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When working with the heartbroken partners of sex addicts and porn addicts, at a certain point, they tend to come to the realization that their partner is suffering too. It's not at all uncommon (or unhealthy) for their first thought to be “Well, good!”
I work with women whose worlds have been rocked by the discovery of unfaithfulness. Whether this came in the form of crippling porn addictions, extramarital affairs, or even by hiring sex workers, the result is the same. Her life has been shattered by the actions of a person she trusted. Finding out that her partner's life has been shattered too can and does bring a moment of vindication.
Pushing past this initial reaction can be challenging because it requires a somewhat sympathetic eye — and sympathy isn't what most partners of sex addicts are feeling in the wake of betrayal.
Let's get one thing out of the way right up front: my job is not to make you go easy on your partner. I'm not here to tell you that what he did wasn't so bad or that you shouldn't be so angry. What he did was awful and you have every right to be furious. However, in order to avoid getting stuck in anger and resentment, and letting those feelings eat you alive, we need to get to work.
Society is still struggling to come to terms with what addiction is — especially when it's sexual in nature. Anyone could look at a heroin addict and see an incredibly sick person in danger of losing their life to the struggle. At a glance, they can assess that person's need for immediate help and agree that it would be best if they recovered. Sex or porn addictions don't show like that.
This complicates things. Your friends and family might not know about his addiction and you yourself might be wondering whether this is just a ploy to cover up terrible personality traits. In many ways, this means the partners of sex addicts and porn addicts have to work harder to come to terms with their partner's illness — by first understanding that it is an illness.
When we are able to begin identifying your partner's behavior as compulsive, a very important truth can begin to shine through. It's one I repeat to my clients all the time: you didn't cause this addiction, and you can't stop it. Once this is accepted, we can begin to move forward.
As easy as it would be to hit a button and magically forgive everything, it doesn't work that way. This process takes a long time. There will be setbacks. You will revisit the same information over and over again. You will declare yourself “over it,” only to come crashing back down the next day. This is all normal.
One of the things partners of sex addicts forget is that forgiveness applies to themselves too. You may begin coming to terms with some of the things your partner did only to find yourself angry all over again — except this time at yourself. “How could I allow myself to be treated like this?” “Why didn't I see it?” “I had my suspicions, but was too afraid to follow up on them.” Before you know it, anger and resentment have been introduced back into the situation and those feelings can be toxic.
So many partners of sex addicts try to hyper-focus on forgiving the bad things that have happened to them that they neglect their own need for compassion and understanding. This is an important part of self-care — something I always encourage.
This can be one of the hardest realizations to come to when working towards forgiveness. Nobody chooses the life of an addict. It's not fun or engaging. It's not packed with meaning and memories. It's hollow, painful, and lonely.
Acknowledging the fact that your partner is struggling with his own demons isn't the same as granting him retroactive permission for what he did. It's not saying that any of it was okay. It's seeing addiction as fundamental brokenness in another human being. Something happened to him to make him compulsively self-soothe in this way. He's hurting. Understanding that doesn't excuse him, but it can begin to bring YOU a small measure of peace.
And once you get that foothold on forgiveness, you begin growing more every day. You're becoming a stronger and more empathetic person. You're allowing this life experience to inform you, not destroy you.
You matter. Yes, what happened to you was terrible. That is a completely valid and justified statement. What's not valid or justified is to continue to let his addiction wound you over and over by remaining stuck in anger.
This process is so different for each woman and I am always interested in hearing your personal struggles and triumphs with forgiveness. I encourage you to reach out to me personally to share your stories. And as always, if you need help processing your own experiences, we're here to listen and to help! Partners of sex addicts, reach out to me here.
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