Being in a relationship with a person with sex, love or pornography addiction is different than being a partner of a substance abuser. For people, whose partner has cheated on them or has “acted out” with something do with sex, it feels personal. It is betrayal. It impacts every area of their lives. It impacts the way they see themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They become isolated because they are too ashamed to tell anyone.
For many years, clinicians treating partners of sexual compulsivity, sex, pornography, and love addiction used the same codependency model that was developed for families of alcoholics.
After years of research, the leaders in the field of sex addiction realized that this was wrong and caused many partners to feel blamed, criticized and alone. This treatment did not feel right to these betrayed partners and in fact, at times it made things worse. Treatment and therapy caused more pain, which made the process of therapy painful, destructive and made many partners feel betrayed again by the therapeutic process. Many partners dropped out of therapy, never to return because of this. Partners of people who act out sexually do not pour out alcohol or call in sick for their partners like some partners of alcoholics. They are not participating in the addiction. Most often, they did not even know about it until that horrible “discovery day” when their lives blew up. This is not an issue of codependency but instead is betrayal trauma.
Research over the past decade has shown these betrayed partners of sexual compulsivity, pornography, love, and sex addiction experience symptoms consistent with the diagnostic criteria of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder complete with being physically hurt during sex, made to have sex with their partner, being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, having the feeling of being violated by their partner’s sexual behaviors, being pressured to participated in sexual acts that are outside of their own values and morals, having recurrent, intrusive or involuntary memories, having negative alternation in cognitions and mood that began or worsened after the traumatic event and experiencing trauma-related alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the traumatic event (International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals, 2020). Research also shows that these individuals experience trauma from being blamed and by having their reality denied or “gas-lit” (International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals, 2020).
Individual therapy for betrayed partners starts with a thorough assessment. This is done through diagnostic testing and interviewing. Once the assessment is completed then a customized treatment plan is created to address the betrayal trauma first. Therapy may be in the form of individual therapy, group therapy for betrayed partners of sex, pornography, and love addiction and 12 step meetings if that is something, they are interested in. Sometimes, these partners are so dysregulated because of being up all night reliving the horror in their minds that they need to be referred to a workshop or an Intensive Outpatient Program for betrayed partners in order to receive a higher level of care. These programs are out of state and range from a one-week workshop to a two-week Intensive Outpatient Program. Partners may also choose to go to a six-week residential inpatient program to address betrayal trauma as well.
Modalities in individual therapy to address this betrayal trauma include EMDR, talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, family systems therapy, existential therapy, motivational interviewing and a host of grounds and mindfulness tools to help clients self-regulate. There is a large focus on self-care. Often during the early phase of treatment, the partner needs to tell their story. They need to be heard. After all of the years of being blamed and gas lit, they need to be validated and believed.
Partners of sex, pornography and love addiction feel alone and isolated. They experience shame and pain because of their partners’ behaviors. They often feel shame for even contemplating on staying. They say, “what kind of person stays after being treated this way?” The decision to stay or go is extremely personal. It is not a committee vote. This is your relationship. This is your family. If your partner has an addiction, then it is a brain disorder, much like alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, or food addiction. The good news is that there is a treatment protocol for addiction. There is hope for recovery. If you decide to stay, you are staying because your partner has a medical condition that can be treated. There is no shame in that. If you decide to leave, there is no shame in leaving someone who has sexually betrayed you. Make the decision that is best for you and your family. And, if in doubt, stay until you know it is time to go. It is our experience that partners know when that time is. You will know if you need to leave.
If you are going to leave, why should you get therapy? Unfortunately, betrayal trauma has already happened. You will be impacted whether you decide to stay or go. Therapy in these early months is very important in order to process the pain, hurt, fear, shame, anger, and trauma in order to heal and have a healthy future.
During individual and group therapy, we use books, workbooks, and other resources from many sources including Dr. Stephanie Carnes, Dr. Claudia Black, Dr. Sheri Keffer, Pia Mellody, Vicki Tidwell Palmer, Dr. Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means, Dr. Laura Parnell, Dr. Kevin Skinner, among others.
After the betrayal trauma is addressed and full functioning returns, we shift our focus and take a look at the person’s history to see if there is another trauma or earlier experiences that may be exacerbating the current trauma. For some people who may have been raised in dysfunctional families or families with addiction, there may be codependency, unrelated to the sexual betrayal trauma. If that is the case, we explore family of origin, codependency and other issues.
As therapy continues, the work will shift to finding your voice, becoming empowered, and learning how to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.
If you have experienced trauma being in a relationship or marriage to a partner with sex and pornography addiction, or experienced infidelity, we can guide you through a process of understanding, growing, learning, feeling, and empowering you to feel whole again.
We also offer Group Therapy Sessions for those experiencing betrayal or infidelity with their partner or spouse.
Our offices are located in Seattle and Kirkland Washington and we are currently offering both individual and group therapy and counseling sessions online.
Fourth Dimension Counseling and Coaching has offices in Seattle, Kirkland and Tacoma. We provide remote video conferencing counseling, therapy and coaching throughout Washington State, Alaska and Hawaii.
We provide counseling and coaching services to clients throughout Western Washington including Puget Sound including Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville, Bothell, Sammamish, Issaquah, Renton, Maple Valley, Kent, Tacoma, Olympia, Gig Harbor and Covington.
At Fourth Dimension Counseling and Coaching we provide a variety of counseling and coaching options including individual and group therapy and counseling for both men and women as well as couples counseling and coaching services for sex & pornography addiction, love addiction, betrayed partners and betrayal trauma, emotional abuse recovery, relationship and intimacy counseling and coaching, codependency, substance abuse, self esteem or boundary issues, depression, anxiety, stress & couples counseling