Damage Control After Betrayal: Partners of Sex Addicts & Infidelity Survivors
The early days and weeks after discovering betrayal will be an emotional roller coaster for you, as well as your mate. To the degree possible, following some basic damage control guidelines will prevent the addition of unnecessary pain to your already wounded heart.
1) Knowing that your questions will eventually be answered will be vital for you – so give yourself the time to ensure your questions are good ones. I encourage you to initially focus on the who, what, where, and when: the basic facts that help you to accept the reality of what happened and understand the significant facts associated with the betrayal. Focus first on information that gives you the scope of the betrayal and the degree of emotional safety in your relationship.
It will likely take your mate a while to come out of his fog of deception; self-deception will need to clear before your spouse can let go of overt and covert deception of you. Focusing on the whys at this stage sets you up for frustration, manipulation or blame shifting.
I stress the expectation that your questions will be eventually answered because coming back into truth is a process for most betraying spouses. You can speed this process up by understanding that your questions are better when asked and answered in a controlled manner. Although it may not seem fair, the reality is your mate will be less likely to be evasive if he feels some degree of safety.
This will also gives you time to differentiate between what you want to know and what you need to know. Want to know questions may be experienced as an intense desire for an immediate answer. Want to know usually comes in a moment of intense emotional reaction and has an impulsive, driven quality to your question. It may feel overwhelming in the moment but down the road you may regret having asked it if the answer involves vivid details that become haunting images you cannot get out of head.
Need to know questions do not fade when the emotional reactivity subsides. Need to know questions do not go away. Need to know erases the painful question marks that already haunt you. Need to know gives you some insight about yourself (e.g., “oh, that’s why I always felt confused when we went to that restaurant; my intuition was picking up on a subtle change in his behavior”).
2) Avoid midnight discussion or disclosure sessions. Question and answer sessions best occur when you are rested and better able to tolerate the distress the answers or truth dodging might evoke. Springing interrogations on an exhausted spouse also increases the likelihood of a defensive response, and may set the stage for escalation to danger. Sleep deprivation on the front end or back end of a disclosure session is a bad idea.
3) The same principle applies for empty stomachs.
4) Put a cap on escalating arguments. Grant both parties the right to call a time-out if needed. However, make sure the time-out has a specified time-in. Adulterers, sex addicts, and love avoidants-intimacy anorexics are notorious for using time-outs as an excuse to escape. Block this exit strategy with an agreed upon time-in to resume the process.
5) Avoid the payback trap. The urge to see your spouse hurting as badly as you are is soooo tempting; however, you will regret giving into it. To the degree possible, limit highly corrosive interactions that will negatively impact your ability to rebuild the relationship. For example, revenge flings may bolster your ego and punish your mate in the short-run, but usually diminish both your self-respect and your chances of healing your relationship in the long run. Throwing rage bombs or verbal abuse at your mate creates an unsafe emotional atmosphere that decreases the chance he will assume responsibility for the consequences of the betrayal, or respond to you with empathy.
If you cannot implement these principles on your own, seek the help of a professional trained to deal with relationship repair after betrayal. A Certified Clinical Partner Specialist or a certified Sexual Recovery Therapist will have the training to help you with your recovery.
Dr. Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and multi-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.
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