. . .and how are we going to proceed as we begin the process of reintegrating into the world?
With lockdown and shelter in place due to Covid-19, we are stationary and have been so for 6-8 weeks. For some individuals, when the orders arrived they opted or had to shelter alone. For others, they quickly flocked together for a yet undefined period of time to family or somewhere to not be alone or isolated. And while we are still in the dark about true immersion, the transition will vary for most. Yet with the idea that the world is now beginning to open, with gates unlocking, the boundaries are obscured for many.
Sam, a middle-aged man in an ongoing marital affair, continues to sneak out every night after Donna falls asleep, texting and calling voraciously his girlfriend of two years. He described what it’s like to not have access— “it’s torture . . . I can’t stand being on house arrest with my wife.”, who is yet unaware of his dalliances.
Laura, although less obsessive, stays in contact with Mark, with whom she has had an affair with for 8 years, on and off. She also stays in contact with Mitch and Brad, with whom she connects with less often. For her the connections fill a space, something which has been at bay a bit since isolation. She is home with her husband and 3 young kids. With limited access to the outside world, Eric has now discovered, via iPad, more than an affair; he believes his wife to be a sex addict.
Neither Sam nor Laura are certain they want to change. They reach for help but remain yet pre-contemplative, ambivalent even about entering therapy.
They see Covid-19 as an uncompromising interference with their behaviors.
Greg, on the other hand, has welcomed this space. In recovery and determined to stay the course, he was anxious about relapse. With hard work in therapy and a 12-step program, Greg is determined, this time, to stay the course. With travel restrictions and a 24/7 connection to his spouse, he cannot meet with the prostitutes that have engaged his ego and temporarily distracted him from his pain. For Greg, the lockdown has helped to contain the alternative.
Stuart has not been as fortunate. With porn-addiction as his presenting problem, a porn control (blocker) in place, a 12-step engagement, weekly therapy, and a weekly men’s process group for further support, all online since mid-March, the lack of in-person connection has led to severe isolation. Relapse after a few weeks landed on his wife with devastation.
Betrayal trauma of an intimate nature is the most fragile of the treacheries. And it is by far the rupture most challenging to repair at least within the context of an intimate relationship.
And so what exactly has changed for those struggling with sex-addiction or any variety of compulsive sexual behaviors?
Since they come in all shapes and sizes, as the examples reveal, there have been many a response. For those in treatment, however, the general trend has been that it is a containment strategy, a welcomed restriction. Not only has it put a lid on the behaviors but doing so has allowed them to each embrace other parts of themselves… whether it be their need to learn how to speak and express their needs, an overdue now successful attempt to access their inner emotions or simply a new way to be with their partners, the latter often complicated either due to a pre-existing unhealthy dynamic and way of being or conflict over the betrayal.
With external constraints, imposed by an act of God and not any one of the policemen in their lives, they have had a pause in which to dig deep into themselves.
For Alan, a 7-year addiction to porn was discovered recently, during a lockdown. With his isolation and distance in his long-term marriage, the internet with its accessibility, affordability, and anonymity has given him a home. Yet both he and his wife are forced to face this challenge with no escape. They are both committed to finding a new normal, not simply a reprise of their relationship before the onset of the addiction.
Melissa, his wife was accommodating. She was rational and responsive. Perhaps had she had escaped, things would have been different and potential rage may have made its way elsewhere?
For other partners, the situation has enabled various outcomes and for some, there has been an advantage, albeit a short term one, to being sequestered with someone who has hurt you in this way. For the betrayed this time has been a ‘pause’. That their perpetrators are accounted for now 24/7 has, in some way, and despite their rage and anger (if this is a recent discovery) been a rest, a time-out of sorts. There is less need for checking for those involved with sex-addicts or spouses who have cheated with live people (affairs, prostitutes, etc). For partners, there has been a sense of temporary safety. Except for grocery shopping, they are together and most have done together as well.
For some, with a recent discovery, being sequestered with our spouse and with our electronic devices has created a ground for a rampage of obsessive and highly anxious searching, “detective work” as Esther Perel refers to it. For Ellen, with her new discovery of endless numbers to prostitutes and massage parlors, there has been endless searching for answers through a terribly arduous and emotionally taxing task is not met with distractions that we might often have like getting out of the house to do things (other than taking a walk or drive for most). And if they try shopping, a great distraction, online there are plenty of links to go to in cyberspace. It has been hard to escape. For the new discoveries there is the plus and the minus-that there is a searching and a stop to their partner’s behavior.
With the world now opening up, the tables have turned. Greg harbors fear that his recent hard work may be sound. That he is not far enough along in his process is not beginning to fear him that the streets are opening up and with all the work he has done there is no guarantee he is in remission.
Laura is still in denial and for this Eric may be heading to divorce court, since his spouse has no interest in treatment. If it were his decision he desires to fix things and has a treatment program already on the calendar for his wife.
This period has and will continue to be a challenge for all of us, each in our unique ways. Periods like this offer us all, not just those struggling with sex or any other addiction or addiction at all, a challenge, something to learn and change about their lives. In a crisis, we never exit exactly how we entered.
This article was repurposed in modified form at www.sexandrelationshiphealing.com.