Turning Difficulties into Opportunities

I am so grateful for this group and the safety to be able to share what Im experiencing, and be supported. - Anne


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.





This interview was about general observations of grief, and not specifically about the grief experienced by betrayed partners.  It is true to say that grief is about loss, and partners of sex addicts experience enormous loss - from relationship loss to the loss of life as they understood it to be. As the partner of a sex addict there is much to grieve. 






an interview by Corinne Parkes







In a small, warm office in Sydney sits Sharalyn Drayton. With intense azure eyes she looks at me as she calmly rests in an unremarkable office chair, her elbows propped on its arms, a tattoo on her wrist flashing at me as she interlocks her fingers.


After working in the marketing industry, Sharalyn shifted gears and retrained as a counsellor. She developed a particular interest in the experiences of grief, trauma and addiction while also completing a Master of Public Theology at Charles Sturt University – a degree that investigates how theological narratives intersect with contemporary events. Her work now reflects these differing disciplines, and combines elements of the psychological and spiritual to create a holistic approach to counselling. As a practicing counsellor for almost two decades, Sharalyn has worked with a wide variety of clients, from addicts to the bereaved.


A clinical approach to grief is what I had anticipated I would be talking about in this small, warm room. Definitions, diagnostic tools, schools of thought and cultural perceptions. Though, as I sit having sunken deeply into a chestnut lounge, I quickly realise there will be nothing clinical about this interview like I had originally thought. In this room, grief isn’t seen as an ailment, but rather an inevitable experience that we will all encounter in some way.  It's part of our humanity,” Sharalyn muses, “it’s part of our humanness to grieve, and we all do that in different ways.”


Broadly defined as a natural response to loss, grief is as visible as it is veiled. While stories of grieving people saturate both news and popular media, the experience on an individual scale can often illicit trepidation.


Sharalyn affirms this. “Non-grieving people struggle with grieving people, because it makes them feel really uncomfortable and they don’t know what to do. Human nature makes us want to make things better, because then we feel safer. So I think we instinctively feel uncomfortable around other people who are uncomfortable”.  Perhaps it is for this reason, then, that often those who grieve feel uneasy with the experience in itself. Perhaps it is why certain losses carry with them the permission to grieve, while others don’t.


This societal minimisation of someone’s grief is an issue, Sharalyn agrees, and can make the experience of grief even more difficult. “People do the ‘shoulds’: I should be over this by now, I shouldn't be feeling this way. But you should be doing exactly what is coming up you for you and processing that in the moment, and you should be taking the pressure off yourself” she says.


Whether you lose your home, a pet, your health, or someone you love – to grieve is human. It has many different multifaceted levels, and is an experience that is both deeply individual and intrinsically shared.


The grieving process is incredibly complex” Sharalyn states, “and although there are some similarities for everybody, it's also different for everybody, and it takes as long as it takes. Some people can move through the process more quickly than others.”


This idea of a process leads our conversation to the broadly understood ‘five stages of grief’ – a theory that is perhaps the most recognisable concept of grief, taken directly from the work of Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.


In 1969, Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, published On Death and Dying, the ground breaking book that looked scientifically at the experience of grief and loss. Before this work entered the collective cultural understanding, how society dealt with grief was vastly different.


Before that it was ‘get over it, move on, don’t talk about it’” Sharalyn explains. “We live in a culture that says ‘don’t go there’ because it’s too hard, so the best way forward is just to push it away and not look at it, which is a culture we've inherited”.


Included in Kübler-Ross’s seminal work was the theory that the experience of grief noticeably progresses through five steps. Denial is the first hallmark, followed by anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. These five stages stand as the normal process, something that is both standardised and ultimately inevitable.


I ask Sharalyn if she believes this model is helpful.


I think it’s helpful because anything that gives people a framework to help them understand is going to be beneficial. Grief is such an overwhelming experience, and people struggle to manage their experience, so we use our intellectual ability to try and make sense of the data that we're experiencing.”


I pause.


This benefit of the model makes sense, of course. But surely it can be detrimental too. Surely, for some, these stages are restrictive; prescriptive, even. Instead of acting as a support or as a way to rationalise the intense emotions that arise in grief, surely these five stages could confuse the individual process, and stand instead as a way to make the people around you feel less uncomfortable.


Five steps to tick off your list, five steps that you need to move through quickly, five steps you have to take so that, all of a sudden, you can… “be better,” the kind voice sitting before me completes my thought.


Be better.


Could this globally recognised model do more damage than it does good?


The 5 stages of grief don't necessarily happen in that order, and I think that's really important” Sharalyn offers. “People put a lot of pressure on themselves and I think society puts pressure on people because we don't deal with each other's grief very well”.


Traditionally, it has been this pressure that has convinced us to conceal our grief, to not look at it ourselves or let anyone else see it. This, Sharalyn says with a sigh, won’t fix anything.


A deliberate hand gesture draws my eye to a small framed image. A Leunig poem, one that Sharalyn presents to many of the clients that she sees. "When the heart is cut and cracked and broken, do not clutch it let the wound lie open..."


This could be the philosophy that informs the practice of grief counselling as a whole, along with the growing understanding that grieving is, in fact, essential in healing. An integral part of the grief experience is being able to process the phenomenon – a step not resolutely outlined in the five stage model.


This is where counselling operates best. I ask Sharalyn how she, as a professional, would assist a grieving person. She responds, “grief is such a profound experience that sometimes you need to let people come at it slowly, so it’s really just facilitating, giving someone permission to actually pull the blanket back a little bit and look at what is coming up for them, and giving them tools to process that”.


The permission to grieve is something that, societally, is becoming more accepted, and the once concrete cultural norms that prescribed how different individuals could experience grief are loosening. These two alterations are immeasurably beneficial, according to Sharalyn.


Processing and coming to terms with the grief an individual might feel is arguably the most essential element to the experience of a grief as a whole. If neglected, Sharalyn notes “grief can create almost trauma like symptoms and unresolved grief will reappear at different stages on your life when different things happen. It never goes away”.


While the experience of grief may never have a definitive conclusion, there are things that it should not be. The process itself should not be looked at as a prescribed course of action or an absolute answer to what is ‘normal’. It should not be aimed solely at ‘getting better’, or ‘getting over it’. It should not be entirely invisible. It is human to grieve and it is, for most, inevitable too.


With well-thought words, Sharalyn concludes our discussion. “Grief starts like a wave that can bring you to your knees, and slowly it will subside. We never get cured, but we learn to integrate it. It becomes a part of our story… it makes us larger”.







My toxic marriage is over, but I still miss him


Blog kindly provided by the partner of a sex addict.


My ex-husband is a sex addict. For our entire relationship of around 11 years, he used brothels, strip clubs, and pornography regularly and compulsively.  His behaviour when he was “using” was emotionally and verbally abusive, and it became increasingly unbearable as the years went on.  Last year I decided to end the marriage because despite him attending 12 step programs, a live-in rehab centre, and extensive therapy, he showed very scarce signs of improvement.  For years, things would go well for a while, and I would think to myself, yes it’s worth fighting for this marriage, it’s worth staying, he’s getting better. Then out of the blue, for no reason whatsoever, his switch would flip. It could be something as simple as visiting his Dad, or having a difficult day at work, or feeling overwhelmed.  Ultimately, what I hadn’t realised at the time, was that this behaviour correlated with his acting out. 


For this reason, I had to make the totally shitty decision to leave my marriage so that I didn’t keep getting dragged into his crazy. I kept losing myself, and my sanity every time he lost his. It rattled me so badly every time he fired up, my PTSD was triggered, and I couldn’t cope. For my health and my sanity, I needed to leave. It always felt like a deep cut that was dressed every day by a nurse, but just as it was healing back together, someone would come along and grab each side of it and rip it apart. It would have to be stitched up again, and dressed every day until my husband would pull it apart again.  For the wound to heal properly and completely, I needed to stay away from him.


So, I put all my belongings in storage, moved out of my beloved home, and booked a little room near the ski fields for a week, with a view of the lake. It was gorgeous, and I finally had some peace, yet I was so lonely. I know it was always to be expected, so I just decided to roll with it and let myself process the pain. I just kept getting out of bed every day, and skiing.  Doing this was a great idea as it forced me to get up and move my body rather than lay in bed all day and cry.


It’s so beautiful in the mountains, and I really enjoyed my skiing, but I discovered that it’s very lonely skiing by myself. There was no one to comment on how great it is, or how hard it is, or cold or whatever. No one to meet for lunch or catch a chairlift with. No one to high five me for how well I’d done.  One day I did a black run, and then I went down 3 double blue runs all in a row without stopping. Those runs have been my kryptonite for years since my skiing accident. And I absolutely aced them!!! Then I burst into tears, because the one person who would really know what a big deal that was, is now out of my life. My ex-husband is the person I wanted to share this moment with, and he would have been so proud of me. It’s also sad that for years, he hadn’t ski’d with me because I’d been so slow while getting my confidence back after my accident. And now that I had my confidence back, he’s gone, and we won’t be skiing together, and he won’t get to see how much I’ve improved, and we won’t get to go on hard runs together and share those moments anymore. It’s just so heartbreaking to accept that. But I guess a man who loved me unconditionally, would have skied with me anyway while I was recovering.


So …. I cried, then I got back up on my skis after having a coffee break.  I wiped away my tears, and I smashed the mountain even more. I did 27km of almost all blues and double blues. I didn’t feel fear, I felt clever and powerful, and I felt a huge sense of achievement for rising up from such adversity.  Then at the end of the day, I sat on the verandah of my little room and wrote about my pain.  Every now and then I glanced up to see the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains as the air became cooler and the light faded.  Such serenity and beauty before me…..even when I feel the pain, I think I’m going to be ok.