What if Shame was a Bridge, not a Barrier?
by Marsha Means, M.A.
Marsha Means, M.A.
What if Shame was a Bridge, not a Barrier?
by Marsha Means, M.A.
Living in the Gap between Yesterday and Tomorrow
by Lynda Ward, M.T.S., C.S.D.
Grace & Peace,
Lynda Ward, M.T.S., C.S.D.
Coach, Communications & New Media Specialist
Considering Options: Choosing to Stay with a Sex Addict
by Coach Jodi
edited by Marsha Means, M.A.
Ten years ago when I discovered I was the partner of a sex addict, I felt as if I had fallen into a deep, dark hole: a pit really, and initially, I had no idea where I was, or how to find my way out. Back then—and even now—I identified with this poem about addiction and recovery. For me, it accurately portrays a partner’s journey:
An Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson (click here for printable version of original poem)
1. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in. I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
5. I walk down a different street.
Upon discovery or disclosure, each of us can identify with Chapter One. We wonder, where in the world am I? How did I get here? We feel disoriented, confused, and shocked, and many of us say we feel like we’re spinning in a deep, dark vortex. And we’ve no idea how to get out.
Two Questions Helped Me Know What I Wanted to Do
Two simple questions helped me determine what I needed and wanted to do.
1. What can I not live with? This question forces us to determine our “deal breakers.” These are the behaviors we know we cannot and will not tolerate in our marriage. When we encounter true deal breakers, the choice to stay is no longer an option, at least not long term. But sometimes leaving takes time. It can require time to plan and prepare, even if we don’t want it to. However, having a plan, and persistently working it will enable us to leave as soon as the pieces of our plan are in place.
(Please note: This newsletter does not apply to abusive and dangerous situations. Anyone in an abusive situation and in danger must seek safety immediately --- to stay when harm and danger are imminent, for you or your children, is not an option.)
2. What can I live with? Most of us at least consider leaving. And when we do, we’re forced to examine our ability—or inability—to make it on our own, if we leave the marriage. Finances, children, family matters, or health issues might make staying the wisest—or the only—choice. At least for a season. I took the time I needed to sift through all of the painful feelings of betrayal, abandonment, loss, and feeling less-than, and eventually I chose to stay, even though my marriage wasn’t healed.
These two questions helped me gain the clarity and peace I needed to make healthy decisions about my life and my future. You may have different questions you need to answer, because each of our journeys is uniquely our own.
Coming to Understand the Strange World Of Sex Addiction
At some point post-discovery, our shock wears off and we bounce between Chapters 2 and 3 of the poem above.
During this time we try to learn what sex addiction is about, and how to care for ourselves in a marriage tainted by it. Like me, many partners realize, for their own reasons, they need or want to stay in their marriage. Some women will stay for a short while as they work their plan and prepare to leave. And others will choose to stay, perhaps permanently. Either way, partners can use this time to learn, heal, and prepare for their future.
Six Tasks that Equip Us to Heal Whether We Choose to Stay or Leave
The following task list helped me take responsibility for my own well being, and it kept me from slipping into the negative patterns that can come when married to a sex addict.
*Finding Support: Support and a healing process is crucial for for partners of sex addicts. One of the best resources available is our Journey to Healing and Joy workbook. Working through this workbook with a coach and a small group of women is the best gift you could give yourself. At the end of the 12 weeks you will have been given the opportunity to share your story in a safe setting while gaining new skills and tools to use not only in your marriage but in every relationship in your life.
*Utilizing the Power of the Serenity Prayer: The Serenity Prayer can bring calm, clarity, and peace in the space of thirty seconds. It’s like a form of spiritual breathing. The simplicity of this prayer helps me discern my needs, and helps me access the empowerment I need to meet them. It enables me to “let go” when needed, and it provides a continuing source of courage and comfort. I love its wisdom and it’s simplicity: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
*Learning and Using Boundaries: Learning how to detach from my husband in a healthy way provided a safe space to learn and create the boundaries I needed to begin to heal. It took a lot of trial and error, but I eventually learned how to create healthy boundaries to keep myself safe. If you need help with boundaries, our A Circle Of Joy's Coach Carin facilitates a boundaries support group for that purpose.
*Taking Responsibility for Our Own Well Being: The Life Model has played an important role in my healing. And nothing is more powerful in helping us take responsibility for our own healing and well being than the Life Model principles. Learning to “return to joy from negative emotions,” and “using joy to increase my emotional capacity so it’s higher than my pain” were foundations for me. Another Life Model principle that’s helped me is “Learning to suffer well.” This means, “Can I be true to who I am in the midst of suffering?” We touch on the Life Model principles in our Journey to Healing & Joy groups, but if you want to learn about these skills and many more, consider participating in a Healing through Joy group with Coach Katherine or with me, Coach Jodi.
*Finding Purpose In Our Pain: While early post-discovery is a very painful time, finding “the purpose in the pain” is highly valuable. Women have even said it is a sacred time where they feel more connected to their true self. Once they experience “being well,” and learn new ways to take care of themselves (or return to activities that bring them joy), wonderful, beautiful things can happen. And they learn how to be well in a less than ideal marriage.
In time, I was able to regain a sense of safety and security, even though my marriage wasn’t healed. Now, ten years post-discovery, I see myself on Chapter 4 of the poem. I now know where the holes are, and I am able to walk around them. I still have triggers but they no longer have the power to hijack my brain. I can access and use empowerment to take care of myself in healthy ways. And I know Chapter 5 is available to me if I am not able to keep myself emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically safe while staying married.
I encourage you to find the resources and tools you need to heal, whether or not your husband chooses recovery, and whether or not you stay. Healing is possible for any woman who discovers she is married to a sex addict.
While I did not choose this addiction, I do get to choose my story. I am not responsible for my husband’s recovery, but I am responsible to make sure this addiction doesn’t get “two for the price of one.” Ten years ago I was determined to find the help and support I needed to heal and feel like myself again, and I’m so glad I did. My hope is that you will find the help you need to heal from the pain this addiction has brought into your life. We are here to help you on your healing journey.
With your healing at heart,
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Marriage: Should I
Stay or Should I Leave?
by Coach Katherine
edited by Marsha Means, M.A.
No bride ever dreams of divorce on her wedding day. But sadly, for those of us married to sex addicts, it is something many of us eventually consider. I am one of those women.
Recognizing the Inconsistences
As I was married to a sex addict for 34 years. My story can be found on our website by clicking here. A year or two prior to separating, I started to suspect that something wasn’t right with my husband. Because he had been in recovery for several years, and I thought things were getting better, I felt a range of emotions when I considered the inconsistencies in his recovery. If your husband isn’t working a strong recovery program, you may identify with them. These are just a few I recognized:
*Denial that he was choosing his addiction all over again after six years of sobriety.
*Anger that I might have to enforce my consequences. After all, hadn’t I said the marriage would end if he acted out again?
*Questioning God. Because my faith is an important part of my life, I stayed in the marriage because I believed God had asked me to. I did my part, so why was He allowing my husband to go back into his addiction?
When I dared to acknowledge these emotions, it forced me to face hard questions.
Asking Myself The Hard Questions
As I considered my marriage and ability to live on my own, these four questions were among those I asked myself:
*Can I stay in my marriage when it appeared that my husband would probably never choose long term wholeness and healing?
*Was lack of commitment to the hard work of recovery all he was willing to give me?
*Could I accept the pain and loneliness one feels with a sex addict not in recovery for the rest of our married life, knowing how it was affecting me?
*Didn’t I deserve to have a faithful and honest husband who loved me?
It took time to sift through my circumstances and ask myself the hard questions. Each of us must do this in our own way to find our personal answers to the difficult questions we must face, and the inner peace we need to accept what we find there.
Facing My Fears
Contemplating divorce forced me to face my fears and really look at the personal cost of ending my marriage. These are some of the fears I faced:
*Fear of being unable to support myself. I married at 18 and was a stay at home mom who didn’t have to work outside the home. I had only gone back to work four years prior to my separation. Gratefully my children were grown by the time I separated. But for those who still have children at home, this fear—and reality—can force them to delay the separation until they’ve honed their workplace skills and gained the ability to earn a high enough income to survive.
If you face this challenge, remember: information is power. Most, if not all, cities and large towns have a Crisis Clinic with a huge data bank of resources for anyone in the community facing hard life situations. Start your search for help and answers there. Another great resource can be found at the Women’s Resource Center at a local junior college or other service center in your community. There you can seek aptitude testing, and discuss with counselors fields of study that require shorter periods of prep and education, but also earn sufficient income.
Without workplace-ready job skills, we may have to get creative to build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be. Hold on to the reality that this is a period of transition and not your final destination. If you keep your eyes on the goal of self-sufficiency, you will get there in time.
*My fear of the impact on my children. My children were grown, so they didn’t experience the impact younger children nearly always feel. And my former husband and I are able to be friends, so holidays and special events can still be enjoyed as a family. But I know that’s impossible for many, and children often experience their own trauma when a family struggles with sex addiction. So find an experienced counselor if your children need help processing and adapting to the life changes. If counseling for them is outside your financial capability, school counselors have helped the children of some clients, without the cost of a private therapist.
*Fear of losing my spiritual community. Many churches and religions advise against divorce. So for those of us who are a part of a spiritual community, making a decision aligned with our beliefs and teaching generally requires time, soul searching, and perhaps spiritual counsel. If you fall into this category, I explain how I arrived at a place of peace at the end of this article.
*Fear of splitting our marital assets. Unless your partner is kind and caring, fair and generous, even when he is living in his addiction, seek legal counsel to understand your marital assets and your rights to a percentage of them in the event of a divorce. Learn all you can about what you have to work with so you can fight fear with knowledge. Remember: information is power, so do everything you can to become informed. If you can’t afford legal counsel, every town has a legal clinic where lawyers offer a pro bono session to women in need. There is generally a six week waiting list before you can get an appointment, so if you find you are already asking yourself the hard questions, get on the waiting list. Seeking counsel does not mean your marriage will end. It simply means you are gathering information in case your partner doesn’t fight for sobriety and you eventually have to leave your marriage.
*The fear of being alone. Being single doesn’t mean you have to be alone. I knew the pain of being alone when I was married. I don’t feel that pain anymore as I live on my own. Good friends can help fill that gap. Start exploring new things and discover what brings you joy. Get familiar with what works for you and what doesn’t. I’ve also gained encouragement from starting a joy journal. It gives me a way to track the joys that come into my life and counters letting them pass by unnoticed.
These are just a few of the fears we face. Remember, you can’t go over fear, under fear, or around it. If you are ever to put fear behind you, you must walk straight through it. When you face fear head on and gather needed information, fear loses its crippling power, and increased courage and new growth begin to replace your fears.
Dealing with our fears may be the biggest challenge of divorce. But when we allow fear dominate our thoughts, it can keep us stuck and unable to move forward toward a new chapter in our life. We all suffer from fear of change and fear of the unknown. And we definitely face those fears when sex addiction destroys our marriage.
Take Your Time
Take your time. Don't be afraid to declare a "mourning time" for yourself. Divorce is like a death, so please don’t downplay the deep grief you feel. Many find divorce more painful than the death of their life partner, because an addict makes a choice that doesn’t leave room for his wife in his life, but one who dies didn't choose to leave. Face your losses and grieve them as much as possible prior to leaving. Be proactive. Lay out an exit plan that works for you. Get help from those you trust. Find a therapist or coach who can help you take those steps. If faith is part of your life, trust that God is for you and not against you. Plan ahead so that when you are alone, you've already faced the period of transition that precedes a new life.
I took my time. For me that was key. It helped me make progress when I faced the emotional losses that came with the decision to leave my marriage prior to actually leaving.
A word of caution: If you are being abused, please don't wait to leave. Find help now. Staying in an abusive relationship is not only emotionally crippling, it can be dangerous for you and for your children.
Finally, I came to a place of acceptance of the painful truth that my husband wasn’t choosing recovery. Whether I stayed or divorced, I had no choice but to accept my situation. And as I did, I came to acknowledge the painful reality that my husband was not choosing recovery and life with me over his addictive behavior. That really hurts, but acceptance is the key to our eventual healing.
Two Years Post Divorce
I have been divorced for over two years now. I know the fear of facing life alone; the fear of facing financial worries; and the fear of the impact of divorce on our children. But I have survived, and gone on to thrive.
Divorce is not an event but a process. You grow through it minute by minute, hour by hour, and week by week. Then one day you realize the pain has eased and you feel joy again.
Regrets & Joys
I knew I didn’t want to feel regret, which is why I took my time. But there’s one regret I’ve failed to avoid: I wish I had asked my husband for a full disclosure and polygraph during those years before separation. But because his addiction cost us our home, his career, and virtually everything, the resulting financial burdens put an intensive outside our financial reach. I do regret that we couldn’t do an intensive, but I’ve come to terms with that part of my story.
For the most part, I now have so much more joy in my life. Several years ago I discovered The Life Model and their teaching on the importance and value of creating joy in our lives. I proactively pursued joy from that moment on, and it became a turning point in my healing journey. I found joy so key in my life, I taught classes at my church on the value and practice of joy for those struggling with addictions and those in trauma. And we include it in the groups we offer at A Circle of Joy.
I also added gratefulness and appreciation to my tool box. Joy, appreciation, and gratefulness became focal points as I moved through my losses and trauma. I still pursue these things faithfully. I now have a home that I love; my children and I are close; I love my job, have good friends, and I have a new church that I enjoy.
I am divorced but I don’t suffer from loneliness like I did in my marriage. I truly feel content knowing that God continues to use and grow me. I hold on to this scripture in Isaiah 54:5: For your Maker is your husband; the LORD Almighty is his name. The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit; a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
Divorce Recovery Takes Time
I suggest you give yourself at least two years to move through the period of recovery post divorce. Since my divorce, I’m learning to trust God at a deeper level. I’m still a work in progress, trust me, but I’m learning to trust Him in the areas of my finances and my future. I’m learning that I am whole on my own; that I don’t need a husband to make me feel complete. I still pray for my former husband, and I do want him to find healing and peace.
For Those Whose Faith & Beliefs Typically Do Not Leave Room For Divorce
The Bible tells us God hates divorce. Unfortunately, most pastors only know how to play that one string. Most avoid speaking about pornography and infidelity because they’ve not been trained in helping people through the heartache of sex addiction.
However, in the Bible, God does recognize the reality of divorce. I believe He knew divorces were going to occur, so He outlined the proper methods to follow. In Matthew 19, Jesus debates with religious leaders about the grounds on which a divorce could happen. In verse 9 he said that divorce was invalid except for marital unfaithfulness. I believe that. If your husband is unwilling to recover from sex addiction—to work his recovery and rebuild a healthy emotional and sexual relationship with you—Jesus said that you have grounds for divorce.
I know some will disagree with me, but as my husband returned to his addiction, I sat down with my senior pastor and asked him his views on divorce. He shared his perspective on divorce in cases such as mine, and it helped me further accept my reality, and to make a choice that was in line with my beliefs.
The Amazing Power of Heart to Heart Support: How Relationships Can Help Us Heal
I want to share with you a wonderful, nine minute video about a woman named Amy Silverstein. You can view the video on Amy's website by clicking here (please scroll to the middle of her home page). The video is also on YouTube. It’s a video about the power of support when life gives us more than we can handle on our own. Interestingly, though Amy has the kind of husband every woman dreams of, even he isn’t enough without the power of heart to heart support from Amy's female friends or "sisters" on her journey.
I’ve watched the video several times, each time jotting down new takeaways from this life-giving story. But what I hope you take away is that none of us can face life’s most painful and difficult mountains without what the story calls a “support group posse.” It takes a group of supportive sisters who will tunnel through the mountain’s pain and chaos with us. Though Amy’s mountain is different—and perhaps even worse—than ours, it’s her circle of support that enables her to face it.
Amy had to choose whether to let herself literally die with her broken heart, or to face all that comes with getting a new one. It was her circle of supportive sisters who gave her the courage and tenacity to choose life. The right kind of support can enable us to choose life too.
We would love to hear your takeaways from this powerful video, and we invite you to post them on our Facebook Page or in our free Online Community. For me, it’s a beautiful metaphor of what it takes to heal, whether it’s our physical heart or emotional heart that’s dying.
With your healing at heart,
Marsha Means, M.A.