The partner or wife a of a recovering sex addict is frequently confused by the apparently sincere promises to change from the addict in her life, promises that often don’t materialize. Of course, promises aren’t the only time the partner faces this same dilemma; she can be equally bewildered by her recovering sex addict’s report of his recovery status or response to the most mundane of questions.
The partner is confused by her instincts, which in the moment of the promise tells her that he is sincere in his intentions and that the signs of intentional deception are absent, even though the history of broken promises and chain of lies would suggest otherwise. The partner may think to herself, “Something in his story doesn’t seem quite right, but he seems so earnest” or “If he was going to purposefully lie, wouldn’t he create a more plausible answer?” Is it that recovering sex addicts are Oscar caliber actors? Or pathological liars incapable of change, even when trying to recover? I know some of you are screaming, “Yes!”
Lies and Self-Dilusion
My experience working with recovering sex addicts, however, tells me otherwise. George Costanza understands this reason, and if you can understand it you can avoid getting caught in the web of lies. It works like this – if your recovering sex addict buys his own bull, it’s not a lie. Patrick Carnes, considered by some as the foremost expert on pornography and sexual addiction, considers this a form of self-delusion. A delusion is something believed to be true, that is actually false. Recovery for your addict, then, is the process of progressively moving from self-delusion into reality.
Sex addiction recovery expert Doug Weiss, refers to the addict’s ability to believe what he is saying while he is saying it as operating from a verbal reality. The sex addict believes what he is saying, while he is saying it. Since his words were truthful when he was saying them, he is speaking the truth. To him, the truth is in the words. Following through on those promises using actual behavior as the hallmark of truth isn’t necessary for him.
Getting sucked into the addict’s verbal reality is like being trapped in a spider’s web for the partner. Some, who note the addict’s seeming emotional sincerity and his passionate arguments about the truth of his words, cautiously decide to believe. Others, who have been burned too many times before, decide they can never again believe the addict’s words; therefore, trust can never be regained.
Accept Your Addict Deludes Himself
When you accept the premise that your addict deludes himself into believing his verbal reality, it’s understandable that he comes across as believable to you. If you decide to accept the verbal reality, you do so at the cost of ignoring that part of you that whispers, “Something isn’t quite right.” If you decide to go this route, how will you do this? Through self-delusion. Consequently, you will be unable to establish and maintain the boundaries needed to communicate clear recovery limits with your addict, foster your own healing, or repair your relationship.
If you decide to close off your heart you also fail to establish boundaries that hold the addict accountable while also reinforcing recovery gains. You may believe you are playing it safe and avoiding further pain. But not believing what is in fact true is also a form of self-delusion that deprives you of healing and destroys any chance of restoring the relationship.
Not Getting Caught in the Web of Lies
So what do you use instead of the verbal reality to determine truth? BEHAVIOR! To avoid the web of lies, believe the behavior, not the words.
If the words and measurable, observable behavior match up, consistently, across time – that is truth. Recovery from sex addiction is not about wishful thinking, on either his part or yours. If he says he’s in recovery you will see the recovery behaviors- he will go to his therapy, attend his Twelve Step groups, do written work, make recovery calls, and eventually be able to be the mate you deserve.
If you don’t see the behavior and words match up, don’t lie to yourself that they have. Remember if you say you’re holding him accountable when you really aren’t, if you say you want truth but you ignore it – that is not his verbal reality, it’s yours!
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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