Sitting on the couch in my counseling office, Sondra wore a blank expression on her face staring off into space but her mind was racing with thoughts about her husband Dennis. When I asked her what she was thinking about she quickly rattled off a list of worries and concerns.
"Why would he do this to our family?"
"What is going on in his head? Is he still thinking about them?”
“How do I know he will not do something like this again?"
“Is he learning anything about himself that will help him change?”
Sondra’s list of concerns was normal for a woman who seven weeks ago discovered her husband had been meeting women he found through Craigslist for casual sexual encounters. I asked her what Dennis had been sharing with her about his recovery. Her answer saddened me." Nothing," she said. “He has told me nothing. It’s like my life is on hold.”
Despite the good work Dennis was doing during counseling sessions as well his processing of information in between visits, it was being offset by leaving Sondra in the dark. When a partner is kept out of the recovery process they are left wondering if the offender is changing or even capable of being changed. This in turn generates anxiety in the offended partner and limits their ability to emotionally reconnect with the sex addict in fear of being hurt again.
Dennis’ reasons for not sharing his progress with Sondra are very typical of most men who have been caught abusing sex. He was reluctant to bring up the subject with his wife for fear that she would respond negatively and an argument would result. He also kept her in the dark because discussing any aspect of his addiction triggered his own shame and guilt.
While both reasons are understandable they only lead to more harm and distance between the couple. Keeping your wife or girlfriend in the dark because it lessens your anxiety only continues to serve the self-centered approach you have always taken in the relationship. It is time to put your selfish needs aside and to take every step possible to build within your partner a sense of hope that you can change. One of the most effective ways of doing this is sharing what you are learning about yourself and your addiction.
I have found that couples who work together through the process of recovery end up reconnecting sooner and in a healthier way than couples who do their work separately. One couple I worked with was extremely committed to sharing with each other what they were learning about themselves and their relationship as they went through the healing process. Two years after they first entered counseling they were facilitating a couples’ support group for those struggling to reconnect following sexual betrayal.
Stop keeping her in the dark and help her better understand sexual addiction and where you stand today.
It is critical for the sex addict to keep his partner in the light and share what he is experiencing – both positive and negative. This will lessen the partner’s anxiety and reduce some of the negative racing thoughts experienced.