Understanding Betrayal Trauma: Trauma Triggers for Partners of Sex Addicts

An artistic picture of a woman's face.
Triggers can be everywhere when you are dealing with betrayal trauma.

Although all addictions cause painful consequences to the addict’s spouse, a sex addiction hurts a wife or partner in a way no other addiction can. You may intellectually know that his sexually addicted behavior is not about you, but it feels incredibly personal to your heart, your body, and your spirit. If you are dealing with both a sex or porn addict and a love avoidantintimacy anorexic, the wound to your heart will be even more raw.

Because of the deeply personal nature of the betrayal, and the shame it unleashes on you, you may be tempted to isolate and suffer through the heartbreak alone. However, dealing with the rollercoaster of feelings alone will not only rob you of much needed support, it will actually amplify your pain.

When you are in the middle of a trauma betrayal reaction, you are actually under the control of a different part of your brain. This part of your brain is like an emergency override system that takes precedence over your higher reasoning centers when danger is sensed. Your body’s go to responses when activated by that part of your brain are flight, fright, or freeze. Unfortunately, once activated your brain and body are flooded with chemicals that impel you to some version of those go to responses.

If you are in a situation where your physical or emotional safety are in immediate danger if you don’t take some kind of action, this emergency override is a good thing. If, however, the override system kicks on when you have encountered a trauma trigger, then you are forced onto a painful emotional rollercoaster that you can’t get off of until the chemicals either dissipate or are countered by your nervous system’s own calming chemicals. You will be physically and emotionally exhausted before the emergency system finally shuts off.

Unfortunately, triggers can be everywhere when you are dealing with betrayal trauma. The triggers can be both outside and inside your head. You are particularly susceptible to being triggered if you are early in the recovery process, have just learned of your husband’s addiction, have discovered new betrayal, discovered details that you neither wanted or needed to know, or if your husband’s disclosures have dribbled out so that you receive a new drop of information just as your trust is just beginning rise again. It’s like having the scab ripped off a deep wound, resulting in even more scar tissue, fear, and mistrust.

Your external environment triggers might include: catching him scouting out other women or men, recognizing that trance look in his eyes, racy magazine covers staring at you in the grocery store line, hearing songs about love or cheating, television shows depicting love or sex, photo albums of the life you thought you had, travel (either your own or his), going to the beach and being surrounded by bikini clad bodies, the computer screen, or the sight of your own body.

Internal triggers are those that occur inside your own head or body. This might include the slide show that spontaneously turns on in your head of the images you saw, heard described, or even imagine might have occurred. Normal range variations in your own physiology may also trigger a cascade of thoughts or feelings following discovery of your mate’s sex addiction. For example, elevations in your pulse, blood pressure and respiration or movement in your guts that may occur for a variety of reasons may now be paired with betrayal reminders and signal the onset of the emotional rollercoaster.

See Dealing with Betrayal Trauma Triggers for additional information.


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.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, does not create a client-therapist relationship, and is not a substitute for care by a trained professional. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors, omissions, losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

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1 thought on “Understanding Betrayal Trauma: Trauma Triggers for Partners of Sex Addicts

  1. I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to achieve my goals. I absolutely liked reading everything that is posted on your site.Keep the tips coming. I enjoyed it!

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