A wise and thoughtful betrayed partner once asked me:
What are the most important things betrayed partners need to do to heal?
What a great question.
Surviving and eventually thriving (yes, it is absolutely possible!) after chronic sexual betrayal is a complicated and harrowing journey. There are no simple, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answers for every partner. However, there are specific actions you can take, tools you can learn, and capabilities you can cultivate that will support—and even speed up—your healing process.
Having working with betrayed partners for more than a decade, I have identified five essential actions and skills that every betrayed partner must incorporate and build into their healing and recovery plan—the Survive & Thrive Blueprint:
- Specialized Information
- Individualized Support & Guidance
- Community of Support
In the early days post-discovery or disclosure, you will probably find that focusing on you and your own self-care is extremely difficult. Because your reality has been severely damaged by deception and the impact of betrayal trauma, it’s easy to become preoccupied with focusing on your spouse—especially his past or current behaviors.
As understandable as it is for you to want to create safety by understanding the past and protecting yourself in the present, you will feel better, faster, when you focus on taking care of you.
In my article, Self-Care: Your Foundation for Healing, I discuss why it’s so important for you to practice good self-care—especially in the first 12-18 months post-discovery and/or disclosure—and how to do it.
When you practice good self-care, you will gain clarity and have more energy for navigating your healing journey.
One of the best things you can do as a betrayed partner is to arm yourself with expert information about sex addiction, and being a survivor of betrayal trauma.
Sadly, many partners suffer or experience unnecessary delays in their healing simply because they didn’t have good information about addiction, betrayal trauma, or the couples’ trust-building process. It’s not your fault—this information is not readily available or widely known, even among therapists.
I encourage you to approach your situation the same way you would if you received a medical diagnosis you didn’t know anything about. You would study it, find experts in that field to learn from or consult with, or connect with other people impacted by the same diagnosis, for example.
On the Resources page of my site, you can find a list of helpful books, websites, and other resources.
Individualized Support & Guidance
In addition to information and knowledge, every betrayed partner and every couple impacted by chronic infidelity or sex addiction has a unique history and a specific set of concerns and needs.
I urge you to find a therapist or coach who can give you feedback and guidance based on specialized knowledge and training. Look for therapists and coaches who have specialized training in sex addiction and working with partners of sex addicts. The International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals (IITAP), the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), and the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) are good places to start.
Community of Support
Because of the extreme isolation experienced by betrayed partners and the stigma and shame that surrounds sexual betrayal and addiction, it is crucial for you to find ways to connect with others traveling the same courageous journey. The benefits of connecting are many.
Partners often get an immediate sense of relief just by being in the presence—in person or virtually—of others on the same path. Knowing that you’re not alone, and having your reality and emotions heard and validated are just a few of the priceless benefits of connecting with a community of support.
Thanks to technology, partners today have many more resources than they did even 5 years ago. Options for community include face-to-face or virtual partner groups, 12-step fellowships, online courses, and online communities.
Last—but by no means least on the essentials list—are boundaries.
I made boundaries the last of the five essentials because most betrayed partners need at least a beginning foundation in the first four essentials before they can engage in effective boundary work.
For example, without self-care it can be difficult to have the clarity necessary to identify what boundaries need to be established, or how to set them. And without good information about sex addiction recovery, it’s nearly impossible to know what kinds of requests you may want to make of your spouse for trust-building behaviors—requests that are standard (and reasonable) for restoring relationships impacted by chronic betrayal.
Boundary work is powerful and liberating. Boundaries create safety, give you clarity, improve all your relationships, and help you determine whether your relationship with your spouse is salvageable.
Want to learn more about the 5 essentials for healing?
Get Survive & Thrive Blueprint Mini-Course here
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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Christene Lozano, LMFT CSAT says
Great point regarding effective boundary work coming after the first four actions/skills. I will be sharing this with my therapy clients. Thank you for this helpful blueprint, Vicki!
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Thanks Christene! I encourage partners to learn boundaries from the very beginning, but they do need a foundation of self-care and information in order to take their boundary work to the level required to successfully navigate their journey.