We are pleased to welcome Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Becky Whitson to the Route1520 blog! Becky and her husband, Jim, have been ministering to couples who have been touched by sex addiction for years and we are excited to have her share her personal and professional wisdom with spouses who are grasping for answers in the middle of the chaos. Becky’s contact information is listed at the end of this post.
(For the sake of brevity, I’m using husband/he throughout this post; however, women are sex addicts as well.)
The day you found out your husband was lying to you about his sexual infidelity (virtual or real) felt like the rug of the world had been pulled out from under you, and you were in a free fall. You knew something was wrong, but now your worst nightmare has been confirmed. The man you thought you married has turned into someone that you don’t know, that you can’t trust. Where do you go from here with no one to turn to, struggling with a weight of about 2,000 pounds in the pit of your stomach? Is life even worth living?
Through the process of God’s timing, the darkness of night turns into the light of day. When you put yourself into the process of recovery, with God’s help, the darkness you are experiencing now will turn into a light that you can only hope for at this time. Other people who have experienced this hope restored will be of great benefit in your journey.
Here is an outline of the recovery process:
- Get to a therapist who understands sexual addiction as soon as possible.
Even if your husband isn’t a sex addict, a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) will know the difference and will be able to help you with the issues. These are things this person will tell you:
Your husband’s acting out is not your fault.You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it.
Even though you want to know all the details immediately, it is better to wait a few weeks in order to get a full disclosure with the aid of a therapist. You need the support, and your husband needs to work on the benefits of disclosing everything—not just what he thinks you know. When full disclosure is not done all at one time, you are traumatized each time something leaks out. Addicts usually don’t want to tell everything because of their own shame and fear that you will leave if you know it all; however, a CSAT will educate the addict on the necessity for you and for him. You will get all the major parts—ways in which the addict acted out, names if you know any of the people, amount of money spent, and ways in which he manipulated or lied to you. It is not in your best interest to ask for the gory details. They burn themselves into your brain, and it is almost impossible to get rid of them. They make a “bed in your head” and attack you without your permission or desire. You set yourself up for an issue much like the addict’s—the thoughts hi-jack your brain and take over.
Taking the focus off the addict and turning to your own self-care is the absolute best way to deal with this situation. Explore the boundaries you need to set for yourself in order to feel safe and have some predictability in your life. Establish some “non-negotiables”. Be clear about what you can and cannot accept in your relationship. Some examples might be no sex outside of the marriage, no pornography, no masturbation, no contact with former lovers. Think about consequences if your partner violates the boundaries. Limits you set with your partner may not be received with happiness; however, they are important for your recovery. He may tell you that you are trying to control him. There is a difference between controlling the other person and determining what you need to feel safe. You can decide what you are willing to put up with in a relationship.
Many women do not want to have sex with the partner who has betrayed them; however, they are afraid if they don’t, then that person will be more likely to act out. The wife often becomes hyper-sexual in an unconscious effort to control the addict. This coping mechanism never works. The issue is not about the amount or quality of sex. It is an intimacy/attachment disorder and must be worked on from the inside out by the addict.The best thing you can do is decide what YOU need, not what is good for the addict. Take the focus off him and turn it to yourself.
The goal is for you to speak up about what you need in order to feel safe and protect yourself. You have been traumatized because life as you know it has been destroyed. You need to identify ways in which you can feel as safe as possible in order to recover from the devastation that you’ve experienced. Finding out about infidelity is like a head-on collision with an eighteen wheeler. Everything in you has been crushed. You will need to treat yourself with your own personal ICU. In as many ways as possible, ask yourself, “How does this feel to me?” If you trust your deep inner knowing, you will be able to take care of yourself and work through this, with or without your husband.
- Allow yourself to grieve.
Grief is essential to healing. Compare this trauma to a physical wound. The trauma creates infection as the feelings fester. You have to open the wound, clean out the infection, expose it to light in order for it to heal. The same takes place emotionally. You can’t just close up all the pain. You have to intentionally go in and dig it out. This is excruciatingly painful as you let go of the dream of your relationship. A simple way to grieve is to write down the dream you had of how your marriage would be. What would your husband be like? How would he treat you? Go into as much detail as possible. Then, write down what is going on now. Based on what you’ve learned, who is this person? What are his characteristics? Working with this Dream vs Reality exercise will enable you to let go of the dream so that God can bring something new out of the ashes.
- Go to a support group.
As soon as possible, go to a support group such as the Route1520 Support Groups for Spouses. Other women who have gone through the same thing will be there, will understand the devastation you are feeling, and will be able to walk with you along this healing journey. As one person said, “They just get it.”
COMMON QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS
- How did this happen?
This problem started long before you came into the picture. Your husband had an issue with intimacy and attachment before he ever met you; however, some of the coping mechanisms you’ve learned have meshed right in with the intimacy issues he faces.
- Why do I have to do the work and my life be disrupted?
Getting into therapy and recovery for yourself will help you see and correct your own unhealthy ways of coping. Some of these which are common are: shouldering too much responsibility for the family (managing children, household, finances); making excuses when the other person didn’t fulfill his responsibilities; tolerating unwanted behavior, sexual advances, or attitudes; being willing to put up with too little for yourself.Your own recovery will empower YOU to be the best you can be, regardless of the person you are with.
- What do we tell the children?
What is disclosed to children depends on the age. Both people need to work with a therapist in order to be strong enough to deal with disclosure. There are guidelines for disclosing which provide safety (not secrecy) for everyone involved.
- Will I ever be able to trust him again, or will I always live in fear?
Trust is like a house. Once it’s destroyed, it takes a long time to build it back. The willingness of the addict to do “whatever it takes” lays the groundwork. As you see your partner fulfilling that promise, trust builds. Trust is a process of watching consistency in your partner. Trust is enhanced when the addict is patient and responds with reassuring, understanding actions and words when you are having difficulty trusting.Another aspect of building trust is accountability. The addict must be willing to be open about bank accounts, cell phones, emails, voice mails, etc. in order for trust to be restored; however, wives should be careful not to go into detective mode and create more stress for themselves by constantly checking. Remember—the focus stays on you.
- Can I ever forgive him?
Forgiveness is possible, but it is also a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. When the partner is willing to be consistent and understanding over a period of time, and the wife is willing to forgive, God designs it. Spring’s book How Can I Forgive You? provides a plan for both parties. Your forgiveness depends to a great degree on your willingness to grieve the loss, set boundaries, and live truthfully from the inside out. “Let your yes be yes and your no, no.” When you can trust yourself to set boundaries, identifying what you need and what you will live with, forgiveness occurs as part of the growth process. Forgiveness takes time. It takes years for a wound so deep to be healed.
- Will sex ever be the same?
Hopefully not! Couples can learn a healthier way to be sexual. The skills of real intimacy need to be learned and implemented in order for sex to be what God intended. Sex can be mutual and loving.
Finding out about the betrayal is devastating. Once you’ve walked through the darkest night of your soul, joy does come in the morning. Grief and pain carve out a container for your joy. Peace that passes understanding comes as a part of this journey.
My husband and I are 20 years down this journey. We continue to grow individually and in relationship with each other. 20 years ago, I could never have imagined we would be where we are today. As a result of my own experience in recovery, I became a sexual addiction therapist in order to share the hope of recovery.
Blessings and grace to you,
Becky Whitson, MA, Ed.S.,CSAT, NCC
Becky Whitson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with an extensive background in education and training. Prior to joining Covenant Counseling & Education Center, Becky worked as a career consultant and presenter. She holds an Ed.S. in Education and a Master’s Degree in counseling. Additionally, she is a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT). Her counseling interests include depression, anxiety, infidelity, sexual abuse, sexual addiction, trauma treatment and personal growth.
She is a level ll EMDR therapist. EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is used in treating trauma, phobias and self-defeating behaviors. EMDR uses back and forth eye movements similar to those occurring naturally in REM sleep. It appears to take advantage of a natural healing process of the brain. Research studies have consistently shown positive results.
If you would like to contact Becky, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.