If you’ve been on the receiving end of a spouse’s betrayal through an affair or sex and love addiction, there are times when you feel completely powerless and out of control. Your partner’s behaviors and decisions baffle you. Oftentimes the behaviors affect you directly, and it can be maddening to feel out of control.
Moments like these lead you to feel like the victim of someone else’s chaos or poor decision-making. You may feel trapped, angry, or afraid of confrontation or change. You’re probably also exhausted from trying to manage the emotional upheaval from dealing with the fallout of someone else’s actions, questioning whether or not you can trust them, and doubting your own self-worth.
How do I know I’m not in my power center?
When someone else’s actions or the circumstances around you leave you feeling like a victim, here are some symptoms you might notice:
Reacting rather than responding
Feeling trapped and stuck: “I just have to sit down and take it.”
Intense and overwhelming emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or anger
A sense of hopelessness: “Things will never change.”
Powerlessness: “There’s nothing I can do about this.”
If you’re dealing with a partner’s sex and love addiction, here might be some other symptoms you notice:
Denying or ignoring your partner’s addiction
Avoiding signs that addiction is continuing
Obsessively checking on your partner’s whereabouts and actions
Enabling addictive behaviors by taking ownership/blaming yourself
Attempting to control the addict’s behaviors
Feeling like you’re the addict’s parent rather than partner
How do I reclaim my power center?
The biggest shift needed to reclaim your power is defining yourself as someone capable of creating change, rather than a victim. This is difficult because it may be true that there are things outside your control. The actions, thoughts, and decisions of others are not something you have the power to control. However, you can choose how you think and act in response to these behaviors and meet your personal needs within difficult circumstances.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, in her book Moving Beyond Betrayal*, does a great job of outlining how to find your authentic personal power by moving from victim to victorious. She invites you to take a step back from chaotic situations to identify what you need and choose appropriate steps to get those needs met. Be kind to yourself in this process, and don’t heap shame on yourself when you find yourself feeling like a victim again. Instead, feel empowered to make a different choice rather than feeling like your emotions are taking over.
At times, taking back power can be as simple as naming that you are powerless. In the Twelve Steps, Step One involves admitting that you are powerless over the addictive behavior. In truth, you are powerless over your partner’s behaviors, and admitting this truth frees you to make decisions that are best for your well-being. This process can teach you to meet needs through supportive relationships and friendships, self-care, and spirituality.
In particular with addicts who are either in denial or in active addiction, it can be easy to get caught up in the cycle of feeling like a victim or enabling their behavior. Instead, admit that you are powerless over the denial itself. While you can communicate the effect your partner’s behaviors have on you, you will need to support yourself with appropriate boundaries. Setting boundaries to protect yourself and meet needs in healthy ways will allow you to reclaim power over your own life.
Practical Next Steps
Practice grounding exercises when you’re experiencing intense emotional responses.
Grounding exercises are a way that you can reconnect with the present moment when your emotions threaten to take over. Sit in a comfortable spot and pay attention to your breathing. Place your feet flat on the ground and notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet. Hold an object that has a unique texture, such as a smooth rock or a soft toy and connect with your sense of touch. Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 breathing exercise (outlined in this article) where you connect deep breathing with noticing sensory information around you.
Pay attention to your body to identify what you need.
Check in with yourself emotionally by noticing the physical sensations in your body. Identify previous times you have felt those physical sensations. Ask yourself about those memories: what did you need at that time? Safety? Comfort? Time alone? Love?
Journal and reflect on these needs and identify healthy ways you can meet each of them. For example, you might give yourself safety by removing yourself from situations that feel unsafe. You can find comfort by calling or visiting a friend and talking with them about your experience. You can feel love by spending time with a beloved pet or practicing self-love through kindness toward yourself.
Set a boundary or Make a request to move closer to what you need.
Some needs aren’t as easy to meet on your own. In that case, you can make a request of your partner or others in order to get that need met. Keep in mind that this request needs to be made with acceptance of the other’s response. They have the right to say yes or no, and you will need to prepare for how you will respond in either case.
Setting boundaries is a helpful way to practice self-care or self-protection. Boundaries are not meant to be a weapon or a punishment. Instead, they are a tool by which you increase feelings of safety and stability in your life and relationships. For example, if your spouse tends to raise his or her voice while having an argument, you might set a boundary that when he or she raises their voice, you will walk away from the conversation. Or if your spouse continues sexually acting out, you may set a boundary of sleeping in separate bedrooms to help you feel safe.
Make agreements with your partner about supporting one another’s boundaries and needs.
Work together with your spouse to find compromise about current needs you each have in the relationship, especially in light of any addictive issues at play. Identify the needs you listed above and come up with several possible solutions of how to resolve them. Have a discussion with your partner about those needs and come to a place of compromise where you can both be satisfied with your agreement. This conversation is likely best done in the context of a couples therapy session, if your partner is willing.
When you’ve gotten to a place of compromise, write down the actions to which you and your partner have committed and sign them as agreements, giving a sense of gravity to the document. If these agreements are not being honored by one or both of you, you have this physical document to revisit and have additional conversations about what might have caused the agreement to be broken.
Have you felt out of control with your emotions after discovering your partner’s betrayal? Do you struggle to set boundaries or know what you need? Are you afraid of confronting your loved one’s addictive behavior for fear that you will lose the relationship? At Restored Hope, I offer compassionate counseling and care as you walk through these difficult life circumstances and seek to regain a sense of power and control over your life. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Ann Arbor counseling office.
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