With the New Year fast approaching, I want to invite you to step into 2017 a little lighter — in your heart and soul.
It’s a simple fact that in the first one to two years post-discovery or disclosure, partners of sex addicts carry a number of burdens:
- The pain of betrayal.
- The need to keep significant personal and relationship information private.
- Isolation created by the stigma and misunderstanding of sex addiction.
- Post-traumatic stress responses such as hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and frequent triggers.
- Shame related to being in a relationship impacted by sex addiction.
- Other consequences of addiction including addressing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, financial concerns, and challenges to maintaining daily family and career commitments.
With all that you’re dealing with, it’s important to let go of anything that makes you feel worse or gets in the way of your healing and growth.
Here are 5 things I invite you to release as you step into the New Year — and into a life of greater clarity, power, and connection:
Self-doubt is a “lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities.” Self-doubt has no productive purpose. Even when the odds seem against you, self-doubt is a self-defeating mindset that at best will discourage you — at worst, will freeze you in your tracks.
You may doubt that you’re being “reasonable” when you want, or ask, for more in your relationship. You may doubt that you have a right to a more fulfilling life. You may doubt that you are worthy enough for another person — the addict — to show up, be accountable, and earn your trust and respect.
These are toxic thoughts. Let them go.
When you feel self-doubt creeping in, redirect your thoughts, get up and go for a walk, turn on some music or an inspirational message — anything that will interrupt the toxic, negative thought habit of self-doubt.
Sadly, feeling less than or not good enough is common for partners of sex addicts. Sexual betrayal is a profound and deep wound that leaves permanent scars on a partner’s heart.
Of course, it’s only human to wonder why the addict acted out with porn or with another person rather than being sexual with you. But the truth is that the addict’s choices are 100% about him (or her) and 0% about you. This can’t be repeated often enough.
There is nothing you could have done — or not done —that would have prevented the addict from acting out. There is nothing you could have said — or refrained from saying — that would have changed his behavior.
As you move forward on your healing path, you may question your worthiness when the addict doesn’t choose sobriety or recovery, or says no to your requests for transparency, accountability, and other acts of contrition.
See these as reflections on the addict— rather than on you. He is telling you who he is and his level of commitment to creating a better life and a restored relationship. With this information, you can make decisions for your self-care and your future.
You are perfect just as you are. Any voice that tells you otherwise is not your friend — banish it.
The Addict’s Shame
It’s completely understandable to feel shame about being in a relationship impacted by sex addiction. However, you need to be clear about whether or not the shame you’re feeling belongs to you or the addict. Identify where responsibility lies, and let go of any shame you’re carrying that doesn’t belong to you. It’s toxic—and it will make you sick.
This is such an important topic I’ve written an entire article about it. Read Give Back the Shame here.
Believing Your Requests are Unreasonable
The only time I ever tell a partner that she’s “asking too much” is when she’s locked in a pattern of using control and surveillance — rather than collaborate transparency — to gain a sense of safety.
Generally speaking, you can ask for anything because the person you make a request of has the right to say yes, no, or to negotiate an alternative agreement.
Unfortunately, I often hear stories of partners who ask for a formal therapeutic disclosure with polygraph, for example, but get the message — verbally or non-verbally — that her request is unreasonable. She may also be directly or indirectly discouraged from doing stronger boundary work with the addict. Sadly, this pushback can come from the addict or an individual or couples’ therapist.
If you feel tentative about, or struggle to own your right to make requests read my article A Partner’s Bill of Rights.
Distraction (From Your Dreams)
Addiction can completely derail you from the course you had charted for yourself, your plans, and your dreams. Don’t let that happen.
While it’s completely to be expected that most of your energy in the first year post-discovery will be spent on self-care, working through trauma, and re-orienting to your new reality, at some point you must re-focus on what brings you joy and what you are meant to do with your life — independent of your relationship.
If you’ve gotten distracted from your dreams, or are preoccupied with the addict to the extent that you’ve lost your center, make a commitment to limit the amount of time spent focused on addiction or the addict. Spend some time getting reacquainted with what lights you up, what you feel passionate about, and what makes you want to get up in the morning.
Before the end of the year, spend some time writing down any self-doubts, thoughts of inadequacy, un-earned shame, thoughts that you don’t have a right to get your needs met or make requests, and any distractions from your dreams. Put all of these in a God box, burn them, or use any other ritual that symbolizes that you have released them and are ready to let them go.
See you next year!*
*Want to work with me in the New Year to learn how to practice healthy, effective boundaries? My online course Moving Beyond Betrayal Partner’s Boundaries Online Course starts July 13. For more information, visit here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.