Partner of a Sex Addict - What It's Really Like
Finding out your spouse or significant other is a sex addict is one of the most disorienting experiences you can have in a relationship. One day, you think everything’s fine (or at least okay, despite the usual ups and downs) and suddenly your whole world is a disaster. You feel shattered, confused, angry, lost. You have no idea what to do next and the thought of making a decision is just crippling.
If there’s one thing I could tell you it’s that you are not crazy. What’s happening right now is really hard to describe. You might feel a million things or nothing at all. You might be a crumbled mess or you might be going about your days as if nothing happened. Everyone responds to discovery differently and there isn’t a “right way” to work through it.
You may have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of this discovery. We call it betrayal trauma. Essentially, this means that the person and relationship you’ve relied on the most for safety, security, and meaning has become a place of fear, confusion, anger, and loss. You may find yourself pulling back from the relationship, but at the same time wanting comfort from the person who hurt you. You may have panic attacks, nightmares, feel easily startled, become withdrawn or feel obsessed with learning every detail about your partner’s secret life. This is all normal.
What’s important right now is to take care of yourself. Some partners feel stuck between feeling compassion for their loved ones and trying to stay sane themselves. You might feel like you have to downplay your pain because you see that your partner is really sorry. You see their shame and you don’t want to make them feel worse. Compassion is a wonderful gift for your partner, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take care of yourself too.
The best thing you can do for yourself right now is identify your boundaries. I cannot overstate how vital it is for you to sort out what you need to feel safe again. This means different things for different people and your needs may change as time moves on.
For right now, start with your physical safety. Do you need your partner to move out? Sleep in another room? Have you gotten tested for STIs? Have they? Is there anything in your environment that needs to go immediately for you to feel like you can breathe in your own home (such as porn collections, mementos from affairs, phones or other electronics, weapons)?
Next, you can ask yourself what you need to feel emotionally safe in this relationship. Do you need your partner to install filtering software on their phone and computer? Do you need them to seek professional help to work through this? Would it help you to know that they were going to 12 step meetings and seeking a sponsor? Do you need your partner to not tell you certain things? It’s okay if there are things you don’t want to know right now. What would happen if your partner refused to meet these needs? Would you need to ask for a separation or might you need to end the relationship? Would it help to only communicate about the “business” of the relationship and not about their recovery?
Yes, this is a lot of decisions to make and that can feel very overwhelming. But it can also be a relief to make these choices one time so you’re not dealing with them daily. You can read more about setting boundaries here.
You might also find yourself feeling anger and rage you didn’t know was possible. Rather than compassion for your partner, you might feel contempt and disgust. You might want them to suffer in their shame. You might tell your friends and family about what they’ve done. You might remind them over and over of all the things they’ve done because you want them to feel the same pain you do. This is also normal. And the remedy is the same as above. Boundaries are your best friend right now. Your anger is working really hard to protect you from more pain. That’s understandable. Boundaries will accomplish that goal without bringing further damage to the relationship or leaving you with regrets about how you handled things. So ask yourself what you need to feel safe right now.
That is the real struggle of being the partner of a sex addict – figuring out what safety looks like when you’d thought you were safe before. How do you put to words something that you’d trusted was inherently there? How do you start to believe your partner is telling the truth when they’ve lied to and betrayed you?
There are no easy answers to these questions. It is a struggle to go through this process with (or without) your partner. But it won’t always be a struggle. You will learn. You will heal. You will move forward. Amazingly, many couples stay together after the discovery of sexual betrayal. There is hope for your relationship if you both want it. There is also hope if you choose to move on without your partner. Either way, you get to choose what you need in relationships. And you are worth this struggle.
If you need help figuring all this out, schedule a phone consultation with me. We’ll plan the first steps in your healing journey.