Upset wife after learning truth from husband

Partners of Sex Addicts Face The Pain of Discovery

Written By: Gentle Path

By Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT
Former Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at The Meadows

Years ago, the subscriber list to a popular Canadian dating site that promoted marital affairs got leaked. The names and personal information of millions of people having affairs through The Ashley Madison Agency was made public. As headlines covered news of the hack, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was, What about the partners of the subscribers? Being betrayed by a spouse is bad enough, but to find out in this way and have your personal identity potentially made public as well — on top of the betrayal — sounds almost unbearable.

Uncovering Betrayal

Inside the rooms of Gentle Path at the Meadows, stories like these are far too common. Partners of sex addicts often tell us that the discovery of the betrayal is one of the most traumatizing aspects of dealing with a sexually addicted spouse. Specifically, the way they found out is what partners tend to say is the most painful.

The Ashley Madison leak serves as a good example of one particularly painful type of discovery. When something like this makes front-page news, the addict may decide to tell their partner what they’ve been up to out of fear. Some might think that this is a good thing; however, for most sex addicts the disclosure is just one small detail of their overall struggle. For the spouse of a sex addict, it can be a traumatic event.

After the initial shock of uncovering your partner’s actions, you may experience strong feelings of anger, bitterness, or even self-doubt. Some spouses may begin to micromanage their partner as a way of coping with discovery.

The trauma after discovery for you as the spouse or partner can include a range of emotions. After the initial shock of uncovering your partner’s actions, you may experience strong feelings of anger, bitterness, or even self-doubt. Some spouses may begin to micromanage their partner as a way of coping with discovery. For many however, the first discovery is only the beginning of the whole truth. 

The Cascade of Disclosures

Because sex addicts rarely come clean with the entire story at first, a cascade of disclosures often follows. So, as though the initial discovery of the betrayal were not painful enough, the partner may go on to learn more and more details as time goes on. Some partners become suspicious after the first discovery and very soon find out more. Other partners may go years without learning the full story. Either way, each time more details are disclosed, more betrayal, hurt, and pain is felt, and the partner is further traumatized. Meanwhile, the addict remains steeped in the shame and guilt that perpetuates their acting out. In the sex addiction treatment community, we refer to this as “staggered disclosure.” 

Understanding Staggered Disclosure

Staggered disclosure is when a sex addict tells bits and pieces of the truth over time throughout their active addiction rather than telling the whole truth at once when they are sober. This usually happens when they are questioned or get caught, and they share just enough information to escape the current conflict. While the addict may do this out of a desire to keep their partner from experiencing further pain, staggered disclosure is one of many sex addiction consequences that only makes the situation worse. 

For addicts, this pattern of trickling information often keeps them stuck in their guilt, shame, and addiction. While the truth remains hidden, the addict is unable to find a healthy path forward towards healing and long-term recovery. They may even continue to pursue their addiction because of their shame. In addition, the addict may outright lie or provide misleading information to their partner as part of their staggered disclosure, but this is often counterproductive, delaying the inevitability of the partner eventually finding out the whole truth. 

Already dealing with unwanted trauma after discovery, when partners of sex addicts do learn their offending partner lied to them through staggered disclosure, this causes further pain and may erode any prior progress made towards rebuilding trust after the initial discovery. The traumatized partner may question whether he or she can even trust their addicted partner moving forward. Consequently, this cycle of staggered disclosure keeps partners stuck in their anger, pain, and trauma, and it leaves both unable to begin healing.

Healing After Sex Addiction: Encouraging Open Communication

If your relationship has been damaged by sex addiction, you may feel like you’ll never be able to salvage it. However, many couples who are mutually willing to put in the work will discover long-term relationship recovery is actually possible. And it all starts with rebuilding trust between you and your partner.

One of the best ways to begin rebuilding trust together is establishing a mindset of regular open communication. This means creating space for each of you to share your current feelings and fears so that you can understand each other better and practice empathy for the other’s situation. Your addicted partner also needs to have the freedom to be accountable to you for their struggles, even transparently sharing when they have setbacks. Discussing these things openly can give you both ideas for how you can support each other better in the recovery process. 

By communicating regularly with each other, you’re also able to express and reaffirm your commitment to your long-term future together. So when further struggles arise, you can stay the course towards healing and ultimately forgiveness. With that said, establishing healthy, open communication often starts with seeking help for sex addiction together through professional therapy during this difficult time. 

A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Can Help 

During this process, partners often vacillate between wanting to know the truth, but not wanting to continue to be hurt over and over again either, or they are not always sure what to do.

If a partner thinks that they might be dealing with sex addiction, a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) should be one of their first stops for sex addiction support. 

For starters, the CSAT therapist can assess the situation and find out if what is being dealt with is actually sex addiction or not. If it is, then the therapist can be of huge support in walking the couple through a formal disclosure process. This involves a therapist (sometimes two) working with both the addict and their partner to determine what the extent of the addiction is, and the addict’s willingness to share it in an open and honest way. It also involves helping the partner cope with the initial discovery and any new information that may come out of the disclosure. In its later stages, it involves defining the meaning of the relationship and forgiveness moving forward.

It’s important to know that this process takes time, but our experience at Gentle Path at The Meadows shows that couples that choose this route typically save themselves a lot of additional pain during an already excruciating process. Although these are difficult and painful therapeutic issues, having a therapist who specializes in sex addiction to support both the addict and the partner through this is absolutely crucial. Soliciting help from a therapist will help minimize any further trauma for a partner. Resources are available, and partners do not have to face this alone. In the midst of some of the most gut-wrenching betrayal, partners should know that they deserve compassionate care and support.

Finding Support for Partners: Gentle Path at The Meadows Can Help

When you’re the partner or spouse of a sex addict, it can feel incredibly lonely and isolating. That’s why it’s key for you to find compassionate care and support to process your trauma after discovery and establish a clear path forward to lasting healing and relationship recovery. 

When you’re the partner or spouse of a sex addict, it can feel incredibly lonely and isolating. That’s why it’s key for you to find compassionate care and support to process your trauma after discovery.

At Gentle Path at The Meadows, our expert team can help both you and your partner navigate sex addiction through family-centered individual and group therapy. By working with us, your partner can address and overcome the underlying issues of their addiction, and you can get the support you need to achieve emotional health and rebuild trust. To learn more, contact us today

January 15th, 2024

Categories: sex addict sex addiction treatment

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