Helping Her Heal (Sex Addiction Recovery)
Have you ever noticed how someone grappling with grief needs to talk about his or her lost loved one over and over again? There is an almost obsessive preoccupation that may feel uncomfortable to the listener but in most cases actually helps her eventually let go, heal and move on.
Betrayed partners have a similar obsessive-like need to talk about the betrayal, especially in the days, weeks, and months after discovery. They talk out their struggle to wrap their brain around the fact that it really happened. They try to make sense of the tsunami that just washed away the foundations of the life they knew. However, unlike the widow, partners reeling from infidelity are much more likely to be isolated in what feels like a shameful discovery, especially if the infidelity occurs in the context of a sexual addiction or involves compulsive pornography. This is not water cooler conversation. Rarely do they experience friends and family showing up with casseroles or offering condolences and an empathetic ear for them to voice their pain.
That often leaves the betrayer – the recovering infidel or sex or porn addicted spouse – as the only ‘safe’ outlet to talk about the betrayal and still maintain some sense of privacy. If you are a recovering sex or porn addict and have decided you want to help her heal and save your relationship, this means YOU are going to need to hear about your spouse’s shock, fears, despair and white, hot anger again and again. YOU are going to need to reassure her over and over that the betraying behavior has ended and that you will be there for her to help her heal (suffice to say, but to heal your relationship that cannot just be lip service, the addictive betrayals actually have to stop).
To shepherd your marriage through this crisis make “tell me again” your theme song. There will be many times during this recovery when you will be frustrated at the emotional rollercoaster your wife is on. You will wonder if she will ever ‘get over it’ or if she is even capable of eventually forgiving. There may be even more times when she resurrects an issue or suspicion you thought had been finally laid to rest. When you find yourself thinking, “Here we go again” (hopefully unexpressed), translate that into “tell me again.” Whether she is angry, sobbing or shaking in fear, imagine she is saying, “Tell me again. Tell me again that you love me enough to hear my pain. Tell me again that I am worth the wait no matter how long it takes me to heal.” Help her heal.
1. Learn to recognize when your partner is triggered.
Often there will be a rapid and noticeable shift in mood. You can sometimes tell by your own reaction: halted breath, gut clenched as if you are about to be punched, braced for impact. As time passes you may feel the urge to escape, give up (or give in to a shame attack), or have trouble reining in your own mounting anger. Do whatever you have to do to stay fully present and calm for your partner. Regulate your breathing. Make an effort to really feel your feet on the floor. Silently recite the Serenity Prayer. Use recovery strategies you have learned so you can stand and deliver for your partner.
2. Do not try to make sense of your partner’s behavior when triggered.
And for goodness sakes, do not try to use reason; this will go nowhere fast. Triggers are fueled by the underlying betrayal induced trauma your partner is experiencing. Your partner is using trauma logic, which does not respond to rational arguments. Trauma logic is a form of emotional reasoning that is calmed when you listen in order to hear her heart. Remember, understanding “tell me again” will be more important than the details of the trigger.
3. Keep the focus on your partner’s pain – without passing judgment about the pain.
Do not make this make this about your pain or frustration. Don’t respond with anger. Don’t get caught up in the details she is reporting; if you do you will try to solve it or reason it. Don’t do either. Don’t argue. Don’t start defending yourself. Don’t make excuses. Don’t minimize or justify. Don’t ask for forgiveness. Do not lie.
Do acknowledge her pain (without trying to solve it or make it go away). Do take responsibility if you are culpable for the triggering event, but don’t try to explain why or clarify the facts. Do remember you are listening to her heart. Do remember, “tell me again.” Do remember that you can use theat theme song too. “Tell me again how much that hurt you. Help me understand what you are feeling.” These are important steps if you want to help her heal.
4. Ask her what she needs from you right now.
5. Do what she asks.
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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