In recovery at an upscale in-patient sex addiction treatment program, Don is encouraged to face his demons and come clean with the egregious behaviors which have led him fast and furious down the rabbit hole. As part of this process, both he and his spouse, Beth, are being coached as to what to share and what to hear with regards the long list of betrayals to which Don has named his time during the last four years of their 10-year marriage. He has been fastidiously making lists of his dalliances with sex workers, massages with happy endings and the occasional interactive video-chat. Both he and Beth are encouraged to craft a narrative of his experience within the context of his life, relationship, stress etc. however Beth is tenacious to find out each and every detail of his other life, his life of infidelity. Despite knowing that this is unhealthy, as visuals exacerbate betrayal trauma, she is unyielding, insisting that he has to accept his powerless and admit to someone his wrongdoings and catapult into honesty, a strong and most powerful tenant of recovery and the 12-steps.
That is not an uncommon occurrence and, in fact, the crisis brings this sort of desperation and despair, as ‘desperate people do desperate things’. And in earlier times in treatment rooms, honesty was encouraged at the sacrifice of trauma repetition; perpetrators were supported to tell all to practice honesty with little or no sense as to the effect on the receiver.
Disclosure, that of sharing your narrative within the context of one’s life is what is desirable and the end goal of the process, however, new into treatment one typically has little insight into their own behaviors and is nowhere near prepared to construct such a historical archived record of one’s life with oneself as the backdrop.
Let’s understand a little about attachment and betrayal, or betrayal trauma to which it has been recently referred. Firstly, the intensity of betrayal is directly related to the nature of the relationship. In these cases, we are typically identifying someone in our ‘inner circle’ (partner work) or close-by (friends, relatives, close connections). With someone with which we have a close safe attachment, a breach of any of the obvious factors (trust, safety, consistency, honesty, predictability and so on), can be traumatic, in fact sufficiently inconceivable to shatter the connection once known as secure. This damage needs repair, and the larger process, bigger than the ‘disclosure’ takes time and moves in stages.
So what does need to be shared, when and how when working with betrayal trauma?
When I work on parenting plans with people I tell them something they need to remember, something most attorneys don’t share . . that they change, they are fluid. They are essentially dynamic with the needs of the children and family. Well it’s the same thing with the questions, the sharing the healing.
During affair recovery, the questions change. Answers demanded immediately are not typically asked as the process takes it course, if it takes its course. Initially of a factual or a detective nature, questions are consistently the Who, what, where, when, how? That’s where the numbers come in. But that’s where the visuals do as well. It important to craft the method with which to share the transgressions without creating more damage. What is shared is a function of both parties, the giver and the receiver, but also should be heavily coached by a qualified psychotherapist. The crisis phase is exactly that . . chaotic and disorganized. Organization has to be brought into the storm so that clarity has a space to find itself.
It is also during the crisis that sleuthing occurs and many spouses become proficient. This too is ineffective and must come to a halt when the reality of the betrayal becomes real. Searching is for validation, often superimposed on denial. Some harbor. . “ I don’t believe what is happening but if I keep searching it can become real”. It can take some time for this to become real and not simply a blip in the radar.
With sleuthing by the ‘victim’ and ‘staggered disclosure’ by the perpetrator, hence is the origin of the traumatic remembrance. And with visuals, this is only heightened.
Coming to terms with the reality of betrayal and infidelity is one reason a disclosure should take place. But there are greater pertinent reasons this process is effective. Essentially, the perpetrator making sense out of his/her behavior and grievances, which can take some time, is critical as a prerequisite to this process. When a partner tells me that they need to understand the ‘why’ instead of the other pieces, it is because if we can make sense out of our behavior, even change it, we lessen the probability of a future occurrence.
What is pertinent, even paramount, is the meaning making of the behaviors. Questions raised in infidelity treatment such as . . “What did this affair mean to you?”, “What was it like to be with someone else and not with me?”, “How did you feel when you left me to go act out?”, “Why did it happen at this point in our lives?”, “What did you discover about yourself?”, “Did you want me to know and were you wanting me to find out?”, “Now important was the sex?”, “Do you think it will happen again?”, and many many more.
As betrayal (or betrayal trauma) or infidelity is not limited to the bedroom, this process is not limited to sexual offenses. Perfidies appear not only with love and sex addiction, but with money, substance addictions and any secrecy because secrecy has as its defining piece the negative consequences should the information be shared. So when Dan had longstanding complete control and solitary access to the credit card statement and checking account, it was part of the secret. But when Sandra, who manages the bills for their household, fails to share with her husband their debt, that is betrayal as well. Financial infidelities occur as well.
At the end of the day making meaning over our experiences and integrating that into our existence is the best we can do. This process can help.
To learn more about infidelity therapy and healing from an affair in Boca Raton, check out my web page.