In a healthy relationship it is both necessary and desirable to be able to depend on each other. Although we might be able to survive alone, humans are hard-wired to be social. We need a sense of belonging – to someone, a family and wider groups. If we are too independent we feel isolated and lonely, too dependent we lose our sense of self. A healthy balance in our closest relationships is Inter-dependence. This helps us to feel secure, like we can go out into the world to grow and explore because there is always that safe relationship to return to.
A relationship with a partner requires:
- Acceptance of who we are (being able to show our authentic self)
- A feeling of being of greater significance to that person than others in their life
- For each to take responsibility for themselves and both to take responsibility for the relationship
- Feeling valued
- Taking interest
Over time, someone who is in active addiction is unable to devote attention and energy to these important requirements. Increasingly they become preoccupied with behaviours that provide the most numbing and distraction from the emotions they are unable to deal with. They will find ways of justifying their sexual behaviours to themselves. For their partner (who is entirely unaware of their behaviours), this is felt but not known. Attempts to discuss this usually lead to denial and distortion, leaving the partner questioning their own feelings.
Partners often describe years of micro betrayals such as:
- Being blamed for being boring/angry/too demanding
- An increased lack of interest in anything that is going on in the partner’s life
- Impatience (lack of empathy)
- Criticism (being devalued)
- Withdrawal from activities and family life
The person with the addiction needs to create as much emotional distance as possible between themselves and their partner so that, temporarily, they don’t feel guilt and shame about what they are doing. When the addict’s behaviours are discovered or disclosed, people supporting the partner might be more aware of the betrayal in relation to the addict’s behaviours (the wrongness of what they have done). It’s important for the years of micro betrayals to be heard and validated. This will help the partner to connect once again to their own truth after years of smoke and mirrors. Moving forwards it will help them grow their sense of self. If the partner decides to keep the door open for the relationship to continue it will take time for the person with addiction to rebuild trust. Listening to and validating a partners experience of all the micro betrayals is important so they can build in or re-engage with self-trust.
Sex and/or porn addiction are a relationship betrayal. This is experienced by the partner as a trauma. The person the partner depended on to keep them safe is the very person who has secretly been damaging them. Unlike betrayal by a friend, there is no place of security and safety to remove oneself to. The secrecy involved means the partner hasn’t been able to take steps to protect themselves. Self-trust is a place of safety within.