was a difference between those triggers you had and the ones that your former spouse gets due to your addictive behavior. When you were triggered, your former spouse was probably able to see and provide empathy and compassion for you. However, when your former spouse was triggered, she couldn’t turn to you because the minute she did, you’d fall into your own wounding. So, she did what she knew to protect herself. She walled herself off from you. And that only triggered you more. Around and around the two of you went.”
“Are we done yet Rafiki? I’m already drained.”
“Nope. You need to keep hearing this. You needed to hear what your actions did to your former spouse almost 7 years ago when the two of you sat knee to knee during family week when she tried telling you. You didn’t hear her then and you still haven’t fully heard her.”
Many times, when treating the sex addict and preparing for disclosure and focusing on the behavior, the partner’s sexual trauma gets ignored. When you don’t attend to this, it gets worse and makes repair that much harder down the road.
While this trauma piece should not be addressed early on, it should be named and seen. There should be attention to the loss that the partner is experiencing. Often, partners will never do certain things again that they used to derive pleasure from. They will try to repair sexually and then get re-traumatized by ruminating thoughts or visual images that they’ve seen. It can become a difficult, painful experience.
Many times, you have partners that want to move on, sometimes because of the pressure of the husband, the therapist, or what friends say. The partner just wants to be done with the process, so they push themselves. It becomes a very negative experience because they’re doing this before they’re ready.
This makes sexual repair and healing very difficult because sex is something very negative. What needs to be provided are guidelines and the drawbacks about moving too quickly need to be explained.
Relational Trauma is also called Attachment Trauma. It’s a violation of trust.
With this type of trauma, relational experiences are overwhelming or perceived as dangerous and elicit the basic animal defenses of flight, fight, or freeze.
What makes it attachment trauma is if the person who has done the betraying is someone who was relied on for security or stability in some way.
It occurs in a relationship where there is a context of safety. The very thing that gets shattered when one learns about the betrayal is one’s sense of safety. Another way to describe relational trauma is a violation of trust, dishonesty, infidelity, or betrayal of an intimate relationship.
I will be talking about relational triage and working on this trauma in the next blog.
Trauma Reduction Therapies
I have included a list of different treatment methods to help reduce trauma. I have no idea which method is better than another. What works best for one person may not be what another one needs. Feel free to leave comments below to what has worked for you and what hasn’t.
It’s important for the partner to know that she does have different options available to help heal the trauma caused by the sex addict and possibly also from her childhood. It’s also important to remember that the sex addict may also have trauma that needs to be addressed.
I have a brief explanation about each type of therapy listed below located on my website here or feel free to click on the links provided.
- Accelerated Reduction Therapy
- Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP)
- Art Therapy
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Equine-Assisted Therapy
- Experiential Therapy
- Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Gestalt Therapy
- Guided Imagery Therapy
- Interpersonal Therapy
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
- Poetry Therapy
- Positive Psychotherapy (PPT)
- Rapid Resolution Therapy
- Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
- Sensorimortor Psychotherapy
- Somatic Experiencing
- Tapping: TFT (Thought Field Therapy) & EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
- Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIT)
- Wilderness Therapy
Other Methods of Healing
There numerous other options available to take care of yourself if you feel a trigger coming on. It’s important to do what you can to take care of yourself. Your inner child is hurting and needs your adult to take care of him or her. Some of these include:
- Blogging (I like this one!)
- Call a Peer
- Group Support
- Tai Chi
“Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time.”
“What I hear you say is you want to relive the past seven years?”
“No, that’s not it. I mean, I wish I knew back then what I knew now.”
“Even the professionals didn’t know back then what they know now,” Rafiki clarifies. “Through your pain and rebirth, you will help others. That is what is most important. You have a wealth of information that you are using to pay it forward.”
For the partner to heal, it’s important to treat the PTSD symptoms that will occur due to the betrayal.
It’s important for the addict to realize that his pain, guilt, shame, and other issues cannot be addressed in the relationship until the partner has worked on her trauma piece. This is where using fellowship, his therapist, and doing his own interpersonal work is paramount if he wants to recover and salvage the relationship.
It was the addict’s choices that brought the coupleship to where it is today.
All is not lost!
Yes, it takes a lot of work, but the rewards are plentiful. “You Can Do It!”
You Can Do It Montage
Rob Schneider & Adam Sandler
I pray my Fledglings can heal from the trauma of your past and become reborn.
Together we can heal!