In over ⅓ of marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. At the same time, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites (⅓ of them being women). While readers focus on these statistics, I think about the partners to these individuals who are struggling in the wake of partner trauma–having been betrayed by the person they trust most. What do you do when the one you love the most is the one hurting you? While the most common trauma response is to freeze or disengage, that is not sustainable. This post focuses on six practical steps for you to take if you are the victim of partner trauma.
In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to address the important topic of sexual addiction, from the standpoint of the partner, as well as, from the addict. Today, I want to focus on you, the person left in the wake of your partner’s addiction or betrayal, because YOU MATTER. I have seen too many times where the addict is the focus of counseling sessions, and the partner’s needs were put on the back-burner. I strive to give my attention to both the addict and the partner–because both need help, healing, and an advocate in order to fully process and move on from something as relationally-trying as partner trauma.
In case you are just tuning in or are unfamiliar with what partner trauma is, let me summarize. Partner trauma is when the person you lean on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by. Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces: your partner could be ignoring your needs at a time when you most need him or her (such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc), could be an addict (to alcohol, drugs/other harmful substances, pornography, etc), or could be involved in an affair. All of these things cause great disconnect in your relationship.
Let’s first talk about how you feel. You may have felt hurt, betrayed, of little worth, isolated, and insecure. And you are justified in feeling this way! Additionally, depending on how you found out about the betrayal, how long it has been going on, and your past history will all play roles in the severity of trauma you will experience. The following are other common trauma symptoms experienced by partners (but surely not a conclusive list): fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, irritability, ruminating, denial, withdrawal, shock, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, codependency, arousal, and preoccupation with body image.
The above feelings or symptoms that come as a result of relational trauma are real and merit attention in order to be helped. So now let’s talk about the steps or action you are going take. What do you do? Where do you go? With whom do you talk? What do you need–for yourself?
Because I work with this often in my private practice, I have the following suggestions for specific actions that can be made should you find yourself a victim of partner trauma:
- Process emotions. Grieve. Be angry. Be sad. Cry. It’s healthy to let your emotions take their natural course. Let them course through you naturally. Suppressing them creates a volcano-effect; you are sure to explode later on when triggered.
- Communicate with your partner. Even though it’s hard, try to have calculated words with your partner. Tell him or her how you feel. Examples include, I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel rejected. I feel angry. Similarly, communicate your actions to him/her. Examples include, I need time apart. I need to think. I need to know all the details. You will be sorely tempted to storm out (or kick your partner out)–and that may be necessary!–but try to avoid the silent treatment.
- Connect with a trained therapist. When you break a bone, you see a trained, experienced doctor for treatment and a recovery plan. I am your emotional doctor. I will never act like I know exactly how you are feeling because I do not! But I do know what it takes to find lasting healing. I know the appropriate steps and measures to set both you and your partner on the right track, hopefully together. Our sessions will serve as a safe place for you to confidentially express yourself; you can trust with me with this most tender and intimate issue. Sometimes bones heal on their own, but it is so much easier, more effective, and long lasting when a trained, experienced professional assists you. Schedule your first session today.
- Be judicious in choosing your confidants. Aside from communicating with your partner and a trained therapist, be careful fully divulging your situation to friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Do not fully disclose your situation to casual friends or people who will take lightly or not respect your situation. I once heard of a man who yelled out to all of his neighbors in the street and told them that his wife was being unfaithful. Although his anger and sadness were completely justified, he was acting emotionally, and now wishes more than anything that he had not made that information public. On the same vein, do not isolate yourself! You need a support system–people you can confide in outside of your therapist. This will likely be your family and closest friends. Let them aide you and give you company during this difficult time.
- Remember that forgiveness and healing take time. Do not expect it to happen all at once. Just as broken bone may need a splint/cast and several weeks (or months) to fully heal, give your relationship time. It will also take consistent effort on both of your parts–both to avoid relapses as well as to move forward instead of dwelling in the past. It will be difficult, but I will help you through it. As I said when I first started this blog, I will be your cheerleader!
- Practice soothing and self-care. The Center for Growth shared an insightful article about the need for self-care for surviving partners of trauma. Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center defines self care as an act provided “for you, by you.” This is where you identify your own needs and take the necessary steps to meet them. Soothing includes taking the time to relax, calm down, and escape the issues you face to reduce pain/discomfort. Self-care includes participating in activities that nurture you, like taking care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. I am a firm believer of self-care! I write about it on this blog once a month, and I know that taking care of both your body and your mind will aid you in your recovery process. If you are unfamiliar with self-care, please click on this link to learn more.
I have seen far too many cases where the individual experiencing partner trauma overlooks his or her issues, and solely focuses on getting him for the addicted partner. This is dangerous. You, too, have been hurt and need proper treatment. You, too, need healing in order to move on and be able to love, trust, and live wholly. Of course your partner does, too! You both can receive the helpful and necessary direction to overcome relational trauma. Please, if you have been involved on either side of partner trauma, contact me today. You cannot cope with this alone; you need help. I am here for you! I will be your advocate through this very real struggle you are facing.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Brickel & Associates, LLC: “Loving a Trauma Survivor: Understanding Childhood Trauma’s Impact On Relationships”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Cluff Counseling: “Self-care: Is it Selfish?”
- Cluff Counseling: “Welcome”
- Cluff Counseling: “When the One You Love Most Hurts You”
- Cluff Counseling Resources (Trauma)
- Covenant Eyes: “6 Ways My Husband Helped Me Heal From Betrayal”
- Fight the New Drug Website
- Fight the New Drug: “The Science Of Betrayal: The Emotional Trauma Of Having A Porn-Addicted Partner”
- Fire, Embers, and Ash Website
- Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center: “Self-care for Women: Fact Sheet”
- Mind Body Green: “What I Learned From My Husband’s Sex Addiction”
- Rowboats and Marbles Website
- S.A. Lifeline Foundation Website
- Trustify: “Infidelity Statistics 2017: Why, When, and How People Stray”
- Utah Coalition Against Pornography (UCAP) presentation by Dorothy Maryon, CMHC: “Healing from Betrayal Trauma When a Spouse is Using Pornography” (2015)
- Webroot: “Internet pornography by the numbers; a significant threat to society”