In this 3rd part of the series for the partners of sex addicts, we’ll address some of the forms of trauma that many of our clients who are partners of sex addicts experience. Realize that not all of these forms of trauma apply to everyone. Our clients usually report more than one form of trauma – they often don’t realize they’ve been traumatized until they talk it out with one of our therapists. Then, once realization occurs, we can begin the healing process.
One of the first traumas that occurs for partners is “gender-based trauma.” Think of gender-based trauma as all those feelings and thoughts you have that go something like, “What’s wrong with me that he/she needed (pornography, that other person, etc.)?” Gender-based trauma has a strong feeling of “I’m not woman enough, man enough, pretty enough, attractive enough, too big, too small, not an ideal body size or shape, not sexy enough, not sexual enough, not enough.”
If you’re struggling with gender-based trauma, know that your partner has a sexual addiction and that you are not the cause of their behavior – even if they tell you it’s your fault, it’s not. His or her behaviors are not because of anything about you.
That said, it is often very difficult for a partner of a sex addict to “not take it personally.” After all, this is not about alcohol or drugs, this is about intimacy and the sex addict’s decision to choose someone or something else over you.
Another of the traumas we often see is social / isolation. When you discovered your partner’s sex addiction you may have felt trapped. Who can you tell? What will they say? You might feel shame about what your partner did or feel blame. No one will understand. These thoughts and feelings can lead you to pull back from friends and family. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about it and just don’t feel like you can function. With friends, family, at work, with neighbors, maybe even with your children all you want to do is withdraw.
We often see clients who are partners of sex addicts question their entire lives. Was my marriage one big joke? Did he or she ever really care about me? Why is this happening to me, to us, to our children? How does God let this happen? Is this happening to me because I’m not a good enough person?
If you’re asking these big, existential questions, my only advice is try to stop. These questions don’t have answers, at least not at this stage of your recovery. The emotions you’re feeling are real and they are part of your trauma. But you have to try to not let them rule your life.
The last trauma item we’ll discuss in this part of the series is hypervigilance. Partners of sex addicts often tell us after the discovery of the addiction they can’t relax, they can’t sleep and they can’t turn off their minds. They have hundreds of questions – they want to know the details but they don’t want to know. They can’t stop thinking about what is happening but they don’t want to think about it. Hypervigilance leads to feeling tired, wore out, wrung out, irritable, anxious, angry and unable to engage with life and function normally.
Realize if you’re experiencing any of the forms of trauma we’ve discussed here, it’s normal. It’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s normal. You are going through the trauma of discovering your partner’s sex addiction. Turn to a therapist, a support group like COSA or Al-Anon, a close and trusted friend (make sure the person is safe) and begin the process of healing.
Things will get better. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.