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How Therapists Can Help Couples Cross the Threshold of Vulnerability

By Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., CSAT-S, Architect of The Meadows’ Discovery to Recovery Intensive Series

(Note: The following is a partial transcript of Dr. Adams’ IITAP Web Series video on “Crossing the Threshold of Vulnerability.”)

One of the topics emerging in the field of sex addiction and partner trauma right now is the idea of couples crossing the threshold of vulnerability again after betrayal. The addiction treatment field and partner trauma field have made great strides in keeping addicts in recovery and making sure that partners are finally feeling heard and validated. Both the addicted partners and the betrayed partners are making tremendous progress in the core tasks that are required to get them back on a level playing field emotionally, where the addict is no longer keeping secrets, the partner feels validated, and amends are made.

Though we’ve done well in helping each partner within a couple on an individual basis, we are just beginning to apply modalities that help couples to heal together. Both couples and therapists seem to be struggling with how to begin that process.

What Does It Take to Trust Again?

“Can I trust you again?” is the question that is top of mind as couples begin to take steps toward reconnecting. It’s a matter of being willing to cross the threshold of vulnerability again, and there’s no easy way to do that. It’s an act of courage.

One of the things the couple has to do is make a decision about whether they are going to move forward or not. So many couples are stuck in a phase of indecision. They decide not to leave each other, which is not the same as deciding to move forward in vulnerability again. I think as therapists we need to start examining ways to support couples in making the decision to stay and truly move forward or go. When therapists meet their betrayed client’s primary concern—“If I trust him again, am I going to get betrayed again?”— they often resort back to “the individual as client” modality. They begin to focus on the old narrative of the betrayal and making sure the addict stays in recovery. If the couple feels helpless and frustrated the therapist often does too. They then inadvertently move away from a couple’s paradigm and into an individual client paradigm where they end up rehearsing and reinvigorating the old strategies the couple used for coping with the pain of the betrayal. Many of these paradigms are helpful on an individual basis, but they don’t help them move into vulnerability again as a couple.

Therapists don’t lead enough discussions about how the partners can make a new decision about moving forward as a couple.

One of the critical pieces in making the decision to move forward in vulnerability is helping the couple grieve the loss of the first romance together. Because, the truth of the matter is that once there has been a betrayal, the first romance is over. It is not the same anymore and will not be the same again. That is often a painful reality for both the addict and their partner to face.

I designed a couples workshop at The Meadows that guides couples through the grieving process. It is incredibly powerful. Couples do an art therapy project where they say goodbye to their first marriage. They also destroy a symbol of their first marriage, then take the pieces and reformed them into another object that represents their moving forward. Saying goodbye to the first marriage and making a new decision about what moving forward would look life for them, has proven to be exactly what most of the couples require to truly begin to heal together.

Putting it All Together

To truly help couples move forward together after sex addiction, it is necessary that the therapist understand sexual addiction, partner trauma, and couples therapy. If the couples’ therapist is not trained in sexual addiction, they are going to misunderstand what’s needed for that person in the early recovery stage. Likewise, an individual therapist trying to do couples therapy may understand partner trauma and sexual addiction treatment, but when they try to do couples therapy, they can end up being either over-protective of the addict, or over-protective of the partner, which adds to the distress of both individuals.

The Discovery to Recovery Workshop Series at The Meadows

The Discovery to Recovery: An Intensive Series for Couples Healing from Sex Addiction offers a safe and therapeuti¬cally supported recovery process for couples whose relationships have been shattered by sex addiction and betrayal. This series is comprised of three carefully planned healing intensives that help guide the couple from the early stages of discovery and disclosure to a life of recovery and renewed hope together or separate, as the couple decides. “Crossing the threshold of vulnerability” is the core concept behind Part 3 in the Discovery to Recovery Series.

Couples can attend whichever session best fits their needs or they can complete all three sessions in succession. All three intensives are grounded in affect regulating and experiential therapeutic modalities that allow both members of the couple to access their emotions in a safe and contained environment. These modalities include Yoga, Tai Chi, and mindfulness exercises. For more information, call us at 800-244-4949 or send us an email.

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