Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday's Therapy Secondary Losses Can Occur to Child-Loss Grievers: When one discovers a partner's sexually-addictive behaviors ~Barbara Steffens

Thursday's Therapy

Secondary Losses Can Occur to Child-Loss Grievers:

When one discovers a partner's sexually-addictive behaviors

Trauma and Partners of Sexual Addicts

Why is it so hard for your partner to move on....

~Barbara Steffens, Ph.D, LPCC, CCSAS

(What happens to a spouse or partner when they first discover their partner has been participating in sexually addictive behavior?

This information has been gleaned from both clinical experience and research.

Dr. Steffens in this presentation is trying to educate the male addict as to what his spouse or partner is going through upon such discovery, but the female victim can glean much here about the traumatic stress responses she may very well experience in her discovery/discoveries of the sexually compulsive behaviors of her spouse.)

The information in this presentation is based upon clinical experience and research around how spouses of sexual addicts respond to finding out that the man they love struggles with sexually compulsive behaviors

We share this information with you hoping that it will help to describe the thoughts and feelings your partner experienced since she discovered your sexual secrets.

We hope the information will help you better understand the road of recovery and healing ahead for your partner and for you to understand the depth of damage your behaviors can bring about in those you love.

 More than anything, we desire to spark a torch of HOPE in both of your hearts that will shine a light for your recovery journey, and for your future, whatever it holds.

What happened to your spouse and her world?

She recently-or perhaps long ago-learned that her partner struggles with sexually compulsive behaviors.

She feels as if that reality shattered her life…that everything she held true and dear is now in question.

She is likely feeling a confusing mix of emotions, including:






Anxiety, worry






She may even feel relief: her “gut” may have told her something was terribly wrong…at least now she knows…

She feels confused.

She may not feel like herself anymore.

She feels deeply hurt; so hurt and shocked that at times these feelings overwhelm her.

She may startle easily and jump at the smallest sounds.

She knows she has experienced something

cataclysmic, something life changing.

Her thoughts just won't stop. Partners think...

This can’t be happening.

How could he?

What else did he do?

Am I safe?

What else don’t I know?

How will I survive this?

How will our marriage/relationship survive this?

I never dreamed something like this could happen to us.

Life will never be the same again.

Others may not understand her and say:

Why can’t you just get over this?

Why do you keep checking up on him?

Why can’t you forgive and forget?

Why don’t you trust him/me?

Why can’t you just move on?

After Disclosure, women often say...

I loved my husband and I wanted his comfort, yet he was the source of my searing pain.

It left me shell-shocked.

I had disturbing dreams frequently.

I had fear for my health and for our children.

I threw up, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, cried constantly.

I felt horror, anger, rage, terror, fury at God.

I couldn’t read, nothing made sense…I totally lost my ability to concentrate. I got lost a lot.

My initial reaction was to shake uncontrollably- I’ve had this reaction before to death. This was death.

I never felt so betrayed in my life.

The initial disclosure was one of the darkest times of my life…it rocked me to the core of my soul.

It was devastating, traumatic.

She may feel lost and confused.

She may have tried to move on, but find she simply can't...

It May Be Hard for Her to Stop Obsessing

Circular thoughts may spin in her mind

She can’t focus on other things

She may wonder what you are doing when you are away, and fear that you might act out again

She may recall the deep hurt, the painful conversations, the things she saw… even when she doesn’t want to.

It May Be Hard for Her to Stop Certain Behaviors...

She might continually check the computer for porn, your phone for calls, or the bills for sex charges.

She might call you several times a day to check on you.

You might actually follow you, wondering if you are cheating on her again.

She may accuse you of doing things when she fears you are acting out again.

She may scan the room, or mall, or restaurant for potential threats: is that woman your type? Is she looking at you? Will you notice that one over there?

She May Avoid Reminders

She may work hard to forget-or not think about - your sexual behaviors.

She may refuse to talk about it to anyone, including you.

She may avoid going places she usually goes because of the reminders of the betrayal.

She may deny what she knows to be true, simply to prevent the pain of facing it.

Why Does She Feel This Way?

We believe that many partners of sexual addicts experience trauma when they discover their partner’s sexual behaviors or addiction.

Trauma occurs when we experience an event that threatens or shatters our lives, or our way of life, or when we witness an event that is life threatening or life-shattering for someone else.

Examples include serious car accidents, sexual assaults, natural disasters, etc.

These events invade our world and our lives-we were powerless to prevent them.

Trauma often creates post traumatic stress, a collection of emotional and physical symptoms that recur.

Traumatic Events Can Set Up Post Traumatic Stress When

Traumatic events shake us to our core.

Traumatic events change the way we view the world.

Traumatic events leave us feeling physically and/or emotionally unsafe.

Life feels out of control.

When the natural healing process is interrupted or interfered with.

Partners and Post Traumatic Stress

In a clinical study of female partners of sex addicts conducted by Barb Steffens PhD¹, 70% of the study participants met all the symptom requirements for a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a specific emotional disturbance found among some trauma survivors.

Although most mental health professionals would not diagnose partners as suffering from PTSD, they are beginning to recognize that the partner of a sexual addict has experienced a significant and traumatic life event that produces very painful and often debilitating symptoms.

How Can Knowing this Information Help You Both?

It empowers you both to recognize that her feelings of shock, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and confusion, among others, are normal for trauma survivors.

It empowers you both to recognize that she is doing what trauma survivors do: she is looking for ways to protect herself from further trauma by being hyper vigilant; checking for threats in her environment; avoiding reminders of the traumatic event; and/or obsessing about the trauma.

When you both acknowledge that she is experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress it helps both you and your partner understand and respond to her unusual feelings and behaviors in ways that can help her feel safe and more empowered so that she can begin to calm down.

It Changes the Way She Views Herself

Her response to this life crisis is not symptomatic of an illness or disease (some would say she is just co- addicted).

She is not mentally ill.

She is most likely not addicted to the relationship.

She is not refusing to move on or refusing to forgive.

Rather, she is feeling and behaving in typical, predictable ways…ways common to any trauma survivor.

How Can She Heal?

Find support: to heal and survive trauma she needs a support system-safe places to talk and express her feelings.

Support can come from a safe and trustworthy friend or family member-someone who will listen, encourage, and offer support when needed.

Work with a counselor who understands both trauma symptoms and the dynamics of sexual addiction.

Participate in a partner’s support group if at all possible

Practice good self-care.

Find things she can do to take care of and help herself.

Get a medical exam to rule out sexually transmitted diseases or other

medical problems that may result from this trauma.

Focus on eating well, getting the sleep she needs, and talk to a doctor

if she struggles with depression, anxiety, or other symptoms.

Learn to set good boundaries with others.

Take her time as she makes long-term decisions; neither crisis nor the

strong emotions it fosters provide a good environment for making

important decisions that will impact her future.

Give herself time and grace to heal

She needs to re-establish a sense of safety in her life and world.

She is her own best guide as she evaluates what she needs to feel safe.

Listen and respond when she tells you what she needs: does she need space? Do you need to sleep separately? Does she need a break from being sexual with you? Does she need to talk to an attorney to discuss legal options? Does she need some time away by herself?

Respect her boundaries.

Empathize with her pain-listen to it and respond to it in as non-defensive manner as possible

You are Not Alone:

Professionals experienced and able to assist on this difficult journey are available to help you both.

Read Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners

Can Cope & Heal (Steffens & Means, 2009)

More on the Clinical Study:

As per research requirements, Barb’s study had to narrow its focus to look at only one small component of a partner’s experience. Thus, she only tested for trauma and PTSD around the disclosure or discovery of sexual addiction and its associated behaviors.

We in no way believe that disclosure/discovery is the only source of trauma for the partner, but it was the focus of the study.

Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope & Heal (Steffens & Means, 2009)

¹Steffens, B. & Rennie, R. (2006). The traumatic nature of disclosure for wives of sexual addicts. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 247-267.


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