By Heidi Kinsella, MA, LMHCA, NCC, ASAT
Family Counselor, Gentle Path at The Meadows
You just found out your husband has been unfaithful in numerous ways and has been acting out for years. You want to know everything—you have a NEED to know everything. However, he has entered sex addiction treatment and now you learn that you will have to wait until the therapeutic disclosure to find out the extent of his acting out behavior. You say, “What the heck is a therapeutic disclosure, and why do I need to wait to find out what my husband has done? I have the RIGHT to know, and I NEED to know… NOW!!”
As a therapist, I specialize in working with partners of sex addicts, and have heard this sentiment from more partners than I can count. It’s confusing and scary for an individual to discover that her husband is a sex addict. It’s also hard to understand why she needs to wait to find out what behaviors he has been doing.
A therapeutic disclosure is a planned disclosure in the office of a therapist where an addict provides information to his partner regarding all of his sexual behaviors from the time he has known his partner until the present time. Normally the disclosure is facilitated in an office where both the addict and his partner are present, along with both of their therapists.
The disclosure provides an overview of the addict’s behavior. Disclosure is done without going into details that would not add to the overall scope of the acting out behavior, and would only serve to cause additional pain and be potentially triggering to his partner. It is important for each member of the couple to have their therapist present to insure the support and safety for both people.
Dr. Patrick Carnes states that addicts need a minimum of 90 days of sobriety to allow their brains to reset and start to heal prior to disclosure. My experience in working with couples in the early stages of treatment is that it often takes longer than 90 days to prepare them for disclosure. During this time, both members of the couple need to be seeing their individual therapist, and ideally, are also in separate therapy groups.
In order for the disclosure to go as well as possible, the addict needs to get to a point in his recovery where he is no longer justifying or denying his actions; he is no longer shifting blame and creating the type of “crazy making” that makes his partner doubt her sanity. The addict should also be at a point where he is beginning to have empathy for his wife. Lastly, enough time needs to be allowed so that the addict has an understanding of his acting out behaviors, and sometimes this takes a little while for the memories to come back while in group with other addicts.
For the partner, this time is also critical. She should take this time to receive help in addressing the trauma of discovery, which is shocking and can take a toll on her physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. This is also the time to develop a list of questions she needs to have answered.
Partners often ask, “Why can’t I just ask the questions myself? He is MY husband! I have a right to ask the questions when I want to ask him!” I understand this sentiment as I felt the same way when I discovered my husband’s sexual acting out. I found myself waking him up in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I figured if I couldn’t sleep then he shouldn’t either! I would ask a question about what he did and then demand an answer. He would wake up groggy and answer the question because he felt like he owed me that much. Upon hearing the answer to my question, I would get angrier and would ask a follow-up, demanding more details. He would then answer the follow-up question because I demanded it. This interrogation would go on and on until my mind was full of details of my husband having sex with other women. Every answer he gave me provided another image that I couldn’t get out of my obsessive mind. I would think about these images of him with other women when I was trying to sleep, when I was trying to work, and throughout my day. I became exhausted, overwhelmed, and it started to affect my health, my ability to work, and my ability to be a parent.
This scenario is common; I have heard similar stories from many partners I work with. It is one of the reasons why we ask our partners to hold off and not ask questions about her husband’s acting out behaviors. At Gentle Path at the Meadows, we ask our patients not to answer detailed questions and to ask their partners to wait for the answers until formal disclosure. In the formal disclosure process, the partner will find out everything she needs to know to make an informed decision about the relationship, without the nitty-gritty details that will most likely haunt her.
We believe in disclosure, but we want it to be safe and therapeutic for both the addict and the partner. If you are a partner of a sex addict, there are recourses and support for you. Dr. Stephanie Carnes’ book, Mending a Shattered Heart or Dr. Claudia Blacks’ book, Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayals. Lies and Secrets are two great resources. Also, The Meadows offers a workshop for partners that can be found out at http://www.themeadows.com/workshops/healing-intimate-treason-for-partners-of-sex-addiction based on Dr. Claudia Black’s workbook called, Healing Intimate Treason.
Every journey begins with one step. To learn more about Gentle Path at The Meadows, or if you have an immediate need, please contact us at 855-333-6076 or go to www.gentlepathmeadows.com.
The Meadows will offer Healing Intimate Treason: For Partners of Sex Addiction workshop the week of June 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at The Meadows' campus.
This workshop was developed in collaboration with Meadows' Senior Fellow, Dr. Claudia Black, with a core foundation from her latest book Intimate Treason: Healing the Trauma for Partners Confronting Sex Addiction. Working from a clinical model based on addiction and trauma, participants will learn about the biology and the behavior of sex and love addiction and will explore their own relational templates.
The Partners of Sex Addiction workshop is an experientially-based workshop that will assist partners to move through their grief and loss, break free from the attachment to fantasy, and enhance emotional self-regulation. Developing both internal and external and sexual boundaries, participants will learn how to move from a position of victimization to personal empowerment.
"I am so pleased to collaborate with Dr. Claudia Black on this intensive new workshop," said Jean Collins, Director of Workshops at The Meadows. "It is very exciting that workshop participants are now getting the benefits of Dr. Black's return to The Meadows, as well as inpatients and their families."
To learn more about the Healing Intimate Treason: For Partners of Sex Addiction workshop, visit http://www.themeadows.com/workshops/healing-intimate-treason-workshop-for-partners-of-sex-addiction/.
Attending a Meadows' workshop offers an individual many benefits. A workshop can be a cost-effective alternative when long-term treatment is not an option. Individuals who cannot be away from their work or families for an extended period of time can attend a workshop and work on sensitive issues in a five-day concentrated format. This allows individuals to jump start their personal recovery by gaining insight into patterns and practicing new relational skills within a safe environment.
The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows' work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.
For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in one of their three inpatient centers and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24 hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a Level 1 Sub-Acute Agency that is accredited by the Joint Commission.
The Meadows, one of America's leading centers for the treatment of addiction and trauma, presents a series of videos featuring Maureen Canning discussing sexual addiction in women.
In the fifth video of her nine-part series, Ms. Canning, a specialist in the treatment of sexual addiction and trauma, talks about what partners of sex addicts need to know in order to break the cycle of abuse and codependency.
"With all addictions, it's important to look at family systems and how they affect the members of the family - particularly the partners of sex addicts," she says.
She adds that The Meadows has developed workshops specifically to help partners of sex addicts understand the addiction. They learn not to blame themselves for the addict's behaviors or to internalize shame for those behaviors. They also gain understanding of their own roles in the relationship.
"We want to empower the partners of sex addicts so they're out of that 'victim mode' and not blaming themselves, but understanding their own process and moving toward health."
Ms. Canning, MA, LMFT, is a clinical consultant and senior fellow at The Meadows of Wickenburg and a clinical consultant at Dakota, The Meadows' extended-care facility dedicated to treating sexual addiction and trauma. She is a leading expert in the treatment of sexual disorders, and her clinical experience includes individual, couples, and family counseling; workshops; lectures; educational trainings; and interventions. Her books include Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and The Road to Healthy Intimacy.
In other videos in the series, she discusses the nature of healthy sexuality, the relationship between shame and sex addiction, and The Meadows' approach to sex addiction treatment.
View the entire series of The Meadows' videos, including interviews with John Bradshaw and Dr. Jerry Boriskin, at www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg.
For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for addictions and trauma, visit www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.
Why would someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger risk everything to have sexual affairs?
I do not know Mr. Schwarzenegger, but I do know that many people are addicted not only to sexual acting-out, but also to the intensity, risk, and adrenaline high that come from "living on the edge." For some addicts, the secrets - and the sense of getting away with bad behavior - are the best part of the high, whether perpetrated on a partner, friend, workplace, family, or "the system."
Sexually compulsive individuals often feel shame at the core of their being. This shame comes from messages they received in their formative years about who they were as people. Often these messages were overt, but more often they were covert. As kids, they lived with expectations... to be the best, save the family, support a parent's emotional needs, make us proud. Such dynamics leave children feeling resentful, as they must perform in order to get attention and feel valuable. They are stripped of their authenticity by demands to meet others' needs and expectations.
This gives children the message that there must be something wrong with them. They come to believe, "I must prove myself in order to have value and worth. I must perform. I must provide. I must bring home trophies, be the leader of the class, be the most popular. No longer is it okay to be just good enough. I must excel; otherwise, I will disappoint. And if I disappoint, I will be emotionally abandoned."
Meeting such goals results in externalized self-esteem. No matter how hard the child tries, it is never enough. There are always more goals and more things to prove - never-ending expectations to meet someone else's needs. These children tend to grow up to be perfectionist overachievers. They are often smart, efficient, successful leaders. They are excellent problem-solvers and winners in the external aspects of their lives. They have financial success, respect, nice families, and loyal circles of friends. They are physically fit and attractive. They tend to be extroverted, fun-loving people who seem to have the world wrapped around a finger.
Yet, over and over again, we see it in the news: the governor, sports figure, movie/television star, preacher, CEO, even the President taking risks, leading secret lives. Each time it happens, we sit back in awe. How could this be? Why would he risk it all?
It doesn't make sense without an understanding of the deep-seated dynamics lying under the external success. Resentment fuels all addictions. In some individuals, resentments fester like an infection, a toxic poison infiltrating all aspects of the addict's life. The only place he feels in control is within his secret life. The rest of life is a seamless yet meaningless existence lived on mind-numbing autopilot. He takes the risks, lives on the edge, has the affair, cheats on his partner, and lies to the camera. He chases the lies until the curtain is pulled back and the truth exposed; in the light of stark reality, the lies are unbelievable even to him. Two worlds collide in what often feels like a death - or what we in the addiction world call "a bottom." The carefully constructed life crumbles.
This is when recovery is possible. The addict comes to a point where the addiction is no longer worth it; he is exhausted and disgusted, and he wants out. At this point, the addict can reach out for help.
Not only does the addict hit bottom, but the family does as well. Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's wife of 25 years, also has been in the press. Like all partners, the family system is profoundly devastated. The betrayal leaves spouses and children feeling overwhelmed and lost. The good news is that there is help and support for them as well.
In her book, Maurita Corcoran (recently featured on Dr. Drew Pinsky's show) talks about her 14-year marriage to a sex addict. Learning of others' experiences helps to normalize a partner's experience, as can literature addressing these issues, and 12 Step meetings for partners of sex addicts provide safe places to share common experiences.
Because families and partners who heal together are more likely to survive intact, The Meadows offers a week-long workshop specifically for partners of sex addicts. The workshop clarifies the sexual addiction cycle and provides a place for partners to get answers and express their anger and grief.
Sexual addiction is unique in that it affects people at the core of their being. Sexuality is tied to one's identity, affecting one's sense of safety and trust. When this trust is broken, one's entire world can shatter, leaving shock and dismay. It is important that partners have a place to reach out and feel validated and heard - a place where they, too, can heal.
On Wednesday, June 1, 2011, Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT will be presenting on Hope and Healing for Partners of Sex Addicts. Her lecture will discuss how the treatment community is debating whether partners are best treated with a trauma model or addiction model. She will explain how both models provide a lens through which to view the emotional, spiritual, and behavioral issues of partners of sex addicts. Blending both models brings a comprehensive picture of these issues into focus, enabling a clear delineation of phases of treatment and optimal treatment strategies for each phase. Seminar attendees will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each model, as well as a blended model that can be used to treat a growing population. Michelle will outline the phases of treatment and identify corresponding intervention strategies. The lecture will take place on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 from 7:00 pm-8:30 pm at the Unity of Fairfax, 2854 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton, Virginia, 22124. For more information, 866-922-0952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.