A torn piece of brown paper exposing the word Discovery underneath it.

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

Discovery of Sex Addiction

Discovery is a term that has come to mean the event or period of time in which a sex addiction is discovered by a partner or spouse. Partners of sex addicts describe discovery as an intensely traumatic experience that hits with the impact of an earthquake, upending her life and casting doubt on everything she believed to be true about her relationship. It is usually the start of a long period of living on an emotional rollercoaster.

Shock Trauma & Betrayal Trauma

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.

PTSD in Partner's of Sex Addicts

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.

Next Steps

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.