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SALT LAKE CITY — Does your spouse have a pornography or sexual addiction? If so, you may be dealing with an immense load of emotional pain. There is no light way of putting it. Finding out that your spouse has this kind of an addiction can put your whole life into shock, confusion and chaos.
Finding out that your spouse has a pornography or sexual addiction is an all too common experience in this day of readily accessible pornography, especially through the Internet. Spouses deal with feelings of shock, betrayal, disgust, grief and a list of other feelings too long to enumerate.
Whether a spouse finds out about their partner's addiction because they caught them in the act or because their partner confessed, the results can be devastating.
Many people claim that viewing pornography affects only themselves, that there is no harm to anyone else. Dr. Dan Gray, clinical director and cofounder of LifeStar Therapy Network, put it very frankly.
"Just ask a spouse of a sex addict what the harm is about pornography … (a) female spouse or a male spouse of a sex addict will say, 'I felt disconnected from him for a long time.’ ‘His attention and his affection is somewhere else.’ ‘I don't feel like I know him,’ and it's really very true because he's been living a double life basically and connecting and attaching to other women that he's looking at online and the women really sense it and feel it. So, if you want to ask what the harm is, ask them."
Just ask a spouse of a sex addict what the harm is about pornography … (a) female spouse or a male spouse of a sex addict will say, 'I felt disconnected from him for a long time.' 'His attention and his affection is somewhere else.' 'I don't feel like I know him,' and it's really very true because he's been living a double life basically.
–Dr. Dan Gray, clinical director and cofounder of LifeStar Therapy Network
LifeStar, a therapy network that not only focuses on recovery for pornography and sexual addicts but also on the spouse of an addict and their individual (as well as marital) therapy needs, has locations across the U.S. and is branching into Canada.
Dr. Dorothy Maryon explains that their program tries to provide a place that can help the spouse of an addict with the "upheaval of relational trauma" and the inner turmoil that the trauma has created within the person and the relationship.
Why do you need therapy?
This is something that doesn't just affect your spouse. It affects you and your relationship. This is absolutely a traumatic ordeal for the spouse of an addict.
To heal the relationship between addict and spouse, the turmoil and effects of the addiction on the spouse must be addressed. For any relationship that undergoes any kind of betrayal, there is always a process of healing. Pornography and sexual addictions are things that can create that sense of betrayal and that must be healed.
"It takes about 8 to 18 months for the relational trauma roller-coaster to smooth out during treatment," said Dr. Todd Olsen, LifeStar program director and cofounder.
Olsen said many spouses in this type of situation feel that the only way for them to heal is to get out of their relationship and move on. Without doing their therapeutic work, however, these spouses have not really healed. "There is still trauma following them. It will resurface in another relationship."
Separate from your partner, whether you have had someone in your past involved in this type of addiction or whether your partner refuses to go to therapy, your healing and recovery is necessary. If nothing else, do it for you. The trauma that you have been experiencing will not magically go away.
If you suspect that your spouse has an addiction, it is recommended that before any confrontation, you consult with your clergy or a qualified professional regarding your personal situation to determine the best approach to take.
While it should be noted that addicts very much need to participate in therapy, you only have control over yourself. A person who is coerced into therapy is not likely to be successful.
LifeStar offers private therapy, group therapy in a three-phase plan, and an intensive outpatient program geared to boost recovery. Each of these options can be taken separately or together for an accelerated plan of recovery.
Addicts and spouses in the program "restore safety in the relationship, restore trust in the relationship and often times communicate at a level that's emotionally deeper than they ever have before, and often times they'll say that the relationship is stronger than it ever has been," Olsen said.
There is hope for this to happen if the addict and the spouse will consistently and passionately do the hard work needed, he added.
It's not your fault
Gray stresses that the addiction is not the fault of the spouse. Spouses are not responsible for the addiction and they are not responsible to cure or heal the addiction. What a spouse does need to do is take care of himself or herself and get the help needed to personally work through this trauma.
While the majority of addicts are men, there are a growing number of woman with sexual addictions and husbands need just as much help with their partner's addiction as wives do. Whether you are male or female, you are not alone and there are others that understand what you are going through and can be there to support you.
"Sometimes we will say when the addict comes out of the closet with his addiction, often the wife goes in," Maryon said.
Suddenly the spouse is thrust into a disorienting situation where often she feels ashamed that this is going on and she might not have even been aware of it. It also complicates the way she views herself.
The addiction isn't about the spouse. It is about the addict dealing with underlying issues in an unhealthy way. The relationship, however, is partially about the spouse. Because of that, diligence in recovery is essential to the spouse as well as the addict. The spouse has been traumatized because of what has happened in the relationship, and that needs to be addressed.
It affects everything in (the spouses) life; how they parent, how they shop and cook and do house work, how they, if they're employees, how they do their work. It affects every aspect of their life.
–Dr. Todd Olsen, LifeStar program director and cofounder
Olsen explains that trauma is the "inability to regulate your thoughts and your emotions." He says that it even harms your ability to think.
Having trauma and not being able to deal with the damage that it causes can destroy the safety that you feel.
When such a traumatic experience is introduced into your life, it can feel like a heavy burden. Suddenly you are dealing with all of these new feelings and questions. This can be hard to work through.
"It affects everything in their life; how they parent, how they shop and cook and do house work, how they, if they're employees, how they do their work," Olsen said. "It affects every aspect of their life."
This is one reason that therapy for the spouse of an addict is so important. How could anyone be expected to cope with such a heavy and conflicting thing on their own?
Is there hope?
"We wouldn't be working here if there wasn't hope," Maryon said. "People recover from this … they get their lives back. They recover a sense of connection and companionship and healthy sexuality."
In what may be a time of personal heartache for you, there is hope. You may not feel like there is, but it's there. You are not alone. There are others going through this as well.
There are people waiting to help you. Not just your spouse, but you. Support organizations are aware that your recovery process is just as important as your spouse's and they are waiting and wanting to help you.
"In any other kind of trauma you would get help, you would be surrounded, you would let professionals help you to heal, and this is no different," Maryon said.
There are people and worldwide industries that would have you believing you aren't special, that this is normal, and that "everyone does it," but they are wrong. Do not judge yourself based off of someone else's decisions. Your worth is not determined by your spouse's addiction.
And remember, you are not alone. Reach out and begin the healing process.
For more information, visit lifestartherapy.com.
You can contact Jen Stone at email@example.com. She also blogs about fighting pornography, dealing with your spouse's sexual addiction, dealing with addiction in general and other related content at Get2theGist.blogspot.com.