Couple's Recovery Workshop:
Rebuilding Trust & Respect in the Wake of Chronic Deception
(P) — though (SA) should also read
How nice it would be to travel a path from Point A to Point B to Point C and be assured that you would end up at Point D.
Though many refuse to see it, recovery is like that. When someone seeking to end their addiction A) applies the necessary insights and skills; B) assesses the application of those insights and skills; C) refines and repeats this process...they will achieve D) change. Every time. The course of change will depend on the individual, but change will occur. Losing weight is another example. When you A) determine the amount of calories (energy) you take in; B) determine the number of calories/energy that you exert; C) ensure that you exert more calories than you take in. This will lead to D) losing weight. Every time.
But when it comes to re-establishing trust in a relationship marred by the lies, betrayals and irrationalities associated with sexual addiction, there is no path to 'D'. There are no assurances you will ever experience the comfort and security that come from having a partner you can rely on to tell you the truth. To communicate openly and transparently with you. To act in a manner that is in the best interests of your shared goals. It doesn't matter how much effort you put into developing trust, there will always be intangible factors that will directly influence that trust — factors completely beyond your control. Trust will not/should not be experienced as an emotion, it should be experienced only as a consequence of action. Specifically, the actions that your partner takes and your ability to observe and interpret those actions.
That you will continue to distrust your partner is a truth that should remain in your until a full transition away from addiction has been achieved. Then, and only then, will you be able to see his identity in a light not shaded by lies and secrecy and immaturity and irrationality. Only then will you be able to experience trust in your partner.
Trust as Threat, Manipulation & Stress Release
Gaining a partner's trust is one of the early objectives that those in recovery seek. They use it to help validate the changes that they are making — which is good. They use it to lock their partner into a commitment — which isn't. The former provides a boost to esteem and the recognition of humanity. The latter provides enormous stress relief. As in, 'I now have my partner's trust, so as long as I don't screw up, the relationship will survive this crisis. I no longer have to fear her leaving me.' While likely not intended as such, this is the equivalent of being given a 'second chance'. Or, third. Or, ...
Much too often, your partner — if he is in early recovery will be ill-prepared to actually manage that trust and so, it becomes a dangerous and volatile threat to their recovery. By you offering your partner unconditional trust (say, as a well-intentioned, but misguided show of faith), you are providing him with access to the very cracks and shadows where his addiction festers. Where his secret life can be nurtured. He is not capable of accepting such responsibility — not in early recovery.
Does this mean that you should never trust your partner? No. Trust that he is being sincere. Trust that he has a desire to change. Trust that he wants to end his addiction. But always, always, always hold him accountable for his actions.
Developing these four skills will facilitate the rebuilding of trust in your relationship:
Skill 1 Combine Vulnerability and Confidence
Allow yourself to be vulnerable in the face of potentially catastrophic risk. But, base this vulnerability on choice; not ignorance, hope, fear, avoidance, etc. When you can honestly say to yourself, "I know that I can't control my partner's actions. I know that I must provide him with the opportunity to be my partner. I know that this comes with great risk. I know that this comes with the potential for great benefit. I am willing to take this risk because I have confidence in my ability to use my own boundaries and values to protect myself" then you have made yourself vulnerable in a healthy way. When you combine that vulnerability with the confidence to make decisions based on your perceptions, your values, your boundaries, your goals — then you will have developed a critical skill for experiencing trust in your partner.
Skill 2 Practice Absolute Honesty
While the practice of absolute honesty applies to you both, this skill primarily focuses on your partner's ability to engage in absolute honesty with himself and those around him. As he proceeds through the individual workshop, he will be exposed to this skill and guided through it's implementation. Note however, that he will still need to choose whether or not to embrace it.
Skill 3 Develop Boundaries, Values and Goals
The development and effective implementation of these life management skills form a major objective within each individual workshop. Like absolute honesty, these skills will take time to master. But what you will find is that when that mastery is achieved, a major hurdle to trust will have been cleared. The experiences of seeing your partner respect the concept of boundaries, derive meaning from his values and prioritize individual and shared goals will play a pivotal role in both separating your partner from their addiction (e.g. seeing it as a symptom of a poorly managed life, rather than as an internal fate) and in separating past deception from their current identity.
Skill 4 Communication
The introduction to this was established in Lesson Four of the Couple's Workshop, but it is something you will both need to master. Like the others, once mastered, doors for experiencing trust within your relationship will open that simply didn't exist prior.
Whereas trust is primarily something that must be experienced by you in relation to your partner's actions and your observations...the key to developing respect in your relationship lies with your partner, not you. It will not be your ability to respect your partner that will be at issue; it will be your partner's ability to develop respect for you. Given the incredibly shameful and disgusting acts that some sexual addict's engage in, it seems irrational to think that your respect for him will occur naturally, with little effort on your part. But it is true. You will either come to see him beyond his addiction, see the changes that he makes as real and appreciate him for making those changes...or you won't. There is nothing that can be said or done that will teach you how to respect your partner. Your respect for your partner will be redeveloped as a consequence of his actions, not yours.
This is not so with your partner developing respect for you.
In your partner's egocentric world, everyone plays a role — in his life. As the addiction progresses, these roles take on more and more importance in maintaining the shell of that life. One of the best indicators of a healthy recovery is when your partner begins to see these people not for the roles that they play, but for the individuals they are. This perception starts with you. Actually, it starts with changing how he identifies with himself...not as an addict, but as a person. But in terms of developing respect for you, he must begin to see you as an independent, vulnerable person who has just as much vested in life as he. This, as opposed to seeing you as 'his wife', 'the mother of his kids' or the like. He must come to respect you as his partner. Respect that you have chosen to share a part of your life with him; not merely someone who plays an important role in his life. He must come to respect that you have your own values and boundaries. Your own goals for the life that you live.
These are all perceptions that he has likely never experienced. Until now, it is highly likely that every perception that he has had regarding his partner was the role that that partner plays in his life. This must change. And while you can't directly force him to respect you as an individual, you can play a significant role in helping him to develop that respect. How? By learning to respect yourself.
As you know, it is typical of a partner of sexual addiction to (reluctantly) assume the addict's values and/or modify their own boundaries to avoid confrontation. By now, you should have identified this pattern and taken steps to reverse it by developing your own values, your own boundaries and your own goals. If you have begun this refinement, you should be well on your way to rebuilding your own identity. Lifting the fog that sets in over the course of another's addiction. This is also how you can best help your partner: by learning to respect the changes that you are making in your own life.
The stronger your realization that you are not a 'partner of a sexual addict', but rather, a person who has their own life to live. Who has to make decisions and take actions that influence that life. Who has a responsibility to manage that life. When you see this clearly...when you understand that your partner's addiction is just one part of the life that you must lead...then you will have established a healthy foundation for respecting yourself as an individual. This self-respect then needs to be assimilated in all other areas of your life. In communication, in decisions, in values and in boundaries. Develop a respect for yourself and the unique life that you are leading.
Will this approach guarantee that your partner will develop respect for you? Of course not. But it will guarantee that you put yourself in a position to be respected. As an individual. And, as a partner. Beyond that, there is little else you can do.
Intimacy Activity: Our Top Five
Purpose: To facilitate friendly, nurturing communication geared towards seeing the individuality in each other. Note that last part. This is NOT geared towards seeing how well you know each other, but to discover new things that you didn't know.
1) Each partner will take a piece of paper and write down their own top five to the categories listed below. Then, they will write down what they believe their partner's top five to each category will be.
2) Go over the lists (verbally) together. Take note of how many of your partner's answers you got right within each category.
3) For any 'new' answers that have a little side-story or memory to share, share it.
Points: A total of twenty points will be awarded for this activity. Ten points will be awarded based on how many 'right' answers you had. These points will be awarded based on the average number of 'right' answers that all other couples had (Two couples will earn ten points; two will earn nine; etc.).
Ten more points will be awarded based on how many 'new' answers you discovered THAT YOU ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT. These points will be awarded to individual couples (everyone can earn the full ten points).
Document the total number of right answers (Don't Cheat!); and, the total number of 'new' answers that you learned about the other.
Top Five Categories
1. Favorite movies
2. Favorite songs
3. Things to do on a 'day-off' alone
4. Things to do on a 'day-off' w/partner
5. Happiest memories from childhood
6. Most fearful memories from childhood
7. Words to describe your personality through your teenage years
8. Proudest achievements in your life
9. Favorite sexual moments together
10. Personal values
11. Deepest regrets (sexual addiction excluded)
12. Biggest challenges you have faced in your life
13. Most painful memories (sexual addiction excluded)
14. Most important goals/dreams you have for the rest of your life
15. Funniest/most embarrassing moments in your life