It’s hard being the partner of a sex addict. Really hard! Discovering the person you love and have committed to be in relationship with has been unfaithful is heart shattering. Finding out this same person has been involved with porn, sex workers or other people is shattering on a whole new level.
For many partners the discovery that the person they are in relationship with is sexually compulsive is much like being in a car accident that you didn’t see coming. Partners are confused, heart broken, traumatised and desperately trying to understand what has happened, and why. Unlike a car accident however, the discovery of sexual betrayal is just the beginning and the trauma is increased with each further disclosure around behaviours, finances, people and places. Each new discovery increases the level of confusion, fear, pain and grief.
Betrayal trauma is an attachment rupture on the deepest level. Michelle Mays (PartnerHope 2/6/17) says that the attachment rupture experienced by partners of sex addicts involves three distinct types of trauma – attachment, sexual, and emotional and psychological.
In a clinical study of partners of sex addicts conducted by Dr Barbara Steffens, 70% of the study participants met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Steffens, B. & Rennie, R. (2006). The traumatic nature of disclosure for wives of sexual addicts. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 247-267). This trauma is further compounded because it is often very difficult for partners to talk about what is happening for them, so the opportunities for help and support can be non existent.
Unlike other addictions sex addiction is personal because it undermines everything that was believed about or contracted to in the relationship, the very person that should be offering support is the greatest trigger. Partners seek help when they can no longer manage the feelings of pain and isolation. They seek to understand what has happened for their spouse and themselves and how they can help their loved one and themselves. They want to be able to protect and heal their family and the relationship.
With appropriate support from a therapist who understands the impact of betrayal trauma which is unique to partners of sex addicts, hope and healing is indeed possible.
This article was kindly provided by Sharalyn Drayton, Certified Clinical Partner Specialist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist at ARISE Counselling Solutions, who presented at the 2017 Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference.