Infidelity Survivors & Partners of Sex Addicts: Dealing with Discovery Trauma

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Dealing with Discovery Trauma

Discovering the sexual betrayal of a spouse is more than just shocking; it is a form of shock trauma. If you have experienced infidelity or are reeling from learning about your spouse’s sex or porn addiction, the day you discovered it will live in your memory in infamy. This is true whether the ‘discovery’ was a sudden, unexpected event, or series of confessions in response to your interrogation, or the truth simply dawned on you like pieces of a puzzle that finally fall into place.

Shock trauma, which involves an experience that is too overwhelming to easily digest, creates a jolt to your nervous system that has a ripple effect for days, weeks, and months to come. Many betrayed partners report their ‘D-Day’ anniversary brings a wave of pain forever more. The shock trauma that is associated with this type of betrayal response is called discovery trauma. Discovery trauma is like an earthquake that rocks your relationship. The aftershocks, or series of subsequent realizations that typically follow the initial discovery, shake the foundation of your marriage, your life, and your entire world.

Discovery trauma has been documented by infidelity researchers as well as occurring in the wake of discovering a spouse’s sex or pornography addiction. The research of Barbara Steffens, co-author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, identified PTSD in 70% of partners of sex addicts upon discovery of their spouse’s betrayal.

Preliminary results of a more recent discovery trauma survey appear consistent with Steffen’s research. The partner’s of sex addicts in this survey reported that their discovery earthquake registered a 9.64 (out of 10) on the emotional trauma Richter scale. To put this in perspective, the strongest earthquake on record, the Chilean earthquake of 1960, only measured 9.5.

Unlike the victims of the Chili earthquake, partners who discover betrayal are not descended upon by relief teams offering assistance, validation of their trauma, or the powerful comfort of knowing someone who cares is there for them. Instead, betrayed partners often isolate themselves rather than seeking help due to shock, anger, fear, despair or shame. Unfortunately, isolation only compounds the impact of trauma and can diminish effective coping.

If you are dealing with discovery trauma you likely struggling with the, “Do I stay or go?” dilemma. If you have decided to fight for your marriage you are grappling with, “Can this marriage be saved?” and “How do I save it?”

Regardless of which camp you fall into discovery trauma is likely to interfere with your ability to effectively make some of the most important decisions of your life. Friends, family and your faith can be wonderful supports during this time. However, they may not have the objectivity to help you weigh all options and rarely have the training to understand shock trauma, much less discovery trauma.

I urge you to reach out to a professional trained in helping you heal from discovery trauma. Therapy groups and 12 Step support groups are great low cost options. To identify professionals with specific training in treating discovery trauma seek out a Certified Clinical Partner Specialist. You may also want to participate in the discovery survey to help the professional community better understand the impact of discovery trauma.

Click Here to Take the Discovery Trauma Survey


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.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, does not create a client-therapist relationship, and is not a substitute for care by a trained professional. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors, omissions, losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.


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