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Through the Looking Glass: Understanding the Partner's Trauma of Sexual Addiction

Updated: Jun 29

woman staring out window

In most cases, there is nothing that can prepare you for when you find out your spouse has a pornography and sexual addiction. To be on the receiving end of addiction leaves many women dealing with a deep sense of betrayal, uncertainty, and hurt. Addiction hits at the core of a woman’s relationship, often at the center of her soul, and damages the marriage. After learning of their husband’s addiction, many women have reported their relationship feels false and empty and many find themselves asking, “who can I trust?” and “who will be there for me now?”

As the betrayed spouse, women often don't know where to turn and often struggle with the deception alone. This type of trauma shatters the internal world of the spouse of an addict and affects all aspects of her life. The betrayal disrupts her ability to function with the day to day aspects of her life, alters her sense of self, and can have a huge impact on her spirituality.

What many fail to realize is the experience of pornography and sexual addiction falls into the category of trauma for the spouse. Responses to trauma can vary widely, and may include any of the following symptoms:

  • Fear and/or anxiety

  • Outbursts of anger or rage

  • Sadness and/or depression

  • Hyper-vigilance (excessive alertness or watchfulness)

  • Irritability

  • Worrying or ruminating

  • Intrusive thoughts of the trauma

  • Tendency to isolate oneself

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering

  • Feelings of panic or feeling out of control

  • Increased need to control everyday experiences (parenting, cleaning, dieting)

  • Difficulty trusting or feelings of betrayal

  • Feelings of self-blame or responsibility

  • Flooding of feelings and/or emotional numbness

  • Feelings of helplessness

  • Minimizing the experience

  • Feelings of detachment

  • Concern over burdening others with problems

  • Under- or overeating (weight loss or weight gain)

  • Shame

  • Shock and disbelief

  • Diminished interest in everyday activities

  • Withdrawal

  • Preoccupation with body image

Partners are sometimes surprised that reactions to the trauma last longer than they expected. It may take months or even years to fully regain a sense of balance and equilibrium. You may feel you need to just “get over it” when in reality you need a strong support system to get through the hard and challenging times. Research has shown that one of the key components of successfully navigating through trauma is the level of support an individual has.

Most women feel isolated when confronted with their spouse’s addiction. The statement, “when an addict comes out of the closet his partner goes in,” rings true for many dealing with addiction and because of that, it is important for the spouse to find a safe place to talk about her feelings.

Self-care is another tool to use while navigating through the trauma. Self-care involves finding helpful, coping strategies that assist in nurturing oneself at a very difficult time of life. Some examples might include:

  • Connecting and talking with others, especially with those who share similar stressful experiences.

  • Allowing yourself to feel and express emotions such as anger, sadness, hurt, and fear, which are all common emotions at a time of crisis.

  • Engaging in physical movement and/or exercise to deal with the stresses of the trauma.

  • Participating in relaxation activities like yoga, meditation, stretching, or massage.

  • Seeking plenty of rest. Often sleep is disrupted and as much as possible it is important to maintain a normal sleep cycle.

  • Writing about the experience in order to begin the process of sorting through the details and emotions of the events.

  • Maintaining spiritual practices such as praying, meditating, and attending religious meetings or gatherings.

  • Taking relaxing baths or showers.

  • Listening to calming and uplifting music.

Just like anyone who has been through a traumatic event, it is important that you treat yourself with gentleness and patience. If possible, try not to make major life changes at this time, as thinking and judgment may not be as clear as usual. And again, seek support and information about sexual addiction as this is a very difficult experience to navigate by oneself.


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