Patience and Caring for a Suspicious Spouse After Porn Addiction

Couple struggling with Sexual Addiction

Many people are surprised by the devastating impact of sexual addiction, or the use of pornography on a marriage. There is a wide range of reactions to a spouse disclosing an addiction, or it being exposed, which range from denial and avoidance to symptoms that look like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [1].

As humans we deny or avoid some of the most painful realities there are, and PTSD displays the impact of trauma as we develop symptoms of agitation, hypervigilance, social isolation, fear, mistrust, loss of interest in pleasurable activities and more.

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Imagine if your partner had told you they had slept with 5 other people in the last month, or been watching videos of younger and more “exciting” people having sexual encounters.

  • What would your gut reaction be?
  • How might you feel?
  • How would you behave towards this partner into the future?

Especially, what would you think if they told you it wasn’t a big deal? You likely would feel inadequate, scared, untrusting, deeply offended and unloved! Trying this mental exercise brings you a little step closer to your partner’s reality and will help you develop empathy for the struggle they are facing.

Partner Reactions

The reactions of watchfulness, doubt and questioning make clear sense when we appreciate the profound rupture of trust and what it feels like. A partner is not able to simply let these painful feelings and behaviors go.

They are attempting to make themselves safe again [2], and to restore the loving bond they thought they had. Their internal “watchman” is on high alert and everything that looks the slightest bit strange sets of the “danger” cry—even if they are actually safe.

Watchfulness:

It is common for spouses to track smartphone usage, and even your location. They can watch every movement when you are around other people and sneak access to your emails, or hover around you.

Couple struggling with sexual addiction

This can be incredibly frustrating and experienced as control and restriction—you must name to yourself that your partner is seeking to solve their insecurity, hurt, pain and frustration.

Their desire isn’t to perform the behaviors, but to regain safety! Condemning or despising their behavior will likely exacerbate it. A more effective response is to validate the core of where these behaviors are coming from.

Kindly telling your spouse that you will accept their watchfulness (etc), understanding that they need reassurance, and then behaving faithfully and affectionately is an effective way to start relational healing.

Questioning:

A spouse may demand access to your schedule and inquire why you used a specific route, or why a meeting shifted by an hour? Many more seemingly innocuous and more confounding questions may arise.

Even when these feel like an interrogation, you will do well to remember your partner’s deep need to reestablish trust and safety with you. To respond to your partner when their ‘watchman’ has been alerted, start by affirming that you see their discomfort or pain.

Then let them know you will help them answer the question (even if you aren’t sure about the answer). Let them know you aren’t deceiving them or hurting them, but are on their team. Continuing to answer these questions without defensiveness, and with genuine care for your partner will help them find security.

The hardest part is to self-regulate your emotions when you feel accused or attacked. In these instances, take slow deep breaths to regulate your nervous system and prevent emotional flooding [3]. Remember why they are distressed, and speak compassionately to your partner and internally to yourself.

Violations of trust:

If you have violated a partner’s trust sexually, it will help them to know the full extend of behaviors, deception and activity you have been a part of. Traumatizing details of sexual acts should not be disclosed, but a full overview should be given.

Example: 10 times I have used craigslist to seek sexual encounters, sent private messages to arrange them, then met people whilst you were at work, at their homes, and we had sexual intercourse and then I left.

A full account of the trust-breaking behaviors should be communicated so that questioning, insecurity and secrecy are minimized [4]. The goal is to help partners know, “I know everything, and this is so devastating, but I know where we are starting from, and I know what the real threats were.”

To this end, if continued betrayals occur it is best to communicate to a partner the healing support you have gotten for your behavior, what you plan to do to eliminate it, and that you are taking the betrayal seriously.

It is advisable to ask your partner how they would like to be communicated to about betrayals—then commit to following their plan so they don’t feel that they are responsible for checking in with you.

Unfortunately, questioning and watchfulness can become hostile and a cover for abusing a betrayer.

If attacking words and contempt are common, let your partner know that it makes you want to hide from them.

Let them know that you want to hear their concerns and value healing the relationship, and you will need them to communicate differently to be able to do that.

Helpful responses

Consider how you will react to questions and watchfulness for a partner who is in pain and struggling to trust you:

  • Find a friend or sponsor who can support you and hear your frustrations when trying to care for a hurt partner.
  • What questions most irritate you? Why is this—does it tap into shame and insecurity?
  • What can you do, and how can you seek to respond more graciously?
  • Can you see the pain and distrust as the root of the question? If not, you may need professional support to do this.
  • What type of watchfulness is the biggest struggle for you?
  • Is there a story behind this that relates to your wider experiences in life?

 


Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com where you can find his guide, or contact him.


References:

[1]: Blankenship, R. (2013) Spouses of sex addicts: Hope for the journey.
[2]: Steffens, B. and Means, M. (2009) Your sexual addicted spouse: How partners can cope and heal.
[3]: Gottman, J. (2011) The science of trust: Emotional attunement for couples.
[4]: Ibid.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 9, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 4, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.