Discovering your partner’s addiction can be one of the most painful experiences to face. In fact, when someone comes in for therapy who has recently found out their partner has another life, they are shattered, which is why we treat it as a trauma. Using this lens helps the wounded partner to gain perspective and find better solutions to what they are experiencing.
If the betrayed is willing to stay in the relationship, we believe there are three important steps that help bring healing and move the relationship towards restoration. Those three steps are: a full disclosure, writing an impact letter and an emotional restitution letter.
First, it is important that both the betrayed and the one who betrayed get into therapy.
For the partner who has been betrayed it is important to get support, find healing and learn how to find and create safety for oneself.
Additionally, the “addict” will need support in understanding his addiction, learning how to get sober, and recover from the wounds of the past that created the addiction. As both start to find stability, the first order of business is to have a meeting together in order to disclose what has been kept hidden for so long.
In a full disclosure session, the addict will work with the therapist to disclose all that has been hidden from the partner during their relationship. In doing so, it accomplishes a handful of things.
- First, it lays a new foundation for the relationship built on openness and honesty. No relationship can survive if lies and deception are active.
- Secondly, it helps to rebuild trust. Though a disclosure in itself is not sufficient to rebuild all of the trust lost, it is the first big step. Trust is lost in buckets, but gained back in teaspoons.
- Thirdly, doing a full disclosure session helps the betrayed partner gain back some trust in oneself.
In a relationship where there is a sex addiction, the addict will often use manipulative ways to hide and maintain the addiction, often resulting in making the partner feel crazy and resulting in not trusting one’s own gut. This is known as gaslighting. After learning about what had been happening in the relationship all along, the partner is now able to see how her gut was actually trustworthy. All of her suspicions will be realized.
In the second meeting, it is important to have the betrayed partner share the impact of her discovery. The therapist will work on helping the betrayed partner form language around describing the pain and its effects in an “Impact Letter.”
The importance of this can not be overstated. Oftentimes, betrayed partners wonder, “Does he really get it?” or “Does he really understand how he has hurt me and shattered my life?” Having the partner who is addicted listen to how they have hurt and betrayed the other allows the betrayed partner to share all that she has experienced, therefore gaining validation in her pain. Further, it gives the addicted partner opportunity and space to sit with one’s actions and its consequences.
Finally, in the third meeting, after hearing the partner’s impact letter, the addicted person responds to his partner’s pain. He communicates understanding of how he hurt his partner and identify the pain that he has caused. The addicted partner then lays out his created plan for behavior change, building a new life and relationship through writing an “Emotional Restitution” letter.
Through these first three steps, the couple lays a new foundation for their relationship now beginning with openness, transparency and honesty. Though this will not be the deciding factor or ultimately save the relationship, it will however begin a process towards healing and restoration.