Navigating the Valentine’s Day triggers your partner is experiencing can be tricky for if you are trying to put your marriage back to together after your spouse’s discovery of betrayal. This is a frequent February topic for the recovering sex addicts I counsel, topped only by the, “How do I undo the additional damage I created by how I handled Valentine’s Day?”
The tightrope walk will be especially difficult if you are early in your recovery, the anniversary of your wife’s D-Day (day of discovery) is anywhere near February, her memories of romantic Valentine’s of the past are now tainted by the knowledge of another woman, porn, or other sexually compulsive behaviors. The day will also be dicey if her memories are of disappointment and loneliness, romantic plans that were sabotaged, or years of sexual neglect. Hopefully you are catching on to just how complicated this day may be for her and how careful you need to be in not deepening the wound.
So how do you navigate those dangerous emotional waters? First of all, give up the expectation of this being an opportunity to show her you have changed and that now she can trust your words of love. She won’t – especially if you haven’t put a sincere, consistent, protracted amount of time and energy into changing your behavior.
More importantly, that is making it about you. Even if she can’t resist lavishing the attention, she will eventually begin to suspect that the attention is more about you getting out of the doghouse than a declaration of lasting change. The most important step you can take in helping to decrease the intensity of Valentine’s Day heartache for both of you is to ask her how she wants you to handle it. If she wants flowers, candy, and romantic cards, then feel free. If not, listen to her!
Many partners of sex addicts put a lot of thought into how they can get through the day with the least amount of pain. A frequent decision is a request to avoid exchanging cards. If your partner has told you she does not want you to get her a card, then don’t get her a card. Her decision is not about trying to control or punish you; it is about trying to avoid painful emotional triggers. Honoring her request will help her to manage her pain. Dishonoring it will add fresh pain.
Although you may fear she will change her mind or have regrets if you don’t at least get her a card, respect her wishes. If you cannot honor her Valentine boundary it will make it harder for her to regain trust that you will honor future boundaries. If you cannot respect her “no” on this, she will have a hard believing you are capable of honoring “no” in your recovery or temptation for future infidelity.
If you decide to honor her no celebration boundary, don’t expect her to be pain-free. Don’t expect her not to feel or express anger or sadness. Difficult feelings are part of the grieving process, which is a necessary part of her recovery journey. Let her have it. Learning to face and tolerate the consequences of your choices is part of your journey. Learn to face them.
For those of us in recovery, sometimes our own shame becomes too intolerable to sit patiently and feel as if we are doing nothing to undue the harms of our past choices. If you believe you simply must do something in homage to Valentines Day, then by all means pick out your card or write a heart-felt letter BUT do not give it to her unless she asks for it. That means unless she spontaneously asks, not asking in response to your hints. If you are in early recovery, telling or hinting that you have a gift is probably more about your need for an affirmation hit than about honoring her. She will figure that out and your efforts will wind up in the debit column instead of credit.
Instead, date your card or letter and file them away in a safe place separate from your recovery work. Think of it as an old-fashioned treasure chest that will hold sacred the hopes of your heart’s desire. In the coming months you may decide to add to the collection. If you stick with your recovery journey, and she tends to hers, the day will come when she will be ready to hear and receive your heart. That will be the day you share your treasure.
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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