We all know the devastation that a tornado can cause–everything in its path is either damaged or destroyed.
Sex addiction has the power to damage or destroy, not cars, trees, or buildings, but the emotional and spiritual well-being of all those caught up in the maelstrom of this disorder. The addict, consumed by uncontrollable urges, is also consumed by feelings of shame, anxiety, self-loathing, and despair. As a tornado cuts a wide swath of destruction, so does sex addiction. The damage is virtually never confined to the addict alone, inevitably the partner suffers greatly.
Often the spouse is unaware there is a problem, either because the addict has been so skilled at deception or the spouse has minimized his or her suspicions in order to keep the peace and hold together an idealized image of the marriage and family. Specific “red flag” behaviors can be intentionally overlooked. When the addict’s secret life is discovered there is numbness at first. As more details are discovered numbness gives way to shock, with depression and rage close behind. There are occasions when the partner chooses to ask nothing about the sex addiction in order to spare herself increased pain. However, more often the partner becomes obsessed with the need to know everything and will ask the addict to recount even minute details of the acting-out behavior. In addition, an exhaustive search of emails, phone records, receipts often ensues.
There is usually a period of prolonged grief over the massive losses that the partner has suffered. Loss of trust, emotional safety, marital stability, spiritual solace, sexual comfort–all are felt on a profound and deep level. Along with grief there is much ambivalence about the relationship, whether to stay or leave, to begin the process of forgiveness or hold on to resentment indefinitely. This is a crucial time of introspection and focus on the self. The spouse’s relationship to God during this time can feel ambiguous and tentative. Job-like questions may irrupt: “Why did God allow this to happen?,” “Can I still trust Him after this?,” “Does God truly expect me to forgive my spouse?”
Is hope and healing possible? The answer is “yes” . While not all marriages survive the disclosure of a sex addiction, a significant number not only survive, but eventually thrive. It takes a great deal of hard work on the part of both addict and partner, but in many instances marriages have actually become healthier and more emotionally intimate than the couple ever thought possible. In addition, the couple’s relationship to God becomes stronger and deeper.
It is vital for the partner to recognize the need for support and help. A counselor who specializes in working with sex addicts and their spouses will be an invaluable resource. The therapist can assist the partner to process the myriad of feelings and thoughts which flood the person after discovery. Research has found that spouses often experience PTSD-like symptoms when full disclosure of the addict’s behaviors occurs. A partner experiencing these symptoms needs the care and compassion of a trained clinician to provide support and guidance toward recovery. In addition, a support group should be an essential part of the healing journey, whether a faith-based group such as Celebrate Recovery or a traditional 12 Step group for partners, like S-Anon. Couple therapy would also be needed to work toward relational healing.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, devastated marriages can be renewed and revitalized with much hard work and faith in God. There is hope for marriages and spouses torn apart by sex addiction. The beautiful description of marital union in Genesis, that “the two shall be one flesh,” can be realized through hope and healing.