Partner's Supplemental Workshop Lesson: Scaffolding

The Pillars of our Lives: Using Scaffolding


It might be helpful to see our lives like an acropolis. It is as if the fabric of our lives is held up by many different pillars. These pillars represent the things which we derive value from in our different life domains. They offer us a sense of stability and have our values at their core.

Examples of pillars might be:

• Relationship with partner
• Close family
• Children
• Work
• Community involvement/Church

Sometimes, what happens is that we experience different pillars crumbling or in need of repair or renovation at different times.

With the initial discovery of sexual addiction it rocks our whole world for a while, like an earthquake which shakes our very foundations. This is a normal response to a major life trauma. Here we are focused not on the initial shock and trauma, rather on dealing with the aftermath and impact of sexual addiction on our lives, after we have embarked on a healing journey.

When we discover that our partners are, or have been, involved in sexual addiction this seems like our whole world is crashing around us. We may find that the pillar of ‘our relationship with our partner' has been a single pillar which has been sustaining our lives. This is indicative of an unhealthy life balance. For healthy living we need to create a balanced life where one pillar is not supporting our whole lives! As we start our healing journey we may come to the realization that the discovery of sexual addiction actually represents a ‘crumbling' of only one pillar in our lives: a significant pillar, but it is only one pillar and we can get to a place where we have other values that help support a healthy life. As a result, we can create and sustain a sense of autonomy, within an interdependent relationship rather than an unhealthy dependence on a partner.

In our own healing from the trauma we must be sure to pay attention to re establishing and reinforcing all our pillars in order to build our own security, safety and wholeness. Crumbling pillars can occur at any stage of our lives and in any area (life domain).

To gain stability we need to start to put scaffolding around the weakened pillars as soon as we can (by examining what we can do to reinforce the weakened areas of our lives) and at the same time recognise the stability and value offered by the other pillars (by giving some attention to the positive value derived from the other pillars).

Sometimes more than one pillar is affected. For example:

Let's say that you have discovered your partner's sex addiction, and a close relative has died, and you have lost your job.

When several (or all) of the pillars in our lives are affected, the whole fabric of our lives seem to be unstable or in jeopardy. It may be that at this point we need to seek professional help from a medical doctor or mental health professional.

Using Scaffolding

Scaffolding is used as a temporary framework to support people and material whilst a building is being repaired.  When a building is in structural crisis using scaffolding is vital to enable the stability and reconstruction of the building. This is a useful metaphor for personal crisis too. We recognize the need to maintain stability in a crisis and to put support systems in place.

Our support systems can consist of:

  1. Network of people who can offer a variety of support
  2. Support activities which nurture self and values
  3. Self support techniques for mood management

1 and 2 above are covered in the Partner's Workshop (Exercise 15) Developing a Support System

Self support techniques for mood management (3 above)  are support techniques for mood management, tools and techniques that help us manage our lives when we are in crisis. What we can actually do to help ourselves when we are beginning to be out of emotional balance. There are many such tools available from different sources: self help books, different therapies, self-help websites. These become most effective when we personalize them.

What follows is a method which I developed to help me manage my emotions as I was dealing with the crumbling pillars in my life. This can be used as part of an action plan for mood management and related post traumatic type symptoms, specifically those associated with disclosure of sexual addiction.  Please bear in mind that it is designed for those without any known associated mental health issues. Please note that the following technique should not replace your therapist's advice.

The 4 A s' Method

The 4 A s' Method is essentially a series of questions to raise emotional awareness, assist in regulating emotions and to bring reason to bear to the body/mind response of unbalanced or overwhelming emotions. Once you have familiarized yourself with the questions try testing it out with a run through, but I suggest that you do it when you are not experiencing extreme or overwhelming emotions.

The 4 A's method

  • Acknowledge!
  • Accept!
  • Ask!
  • Adapt!


Acknowledge what you feel...

  • What do I notice in my body?
  • What do I notice in my thinking?
  • What do I notice in my emotions /feelings?


Accept what you are feeling...

  • It's ok to feel this - I accept the way I feel.
  • Is it safe for me to choose to feel it? If so I will feel it.
  • I can limit how long I want to feel it for. It's my choice!
    5 secs - 5 mins- 5 hours - or 5 days!
  • Accept it with words: Try an affirmation like this:
    “Even though I feel sad, angry, stressed...I am okay!”

Sometimes it's not safe to feel and accept an emotion, ( for example if the emotion is leading you to behave against your values) if this is the case - for whatever reason, find a way to step out of the situation or step out of the emotion by seeking help. It is important to note that if you are unsafe you must take steps to protect yourself: physically remove yourself and dependents from the situation.


Ask yourself What's going on here?

  • Is it simply a stress reaction?
  • Or have I drawn conclusions about a situation?  Is it reasonable and healthy for me to make those conclusions now?
  • What is my system telling me?
  • Is it intuitive?
  • Is there something misaligned? With myself? With someone else?
  • Has a boundary been transgressed by me by another?  Whose responsibility is that?
  • Do I have to deal with it now? How long have I got to deal with it? Can I deal with it later? (Make a note- make a plan)
  • Ask yourself: How do I want to be different?


Adapt current beliefs, behaviors, language, to meet the outcomes of 'how do I want to be different?'

  • What little thing can I adapt to change my emotional state? It may only require a 1% change.
  • Do I need to adapt anything in order to resolve the mental/ emotional /physical imbalance? Can I adapt a belief, behaviour or my language, in a way that will benefit me? (for example If you feel worthless because your husband forgets your anniversary, you may have an internal story running in your head that you are useless and not worth bothering with, that you are unlovable ... a change in focus and belief may help to shift the way you are feeling - “ this is about his lack of remembering not my lack of worth”...
  • What can I actively do? (When I am in healthy balance make a list of self supporting activities…see Partner's Workshop: Stage Three; Lesson Two (Exercise 15) link: Developing a Support System
  • Am I safe? If not what can I do to make myself safe? Do it!

By answering those questions for myself I was most often able to shift my own mood into a more positive one and I was also able to manage the emotional overwhelm that came from the post traumatic type symptoms, triggered by the traumatic discovery of my husband's sexual addiction.

Memory Joggers

Sometimes when we are extremely stressed, in crisis or emotionally overwhelmed it can be useful to have a memory jogger to  remind us what to do — I wrote my “4 A's” on the back of old business cards which I kept in my purse. Another memory jogger I had was “Stop, Look and Listen” I would say it to myself when I recognized that my emotional state was getting out of hand. It became shorthand for a technique to help me get back on track:

  • Stop Look and listen
    • Stop engaging in activities which promote depression/ negativity for you (These will be different for each of us) this requires brutal honesty with ourselves…and requires us to actively stop choosing to feel an emotion for a given period of time. It's a positive form of dissociation or compartmentalizing.
    • Look at the different domains of your life-(the pillars) what areas can you derive value from? Do an activity which nurtures a positive value...physically do it, rather than just thinking about doing it !
    • Listen to your positive self. What would you advise yourself to do if you were your best friend or your own coach?  

Activity A:

  • Take a moment to consider what the main pillars of your life are?
  • Which pillars are currently unstable or crumbling?
  • Which pillars are in need of repair or attention?
  • Which are strong and stable?

Activity B

  1. Run through.... the 4 A's method when you are not in emotional imbalance.
  2. Make a record of the 4 A's method so that it's available to you when you might need it (stick it on the side of the freezer or save to your PC.... Then try using it when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
  3. What could you alter or adapt in the method to make it work better for you?
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