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Healing for Partners of Sex Addicts

September 11, 2018

By: Georgia Fourlas, LMSW, LISAC, CSAT-C

There have been many high-profile cases of sexual misbehavior lately in the media. Each case has been accompanied by a barrage of interviews in the media with experts who discuss sexual addiction, excuse-making, compulsive lying, bad behavior, legal actions, and a variety of other issues.

In the wake of these events, everyone wants to understand why individuals would act out in ways that could damage their reputations, and their families and risk the loss of their marriages. Help is often suggested or offered to those who have been “outed” as having engaged in sexually compulsive, sexually inappropriate, and deceptive behaviors— and they must get that help. But where does that leave spouses and significant others of those with sexual disorders who have been traumatized by their betrayals?

The Effects of Sex Addiction on Partners

“Where is my f@$%ing chip???” This is a statement I recently heard while working with a partner of a sex addict. It perfectly captures the anger and desperation often felt by partners of individuals with sexual disorders. This person explained that her sexually addicted partner was in a 12-step recovery program, attending therapy, and recently picked up a chip—a token given at 12-step meetings to honor milestones in recovery—for sexual sobriety. She spoke of the intense pain, debilitating shame, and searing anger she experienced while watching the addict being congratulated and hugged.

Meanwhile, the partner sat in the background feeling even further isolated, abandoned, and resentful. All of these emotions fed the anger in this partner and the other partners that were present as they ruminated about the injustice of the betrayal perpetrated by the addict and how the addict, now in recovery, is seeming treated like a hero for, in one person’s words: “What? Not being a liar and cheater for a few months? Where is my prize for not being a liar and cheater AT ALL…MY WHOLE LIFE?”

This imbalance can continue well into recovery, as much of the addicted partner’s time and some of the family’s funds get diverted to treatment and recovery activities. Even when the bad behaviors and destructive activities are replaced with recovery behaviors and healthy activities, it still leaves the partner of the addict alone to deal with the fallout. This often leaves the partner because everything is still all about the addict, and the partner still feels cheated in the relationship.

Healing From Intimate Treason

I heard these expressions of pain and anger in a workshop I facilitate at The Meadows called Healing Intimate Treason For Partners of Sex Addicts, which is based on the extraordinary work of Claudia Black. It is one place where a partner of a person with a sexual disorder can get help. The workshop is specifically designed to support and assist the spouses and significant others of individuals with sexual disorders. It provides an environment that enables open dialogue and honest sharing about all the traumatic reactions that partners may be experiencing.

Partners are provided a safe place to look honestly at their own behaviors. Sometimes, partners behave outside of their own value systems out of anger and in their own traumatic reactions. This workshop can help partners begin to make an internal shift from focusing on the other person to focusing on themselves. In this way, partners are encouraged to embark on a recovery journey that involves self-care and encourages healing. Partners can begin to make decisions based on what they want in their lives and what is best for them rather than making decisions purely from an emotionally charged and reactive place of pain resulting from betrayal.

Various skills are offered to help partners find ways to regulate their nervous systems and cope with their feelings about the betrayal. It also helps partners deal with the complex grief and shame that accompanies discovering a mate’s sexually compulsive or sexually aversive behavior.

This workshop also offers a chance to give and receive support from others going through similar struggles while encouraging a focus on self when partners begin the difficult decision-making process of “What now?” Partners will leave with their own “f@$%ing chip” but will also leave with so much more.

Healing Intimate Treason Workshop

For more details or to enroll, call 800-244-4949. Our Intake Coordinators are happy to assist you between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. MST on weekdays and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. MST on weekends.