"To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say."
– Rene Descartes
The betrayal and discovery of sex addiction in a relationship is a betrayal like no other. As a CSAT, I sit with people who have felt that very unique betrayal. Sex addicts are great at hiding and living very compartmentalized lives. Rare is the sex addict that comes forward to proclaim that they have a problem and need to seek help or treatment. Once the addiction is discovered, there is a dynamic in the relationship that ensues. Trust is blown. The partner feels like the only way to be sure that offending behaviors are arrested is to keep tabs on the offending partner. In shock they feel if they had not discovered, or happened upon evidence of sorts, then they would have never known. Continuing to seek the evidence results in what is commonly referred to “pain shopping” in recovery circles. Pain shopping keeps one stirred up internally and as agitated or “crazy” as the addict is with their addiction. Pain shopping is a straight pipeline to enacting the codependency dynamic in the couple impacted by sex addiction.
I teach spouses and partners of sex addicts that one of their duties of recovery is to stop pain shopping for the addict’s behaviors and to focus on themselves. The fine tuning of their radar that starts from the inside out, rather than looking for the evidence on the outside, to inform within. If one thinks back really did they know something was amiss in their gut, but couldn’t put their finger on it? Often “No, you don’t understand I had NO IDEA this was going on” is the initial first answer. Upon working through the issues in a way that allows an autopsy of life in active addiction, spouses can begin to recognize there was chaos, tensions, unexplained agitations, that didn’t quite fit the situation. The addict threw out a smokescreen to get the partner off the trail of suspicion. Conflict was often high. They didn’t know WHAT was going on, but often they can now look back and see that the relationship was not right.
Once the addiction is discovered it is an opportunity for recovery. Addicts and partners of addicts MUST both enter into fixing their parts of the broken relationship. If the addict does start a strong program, one will begin to adopt a transparent lifestyle that results in much less chaos and conflict. Addicts will begin to act with humility rather than avoid relationships for fear of shame and being found out. They will be engaged in healthy endeavors that support their care like 12-step groups, therapy, and be accountable to others in their recovery circle.
I advocate betrayed partners begin to use that information gleaned. I teach partners what recovery truly looks like, for the addict as well as themselves. I teach betrayed partners to look for those things that give information and wisdom without pain shopping. Pain shopping results in a parent-child marital dynamic. A parent-child dynamic does not work for any marital relationship and is particularly problematic to the relationship impacted by sex addiction.
A person in recovery acts with humility and kindness. The addict and the partner in recovery take responsibility for how they contribute to the chaos. Not only do they apologize or acknowledge mistakes, but they DO things differently to not continue the same mistakes. I teach the offended partner to sit with their gut. Their gut, their body, their sense of impression knows even if they don’t have the hard evidence. This gives new meaning to “actions speak louder than words”.