Surviving Betrayal from the One You Love
Discovering that the person you love has betrayed you, by being sexual outside the boundaries of your relationship again and again, is devastating. It is the deepest betrayal. It is treasonous to your relationship…to you. It brings up a fear and pain like no other. In the experience of it, it feels impossible to ever trust again…to ever trust anyone else, or even yourself again. This moment of agony is when support and validation is most needed. It’s crucial to know that you’re not the only one who has walked through this, and that there is a path out of it. This moment is when a Healing Intimate Treason workshop is so important.
Each time I’ve facilitated a betrayal workshop, I am profoundly moved by the individuals who have been betrayed. Within the fear and pain, they carry a deep shame – a belief that something about them, something wrong with them, caused this betrayal. However, through the workshop, they come to realize that the betrayal was part of something bigger than they (and even often their betrayer) understood.
Understanding repeated sexual betrayal as part of sex addiction is often a game-changer. Partners who have been betrayed come to recognize that their sex addict has been living in a secret cycle of destructive compulsivity, and like all addicts, has been using something to self-medicate, self-soothe, gain a sense of power and control, and/or escape. Partners who have been betrayed come to see their sex addicts as deeply in struggle, and in a level of unmanageability that was not caused by them and cannot be changed by them. They slowly begin to recognize that the lies, manipulation, and gaslighting (manipulating someone into questioning their own reality and sanity) their addicts perpetrated on them, was to enable the disorder of sex addiction to continue – to continue self- medicating, and more.
This information is powerful, because it helps to halt some of the bargaining that the partner has experienced – trying to make sense of the nonsensical – questioning everything they have ever said and done, as well as everything their addict has ever said and done. Knowledge about sex addiction helps to demystify what has happened. It does not, however, eliminate any of the damage done by the disorder. It does not diffuse the emotional wreckage that comes from betrayal.
In a recent Healing Intimate Treason workshop, a client struggled so deeply with questioning whether or not she could save her addict from the disorder. She felt so responsible for fixing it all. Recognizing that unless her addict was willing to take responsibility and treat the disorder, there was nothing she could do, was incredibly painful…but it was also liberating. This partner, like many, realized that it wasn’t her disorder to treat, which freed her up to do her own healing and recovery work. She had played the role of ‘responsible one’ for years in the relationship, but that stopped here. No longer carrying the burden of being the ‘responsible one’ for her adult addict, she could heal from the stages of grief she had been bound in for so long – and finally move through the shock, anger, depression, and other bargaining attempts to make sense of it all. When she gave herself permission to let go of what was not hers to carry, she also gave herself permission to embrace her reality, fully, and grieve. This is what brought an internal shift for her. She, and all partners have the right to grieve the incredible loss that betrayal brings. Grieving reduces guilt and shame, and allows healthy and righteous emotions to flourish – appropriate pain, anger, and passion for a life in recovery.
Ultimately, as partners do their healing and recovery work, sometimes their addicts do the same. Sometimes, unfortunately, their addicts aren’t ready for recovery. But no matter what, when partners allow themselves to honor the betrayal they’ve experienced, and walk through the grief and loss, they will find a new resilience, sense of self, and passion for life. And in a workshop setting, partners will walk through this work with a small group of fellow-warriors, building what is often a support system that endures beyond the walls of the workshop itself. A delight of mine is when partners stay connected after workshops, honoring each other as they continue on their paths of healing and recovery, always knowing that whatever happens, they are not alone.