Bethesda Workshops 

a place for healing from sexual addiction in Nashville, TN

About Partners

Definition

A partner is simply one who is (or has been) in a significant relationship with an addict. The partner of a sex addict has been deeply betrayed by the addict’s behavior and usually feels significant hurt and anger.

The dynamics of the relationship between an addict and partner can be complicated. In an effort to understand or control the distressing situation, the partner may put the majority of her (or his) focus on the addict and be more attuned to the addict’s behavior and needs than to her own. In a different scenario, the partner may detach from the addict and withdraw into her (or his) own world of work, children, or other interests. In some situations the partner may be totally surprised to learn the addict has been acting out.

Partners sometimes get caught up in their own unhealthy behaviors when they discover or learn about the addict’s betrayal. They may play detective (after an expected period of investigation to find out the truth of about the addict’s behavior), rage, shut down, become more sexual, try to control or fix, threaten, abuse alcohol or other drugs, eat, shop, settle for the status quo, or do any number of things in an effort to cope. While completely understandable, these reactions don’t help the situation, and unfortunately, they often make it worse.

A partner deserves a dedicated treatment focus to get help for the pain of the betrayal, to restore self-worth, and to learn tools and skills of self-care.

Coping with Addiction

Because partners live in a crazy-making environment of addiction or family dysfunction, they often doubt their own reality. And most sex addicts are masters at attempting to alter a partner’s reality! This practice is called gaslighting, and it’s totally crazy-making for the partner. It’s important for a partner to trust her own gut and her own view of reality.

Often it’s hard for a partner to trust herself (or himself). Sometimes a partner is especially susceptible to believing the addict’s explanations, accusations and promises. Usually this happens when the partner unconsciously learned early in life to lose herself in other people. Maybe she had to fend for herself because caregivers weren’t healthy enough to nurture her, or maybe she had to always be alert for danger from others and adjust to their version of reality.

In an unhealthy, crazy-making situation like living with an addict, people are forced to cope the best way they know how. Sometimes they are anxious to please, help, or not rock the boat. Other times they try to control or fix the addict. Many avoid their feelings through focusing externally on children, work, church, activities, and other people.

Sometimes partners try to manage or manipulate others’ behavior or make threats if things don’t change. If a partner isn’t aware of the addict’s behavior (which isn’t unusual, as most addicts are great at lying and hiding), they may live with a nagging sense that something isn’t right. Sometimes partners engage in their own problematic behaviors like excessive drinking, shopping, or raging.

These dynamics and behaviors are largely unconscious and were often developed as coping techniques in the partner’s family of origin. When the family struggles with addiction, secrets, deprivation, perfectionism, or other family dysfunction, the partner must learn ways to survive.

People who are wounded in this way tend to gravitate toward others who are emotionally unavailable or needy, even though they don’t appear that way on the outside. That kind of relationship dance feels unconsciously familiar. Unfortunately, if a partner doesn’t know how to address her own feelings and needs, she often becomes involved in a relationship that is chronically unfulfilling.

Healing for partners involves two parallel tracks: healing from the trauma of being betrayed by a sex addict; and healing from earlier wounds that left her with coping techniques and belief systems no longer are helpful. Partners deserve complete healing and empowerment as individuals and within their intimate relationships.