Partner's Workshop: Stage One; Lesson One
Your Path to Healing
— Bernice Johnson Reagon
If ever there was a time to accurately apply the saying "Life is not fair", it would be in the wake of discovering that you have been sharing your life with someone engaged in sexually-compulsive behavior. There are simply no words that can accurately represent the caustic reality you have been forced into. To reflect the shock, pain, anger, confusion and disbelief you have experienced (and will likely continue to experience in even the sincerest of recoveries) is beyond the capability of language. And so, we won't try. Instead, we will lay out the obstacles that lay along your path to healing and guide you around, over, under or through them. And the first such obstacle, accepting that life is not fair. It is not fair that your path to reclaiming control and stability — reclaiming health — is significantly more complex than the path your partner must face. But such is the case.
Recovery is easier because the path is clear
When working with those struggling with sexually compulsive behavior, the path to health is clear. To ensure a healthy transition away from addiction, the individual must travel the road from general education to personal awareness to personal development to real-life application. Sure, these developmental stages will inevitably overlap, but they are relatively linear. This is the universal approach to be taken by all people seeking a permanent end to their addiction. Those who commit themselves to walking this path will establish core change that then become ingrained as the foundation for a healthy identity. Those who don't — those who make only superficial or 'symptomatic' changes — will likely face ongoing crisis/relapse for years and perhaps even decades longer. It is a clear path — to be traveled or not.
Unfortunately for you, the path is not quite as brightly lit. For you, the one forced to deal with the discovery of such destructive, irrational elements in your relationship, your path is significantly more difficult as many of the answers you will need to regain stability in your life remain beyond your control. Well, let me clarify: many of the answers that you may think you need to regain control remain beyond your grasp. The 'what's and the 'why's and the 'where's and the 'when's. That instinctive desire you likely feel is to latch on to the details of your partner's addiction like a drowning person latches on to a life preserver. It is one of the goals of this lesson to show you a more stable path — one that will be painful, but one that will allow you to regain control and stability in your life without having to rely on the instability of your partner or his/her addiction.
The (Typical) Emotional Path to Healing
One of the more difficult lessons for a partner to learn in the aftermath of such a discovery is just how little influence they had on the development of the addiction and, how little influence they have on recovery. Bluntly, the single greatest effect they can have on their partner's recovery (early on) is through threat. The threat of divorce. The threat of ending the relationship. But the motivation based on such fear is short-lived and it is not processed by the person in recovery as one might think. It does not serve as a 'wake up call', so to speak. Instead, it presents as an immediate crisis to manage and with that, instantly, the fear of losing such an important role (the role that you play) in their life serves as their impetus for action (note the selfishness in this sentence). But what action does it lead to? Is it to 'end their addiction above all else'? Or is it to 'end their addiction in hopes of saving the marriage'? Exactly, the latter. This is a very, very painful reality for partner's to learn that may seem fairly innocuous at first, until you examine the implications of placing 'saving the marriage (or relationship)' first: with ongoing deception at the top of that list.
As you will soon learn, the emotional immaturity and egocentricity that develops over the course of an addiction does not end with the discovery of that addiction. And so, in the early stages of such crisis, these individuals are still working with the same warped perceptions and life management skills that allowed the addiction to develop and thrive in the first place. They continue to use a completely distorted value/boundary system where their immediate emotional needs are the only real consideration in decision-making. When confronted, the absolute need to protect that relationship from further damage becomes paramount — and so, they continue to deceive.
No matter how much work you may put into understanding your partner's behavior; no matter how much compassion you may show; no matter how much forgiveness you are able to offer: you generate no real impact over your partner's addiction/recovery — save for threat. And in rare cases (which will be shared shortly in the Effective Path to Healing section), support and understanding. Even the most incredibly accepting partner will be met with a wall of deception and self-preservation in the early recovery process. Why is this important to know? Because the typical healing path for those that don't know any better is to attempt to capture the details of their partner's addiction. And in doing so, they are constructing a foundation for healing that is built on sand. There is a time when such details become necessary, but that time is not immediately after the discovery of an addiction. This is a painful reality because it flies in the face of instinct, but it is never-the-less an important lesson to learn.
Let's take a brief look at a typical healing process fueled by such emotional need: Following the discovery, there is intense emotional volatility and behavioral instability. For some, this can become socially paralyzing or lead to severe depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. In an attempt to regain some semblance of control, they seek answers. They want to know what the extent of their partner's addiction is — a fair expectation. They want to know what was going on inside their partner's mind, that they could have engaged in such value contradiction for so long — perfectly reasonable. For weeks and sometimes even months (potentially years for those rare individuals who experience unresolved Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), they methodically review every aspect of their life with this person, re-assessing even the most minute details of whatever memories they can recall — wanting clarification and answers. And then, repeating this process again and again and again. But rarely do they experience actual healing as a result. Behaviorally, they often seek additional control by meticulously managing/monitoring their partner. Testing them. Checking up on them.
For all, such an emotional response has its price. And in its extreme, that price can be a complete abandonment of an already damaged value system and a further disconnect with their own healthy identity. What's worse? Even if some semblance of control can be achieved through these measures, again, it is a foundation built on sand. With the discovery of one additional deception, one spontaneous slip...it all comes crashing down.
There is a better way. A healthier way.
The Healthy Path to Healing
As stated earlier, there is a time for answers. But given the emotional immaturity of your partner and the REALITY that saving your relationship will take precedent over honesty at this stage, to seek out such answers for stability is senseless. The following is a path to healing that will allow you to control your own fate — without having to rely on the irrationality of your partner's addition or the instability of their recovery.
Begin with you
Whether your partner's addiction involved affairs, prostitution, molestation or 'just' masturbation or 'just' porn...you have lost a part of yourself as a result. A part of your innocence, your esteem, your stability, your ability to trust, your ability to invest yourself, your ability to experience intimacy: all of these values have been damaged in one way or another. And these are just a few of the inevitable consequences — you will explore many more in the lessons to come. Your healing depends on your ability to recognize these consequences and reverse the damage that has been done — sometimes with scars, sometimes leaving values stronger than they have ever been. Your healing must begin with reclaiming your life; reclaiming your identity; taking back what has been taken from you. It cannot begin by you trying to understand/control/support his addiction/recovery. In fact, you would do well to suspend any pressure you may have to make decisions on the fate of your relationship until you have rebuilt what has been damaged. Healing requires you to build a foundation for your life that is NOT dependent on the success of your partner's recovery. The workshop will walk you through this process, but it is important to know why you are doing it. It is because it is in YOUR best interest to do so. This is about YOU, not your partner and not your partner's addiction.
Once you have done this — once you have built a relatively strong foundation for managing your own life, you are then safe to begin exploring your partner's addiction/recovery with the inherent vulnerability and risk that accompanies such effort. Again, the workshop will walk you through this as well.
Your life and your relationship will forever be affected by the memories of this trauma. Even with the decision to end this relationship, all future relationships will be affected. Trust — a value that is decimated by sexual addiction, yet required for intimacy — will no longer play a stabilizing, comforting role in your relationship. Instead, it will become a major source of conflict throughout the healing process. Previously healthy sources of fulfillment such as family, friends, your sexuality, financial stability, your career, your priorities, your life decisions, social events (e.g. television, the pool) become instant sources of potential conflict, instability, shame, anger, secrets and lies. Add to this the reality of having lost the ideal of the person you have been sharing your life with and you can see what a tremendous, complex effort your healing entails.
Considering all this, it is not hard to see why your partner's recovery will be easier than yours. Your partner has developed major flaws within the foundation of his life. He is working with skill deficiencies in life management, emotional maturity, value structure and more. He fixes the foundation and he ends the addiction. You, on the other hand, are facing a totally different situation. You do not have these major fundamental flaws in the way that you manage your life. Well, you may have...but we will assume that you are for the most part healthy. You have faithfully attached your life to your value system and it has failed you. Actually, it hasn't, but it will likely feel that way — especially as you begin to question your values associated with trust, intimacy, vulnerability, etc. You did things right...and yet, it wasn't enough. You can liken the equation to fixing a tire: "What would be easier: fixing a flat tire when you know the cause of that flat was a nail having punctured the tread? Or fixing a tire that went flat without apparent cause?" In recovery, we know where the holes are. And, we know how to fix them. In healing, you will need to discover the damage on your own — though there is still help for the repair.
More Insights on the Path to Healing
As shared earlier, one of the first obstacles you will need to overcome will be the acceptance that the healing process for you and that for your partner will not be equal. For a partner who has made the decision to end their addiction, the process will take time, it will take effort, but with their sincere commitment they can be assured of achieving long-term success. The present and the future of the active person in recovery are within their control. If they do A, then B, then C...they will achieve D. Every time. It is as consistent a process as those who are 100lbs overweight achieving a reduction in that weight by reducing their caloric intake and increasing their exercise patterns. Will everyone lose weight on such a plan? No, because not everyone will follow the plan honestly. But 100% of those who do follow the plan will achieve success. In sexual addiction, 100% of the people who learn the skills being taught in the Recovery Workshop (or elsewhere) and actively implement them into their lives will achieve success in ending their addiction. It is inevitable.
But where is your control? Where is your assurance that, as long as you have a sincere desire to work through your partner's issues, all will turn out well? Where is your guarantee that once your partner has transitioned into a healthy, morally-sound person, he/she will remain that way? Where are the promises that the repulsive images that you have of him/her engaging in immoral behavior will stop? Where is your time line for how long the healing process will take? Simply, they don't exist. While billions of dollars are poured into the recovery industry to help those struggling with addiction, little is done to assist those who are directly impacted by the consequences of this addiction. You are but an afterthought to your partner's recovery — left to work your issues out by yourself. That is, if you allow yourself to be.
The Partner's Healing Workshop will provide you with the information you need to reconnect to your own needs, values, boundaries, etc., to completely understand the pattern of sexual addiction, and even to help you begin the process of rebuilding intimacy and trust within your relationship.
What this workshop will not do:
It will not offer you immediate relief from the pain, anger, resentment, confusion and disorientation that you may be experiencing. Your healing will take time and will come with many peaks and valleys. This is to be expected in even the healthiest of healing processes. Unlike those in a healthy recovery (whose path tends to take a slow, progressive climb towards understanding, awareness and confidence), partner's healing tends to take on an initially aggressive, confrontational pattern with occasional brief insights into hope for the future and the possibility of forgiveness. But these insights are often short-lived. It doesn't have to be this way, it just typically is. To avoid it, you will need to do what was suggested earlier: shift the immediate focus from your partner's addiction/recovery to you. Recognize that you are in control of your future — no matter what your partner does from this point forward.
You must move beyond the focus of 'whether or not to end the relationship' as the paramount question. It is not. That decision will ultimately be a consequence of both your actions and his. For now, the paramount question is 'what damage has been done to my value system and what can I do to repair it'.It will not assist you with making the decision to continue the relationship or not. This will ultimately be a decision that only you can make. Our only role in this process will be to educate you as to what to look for in a healthy recovery; what to look for in an unhealthy recovery; how to rebuild the relationship — should you choose to do so; and how to rebuild your life — no matter what you choose. It will not take away the reality of what has already happened. As silly as such a statement may sound, a frequent thought from those in your situation is that things might somehow go back to "the way they were". That somehow, if this crisis can be successfully navigated, the relationship might return to the days when before this behavior was known. That's not going to happen. No matter what happens from this point on, the discovery of your partner's behavior will remain a part of your life forever. Whether you decide to stay in the relationship or move past it...you have stumbled upon one of those life events that will affect every future relationship that you are in. It will be your strength and courage in dealing with this crisis now that will dictate just how significant a role it will play.
For now, know that everything you have experienced throughout the course of your relationship as a result of your partner's compulsive behavior — including the additional consequences that you will continue to identify throughout this workshop — has already happened. The anger, frustration and resentment that you will inevitably feel towards your partner for these consequences will need to be addressed. But more important to your long term health will be your ability to accept that this is now a reality in your life — and all that matters from this moment forward is how you respond to it. For some — those who respond to this crisis with understanding, compassion and patience — you will have the opportunity to grow exponentially as a human being. Your values and self-awareness will allow you to experience life in a way that you could never have imagined previously. For others — those who respond to the crisis with fury and/or vengeance — you will allow the compulsive behavior of another to further erode the person that you are inside.
What has happened is beyond your control. How you respond to what has happened is not.
What is my role in this workshop?
There are three elements involved in healing from the consequences of sexually compulsive behavior. These three elements comprise your most important roles in this workshop. Let's examine them (in no particular order):
I. Understanding Compulsive/Addictive BehaviorSome of the lessons in the Partner's Workshop have been developed to educate you towards the true nature of compulsive sexual/romantic behavior. It will be important that, as you read through each lesson, you keep an open mind to the insights that are being offered. For many, this will not be easy — as I'm sure you all currently possess your own thoughts and feelings regarding your partner's behavior. Try though, to spend the next few weeks developing an accurate perception of the situation that you are facing, rather than to filter your situation through anger and pain. This is not meant to suggest that you let go of the anger and resentment surrounding what has occurred, only that, as you learn about the underlying patterns of sexual addiction, you do so with a compassionate eye.
II. Observing a Healthy RecoveryAnother important role for you in this workshop will be to gain an understanding of what the process of a healthy recovery looks like. This means that you will learn the different stages of recovery, the transitions that take place, the pitfalls to be aware of, warning signs of a recovery going astray, etc. What is critical about your obtaining this knowledge is what you will do with it once you have it; and just as importantly, what you will not do with it. You will not use this information to manage your partner's recovery. The sole purpose for learning what to look for in a healthy recovery is to allow you to observe this recovery process taking place in another. Observing this long-term change is the only way for absolute and unconditional forgiveness to take place. The only way for confidence to be re-established in the relationship.
Another reason to observe recovery, rather than manage it: when you take the responsibility for managing your partner's recovery, you place yourself in a very unhealthy situation...and, place your loved one in an unhealthy situation as well. Why? Because one of the common pitfalls in recovery comes from the person struggling with the compulsive behavior not having to take responsibility. They thrive on recovery programs where someone else lays out a step-by-step plan and their only responsibility is to follow it. But often, all this accomplishes is to perpetuate the illusion of recovery, with little internal change taking place.
That is one of the reasons why the Recovery Workshop is structured as it is. It requires those who are sincere about changing their lives to search within themselves for the motivation and strength for that change to occur. They are not so much participating in "a workshop" as they are participating in "their own workshop". A personalized, custom workshop that can be expanded to meet their needs and develop their values — should they have the desire to do so. The strength of this approach is that, for those who realize the need to take responsibility for their own life, the future is a bright, healthy, fulfilling one. For those who are not willing to take this responsibility, the future is a chaotic, uncertain one — and their participation in the workshop usually ends after several weeks due to the "workshop" not changing them. Your ability to see these patterns will assist you greatly in making decisions regarding your future.
III. Pursuing Personal GrowthAs so often happens in a relationship with a sexually compulsive person, the partner (you) has been so affected by the subtle (and not-so-subtle) nature of your partner's behavior, that the extent of the damage may not be recognized for years. Over time, and in direct relation to the severity of their addiction, your values will have been manipulated, your opinions devalued, your esteem fractured, your actions minimized — all because of the skewed thought processes of your addicted partner. This realization often triggers the most intense pain that you will face in the healing process, as you begin to re-evaluate your life and realize just how much time has been wasted to someone else's addiction. Or, how many more years might still be wasted. How helpless and frustrating it is to be forced to re-evaluate your relationship through your developing awareness of your partner's addiction. Vacations, family decisions, your courtship, friendships — every major event in your relationship must now be seen in the context of their addiction in order to validate its authenticity. A frustrating, exhausting and demoralizing task indeed. So, one final role will be for you to develop a healthy pursuit of your own personal growth. To reconnect with your own values, develop your own life management skills, manage your own goals — goals that are completely under your control.
A. Because the discovery of your partner's addiction will no doubt reflect many commonalities with others, it is at the same time uniquely devastating to you. Take some time to share your background in relation to the discovery of your partner's sexual and/or romantic compulsions/addiction. Share an unadulterated version of your partner's addiction with someone you trust; or, anonymously in this forum.
If you choose someone you trust, then at least share a summary of the general patterns that are in play with your partner's addiction. And as a reminder, please do not use any personally-identifying information in your post.
Share this in your Personal Healing Thread on the Partner's Lesson Responses Forum.