To discover a spouse's addiction is both devastating and overwhelming. Often, a spouse's need for support is heightened as he or she feels that options are diminished. The addicted spouse is not available and the shame of the addiction further isolates him or her. The task of reaching out can seem almost impossible. There is hope and healing that can take place, but there are a few things to know before you begin the journey of recovery.
It's not your fault
When a woman learns that her husband or loved one is involved in pornography and related compulsive sexual behaviors, she is flooded with emotions. These include feelings of shock, anger, disgust, deep hurt and confusion. It is easy for a woman to blame herself, feeling as though she is somehow not "good enough." But this is not the case. You are not the reason for your spouse's addiction.
For many women, therapy is a safe place to sort through the traumatic experience of their spouse's addiction. It is vital for couples struggling through addiction to have a strong support system around them. Talk with your church, close friend or find a 12-step program that can provide help to those affected by addiction.
Warning signs of addiction
Has your spouse admitted to you that he or she has a problem with compulsive sexual behaviors?
A spouse may have known that something wasn't right in their relationship for a long time. Many times, the partner of an addict knows, at least on a subconscious level, that something is wrong. Sometimes, however, confession of an addiction may catch one spouse completely off-guard.
Some signs of pornography and sexual addiction are very obvious, like finding a pornographic video, discovering inappropriate Internet browser history or unexplained charges on a credit card statement.
Other signs may be more subtle, and can even take years before a spouse realizes anything. The following list of symptoms may indicate your partner is suffering from sexual addiction. These are not absolute indications of addiction — just possible warning signs.
Noticeable change in frequency of sexual relations with you — from total lack of interest to insatiable appetite for sex.
Noticeable change in actual sexual relations with you — rigid, dispassionate, quick, detached.
Requests unusual sexual practices that make you feel uncomfortable.
Neglects your sexual, physical and emotional needs.
Neglects responsibilities involving family, finances and job.
Increased isolation or withdrawal from family; unexplained absences.
Easily irritated, argumentative or defensive.
Unexplained or secretive in financial matters.
Has stopped participating in hobbies.
When confronted, reactions may include some of the following: defensiveness, anger, pouting, turning the blame and fault to you, manipulation, withdrawal, playing the victim or playing dumb.
The spouse and family members of an addict are dealing with the harsh reality of an attachment being violated. The security and safety of their emotional needs are lost or gone. Much of the relationship feels false — almost like a fraud. For women, discovering your husband's addiction can lead to feelings of vulnerability and disorientation. Naturally, wives ask, "Who can I trust? Who will be there for me now?"
Many times the betrayed spouse does not know where to turn, and will often struggle with the situation alone. A wife's identity, security and stability are destroyed.
This type of trauma shatters the internal world of the spouse of an addict. All aspects of her life are affected. Her ability to function with employment, household duties and parenting is disrupted. Her sense of self is altered, and often her spirituality is affected.
A spouse's responses to this type of wound typically fall in the category of a "trauma response," which can be defined as an emotional response to a perceived threat.
If an addicted spouse takes the desire to recover seriously, it is recommended that you do not make any major decisions regarding your relationship during the first year of recovery, unless abuse is present. It will help if some stability is present before major decisions are made. A decision to go or to stay will become clearer after the first year of treatment, once a healing process is well underway.
Dan Gray (LCSW, CSAT) is the Clinical Director and Cofounder at Life Star Therapy. He has a master’s degree in social work and is a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist). He is also certified as an addictions counselor with the National Association of Forensic Counselors.
He has co-authored and edited two books: Confronting Pornography: A Guide to Prevention and Recovery for Individuals, Loved Ones, and Leaders and Discussing Pornography Problems with a Spouse: Confronting and Disclosing Secret Behaviors. Dan is married and the father of four.