This is a common experience for the Partners of Sexual Addicts that I work with on a weekly basis at The Meadows. The stories and behaviors may be different but the underlying foundation of the damage is always Betrayal. Emotional, Physical, Sexual, and Financial betrayal is devastating and gut-wrenchingly painful for a partner who had dreams and hopes of having a healthy and committed relationship. Those dreams are now shattered and the Partner is left with the questions of "Why wasn't I enough?", "How could they do this to me?"; and "Where do I go from here?"
Sexual Addiction stems from a deep rooted intimacy and attachment disorder that often starts within childhood, teenage, or young adult years. Many of the patients I work with at The Meadows have been engaging in some type of dysfunctional, sexual fantasies, thoughts, and/or behaviors since they could remember, far before ever meeting their current partner or spouse. Sexual Addiction thrives off of Shame. Often times the addict's shame, due to their behaviors and lies, will be deflected or projected onto the partner and they are the ones that have to carry it.
Because sexuality and being sexual is so important and integral in intimate coupleships, when that is destroyed or taken outside the primary relationship, the partner has no choice but to take it personally and look at it as an attack on themselves and who they are or are not. Many spouses that I speak with will say to me, "Why wasn't I attractive enough, sexual enough, loved enough to keep him/her with me?" My message to them is: "If there is one thing I want you to learn this week, it is that this had nothing to do with what you have or have not done".
So if the partner did not cause the addiction and is not an addict themselves then why be a part of the patient's treatment and come to Family Week? I often hear from partners: "He is the sick one! He gets to go and get help and leave me here at home with the chaos and damage that he created! And now he is asking me to drop everything and come to Arizona for a week to help him?" My reply is: "Come here for YOU."
Within the Family Week program, partners are given resources and tools to start to stand on solid ground. Family Week is NOT about reconciliation, fixing the problem or hearing an excuse about why the patient acted out. The week long program is designed around boundary setting and healthy communication that allow the partner to be heard and protected.
Being betrayed will undoubtedly, for most partners, contribute to feelings of shame and worthlessness that creates a deep, dark wound within them. The Meadows and Pia Mellody define Trauma as "Anything less than nurturing". Sexual betrayal would obviously fit into this category based on the definition and many partners experience symptoms of trauma such as hypervigilance, despair, flashbacks and nightmares, among other experiences. The shame and trauma need to be addressed for the partner to start to heal that wound. Even if the partner decides to move on from that relationship he or she will continue to be plagued in life and through other relationships if not addressed.
Through my work at The Meadows, I have seen amazing growth and strength in men and women who thought that they could have never dug themselves out of the dark hole that sexual addiction created. Recovery work, for both the addict and partner, instills hope, perseverance, and self-worth that they thought they had lost. The Meadows Workshops such as Partners of Sex Addicts, Survivors, and Women's Intimacy Issues are great resources to help partners to gain awareness, understanding, and tools to help themselves and their families.
Lauren Bierman is a Family Counselor at the Meadows working with the Sex Addiction population. She is a Licensed Associate Counselor and has been trained through Patrick Carnes and IITAP's Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) program. Her passion is working with Partners of Sex Addicts in their own healing process and helping them find hope after sexual betrayal.