The partners of sex and porn addicts do not always have an easy road ahead of them. Often, an unevenness can begin to develop almost immediately where “his progress,” “his work,” or “his addiction,” can begin to take precedence over your own recovery.
This is especially true if the betrayed partner has not also sought help. While external factors such as financial concerns, availability, child care, and career might get in the way of many women finding a safe space to talk to a professional, she should really receive the same priority as her partner’s therapy.
Perhaps it is because we, as a society, see anyone suffering from an addiction as dealing with an emergency situation – and in many ways they are – that the needs, wants, desires, and requests of the addict begin to supersede their partner’s experience.
But it is important that we take a step back here and remember that the partner of an addict has just been through a tremendous trauma. Her world has been rocked. Everything she thought she could trust in her relationship, in her home, has become twisted. She feels lied to, hurt, forgotten, and tremendously betrayed. These feelings are valid. These feelings deserve attention. Sweeping them under the rug, or making them secondary to her addicted partner’s personal recovery is only serving to silence, erase, and re-victimize women who have very recently had the shock of their lives.
It is, unequivocally, the wrong approach.
If You Feel Like You’re Being Ignored – You’re Right
When you find out that your husband or partner has been unfaithful to you, or has developed a porn watching habit that has kept him emotionally and physically distant from you, it is easy to understand why you would feel ignored in a grievous way. It’s so important to work through these feelings with someone who can give you the space and time you deserve to examine these very complicated feelings.
Many sex and porn addiction recovery programs are structured around men. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as any addict has quite a bit of work ahead of them. Making sure that they get through it safely and honestly is absolutely vital.
But women need to be heard too. If you are in a situation where your partner is receiving counseling, but you are not, you may begin to feel pressure to “try harder,” “be more open,” “be less neurotic,” or to generally be more pleasant to help with his recovery, while you yourself struggle in silence. In other words, you might feel pressured to lie about how upset you are for the sake of his recovery.
This is not healing. Yes, you have things you need to work on as well, but forcing you through certain aspects of your own recovery simply to aid in his, is an approach that’s doomed to fail. If you feel like this is happening to you, it is time to begin seeking help for yourself.
I Believe You
Here is an unpleasant fact about addiction: it warps people. An addiction is like a malevolent presence that takes over the person you once knew. It causes them to lie, to sugarcoat, to avoid, and to redirect blame.
And unfortunately, the day your partner walks through the door for their first counseling session, those habits do not necessarily evaporate on site.
This is why addiction recovery is so often referred to as a journey. There will be setbacks, there will be trial and error, there may be relapses or false starts; and nobody will see these things more clearly than the addict’s partner.
So, when women come to me and say that their partner has not stopped his destructive behavior, or that he is lying, or that he is not as committed to his recovery as he makes himself out to be, I believe them. As a society, we seem preprogrammed to dismiss the observations or complaints of women simply because they are women. That attitude simply cannot be allowed to carry over into a therapeutic setting, because it won’t get us anywhere. One of my first jobs is to validate, to support, and to listen.
Emotional Labor Is Real
Yes, relationships are nuanced, layered, and complex. It takes a lot of time to unravel a relationship, and take a close look at what went wrong, and where. Nobody is 100% wrong all the time. Both partners have work they need to do in relationship counseling; some of it very hard work.
The problem arises when he is doing his work with a professional, and she is trying to do her work on her own. Ideally, both partners should have their own therapists, who are in turn working with one another behind the scenes to keep communications open. If one person is receiving professional help while the other isn’t, that situation can quickly degrade into complaints of “she’s not getting over it fast enough.”
This is where the concept of emotional labor comes in. Women who have been betrayed by an addict partner are still expected to get up and go to work, pack the kids’ lunches, attend that important board meeting, keep up social relationships with friends and neighbors, and volunteer on the neighborhood committee.
The addict seeking help on the other hand, is often given tacit permission to ignore many of his other responsibilities in the spirit of focusing solely on his recovery. Yes, his recovery is extremely important, not only for himself, but for the overall health of the relationship. But why does the partner who did the betraying seem to be the one with the “get out of jail free” card?
This is what is meant by emotional labor. It is up to you to mentally juggle grocery lists, permission slips, doctor appointments, chores, sports schedules, career goals… and to (seemingly) single-handedly repair a recently shattered relationship. Yes, you have just had a horrible shock, but society is not at all prepared to let you off the hook for a single thing.
This is why the partners of addicts are so very much in need of counseling. This is simply too much to handle on one’s own.
It’s Time to Move Forward
If you are in a situation where you are being made to feel over and over again that you are not working hard enough, that your partner’s addiction is somehow your fault, or that the relationship would be back to normal by now if only you would hurry up and get over an earth shattering betrayal, you need help too.
You need to seek out counseling that puts equal emphasis on the recoveries of both partners. Because anyone if your life who tells you that you are not also recovering from something clearly doesn’t understand what you are being asked to do.
You deserve help just as your partner does.