Trust After Sexual Addiction?
Trust After Sexual Addiction?
Can you re-established trust after Sexual Addiction? What are the steps that are necessary for optimal healing?
In a meeting with a pastor from my church and Mark Laaser (a pastoral counselor and expert on sexual addiction), my Pastoral friend asked this same question of Mark Laaser. “Mark, Can a marriage that struggles with on-going sexual behaviors outside of marriage re-establish trust.”
His answer was absolutely!
For many, the aftermath of getting ‘busted’ by their spouse for having a sexual addiction can eventually serve to get their marriage to a better spot than it has ever been. The years of putting on a mask, hiding secrets, and isolating have been replaced with a new personal, relational, and emotional honesty that help to build a stronger marriage bond then they ever had.
However, this new place of personal, relational, and emotional honesty does not come easy. It will take time to get there and it will be a growing process. I often tell men getting in a group for sexual addiction to expect this to be multiple year process. As I say that, I can sense the wives cringing at the idea of this taking multiple years. However, the process will not be all bad times. This process will be a period of relational growth for both the wife and the husband if they are willing to walk through this process together.
So if you think about re-establishing trust, what are the steps necessary for optimal healing?
3 Spheres of Healing
For the husband it will be necessary to get into a safe group of men that are on a recovery journey together. This must be a non-negotiable for the recovery process. If you consider how much time a sex addict has spent pursuing porn, chat rooms, and other offline or online behaviors this will probably be a small investment of time in comparison,
Also, the church language is ‘get into an accountability group.’ For many men, like me, the church accountability as it is defined in the church today won’t work. It is too easy to lie, hide, and isolate in a group like that.
During the season of recovery, it is necessary to attend a group that is using dedicated material on sexual addiction AND has a leader that allows a safe environment to process thoughts and feelings at a deeper level. This will allow the men to take ownership of some of the thoughts and feelings that drive behaviors as opposed to just ‘fixing’ a behavior without processing the underlying ‘why’ of those behaviors.
For the wife of a sex addict, it is important to understand that what she is processing in the betrayal can be considered relational trauma. Like the man, it will be necessary to get into a safe group of women that can process the thoughts and feelings of the betrayal. In the twin cities, I have several groups I recommend. One of the three websites at the end of this blog can be used to as places to contact to find a group like this.
As the wife attends a group like this make sure she understands that this group is about her healing journey and not figuring out methods of controlling or containing her husband. This is about her getting to a healthy relational and emotional place and understanding sexual addiction from the betrayed spouse perspective. Remember, the only person you can change and grow is you. Your husband will need to be responsible for his own change and growth.
Our Marriage Healing
The third sphere of healing is our marriage. This is the most often missed sphere of healing. Quite often a wife believes the husband has a problem that must be fixed and once he gets fixed everything will be better. She is neither willing to get into group of her own nor to engage in the marriage healing process as a couple. She thinks he has a problem and he has to fix it.
One of the major areas of emphasis of a group in all 3 spheres is the ability of the facilitator to allow story telling. It is in the telling of your story that an individual starts to overcome shame. Shame is a paralyzing emotion that allows the marriage to not move forward. The shame will be in all three spheres: his shame, her shame, and couple shame. One of the turning points in your recovery process will be when you no longer tell just his story, or her story, but the moment in time when you start telling “our” together story.
It is also in this group that will start to become aware of thoughts and feelings that drive behaviors. You will start understand the “why” of addiction and your relationship battles.
Be Honest About Behaviors!
To re-establish trust, establishing multiple points of demonstrating honesty in the relationship is crucial. For many this will mean going through a full disclosure process of the sexual addiction. I encourage this to done ONLY with a counselor that specializes in sexual addiction disclosure processes and not doing this yourself.
Also, on-going honesty will be a must. For the husband, being honest about the smaller things in life (things outside of addiction) is important. The wife will believe if you’re willing to lie about the small things then you will also lie about the bigger things.
Make It Safe
I have a saying in the groups I lead that I state frequently:
Safety + Being Heard and Understood = Building Blocks of Intimacy
The husband must remember that the spouse is processing a form of trauma from the sexual betrayal. It will be important to validate and have empathy for the spouse’s pain. As a matter fact, how safe you make it for your wife to share her thoughts and feelings will be proportional to how quickly she can recover.
Over the years, I have coached men in the idea of safety and being heard and understood. It amazes me how often a man has about one paragraph of safety and being heard and understood for their wife before they start a paragraph with “yeah, but …” The yeah buts will have to be put down as your wife processes the pain of your addiction.
The other way a husband short cuts the wife’s healing is reassuring the wife too quickly about the actions you are going to take before she feels fully heard and understood. This is a way of turning it around on you before the wife is done processing her pain. Don’t turn it around on you too quickly: Let the wife be fully heard and understood using the Connected Marriage empathic communication process. Only after the wife feels heard and understood, should you discuss what actions you are going to take as a couple team.
Be Emotionally Honest
Emotional honesty will become a turning point. Being honest about behaviors might be hard, but being honest about emotions will be harder.
I had a guy in my group one time whose wife was mad because he watched a certain show that a man with a sexual addiction should not be watching. After the check in, I asked about the feelings associated with the behavior and asked him how long he was struggling with loneliness and feelings of rejection. Most often, before we have done any negative behavior, we have been lying about and hiding our emotions.
When a guy starts getting honest about his emotions he is taking a big risk relationally… and quite often the betrayed wife will make it unsafe to share emotions.
When I finally shared my emotions with my wife she felt responsible for all the emotions and felt like I had no right to have those feelings because of my betrayal. The first time I shared my feelings in the process of becoming emotionally honest it ended in a disaster.
However, over time, we continued to discuss those feelings and the thoughts behind those feelings. We learned to communication in ways that made it emotionally safe for each other to share thoughts and feelings, I will have to say that taking that risk to share feelings and make it safe to share those feelings might have been the largest part of the healing journey in my marriage.
At first, as I began to become emotionally honest with my wife she would often say, “I think your manipulating the situation just to look good.” I felt like the puppy being scolded that pees on the floor when the owner is mad at it. When my wife would say this to me, I made emotional pee-pee on the floor. I retreated to the other room feeling worthless and inadequate. However, after taking another risk, I told her I am not manipulating the situation but rather this is how I truly felt and thought. I stood my ground in an attempt to continue sharing my true feelings and the things I had started to become aware of in my men’s group.
This honest moment by me allowed my wife to join me in an emotionally honest place. I also want to say that it took me a long time of working on my stuff before I shared this with my wife. I was becoming aware of some of the feelings driving my behaviors. I also was able to share with my wife without getting angry while validating and having empathy for her feelings as I was sharing mine.
Find a Safe People that are Advocates for the Marriage
Often in sexual betrayal, people take sides and offer advice that is not conducive to healing the marriage. It is crucial to find marriage advocates and not just him or her advocates. This is especially true of family members and close friends that may know of the addiction or sexual betrayal. It will be important to find a safe container of people that are marriage advocates as you work on the Marriage healing and rebuilding process.
Be Aware that Sexual Addiction Is Different
I actually don’t like the term addiction for sexual addiction. If our goal is sobriety we will miss the mark on sexual addiction and quite often end up back where we started after a season of white knuckling it to stay sober.
Sexual addiction is more of an intimacy or attachment disorder. The opposite of sexual addiction is not sobriety — it is connection: connection in marriage, family, and all close-in relationships. The sex addict will be learning how to pursue relationships in godly, legitimate ways and not ungodly, illegitimate ways as he works through the process of recovery. As a matter of fact scripture is clear in that we grow and change as we work our faith out in relationship with others (James 1, James 2).
Men struggling with sexual addiction are often the most loving men. That’s one of the reasons I encourage couples to stay together. As they are working on the process of recovery they are learning to love others more deeply and in ways Jesus loved others. They will be learning to turn the energies of their addiction away from porn and illegitimate, ungodly relationships and toward their marriage and godly, legitimate relationships.
Websites for more information:
I have been a volunteer for Connected Marriage for 8 years and leading men’s sexual purity group for over 10 years. My passion is to help shape safe communities for men, women, and couples to go deeper in their recovery process from sexual betrayal.
I am also passionate about facilitating and forming groups so people can grow in emotionally mature ways. My desire is also to train new leaders in what I call a True North way that recognize the two C’s of recovery: Christ and Community. Christ is our foundation. Being in healthy and safe community allows us to “practice” being the person God wants us to be. In a True North like group men get a safe environment to “practice” transparency and vulnerability so we can start taking what we do in our group to the priority relationships in our marriages and families!