Couple's Recovery Workshop
(SA) Understanding Your Partner's Needs
What your partner needs is to have the opportunity to regain control over her life. To identify the ways in which your addiction has affected her. How it has influenced her value system. How it has violated the boundaries that she once held. She needs to have the freedom to explore the damage your behavior has caused and the freedom to repair it. And this is just the beginning.
This healing process is not something that you can do for her, nor is it something that she can do as easily without you. Make sure you understand every word of that last sentence. Whether she is able to heal from these wounds is beyond your control. You control neither her fate, nor the fate of your relationship—no matter how sincere and complete your recovery. But, you can facilitate this healing considerably. She needs your courage to share what will be painful for you both. She needs you to be willing to put her health above the relationship; above even, yourself.
Now, this doesn't mean that your partner can't move beyond your addiction and live a healthy, fulfilling life on her own— she can, even in spite of you selfishly choosing to hold on to secrets and lies. But it does mean that without your help, she will not be able to fully heal from the damage that you have caused. It will be a part of her always. And thus, a part of every relationship she is involved in from here on out.
Returning to the example above, imagine how shattered the pieces of your life would be in the wake of such a devastating blow to your identity. Imagine your business partner holding tight to his lies…offering insight only when proof was available. Imagine the questions you would have—questions of which the answers could potentially provide you with insight and closure—remaining selfishly unanswered so that your partner can protect himself from experiencing further pain. This, even though they openly shared, “I will do anything to make this up to you.”? How could you trust this person to not repeat what they have done, when they still won't accept full responsibility for it? The answer is: you couldn't. Not unless you were a fool.
When you hold back the truth from your partner, when you are unwilling to engage in open dialogue about your past, it is typically for one of three reasons:
1) You are too ashamed and/or embarrassed to reveal certain things about your past—things that you believe would be unforgivable. Things that you believe would serve as 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. And so, you choose to protect these secrets knowing that you have nothing to lose. If they are ever discovered, the relationship ends anyway (or so you think)…and so, there is nothing to be gained (again, so you think) by sharing and everything to be lost.
2) You are not yet in a healthy way with your addiction and so, you are still connected to those past behaviors in an emotionally unhealthy way. A healthy person has isolated that addiction from the core of who they are—and thus, can distance themselves from the intense shame that accompanies the behavior. Your inability to do this means that these behaviors are still ingrained within you
3) You are not sincerely committed to developing a healthy life. You are consciously choosing to continue lying and/or holding on to secrets because you do not want to accept responsibility for those actions that they are attached to. In your mind, you just want to get past this crisis and move on—no sense in creating more crisis when it is entirely possible that those lies/secrets will never be known.
Within each reason, the fundamental aspect to note is the selfishness on your part to withhold information that your partner needs to heal. It is your decision to decide for your partner what is best for her…what she can or cannot handle. But what you fail to take into consideration is that your answers—exploring the depth of your addiction, the extreme of your compulsions, the irrationality of your actions—these are the very answers she needs to put the pieces of her own life back together.
“But with the damage that has already been done, won't it always be a part of her life? A part of our relationship?”?
Yes, it will. But—and I don't expect you to fully grasp this concept until after you have experienced it for yourself with addiction—there are two ways that this trauma can affect your partner in the long run. It can have a destructive effect—forever weakening her values, her identity, her confidence, her willingness to risk, to love, to grow, to trust, etc. Or it can have a constructive effect, providing her with the confidence that comes from not just surviving a traumatic life event, but actually growing because of it. If your relationship is to survive this addiction, your partner will need to experience the latter. If your partner is to fully heal, she will come to see this time in her life as one where she was challenged to rebuild a foundation that was originally built (at least partly) on illusion, into a foundation built of brick and mortar. It is your job to help provide that brick and mortar—not more illusion.
Your role in helping your partner heal is simple. Painful, but simple. Accept the life that you have led to this point, courageously and painfully share that life with your partner, accept whatever consequences result from what you have shared…and then move forward. Move forward with no more lies…no more secrets…no more incongruence. Learn to feel the confidence that comes from sharing your true self the world around you.
Where the Pain Comes From
The following were written from partners who have experienced the pain of a loved one's addiction. As you read, keep in mind that what you are reading about is pain. It is not intended to comfort you. But neither is it intended to shame you. It just is. It is their reality at that point...and there will likely be similarities between their feelings and your own partner's.
The Pain We Feel
“I just feel like I didn't matter at the deepest level....”?
“Our spouses are an extension of ourselves, aren't they? We share everything with our spouses: homes, beds, meals, showers, money, vehicles, laughter, orgasms, touch, tears, children, family, you know, everything. The pain, the pain is too deep or too broad to pinpoint for me. We can give it names-betrayal, trust, unworthiness, FOOLS. But isn't it all just damage to our souls? Like, defacing property, vandalizing. A part of me was fake. a part of me was a lie. a part of me was destroyed. I feel violated. It is almost like I was a prop. I was used without permission. Does this make sense? My soul, my heart, my future, were instantly altered without my participation, without my consent. Nobody asked me.”?
It's fathomless shock that someone whom I treasured and who I thought treasured me...really KNEW me and my deepest fears about life...
was someone who so utterly disregarded my fears and lied to my face countless times...
who allowed me to marry him because he "thought he could stop".
It's almost as if you've found out you didn't marry the person you thought you did. You fell for the big facade that everyone else has, only now that you have found out, you have to keep it a secret too. Both of our families think he is an amazing husband and father. They have no idea of the issues we are having to work through because of this or the stress I feel. They think I'm lucky. One person in my family even thinks he is too good for me. Sometimes it makes me want to scream when I hear them say these things. My husband may not have had a physical affair with another woman, but he cheated on me with a world of images, degradation, lies and secrets. How do you compete with that? You can't and instead you feel worthless, self-conscious, not good enough. It makes you question how much of your courtship and your marriage is real. Trust was also a real issue for me, but with my husband I was able to jump right in and I got it thrown right back in my face. I don't know how to build that trust back and I believe trust is a major building block for a marriage. You take it away and things just start crumbling.
- Pain from infidelity (breaking of trust) - be it physical affairs, emotional affairs, physical, verbal or visual sexual contact with others, even infidelity in the sense of being denied a fulfilling sexual and emotional relationship with a partner because they prefer fantasy and masturbation.
- Pain from deceit. Being lied to, directly and to the face, subtly (half-truths) or by omission.
- Pain from feeling like a fool. Being deceived over and over again. Being manipulated. Knowing that i will probably be let down again but giving yet another chance.
- Pain from self doubt. Not only being deceived, but when you try to verbalize it to your partner, being made to think you are the one with the problem. Doubting your own reality.
- Pain from self perception. Feeling rejected, worthless, unattractive, uninteresting, even unintelligent.
- Pain from feeling unloved, unrespected.
- Pain from feeling solely responsible, having nobody to lean on. I feel like I have never had the backup I need to get me through the other hardships in life. He was disengaged, busy with his fantasies, unavailable for me emotionally, selfish.
- Pain from loss of stability. Feeling like the very foundations of your world have crumbled under your feet, having no solid ground to stand on, uncertainty about the future.
- Pain from doubting our past. What was real, what was true?
One of the others for me, though harder to put into words, is the lack of trust he has in me.
You've hurt me to my very soul, and yet I'm still here because I havn't stopped loving you. I still believe that there's a good and loving man buried under all your demons. My final thought every time we go through this is " You talk about trust as it applies to me but just don't get it. If you areen't willing to trust me with the past or the truth of today, how can you ask or expect me to trust you with my future?
as I sit here in the dark trying to "feel" what I felt that day....
It's as if the sky opens and swallows me up....I feel this deep well of sadness and and almost dizzying feeling.
I guess all my life I've tried to be open and honest to all I meet...to make people feel "safe" with me....I've prided myself on being able to touch people in so many ways...and I have been wounded in my life...by people who should have protected me...but I have remained optimistic about life and people...continuing to believe in the good in people amid countless disappointments....and he was who I shared all this with....I believed in us and I thought he was the MOST honest person I had ever met....I treasured him.
It's fathomless shock that someone whom I treasured and who I thought treasured me...really KNEW me and my deepest fears about life... was someone who so utterly disregarded my fears and lied to my face countless times...who allowed me to marry him because he "thought he could stop".
Knowing full well that this was the WORST thing that could have ever came into my life....
allowed me to bare his children with the total possibility that I could leave him and have to raise the kids as a separate household after I had gone through one divorce and custody hell already....
This addiction breaks the marriage vows. More than that: Sexual fidelity is a basic understanding in any serious relationship, married or not. This addiction rips trust and love to shreds. It causes feelings of rejection and unworthiness. It causes us to wonder what we did wrong, how we could have done things differently, if we can ever trust anyone or anything again.
Lies of omission. This is a huge one for me because my husband never really was a "regular" liar, but he was great at not giving me the whole picture, at leaving out big chunks of information.
Everything his "addict" conveniently left out of the picture. That his "addict" decided that he knew better than I, what was important for our life, as if I had no say in what was to be the truth of our life together. That he was going to make decisions of how our life would be arranged and I was no part of those plans.
Those lies are more infuriating when coupled with the knowledge that he was totally aware of my background, and how important certain things were to me as far as my values, beliefs, sexual background, family issues, morals and history were concerned. I had completely shared with him everything in my history, and I thought he had done the same with me. Little did I know.
By leaving out important information on his end which I later found out through therapy, (childhood depression, lost his virginity at 28 to a prostitute, in therapy for SA before he knew me, FOO issues, etc.) he made a grand assumption that what I didn't know wouldn't hurt me, even though what he was doing flew in the face of everything I had shared with him. There were lots of warning signs I had given him from my side, which should have sent him running for the hills that if I ever found out about his secret life, that I would not allow this to go quietly into the night. And yet, the addict in him ignored my warnings.
For him, out of sight, out of mind.
For me, always present, always in pain.
I felt like I wasted the past 12 years of our marriage, 15 years of relationship.
HE knew about the addiction or that there was a severe problem with porn in his life. I had no clue.
As a direct result of this, I was unhappy, unsatisfied, had self doubt, etc. ALl the feelings that come with being in love and wondering why you healthy husband doesn't touch you, yet obviously he's getting off on porn.
When my husband said he loved me after D-Day - I wanted to murder him. Because how can you love me when you fuck with whores and expose me to all of the johns these sperm vessels had in the past?
How can you do this to me?
Where does the pain come from?
It comes from the realization that nothing is as it seems. Every thought, sentence, glance, and action is questioned regarding the addict and his or her motives. Everything and everyone is suspect. As a partner, you realize that you have been working with the shell of a person that you thought you knew. You see that it is only the damaged self that has been present in your relationship for however long he or she kept his or her addiction a secret. As you begin to see your partner truly heal, you realize all over just how little your true partner experienced in life, how self-loathing he or she had become, and how shallow and tainted most of your experiences (both sexual and otherwise) actually were. The pain comes from mourning the loss of what you never actually had all of those years and how you can never regain the loss of time together.
Why Can't My Partner See This as Any Other Addiction?
To most partners, the sex, love and porn addictions ARE NOT perceived like other addictions. Not that this distinction falls solely on partners. Imagine having discovered that your business partner, along with all that he did to destroy your business, had been having a year long affair with your wife AND your daughter. He wasn't in love with either of them, nor was it casual sex. Instead, the relationships were part of a larger compulsive love addiction that he had. Would you be able to see that behavior in the same way as his gambling addiction? Doubtful.
In a healthy recovery, it is the foundation of a person that needs to be the primary focus of change, not the symptoms. Certainly, the symptoms of that addiction (masturbation, gambling, online affairs, porn, alcohol, etc.) are important, but only in the fact that they provide concrete opportunities for development, measurement, monitoring, understanding, etc., of what is happening at the core of that person's life. Anyone who has transitioned to a healthy life knows that as you learn to manage the foundation of your life, the addiction (and the symptoms used to measure that addiction) takes care of itself. This is one of the reasons why those in a healthy recovery have the potential to transition so much faster to health and stability than do their partners. Your ability to emotionally detach yourself from the symptoms of your addiction (by focusing on developing a healthy core) is by design…and it is a very effective (and necessary) step in making a healthy transition from both addiction and recovery.
To your partner though, there is no such emotional detachment. Your partner cannot see the world as you see it; cannot process your thoughts as you process them. To you, you are what you think…and as your thoughts change, you change. To your partner though, you are what she has observed—and only what she has observed. You are the accumulation of a lifetime of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, etc., that she has either witnessed first hand or, that you have chosen to tell her about. For most relationships, this is enough. For most relationships, the minor deceptions and disappointments that accompany all partnerships do not fundamentally change the way that a partner is perceived. But this is not so with the sex and love addictions.
It is the rare partner who can separate the addiction from the individual, much less the symptoms of that addiction from the addiction itself. Almost universally, there is a world of difference between how they perceive sexual addiction versus alcoholism, or compulsive porn use versus compulsive over-eating. This, even though the foundation for why you engaged in these behaviors are fundamentally the same. To your partner, your reporting that you have had nineteen affairs over the past year is not the same as your reporting that you have secretly lost over $20K on online gambling. Both are traumatic events to be sure, but the feelings surrounding the sexually-compulsive behavior are almost always more devastating. Your partner's ability to rationally understand an addiction to alcohol, to gambling, to work, to (enter any behavior outside of sex and/or love addiction) is much greater than their ability to understand THE VERY SAME PATTERN…but with the symptoms of sex/love driving that pattern.
Why is this? It is important that you know.
Sex and romantic love are two aspects of your partnership that ideally, you need each other to fulfill. The elements of just about any other addiction can be detached from the partnership and the foundation of that relationship will remain intact. Not that the relationship won't suffer significant trauma as a result of the lies, the lost respect, the perceived moral and personal weaknesses involved with drug addiction, alcoholism, etc.—it will. But it does not instantly crumble. Typically, it only crumbles under the realization that the person in recovery is unable to rebuild their life—a realization that is made only after many relapse/recovery cycles.
This is not the case with the sex and love addictions. And it is only sometimes the case with porn addiction (depending on the type of porn, the extent of use, etc.). Quite often, upon the discovery of such behavior, the partner's foundation collapses. One of the pillars of her foundation (the love and commitment of her partner) has been shattered and that one pillar was providing strength and stability to so many others. And so as that pillar crumbled, everything connected to that pillar was wiped out as well. Well, not necessarily wiped out, but certainly damaged. Damage occurred to every value that she had tied to sharing her life with you: feeling loved, feeling desired, feeling wanted, feeling appreciated, feeling a part of a team, feeling respected, feeling supported, having the ability to share her love, having the ability to risk, to be vulnerable, to trust, to depend, to experience romance with, to experience sexual intimacy with, to…well, you get the idea. Not that all of this damage took place at the time of the discovery. Much of it was sustained long before that—as a consequence of living with a secret addiction. It is just that the discovery brought a devastating clarity to it all. And so, while most other addictions can survive the initial traumatic discovery, this is not always the case with the sex and love addictions. You can do all that is humanly possible to change—and indeed do successfully transition to a healthy life; your partner can do all that she can to heal—and indeed find herself feeling good about the direction of her life once more…and it may still not be enough.
And that is one of the things that you must understand. You do not have the ability to save your marriage. You have only the ability to save your life. Not that you can't do your part to give your marriage the best chance of success. You can, and that starts with ending your addiction; and ends with learning to fully relate to your partner as a separate and worthy human being. Someone who matters.
Ask yourself the following: “If my partner did the things that I have done —exactly as I have done them—what would I need in order to rebuild my trust in him/her?” Really think about this. What would you want from them, expect from them, demand from them? Share these thoughts in your Couple's Thread.