Partner Betrayal Trauma


Whether you just discovered your spouse’s infidelity, sexually inappropriate behavior, and intimate deception or you are beyond the initial shock and trying to figure out how to put your life back together, know that there is help and hope after betrayal.

You may already know or suspect that your loved one has a problem with sexual integrity but aren’t sure if it could be an addiction. Take the quiz to see how many commonly reported patterns associated with addictive behavior you can identify.

Does your spouse:

If your spouse exhibits many of these symptoms, his or her behavior pattern is similar to individuals who struggle with sexually compulsive behaviors.

How many of the commonly reported experiences of Partners of Sex or Porn Addicts resonate with you?

Do you:

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, the possibility of a pornography or sex addiction exists. Although your spouse’s behavior cannot be diagnosed by this questionnaire, your ‘yes’ answers indicate that you have been hurt in this relationship.

As a partner of a sex or pornography addict you may feel devastated by your spouse’s behavior, particularly if the reality of the addiction is recently discovered. Shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, sadness and fear are common. You may be tormented by images of what you discovered, or even what you imagine your spouse did. Many partners report difficulty with sleep and concentration. Self-esteem and body image almost always take a direct hit. Your sense of security has been shattered. Your ability to trust your spouse, and your own judgment and intuition, is damaged. You may have become preoccupied with emotional safety seeking, such as searching for evidence of what really happened and is it still happening. Ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression are par for the course. Perhaps what is most painful is that just when you begin to hope that maybe you can let yourself trust again, a new lie is discovered, a new betrayal confessed. And each time you go through it the scab is ripped off the wound in your heart and you die inside all over again.

Although living with someone with any type of addiction is painful, loving someone with a sexual addiction cuts to the heart in a way that no other addiction can. If you have been struggling with this, then you are in deep pain – and you deserve to heal. We know enough now to understand that many partners experience a form of complex posttraumatic stress disorder called partner betrayal trauma (PBT). The wrecking ball of PBT, which includes both shock trauma and attachment-based and relational trauma, cuts a wide path of destruction in your relationship and other important dimensions of your life. How many of these can you check off?

If you answer yes to a number of these questions, then your spirit has been negatively affected by pornography and sex addiction and you will likely benefit from a betrayal trauma approach to your recovery.

Is healing or empowerment possible after partner betrayal trauma? Absolutely! The pain in your own heart can heal. Your recovery starts with accepting the reality of what has happened to you and beginning to grieve the loss of the life you thought you had, the one you planned to live, and the person you used to be.

‘Surviving’ is only the first part of the journey toward empowerment; walking the whole healing path develops the empowerment. It will not be the destination that builds the empowerment, but the walk itself. What does that walk entail? Much like a disaster or medical trauma, it will require acceptance of many difficult realities:

Accept that your life as you knew is likely gone.

Accept that need support, the right support – then seek it.

Accept that there will be hard, painful work ahead.

Accept that your spouse may or may not be willing to face what it will take to heal himself and to help you heal.

Accept that regardless of what your spouse does or does not do, YOU still have to keep walking the path.

Accept that you will encounter obstacles along the way and develop skills for dealing with them: boundaries, self-care, reclaiming your intuition, deep grieving, and creating a new meaning – a meaning of your own choosing – for understanding what has happened to you. Accept that it’s not fair that this is your path. However, if you do the work, you will reap the gains.

Yes! A relationship CAN survive pornography and sex addiction.  If both parties receive treatment and live an active recovery lifestyle, you can develop into a deeper, more fulfilling relationship. The most successful relationships are those in which both the addict and partner participate in individual and couples related therapy activities. Group therapy, community or faith-based support groups, and Twelve-Step programs can be an important source of support for both you and your addicted spouse.

It will be important for your spouse to work with a therapist with specific training in identifying and treating the impact of sexual addiction, such as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. You can also seek a Certified Clinical Partner Specialist, Certified Partner Trauma Therapist, or a certified Partner Recovery Therapist. Professionals with these credentials have had specific training on identifying and treating betrayal trauma, including impact on your relationship.

However, remember that not all professionals who are trained in treating sex or pornography addiction have specific training in understanding partner betrayal trauma or experience in marriage or couples counseling. To obtain this information you will have to ask about the educational background of the therapist you work with to help rebuild your relationship. Ask as many questions as needed to determine who the best fit for is helping you and your relationship navigate the recovery process.

Maybe you have already talked with a professional who does not specialize in treating sexual addiction or partner betrayal trauma about the heartache this betrayal has caused you. And because the pain was so great, the professional was likely helpful – up to a point. But the roots of sexual addiction run deep and the lifestyle it generates for you and your family are complicated. Moving beyond the immediate pain and making deep and lasting changes in your life takes the assistance of a professional and team trained in treating sexual addiction and in helping partners heal.

Perhaps you have even worked with a professional who specializes in sexual addiction. I hope that this was a positive experience for you. But I know that for many of you it was not. I hear from many partners who felt they were treated as an adjunct to their spouse’s treatment, with little or no encouragement for seeking treatment for their own pain, or referred to another therapist in their practice who doesn’t have an equal level of expertise. Or worse yet, made to feel as if they were the problem and isolated from information about the addict’s recovery. And while I wholeheartedly support participation in Twelve Step, community and faith-based support groups, these groups are often based on a codependency model of treatment rather than a model that recognizes what you are going through for what it really is – trauma.

So, what is the answer for therapy? Start with first things first. Remember, trauma first. And find a trained therapist who understands that. Also, keep in mind that although many therapists who work with pornography and sex addiction are willing to work with partners, many of those therapists have significantly more training and experience in working with the addict and comparatively little in working with your needs.

If you are reading this, you are a seeker of information. I bet you sought out a lot of information about treating your spouse’s porn and sex addiction. But your pain is important too. Ask questions about the therapist’s approach to dealing with partners, the relationship, and the family. Ask questions about how your therapist plans to coordinate your care with your spouse’s or how and when the work on the relationship work will begin. During your spouse’s active addiction, you may have been treated like a second-class citizen in your own relationship; don’t allow yourself to be treated like a second-class citizen in your own healing. Choose a treatment team who specialize in partner betrayal trauma. Our team include Certified Clinical Partner Specialists (CCPSs), Certified Partner Trauma Therapists (CPTT), Partner Betrayal Trauma Therapists (PBTT) and Partner Recovery Therapists (PRT). CCPSs are credentialed by the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists and trained to treat the sex-addiction induced trauma partners of sex addicts often experience, as well as help your relationship heal. APSATS led the way in developing a trauma model for helping partners recover.

If you would like to learn more about my approach to working with partners, please feel free to contact me or check out the Partner’s of Sex Addicts recovery blog.


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