In this multi-part series for the partners of sex addicts we’ve taken a look at the traumas that often accompany the discovery of your partner’s sex addiction and during the early stages of recovery. In this post we’ll outline some suggestions for keeping yourself safe during these days of early recovery.
First a few words about boundaries. You have the right to ask for what you want, to be healthier than those around you, and to say no to requests someone makes of you that you can not or choose not to honor. These are rights that we all have. Realizing these rights and allowing yourself to honor your rights will help when setting and honoring your boundaries.
When we work with partners we like to create a “contract” of sorts between the partner and the sexual addict – formal boundaries and non-negotiables. The purpose of this contract is for the partner’s safety – emotional safety and physical safety.
Start building your boundaries by considering situations in which you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, angry, hurt or in other ways threatened. As you think about these situations, come up with your wants and needs to remove these uncomfortable feelings. For example – Many wives who find out their husbands have had extra-marital affairs or have been with prostitutes will initially feel a need to be increasingly sexual to “win him back.” But this strategy often leaves the parter feeling cheap or cheated or hollow. Instead, we work with our clients to determine what they need in these situations to feel safe. Partners may want the sex addict to stay away from home at night. They may want the sex addict to sleep in a different room, to agree to no sexual contact for a given period of time (30 days then reconsider), no hugs or kissing, or they may want the addict to ask for permission before hugging, touching or moving physically towards them. None of these is “the best way” to set the boundary – it all depends on what you need to feel safe.
Other boundaries might include things like: nightly time to check in, the addict staying in treatment and sharing their treatment plan, both parties working toward disclosure, not discussing the addiction or betrayals after a certain time (9:00pm, for example) so that the partner has a chance at sleep, an agreement to cut ties to any acting out partners, installation of “parental control” software on all computers and phones, etc.
Realize that these boundaries are not meant to be punitive to the sex addict, but are meant to allow the partner some relief in an otherwise extremely difficult and stressful time.
We highly recommend that partners seek professional treatment for the trauma they’re experiencing due to their partner’s sexual addiction, including building your boundaries and negotiating them with your partner. Also, seek support through COSA, Al-Anon, a trained therapist, or a trusted friend / confidant. (Be careful here, some people seem trustworthy, only to find out after you’ve shared your story that they were not safe.)