The Value of a Guided Recovery Process
The devastating betrayal and loss a woman feels when she discoverers her husband's emotional, mental, or physical unfaithfulness destroys her world and shatters her trust. Her grief forms a kaleidoscope of complex emotions, the depth and range of which may vary from day to day, and from woman to woman. But one thing remains certain for all: they experience these emotions in multiple ways and on multiple levels, often simultaneously.
The wounded woman's mind becomes a hurricane of questions that swirl endlessly, stirring up self-doubt, and often blowing away her hard-earned self-image. In the turmoil of that inner storm, elements of her world that she once believed could never be torn from her are now ripped from her grasp, and yanked from her heart. She stands empty of hope and drenched in unbearable loss. Why does she feel her loss so deeply?
Because most women enter marriage believing in their partner's total adoration and commitment to them. The fairytales, movies, and romance novels have set them up to fully expect pure, untainted honesty, and unadulterated love s the foundation of their future. Is it any wonder, then, that when such a woman encounters a totally different reality at some point in her marriage, she feels crushed, tricked, discarded, abandoned, and betrayed?
"Why did he do this?" she questions through unstoppable tears? "How could he do this? I thought he loved me. What did I do wrong, or what didn't I do right? Does he think I'm too old, or not pretty enough? If only I had been more sexual. God just has to bring him back," she often cries pleadingly.
A Flood of Feelings
Along with the questions, comes a flood of feelings, including sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, self-blame, disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, and many, many more. And the long list of strong feelings is generally accompanied by a mix of behaviors and changes in personality, such as sleep and appetite disturbances, absent-minded behavior, social withdrawal, loss of interest in life and activities, dreams of her husband, avoidance of situations or people who serve as reminders of her husband or their life together, restlessness, over activity, and more. The reactions are as varied as the women affected by this personal and social addiction and tragedy.
Yet the deeply painful and damaging trauma that accompanies sexual or emotional betrayal still frequently goes unrecognized, both in the church and in the secular community. The church often minimizes its impact, frequently expecting the betrayed partner to keep quiet about her pain and reality. They often want her to quickly wipe it all up with forgiveness and grace, and move on. And the secular community frequently minimizes any negative impact sexual misconduct has on the addict, his partner, their family system, or the community. Some go so far as to make it the betrayed partner's pathology if she takes her husband's sexual activities personally and experiences pain. One secular psychologist told me the clients I work with should just join their husbands in pornography and let it enrich their relationship and sex life. Is it any wonder that these women often feel a confusing sense of isolation, locked out of any real understanding, connection and help?
Recognizing the Pain is Deep Trauma
As a counselor who specializes in helping these women heal, I believe this pain needs to be recognized for what it is: a situation in a woman's life that is just as traumatic—perhaps more traumatic—than the death of her husband might have been. Many women have said to me, "Oh, it would have been so much easier if he had just died. At least I would have known he loved me when I lost him."
How do you heal if you are one of these women? How do you help if you are a counselor, part of the clergy, or working with women as a volunteer? Just as our bodies must heal following physical illness in order to regain the balance of homeostasis, healing is likewise required to return the grief stricken partner to a state of equilibrium. The process of mourning is similar to the process of physical healing. And, just as different illnesses require different protocols, or processes, to bring about physical healing, different emotional traumas require different forms of help and treatment to facilitate emotional healing. Without this kind of healing, partners of addicts frequently get lost, or stuck, in their grief. They begin to feel helpless, inadequate, incapable, and empty. It is not uncommon for unresolved grief to bring on mental or physical illness.
Sadly, many partners of addicts are unable to find or pay for the kind of help they need, so over time their mental landscape begins to look very much like a vacant lot that has overgrown with thickets of tall, tangled weeds. The mixed up mess of a woman's psyche seems devoid of even a remnant of who she might have been on her wedding day.
Women need help to complete their healing, and to move on to living as healthy, empowered women with a newfound sense of who they are and where they are going, regardless of what their husbands do—or don't do—about their addictions.
So how can their wounds be healed? There are two important principles upon which professionals agree: partners need a way to cope with their emotions and the dramatic changes in their self-perception and their lives. And, they need others. They cannot remain in isolation and hope to arrive at a happier future.
They Need a Structured Process That Guides Them Through the Steps That Lead to Healing
Few written resources are available that walk a woman through the stages of healing, though new ones appear each year. Through much trial and error, I found that a workbook with the following components provides a beneficial outline that walks a woman, or preferably, a group of women, through the steps of healing.
1) brief teachings (psycho educational components) that move the reader through clear stages of grieving and healing, coupled with 2) therapeutically designed questions phrased much like a sexual addiction specialist would ask in private counseling sessions, followed by 3) journal space for the hurting woman to journal her answers. This combination when done by an individual woman generally proves to be extremely helpful, as it begins to foster the hurting woman's emotional healing. However, this process produces a much greater benefit when the journal answers can be shared in a small support group setting with four to six other women, led by a skilled facilitator or counselor. Within the group format, women grow to love and trust one another over the course of approximately four months (or longer if desired) of weekly meetings.
Journaling the answers to the thought provoking questions helps wounded women gain skills in self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-expression. As she answers the questions, she is writing her thoughts; she is having a "conversation" of sorts with herself. Even when she has problems finding words to express her thoughts and feelings to others, writing is cathartic because it allows her to unburden her heart. And, it helps her figure out what she is feeling and thinking. A workbook, such as our Partner's Healing Journey can be an important tool in a woman’s healing, enabling her to eventually moving on to fully engaging in life once again.
We Need Others: How a Group Helps Move Us Forward In Our Healing
A Support Group Helps Lessen the Adverse Effects of Stress From Our Loss
Just as we need others when we face the loss of a loved one through death, we need others to help us recover from the traumatic losses sex addiction brings to our lives, as well. Both losses are forms of bereavement. Bereavement specialists tell us that emotional and social support from others plays a significant roll in the bereavement process. Several studies have shown that social support alleviates the adverse effects of the stress of bereavement.
A Support Group Removes the Isolation Created by Our Loss & Pain
As already discussed above, a husband's sexual addiction often leaves a woman isolated, alone, and alienated from her usual support structure of friends and family. Most women don't want anyone else to know what's happening in their lives because they know that divulging their reality could create many additional losses. If friends knew, they might abandon the friendship. If family knew, they might lock the addicted husband—or worse, both members of the couple—out of the family circle. Even churches rarely feel like safe enough places to disclose this truth. Many women fear that their husband's will be treated with gossip, fear, and shame. And sadly, this is often true. In addition, friends who haven't experienced this pain in their own lives often grow weary of hearing about it. They quickly reach a point where they believe it's time for the hurting woman to move on. "Get over the jerk!," they often say.
A Support Group Provides a Structured Healing Process
The structured healing process a workbook provides, coupled with the healing bond that grows in a support group, provides the ideal needed to move partners toward healing. New relationships with other women who understand a partners pain create the beginning steps needed to reestablish her sense of self as a valuable, contributing adult, and as something more than a discarded woman.
And while moving through the workbook chapter by chapter as a group, women are in a process that includes telling their stories, grieving their losses, rebuilding their wounded self esteem, moving toward forgiveness, and finding empowerment and hope to move forward into the future God has designed for them as his precious daughters, regardless of whether their marriages survive, or fail. With the love and support of others in the group, the words of Jeremiah 29:11 take on new meaning:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."