Sex Addiction and Betrayal

Cofactors and Myths “I’m still turned inside out 6 months later.” “Thank God I have work and the kids to distract me. They make it easy to put on the mask and forget for a few hours each day.” “My partner still doesn’t get how this destroyed me.” “She’s remorseful but I just can’t open up again.” “If I try to talk about it I’m accused of living in the past.” If you’ve discovered that your partner is a sex addict, your life and soul feel shattered. The shock, rage and grief is overwhelming. As much as you want to move on, you just don’t know how. Friends offer advice, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. Thats because there are hidden factors within the dynamics of betrayal that will slow your healing to a crawl. These are isolation, empathy burnout, and brainfog.   There are also myths about recovering from betrayal. If you fall prey to these myths, you're recovery will be even slower. The good news? Getting a handle on these hidden factors and myths brings clarity to the confusion that most partners  experience. 1. Isolation Holding the secret of the betrayal cuts you off from those that you are closest to and usually draw strength from.  You feel dishonest and exhausted from wearing such a heavy social mask. Myth: Honesty is the best policy In this age of transparency, we often confuse the healing power of honesty with the mistake of having no boundaries to protect our bruised and raw spirit. The truth is that it can be healthier to build boundaries and choose privacy. Yet this does result in feeling isolated. You may feel like you are living a lie with those closest to you. Below are some common questions that arise from the conflict between isolation, privacy and honesty. Why haven’t I told my parents yet? Your parents adore your partner and telling them the truth would break their hearts. And you may think, “What if they side with him/her? Or blame me? Or tell me to forgive when I’m not ready? Or tell me to leave when I don’t know what I want?” Sometimes it’s easier to choose privacy than to deal with your parent’s reactions.  You are not yet ready to feel their sympathy or their judgment. Your mask of normalcy may grow heavier each day, but that’s easier than getting tangled in their reactions to finding out. You trade the relief and strength that comes from sharing, for a mental haven of normalcy that their ignorance provides. Connecting with your parents lets you share their peace of their not knowing about him for a few hours each time you get together. Sometimes, that provides you with more strength than premature sharing. Why can’t I bring it up with the kids? Your kids would be heartbroken and shocked. They love you both. Not talking about it protects their childhood. Even if your children are adults, you are not prepared to have them question how they view the two of you. Also, a big part of your damage comes from realizing that so much of your history was not what it seemed. You don’t want a disclosure that makes your children question the integrity of their childhood. Finally, it’s tough to accept that so much in the marriage has been out of your control. Owning that you are a gatekeeper about your information puts you back in control, which can feel stabilizing and healing. Why am I hiding this big secret from my friends? Some in your community may judge. If word got out, what happens to your family’s standing at church, mosque, or synagogue? How will your book club, PTA, fitness group and neighbors see you?  What would this do to the kid’s friendships? Your life is already on a roller coaster. You need your tribe to treat you the way they always have. Maintaining privacy gives you acceptance and stability. What to do: Privacy feels helpful in all the scenarios above, but in the long run the support of talking it out will be far more healing. Find a group. There are so many wonderful support groups online and in your community. You need people to talk to who understand where you are right now. They can empathize without judgement and will maintain your confidentiality. 2. Empathy Burnout On the flipside, some people have to tell everyone everything! Some feel like they’ll just explode if they don't vent or share. If that’s you, you might even sense that you’ve burned out your friends and family. But you’re still overwhelmed and  just can’t stop yourself. Myth: Venting is good for me What’s happening: Your emotional overload has understandably exceeded your capacity to contain it.  As a result you've become a Niagara Falls of feelings. An unstoppable excess of anger and tears keeps pouring out of your broken heart.   Normally we get a sense of relief from venting, and our friends are happy to hear us out. Many times, though, the hurt goes so so deep in these situations that the more you vent, the more upset you feel. This contrasts with the familiar belief that if we just cry it all out, we’ll eventually be done. This is not always true. The fact is that at times, making the effort to reign in your feelings may give your traumatized heart enough quiet time to calm down. Also, this will relieve your friends’ empathy burnout. If your friend’s interest is fading, or they feel helpless and frustrated, they might be burned out and unable to truly help.   What to do: Switch it up. Ask for help in enforcing your ban on talking about it. Aim to replace talking about it with having more fun. This will help your friendship and also help you, reminding you of the good things and good times in your life separate from this betrayal. If your emotions start to ramp up, distract yourself. Change the conversation, get out, move to another room. Drink less to help maintain your inhibitions. 3. Brain Fog You secretly fear there is something physically wrong with your head, and you want an MRI. You have brain fog, or you’re incredibly forgetful, or everything feels surreal, or you feel stuck on autopilot. The traffic tickets might pile up because you just can’t focus while driving. This is part of the neurochemical response to the stress of betrayal. It is completely normal under the circumstances. What to do: Forgive yourself for it, remain mindful, and carry a clipboard. This too shall pass. Myth: It’s all in my head Nothing could be further from the truth. What’s happening: Neurobiology shows that the molecules that govern our every emotion can be generated within every organ of our bodies. The many feelings of betrayal are not just top down from our brains, but also bottom up and site specific in the body. When we feel our heart break in two, it's because those messenger molecules are being produced within the muscle fibers of the heart. When those same molecules makes us feel weak in the knees or like a heavy weight on our shoulders, we can also feel physically off balance. It is not unusual for the betrayed partner to be covered in bruises and nicks from minor accidents at work or home. Or to feel that the last time you were so clumsy was when you were nine months pregnant. It’s also proven that severe change, especially loss, temporarily weakens the immune system. One is more susceptible to infectious illness, coughs and colds during the first year of an extreme emotional recovery period. What to do: Make the effort to take extra good care of your sleep, diet, exercise at this time. Maybe you’ve gained weight despite barely picking at your food because you’ve been so distraught. What’s happening: Our bodies were designed in the stone age for wilderness survival. At a primitive emotional level, betrayal feels life threatening. And any big threat to our nervous system registers as “I’m in danger, and might not be able to find food, so I will conserve my calories for now.”   Voila! The strong feelings from the betrayal can cause weight gain. What to do: This will reverse as your stress resolves. Roll with it for now. All of this is normal. You are having a typical reaction to a very bad experience. There is a way out. Most couples who want to stay together do. With some hard work, they report having a better partnership than they ever dreamed of. If you choose to separate, it can be from a place of strength and calm, rather than  from feeling broken, angry and lost. The healing journey is easier and faster if you hire a seasoned guide with a good compass and the right maps. Therapy works. Counseling can end your wondering about how to move on. Worried you can’t afford therapy? Add up the costs of a slowly destructing relationship, attorney fees, and the consequences on your social life, health, emotions, and job performance. In the long run, seeing a therapist is cheap compared to the impact of not getting professional help. A few final tips: Improve Your Self Care Plan I repeat— during a challenging time like this, your risk for infectious disease, coughs, colds, and flu skyrockets.Trauma, grief and depression weaken the immune system, so be extra good about your diet, exercise, and sleep. If you are not sleeping well, please talk to your doctor. Channel Your Strong Emotions You’re probably feeling waves of more raw emotion than you thought possible. And because you have no prior experience, you’re underprepared to manage them. You  might feel like you’re losing control. The temptation is to numb out the emotional intensity,  but emotional energy is alive, and will sneak back and cause you mischief. Unless you address it, you can harm yourself by either exploding or imploding. You know you are exploding if you are: Driving too fast, shouting too much, getting aggressive, being impatient, becoming careless, or acting reckless. You know you are imploding if you are: Bingeing on food, drink, sleeping, shopping, gambling, etc.. You might also  feel too thin-skinned and easily overwhelmed or notice that you are avoiding friends and fun. Get Physical Work it out—at the gym, track, dance class. Smash it out—destroy something harmless, like old mementos, mirrors, pictures, or his/her gifts. This is cheaper, legal, and far more safe than having a car accident or shouting/texting fight with your betrayer. Connect Find meetups, support groups, classes and friends. Everyone I know who has grieved a betrayal  says it is well worth the initial hassle to build a new social support system. Learn Read about what you are going through. This will give you confidence that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you are not going crazy.

In Part 2, we’ll look at what cheaters must do in order to win their partner back.