"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." – William Arthur Ward
The marriage impacted by sex addiction is in turmoil for quite some time post-discovery of the addiction. The betrayal of sex addiction is like no other. The marriage impacted by addiction is filled with resentment, bitterness, and reactivity. The addict holds resentment, and even perhaps used those resentments, to fuel the acting-out in the addiction cycle. In beginning recovery, the partner holds resentments and often feels justified to emotionally brow-beat their sex-addicted partners with reminders of how horrible their actions were. There is fear their hurts will remain unacknowledged.
In recovery, there are many paradoxes. Part of recovery includes the process of gratitude. John Gottman, a prolific researcher of relationship dynamics, notes marriages have certain tolerance limits in the ratio of positive to negative strokes that a marriage can endure. The climate of a marriage is created by these positive strokes and negative strokes, e.g. criticisms and compliments. Twelve-step programs advocate a process of amends and affirmations. I talk with couples about how they unknowingly place bricks on the emotional wall of hurt between them. Bricks become placed, and walls built, by criticisms aimed at their partner. Similarly, those bricks can be removed by amends of apology or affirming the spouse.
When a marriage is in the darkest hours of sex addiction impact, the risk is to stay protected and walled-off. I am asked in the treatment room by addict and spouse alike “how should I act towards my spouse during this difficult time?” Expressions of gratitude in early stages of marital repair, are very difficult. Expressing gratitude is not forgiveness nor is it absolution of behaviors. Feelings need to be expressed.
Those bricks which keep emotional distance active need to be replaced. I advocate boundaries to build appropriate walls of emotional safety instead. Gratitude is one tool of many needed in the recovery tool belt to address the systemic dynamics of addiction. Gratitude is a tool that can serve to keep a couple engaged and help facilitate healing and growth in the marriage. Expressions of gratitude have the potential to shift the healing process from a vision of fault-finding to a vision of healing. Focus on gratitude leaves less focus for resentment. This focus has the potential to make three gifts. Gratitude is a gift that happens in one’s heart first by letting go of resentments, and when expressed, is a gift to their spouse. This ultimately is a gift to the relationship.