In my post owning your reality I talked about the step-by-step process of identifying and owning your reality. Your reality at any given moment is what you’re experiencing with your senses (including your own behaviors), what you think about what you’ve experienced, and the emotions you’re feeling.
Why is this important?
When a situation or relationship isn’t working and you’re unhappy about it, there is likely a need or needs that aren’t being met.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow created a theory of human needs called the Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, the most basic human needs are physiological (food, shelter and sleep, for example), while the highest human needs are for self-actualization or the realization of our highest potential. In between these two categories are needs for safety, love or belonging, and esteem.
Once our basic physiological needs are met, we begin focusing on other, higher-order and relational needs such as:
As you read this list, notice how many of these needs are either in serious jeopardy or are outright casualties in relationships where active addiction is present.
In order to be in an intimate relationship with another person, most of us require safety, honesty and connection.
In getting needs met it’s helpful to begin with those over which you have control. I can’t emphasize this enough. You must begin to focus on that over which you have control. Partners sometimes spend inordinate amounts of energy and time attempting to get the addict to change his behavior or thought patterns. As understandable as it is, it’s an impossible task. The only person we have control over is us – and sometimes we don’t even have control over ourselves!
For example, if your partner has acted out sexually with other people and has potentially exposed you to a sexually transmitted infection, you have a need for safety that’s not being met. What can you do to protect yourself? First, you need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Partners sometimes ask “why should I have to get tested? He’s the one that had unprotected sex. He should have to do it, not me.”
It’s true that he’s responsible for his behavior and his health, but no one except you is responsible for your health and well-being. It’s also true that you don’t “have to” get tested. You can choose not to get tested. Like all choices, this choice has consequences ranging from living with the uncertainty of knowing your health status, to having an untreated and potentially life-threatening illness. It is fundamentally unsafe and simply illogical for you to rely on another person to verify and take care of your physical health.
Another response to the possibility of having been exposed to an STI is to choose to temporarily stop having sexual contact with your partner or to practice safe sex if you choose to be sexual.
Working with partners over the years I’ve found that the greatest need they have is for honesty.
As difficult as it is for sex addicts to believe, most partners can deal with almost any sexual acting out behavior but they can’t tolerate dishonesty. Honesty is the foundation of all intimate relationships, yet it’s invariably a casualty in relationships where addiction is present.
There is a temporary period of time when partners must tolerate the intolerable if they want to find out whether their relationship is salvageable. What does it mean to tolerate the intolerable? Chronic deception in a relationship is intolerable AND if you’ve chosen to stay in the relationship, you will experience the painful uncertainty of not knowing if your partner is being honest. There is no way around this part of the process and it can be extremely trying. This period can last for some time – at least as long as it takes to receive a full disclosure, possibly verified by a polygraph exam.
How does the partner of a sex addict get her needs for honesty met during this transition from secrecy to transparency?
The first step is to discover what you need in order to rebuild trust in the addict’s word.
This step usually includes a variety of actions that demonstrate transparency and accountability on the addict’s part. In the beginning, you will need to rely more on your own perceptions and reality and less on the addict’s words and promises. However, you can start noticing right now whether his words and actions match. Saying one thing and doing another damages the trust rebuilding process.
If you’ve done the written work outlined in my reality blog post, you can begin identifying your needs by looking at the list and asking what needs currently aren’t being met in your life or in your relationship. For a detailed list of needs, visit the Nonviolent Communication website here.
Once you’ve identified the needs that aren’t being met, ask yourself:
- What options are available to me in getting this need met?
- What actions are in my control to get the need met?
- If getting this need met is out of my control, what do I need to do to accept my powerlessness and protect myself, if protection is needed?
- Do I need any support or guidance to help me figure out how to get this need met?
I encourage you to get support and feedback about your list of needs and how they can be met. In crisis we tend to get tunnel vision and have difficulty generating a list of possibilities to choose from. By identifying your needs, generating possible solutions and taking action, you will begin to experience more empowerment, clarity and serenity.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2014)