If you’ve just discovered either by accident or through disclosure that your partner is a sex addict, you may be wondering why I would say that self-care is your foundation for healing.
In the early stages of discovery and disclosure, your world has been turned upside down and in many ways shattered. Your brain is trying to assimilate, organize and comprehend all of the incoming data that doesn’t correspond with the way you saw your life, your relationship or your family pre-discovery.
You may be spending much of your day asking your sex addict partner for information and details about his acting out. You may spend large amounts of time engaged in some form of detective work—combing through credit card or bank statements, phone records, or email accounts. You may have even taken it a step further and installed keystroke logger software on a computer or phone, or a GPS tracker on your partner’s vehicle.
It is completely understandable for you to use a variety of means to seek safety through gathering information that has been systematically and deceptively withheld from you.
If your sex addict partner seeks professional help from someone knowledgable about sex addiction treatment and recovery, he will be given the tools and guidance to prepare a formal disclosure to give you all of the information you want and deserve. Post-disclosure polygraph has become common in sex addiction treatment and this is an option you may request. I will talk more about disclosure and polygraph in future posts, but in the meantime let’s focus on how you can practice self-care during this difficult time.
PIES self-care for partners post-discovery:
P – Physical
I – Intellectual
E – Emotional
S – Spiritual
STI Testing – Even if you don’t believe your partner has had sexual contact with another person, you need to be tested for sexually transmitted infections/disease. Some partners tell me that they don’t see why they should be tested either because the sex addict has already been tested or they don’t believe they should have to go through the embarrassment of a visit to the family physician since they didn’t do anything wrong. The reality is that regardless of what your partner has done, you are ultimately responsible for your physical health and well-being. If you’re uncomfortable going to your regular physician there are often high-quality community clinics (especially in large cities) that will do anonymous, low-cost STI testing.
Safe Sex Practices – I am always concerned when a partner shares with me that she is having unprotected sex with the sex addict after discovery and before the formal disclosure process. Even if you don’t believe your sex addict partner has been sexual with anyone else, you owe it to yourself to use protection each and every time.
Knowledge is power. I recommend that you read a variety of books about sex addiction and those specifically targeted for partners of sex addicts. There is a short list on the Resources page.
In addition to reading, I highly recommend you seek out a therapist, counselor or clergy person in your area who is knowledgable about sex addiction. Just as you would go to a cardiologist for a heart condition rather than to your general practitioner, you will save time and valuable resources by going to a sex addiction specialist first. I have heard many unfortunate stories of couples going to therapists who weren’t knowledgeable about sex addiction offering advice like “just go to Victoria’s Secret and buy some new lingerie,” “all men _____________(fill in the blank),” and worse.
There are several organizations that certify mental health professionals to treat sex addiction. The International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) has offered Certified Sex Addiction Therapist training and certification for over 20 years. A list of therapists in be found on the IITAP website.
One of the most difficult realities of dealing with the aftermath of discovery is that the person you used to go to for comfort and reassurance has become the person who feels the least trustworthy to you. The sad truth is that even before discovery, your relationship was not as intimate and close as you may have believed. Addicts who are still acting out or who have just recently sought help are generally not emotionally available to provide much in the way of support, reassurance or empathy.
Over time and with healing, the sex addict will become more present and emotionally available. But in the beginning partners must find other sources of emotional support. This is where therapy and communities of support become a partner’s lifeline as she struggles with feelings of isolation and uncertainty about who she can talk to. I will discuss in detail in future posts with whom and how much to share, but in early post-discovery partners’ best means of support are therapy, partner groups, workshops and 12-step communities. See Resources page.
Now, more than ever, you need spiritual support and guidance. If you already belong to a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, I encourage you to attend regularly if your spiritual home is a place of strength, support and comfort to you. If your spiritual life has been dormant, this is a great time to explore spiritual practices or religious communities you’ve been curious about. If you’re agnostic or atheist, notice how these beliefs are impacting and informing your experience at this particular time in your life.
For each of the 4 categories above— physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual — write down 2 ways you would like to practice self-care. Make a commitment to do at least one on your list in the next week.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2014)