Considering Options: Choosing to Stay with a Sex Addict
by Coach Jodi
edited by Marsha Means, M.A.
Ten years ago when I discovered I was the partner of a sex addict, I felt as if I had fallen into a deep, dark hole: a pit really, and initially, I had no idea where I was, or how to find my way out. Back then—and even now—I identified with this poem about addiction and recovery. For me, it accurately portrays a partner’s journey:
An Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson (click here for printable version of original poem)
1. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in. I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
5. I walk down a different street.
Upon discovery or disclosure, each of us can identify with Chapter One. We wonder, where in the world am I? How did I get here? We feel disoriented, confused, and shocked, and many of us say we feel like we’re spinning in a deep, dark vortex. And we’ve no idea how to get out.
Two Questions Helped Me Know What I Wanted to Do
Two simple questions helped me determine what I needed and wanted to do.
1. What can I not live with? This question forces us to determine our “deal breakers.” These are the behaviors we know we cannot and will not tolerate in our marriage. When we encounter true deal breakers, the choice to stay is no longer an option, at least not long term. But sometimes leaving takes time. It can require time to plan and prepare, even if we don’t want it to. However, having a plan, and persistently working it will enable us to leave as soon as the pieces of our plan are in place.
(Please note: This newsletter does not apply to abusive and dangerous situations. Anyone in an abusive situation and in danger must seek safety immediately --- to stay when harm and danger are imminent, for you or your children, is not an option.)
2. What can I live with? Most of us at least consider leaving. And when we do, we’re forced to examine our ability—or inability—to make it on our own, if we leave the marriage. Finances, children, family matters, or health issues might make staying the wisest—or the only—choice. At least for a season. I took the time I needed to sift through all of the painful feelings of betrayal, abandonment, loss, and feeling less-than, and eventually I chose to stay, even though my marriage wasn’t healed.
These two questions helped me gain the clarity and peace I needed to make healthy decisions about my life and my future. You may have different questions you need to answer, because each of our journeys is uniquely our own.
Coming to Understand the Strange World Of Sex Addiction
At some point post-discovery, our shock wears off and we bounce between Chapters 2 and 3 of the poem above.
During this time we try to learn what sex addiction is about, and how to care for ourselves in a marriage tainted by it. Like me, many partners realize, for their own reasons, they need or want to stay in their marriage. Some women will stay for a short while as they work their plan and prepare to leave. And others will choose to stay, perhaps permanently. Either way, partners can use this time to learn, heal, and prepare for their future.
Six Tasks that Equip Us to Heal Whether We Choose to Stay or Leave
The following task list helped me take responsibility for my own well being, and it kept me from slipping into the negative patterns that can come when married to a sex addict.
*Finding Support: Support and a healing process is crucial for for partners of sex addicts. One of the best resources available is our Journey to Healing and Joy workbook. Working through this workbook with a coach and a small group of women is the best gift you could give yourself. At the end of the 12 weeks you will have been given the opportunity to share your story in a safe setting while gaining new skills and tools to use not only in your marriage but in every relationship in your life.
*Utilizing the Power of the Serenity Prayer: The Serenity Prayer can bring calm, clarity, and peace in the space of thirty seconds. It’s like a form of spiritual breathing. The simplicity of this prayer helps me discern my needs, and helps me access the empowerment I need to meet them. It enables me to “let go” when needed, and it provides a continuing source of courage and comfort. I love its wisdom and it’s simplicity: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
*Learning and Using Boundaries: Learning how to detach from my husband in a healthy way provided a safe space to learn and create the boundaries I needed to begin to heal. It took a lot of trial and error, but I eventually learned how to create healthy boundaries to keep myself safe. If you need help with boundaries, our A Circle Of Joy's Coach Carin facilitates a boundaries support group for that purpose.
*Taking Responsibility for Our Own Well Being: The Life Model has played an important role in my healing. And nothing is more powerful in helping us take responsibility for our own healing and well being than the Life Model principles. Learning to “return to joy from negative emotions,” and “using joy to increase my emotional capacity so it’s higher than my pain” were foundations for me. Another Life Model principle that’s helped me is “Learning to suffer well.” This means, “Can I be true to who I am in the midst of suffering?” We touch on the Life Model principles in our Journey to Healing & Joy groups, but if you want to learn about these skills and many more, consider participating in a Healing through Joy group with Coach Katherine or with me, Coach Jodi.
*Finding Purpose In Our Pain: While early post-discovery is a very painful time, finding “the purpose in the pain” is highly valuable. Women have even said it is a sacred time where they feel more connected to their true self. Once they experience “being well,” and learn new ways to take care of themselves (or return to activities that bring them joy), wonderful, beautiful things can happen. And they learn how to be well in a less than ideal marriage.
In time, I was able to regain a sense of safety and security, even though my marriage wasn’t healed. Now, ten years post-discovery, I see myself on Chapter 4 of the poem. I now know where the holes are, and I am able to walk around them. I still have triggers but they no longer have the power to hijack my brain. I can access and use empowerment to take care of myself in healthy ways. And I know Chapter 5 is available to me if I am not able to keep myself emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically safe while staying married.
I encourage you to find the resources and tools you need to heal, whether or not your husband chooses recovery, and whether or not you stay. Healing is possible for any woman who discovers she is married to a sex addict.
While I did not choose this addiction, I do get to choose my story. I am not responsible for my husband’s recovery, but I am responsible to make sure this addiction doesn’t get “two for the price of one.” Ten years ago I was determined to find the help and support I needed to heal and feel like myself again, and I’m so glad I did. My hope is that you will find the help you need to heal from the pain this addiction has brought into your life. We are here to help you on your healing journey.
With your healing at heart,
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