couples

Let's Talk About Sex: A Review of Total Intimacy by Douglas Rosenau and Deborah Neel

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Do you and your spouse have a hard time communicating about sexual intimacy?  Do you feel like your sex life is kind of blah?  Are you dealing with the aftereffects of trauma or betrayal and want to ease into sexual intimacy with your partner in a way that feels safe?

Doug Rosenau and Deborah Neel are Christian sex therapists that specialize in helping couples have more satisfying sex lives.  In their slim volume Total Intimacy: A Guide to Loving By Color, they offer a practical approach to talking with your spouse about sex and improving the quality of your intimacy.

We long to be in an intimate relationship with someone, especially a mate, who will pursue us, fully know, love, and accept us.
— Doug Rosenau and Deborah Neel 

What is Total Intimacy?

“Total intimacy,” as the authors define it, approaches sexual intimacy on three distinct levels.  Each of these levels involves three-dimensional connecting, involving the mind, body, and heart or emotions.  The authors liken the balance between these three levels to a healthy diet with all necessary food groups.  Emotional and sexual intimacy are intertwined and work together.

The three distinct levels are represented by colors: green, purple, and orange.  Each color exists on a continuum of depth ranging from lighter to darker shades, representing the depth of interaction at each level.  Knowing and understanding the meaning of these colors can help you use them as a playful way to communicate your desires.

Understanding the Colors

Green

Green representing bonding in the relationship, where you and your spouse are “intimate companions.”  Connecting with one another and sharing emotions builds intimacy, as in other friendships.  Experiencing Green intimacy, or marital friendship is required to establish safety before you can move onto the more intense colors of Purple and Orange.

To grow your Green, revisit activities you enjoyed when you were dating.  Get to know your spouse again using Gottman’s Love Maps exercises.  Make time for date nights or other intentional time together.  Lean into vulnerability in communicating honestly about your feelings, which can often be difficult.

When dealing with broken trust or betrayal, as in the case of sex and love addiction, Green behaviors are essential to re-establishing trust and safety.  The addict must show actions that line up with words in order to grow trust, and the later colors of Purple or Orange may not feel safe for the partner until that trust is rebuilt. 

Purple

Purple represents the coupling level, or becoming “sensuous lovers.”  Purple actions go beyond friendship into romance, using flirtation and affection to communicate closeness.  This color is often most neglected in marriage, as romantic cuddling or kissing becomes just a step toward sex.  But skipping over physical touch and affection for the sake of enjoying one another leads to missing out on the intimacy that comes in the Purple stage.

Purple activities are sensory in nature, requiring you to use all five senses to create a romantic experience.  It is necessary to practice mindfulness in this stage, remaining in the present moment and enjoying that experience.  This level of affection may trigger arousal, but the goal of Purple behaviors isn’t orgasm, simply to enjoy the romantic connection.

Purple intimacy is eroticism with boundaries – sensuality that may be arousing, yet not having to lead anywhere.
— Douglas Rosenau and Deborah Neel

Orange

Finally, the orange level is associated with igniting as “erotic playmates.”  This can include a range of sexual experiences that does not always require orgasm, but focuses instead on mutual pleasure rather than self-seeking or self-focused pleasure.  In order to make orange intimacy safe, refusals have to be practiced and accepted, as you must be able to say no in order to say yes authentically.

In the book, Rosenau and Neel talk about becoming more comfortable around sexual intimacy, especially for Christians who have received messages of shame about erotic sexuality and sexual desires.  Sexual intimacy was created by God as a reflection of His love.  Communicating about this orange level of intimacy and naming wants and desires can break through this stigma.

As a couple, increase your knowledge about the differences between male and female sexuality, instead of just basing your awareness on stereotypes or expectations.  Know that it is normal to have a range of different satisfaction levels with intimacy, and seek to understand what makes it an enjoyable experience for each of you through learning about you partner’s turn-ons and turn-offs.

Helpful Tips

Sprinkled throughout the text, Rosenau and Neel put in sidebars that give extra tips if there are wounds for either spouse.  This acknowledges the reality that when there has been sexual abuse, sexual assault, or lack of trust due to an affair or betrayal, that has effects. The theme in these sidebars is to allow for intimacy to grow more slowly, create for more communication around intimacy, and talk about safe touch.

I also love how the authors encourage women to find their sexual voices.  The book reminds women to take up space, communicate, and ask for what they want.  The emphasis on learning to refuse sex within marriage is important as well, because being unable to say “no” can set up an unhealthy dynamic where she can feel silenced.

The book also normalizes that a healthy sex life takes time and practice, instead of happening naturally.  Often newlyweds expect that sex will be natural and easy.  However, that is often not the case.  The book also breaks through the faulty assumption that sex doesn’t need to be discussed, when the opposite is true in order to have a mutually satisfying sex life.  I appreciate the practical exercises and discussion questions in the book that will help you and your spouse communicate together about your sex life.

A Few Criticisms

As much as I love the concepts of this book and their practical applications, there are a few criticisms related to style and some commentary that need to be acknowledged.  There is quite a bit of cheesy language and gender stereotyping that may be difficult to look past.

As the focus is for a Christian audience, the principles are supported by Scripture and references to God are made often through the text.  However, I believe the concepts still stand even for couples who aren’t Christians.

Finally, some of the language around forgiveness in the book may be difficult for partners of sex and love addicts to read, because offering forgiveness isn’t so simple in their experiences. 

All in all, however, I believe that learning to love by color can greatly enhance your comfort in talking about sexual intimacy and creating conversation about likes and dislikes, and I’d encourage you to start conversations about these principles in your marriage.

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Are you feeling dissatisfied in your sex life and wanting to learn how to communicate with your spouse better?  Are you unsatisfied with your sexual intimacy?  Do you tend to argue about sex and feel stuck?  At Restored Hope, I offer supportive couples counseling to help you learn to communicate more effectively in all areas and grow more intimate connections.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Breaking Free of the Drama: How Stepping Off the Karpman Triangle Improves Your Relationship (Part 2 of 2)

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Part 1 introduced the dynamics of the Karpman Drama triangle in relationships.  It explored how the power struggles and dynamics of victim, perpetrator, and rescuer can keep you caught in a toxic dance with your partner.   

Now, we’ll turn to focus on creating change in your relationship through jumping off the Karpman triangle into a healthier way of relating.  Each of the three roles of the triangle has an alternative counterpart that allows you to experience freedom from the dysfunctional dance of power in the drama triangle.  These three parts must be experienced in the order that follows. 

Taking Responsibility

The counterpart to the victim role is taking responsibility for the adult self and approaching yourself with kindness, empathy, and courage.  This is the most important step: the following two steps cannot be achieved without completing this step first.

Taking responsibility requires getting in touch with the part of you that feels like a victim.  Typically this part of you feels young, like a child version of yourself.  Often this is because the victim role reacts to your unmet needs or desires from childhood.  Working through these unmet needs in therapy can help you understand why you react so strongly to situations in your present-day life.  Therapy will help you learn to establish self-care routines and healthy communication in relationships to soften these strong reactions.

Our reactions to distressing situations relate to coping mechanisms or survival instincts picked up in childhood that we now repeat as a way of protecting ourselves.  Those old patterns often don’t work in the way that they used to, yet we go back to them because they are familiar.

As an adult, you no longer have to be beholden to these patterns of coping.  You can choose a new way of living instead of just surviving, which is what taking responsibility is all about.  It involves reminding yourself that, as an adult, you can make different choices.  Oftentimes as children we felt powerless.  This step is a way to reclaim a sense of power and self-assurance to work for what you want instead of feeling powerless.

Come up with a mantra or statement that embodies a different way of viewing yourself.  For example, in the victim role, you might see yourself as unlovable or worthless.  Instead, in taking responsibility, you’ll acknowledge and own the reality that you are lovable and of great worth.  As you acknowledge these realities, you’ll notice the fog of shame lifts and you’ll be able to see your path out of the drama triangle more clearly.

Examining Options

Once you’ve taken responsibility by acknowledging the impact of past wounds and your capabilities and power as an adult, you can then move into examining the options in front of you.  This counterpart to the perpetrator role is a healthier way of coping with feeling trapped in the victim role.

After acknowledging your adult capabilities, make yourself a list of all the different options in front of you.  Remember in this list that you are only in control of yourself: your actions, thoughts, attitudes, and responses to emotions.  You cannot control other people. When your choice hinges on the actions of someone else, this is a setup to get caught up in the drama triangle again.  Instead, look at what you have control over and what changes you can make. 

Brainstorm in this step: write down everything you can possibly think of for different options, even if they seem “out there” or impossible.  If you’re doing this with someone else, such as your spouse, know that you don’t have to agree 100% on these: you’re just getting ideas on the table.  Once you’ve brainstormed several ideas, you might notice a cohesive theme starting to form that will lead you toward the next step. 

One important note: if you find yourself feeling like a victim again or re-entering the drama triangle, notice this and know that it is normal to slip back into old patterns.  Pause and go back to the core of the victim role you identified earlier and repeat the process of taking responsibility for yourself.

Negotiate to Make a Choice

Once all your options are laid out, you’re prepared to make a choice with the knowledge in front of you.  Rather than attempting to take on the world through the rescuer role, negotiating requires inviting relationship and enlisting the help of others.  Identify which of your options is the best possible outcome with all the information you’ve gathered.  Make a plan on how to implement this choice.  Take an action step as soon as possible to get this choice moving so that you don’t forget and slip into old patterns. 

This choice will likely involve some difficulty or change in your life, and you may be tempted to jump back onto the drama triangle to return to something that feels familiar.  Remind yourself of your vision for ending the drama of feeling trapped and the experience of the victim role.  You may have to learn to set boundaries or ask for what you need more readily, but the hard work will be worth it.

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Do you feel stuck in the drama of the Karpman triangle?  Are there pieces of your past that seem to resurface in arguments with your spouse?  Are you tired of constantly feeling like a victim and want to regain a sense of power and control over your life?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help empower you and move you into more healthy ways of relating to others.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.

Power Dynamics in Love: How Understanding the Karpman Drama Triangle Can Save Your Relationship (Part 1 of 2)

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Here we go again.

The familiar scene plays out as you hear your spouse’s voice rise in anger.  They’re targeting you and criticizing you again for something you’ve done wrong.  Why is it always my fault?  I never see other couples fighting like this.  You feel beaten down, exhausted, and maybe even a little ashamed.

But as your spouse’s criticism digs deeper, your tone subtly starts to shift.  You raise your voice in response: “You think I’m the problem?   It’s not like you’re helping!”  You then launch into your own volley of criticisms, anger causing you to yell and berate your spouse, saying things you know you’ll later regret.  In your rage, you might even break things or throw an object across the room.

As you unleash your anger, you notice a look of fear cross your spouse’s eyes.  Suddenly you get hit with a wave of guilt.  What am I doing?  I shouldn’t be yelling.  Why did I let my temper get out of hand?  You start to backpedal, looking for ways to make your spouse feel better.  You make promises to change, to be more loving and kind, to help out around the house more often, whatever it is to appease the situation.

And perhaps you succeed at this for a day or two, but eventually you feel taken advantage of once again.  You see yourself trying to change, but your spouse hasn’t changed at all.  As your annoyance rises, you decide to bring it up again, and your spouse reacts in anger.

And so the cycle begins again.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

Does this sound familiar to you?  The scene above describes the power dynamics at play in the Karpman drama triangle.  Stephen Karpman (https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/) a psychiatrist specializing in transactional analysis, developed this model to describe the constantly shifting power dynamics in relationships.  These dynamics are common in addictive relationships.   

Image Source: https://www.lynneforrest.com/articles/2008/06/the-faces-of-victim/

We all play each of these three roles in our relationships, but you may tend to start your spiral around the triangle in one of the three types: victim, persecutor, or rescuer.  Where you join the triangle stems from your experiences in your family-of-origin.  You might even find yourself experiencing all three roles internally, as you use internal criticism to try to motivate yourself (persecutor), only to become exhausted and overwhelmed (victim) and attempt rescuing yourself from your pain through addiction or numbing behaviors (rescuer).

Taking on any one of these three roles provides a distraction from your own issues that need to be addressed or the true problem.  While these patterns are learned in childhood from watching others interact and communicate, they may no longer be serving you. Eventually, all roles lead back to the victim, which adds to feelings of powerlessness to change.

Let’s learn about how these three interact.

The Victim

The victim is the “one down” position in the triangle.  In the victim role, you feel like a child or overly needy.  You might feel targeted or blamed with accompanying feelings of shame.  This shame often originates in past trauma.  The victim has unrealistic expectations of others and therefore is often disappointed when others don’t come through.

Often these expectations have to do with nurture or care, which victims feel incapable of providing for themselves.  In fact, the victim tends to feel unable to handle any stress or negative circumstances, as their shame-based low self-esteem and negative beliefs about themselves limit them from any agency to change.  Their lives happen to them rather than due to any power of their own.  However, they still feel resentful from always being “one-down” and incapable of helping themselves. 

An important note: the victim role is NOT equated with being a true victim of harm or abuse.  Many victims (or as I prefer to say, survivors) or trauma or abuse in childhood or adult years are empowered, responsible, and strong individuals who are taking ownership of their lives in mature and assertive ways.  If you are a survivor of trauma, abuse, or a spouse’s addiction, you ought to be treated with compassion for your experience of trauma.  You did not ask for the harm done to you, nor did you deserve it in any way.  The word “victim” here is meant to represent a role that is played in a relational dynamic that serves a protective purpose but ultimately doesn’t allow you to live into your true, authentic self. 

The Perpetrator

The perpetrator role, in contrast with the victim, feels and acts like a teenager.  They act out to deal with their discomfort or pain and protect themselves from the world, which they have learned is harmful and dangerous.  Experiencing abuse in family-of-origin can often lead to learning to bottle up anger in a way that comes out int he perpetrator role later.  Their behaviors are tied to feelings of shame, worthlessness, and fear.

This role is constantly defensive and has to be right, living in survival mode and lashing out at others.  Their defensiveness is a way of regaining power when they’ve been victimized or harmed, as they fear being powerless in situations like they experienced in childhood. Viewing themselves as the true victim, the perpetrator’s behaviors are motivated by a desire to have the other person feel their pain.  They often view the individual in the victim role with contempt and believe that their retaliation toward the victim Is simply giving the other person what they deserve.  Perpetrators may think, “I have to hurt them before they hurt me.”

In a relationship with addiction present, this is often the addict.  They are caught up in denial of their behaviors and have a difficult time admitting to their own experience of harming others.  This can be understood in light of the shame they feel: to admit that they are the perpetrator would be devastating to their need to be strong in the face of feelings of powerlessness.

The Rescuer

The rescuer is the “one up” position, typically characterized by feeling like a parent and superior to the two other roles.  Another way of categorizing this role is as a caretaker, which is often where many rescuers find their identity.  In addictive dynamics, this person is the enabler of the addict.  They often don’t like conflict or confrontation, and would rather smooth things over.

The rescuer’s “help” is meant not to truly benefit the other person, but instead to assuage their own anxiety and allow them to feel valued.  They believe that if they don’t help, everything will fall apart.  The rescuer can related to the victim in a codependent manner as they try to fix or save others.  In fact, they need to have someone to save, and can assume others can’t handle something and then take over. 

Rescuers don’t have needs – or at least, they deny that they do.  Since they are the one who helps everyone else and their value comes from this identity, they either don’t admit to their own needs or don’t see them as important.  Similar to the other roles, this tendency begins in childhood.  Eventually, however, the endless helping turns into feelings of resentment and bitterness, as they expect affirmation and appreciation for all they’ve done for others.  Yet they believe that if they are needed, they are loved, and are fearful of being abandoned if they stop helping.

In the next part, we’ll go into more depth about how to escape from the drama triangle through taking responsibility for yourself and your choices and setting boundaries.  For now, notice these patterns in your interactions with others.  How did your family interact with one another while you were growing up?  Where have you seen examples of these dynamics play out in your life or in the lives of others?

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Are you exhausted from helping others all the time, but find yourself unable to ask for what you need?  Are you always feeling like the victim of your circumstances or of others’ actions?  Or maybe you’re recognizing the addictive patterns in your life that cause you to harm other people.  Wherever you find yourself on this drama triangle, I can help you learn to break free from the trap of these power dynamics.  I offer counseling services to overcome these patterns at Restored Hope in Ann Arbor.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment today.

3 Steps to Argue Your Way to a Stronger Relationship

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Do you often find yourself in the same argument over and over again with your significant other?  Are there certain topics you can’t seem to agree on, no matter how often you talk about them?  Maybe you truly love your spouse and want what’s best for them, but you can’t seem to see eye-to-eye on finances, parenting, or household responsibilities. 

You are not alone.  Every couple faces these types of conflicts.  But there’s some good news: these conflicts are the greatest opportunities you have for increasing intimacy and connection in your relationship.

John Gottman, a marriage researcher who has been studying what makes marriages healthy for over 40 years, has termed this type of conflict “gridlocked.”  He defines gridlock as conflict that doesn’t have a clear-cut solution.  And surprisingly enough, he has found through his research that 69% of all conflicts are gridlocked.  That means over two-thirds of all conflict doesn’t have a right or wrong solution!

But that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause.  Rather, these conflicts you experience in your relationship can be approached with a heart of compromise and understanding in order to pave the way for more closeness in relationship.

Where do these arguments go wrong?

When you’re in gridlocked conflict, you may find yourself trying to convince your significant other that you are right and they are wrong.  You may not be wiling to see their perspective because you’ve already dug in your heels on your point-of-view.

On the flip side, you might develop bitterness and resentment from avoiding conversations about these tense topics, which spills out into other areas.  Have you ever had difficulty remembering what started your fight?  Little annoyances are magnified by the underlying tension and anger from gridlocked conflict.

What needs to change?

Altering your approach to conflict requires you to reframe the argument as an opportunity to grow in intimacy with your partner.  There are reasons why you feel stuck in these areas.  Often it is because of your own and your partner’s desires and the narratives tied to them. These make it difficult for you to change your position.  The purpose of the next exercise is to understand you partner’s story so that you can see why their position is so important to them. 

This does require some level of vulnerability on the part of each of you in order to grow in intimacy.  If you struggle with vulnerability with your partner, try this exercise out with a smaller gridlocked issue first..

Gottman’s 3-Step Process

Step 1: Discuss (and listen) to each of your perspectives.

Set aside a time for each of you to talk about your personal perspective on the issue.  Use the talking formula: “I feel…because/about…and what I would like is…”  Speak in a respectful and non-critical tone to your partner, believing that they want to hear your side.

The most crucial component of this exercise, however, is playing the role of the listener.  Often we listen with one ear, but our mind is focused on our response and how we might defend ourselves.  When we do this, we’re not truly listening to the other person.  Instead, Gottman encourages you to “suspend persuasion” for a time and seek to understand your partner’s perspective, as if you were an outside observer.  Validate what you hear in your partner’s perspective.  What feelings make sense to you?  Can you understand from their perspective, even if you don’t fully agree? 

Example: In talking about housework, you might say, “I felt abandoned when I asked you to help me clean the garage and you said “no.”  I need to feel like we share responsibility and are working together to keep our home organized.”

Step 2: Identify the “dreams within conflict.”

Look deeper at why the issue is so important to you personally.  Exploring your own triggers is a self-reflective tool that helps you identify your own personal narrative contributing to the issue.

Typically, this narrative has to do with your past.  Describing why you are uniquely triggered helps your partner feel empathy.  As you discuss this narrative, ask open-ended questions like “tell me the story behind that” or “what experience from your past makes this so important to you?” to understand more of your partner’s perspective.

Similar to Step 1, it is essential to listen and understand your partner’s perspective.  Do you see why they might make the connection between the present issue and a past experience?  Does it make sense why they are having a strong emotional reaction? 

Example: “I’m reminded of the importance of my value of equality.  My father made sure that my mother felt as though they carried an equal weight in taking care of the house, and I saw that as a way they loved each other.  When you don’t help me out, I wonder if you don’t see us as equals, and then I feel unloved.” 

Step 3: Choose areas of compromise.

Once you’ve listened to one another’s perspective, asked questions, and helped each other feel fully understood, then you can move into a place of compromise.  Understanding and empathizing with your spouse’s story makes compromise vastly easier.  Where you might have been stubborn before, now that you know their story, you may be more willing to move closer to what they desire.

Make a list of essentials about this area: what do you need?  Then make a list of more flexible items where might you be willing to compromise.  Discuss your lists together and seek overlap.  Where might each of you make some compromise to move closer to your partner’s needs?  How can you practically put this into play this upcoming week? 

Example: “It is essential to me that, in general, you help out with tasks around the house.  I am willing to be flexible about what those tasks are.  If organizing the garage is not your cup of tea, I would feel supported and equal to you if you prepared dinner so I could focus on getting the garage done today.  Are you willing to consider that?”

Know this:  even in using these three steps, you will likely still argue.  Perhaps the compromise will work for a time, but eventually a new trigger will come up that needs to be discussed.  Remember: this is normal!  You will be discussing compromises and seeking to support one another throughout your relationship.  If you look at this as an ongoing conversation that will get easier over time, you’ll be set up well to continue to love one another through compromise in the course of your relationship.

Are you having a hard time finding common ground in your relationship?  Do you constantly feel stuck in your arguments?  At Restored Hope, I offer supportive couples counseling that helps you learn to communicate your dreams and listen with empathy to your significant other.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Ann Arbor office.

Finding Your Power Center: How To Leave Victimhood Behind and Own Your Power

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.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

How Do We Come Back From This? Rebuilding Trust in a Broken Relationship

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If you’ve faced betrayal in your marriage or long-term relationship, you know the devastation that broken trust creates.  Trust can be broken through affairs or infidelity, either sexual or emotional.  Sex and love addiction is a major factor that comes up in destroying trust in relationships.  Other addictions, secrecy around financial decisions, or secrecy around work can create similar experiences of broken trust.  But a common factor in all these cases is deception.   

Trust requires safety, and if your perception of reality is influenced by the lies or insincerity of another person, it becomes unsafe.  You might ask yourself questions like, “How will I ever know if my spouse is telling the truth?” or “How could I have fallen for their lies?” 

Shame also comes up for the betrayed partner.  You might be wondering if it’s your fault, blaming yourself for not being able to see the warning signs of the deception.  You might feel embarrassed and like a fool.  You might also be struggling with loneliness, as issues such as sex and love addiction can be difficult to share about with friends, or you can be protecting your spouse’s privacy.  Regardless, this shame is based on a distorted view of reality put forward by the partner who deceived. 

What should I expect in rebuilding trust?

Rebuilding trust is an incredibly slow process, and it requires patience and time to heal.  Usually I notice impatience in couples who come into my office feeling stuck.  The partner who committed the betrayal is recovering more quickly than the betrayed partner.  They might be feeling relief due to the fact that they are no longer carrying the burden of the secret addiction, and they can finally get the help they need.

Meanwhile, the betrayed spouse is wrestling with the new information he or she has received.  They are trying to integrate this new truth into the months or years of deception that have taken place, rewriting the narrative of their lives.  They are trying to re-evaluate and re-integrate their whole world with this information.  At the same time, they are faced with making decisions about the future of the relationship.

How do we rebuild trust?

Have you ever built a sand castle?  Some professional sand castles can be beautiful, with turrets and sculpted carvings.

Think of your marriage like a sand castle.  When the betrayal was discovered, it’s as if a giant tidal wave came and destroyed it.  Rebuilding trust involves moving sand back to rebuild that castle.  Some days it involves moving just one grain at a time, and other days you’ll move shovelfuls.  Sometimes, if the foundation is shaky or the wind from outside blows in a certain way, parts of the castle may crumble or topple and need to be built up again.

You likely won’t be building the same exact castle over again.  You’ll change parts of it to make it new and better.  Having learned from your previous experience, you’ll likely make a stronger foundation and more beautiful or intricate carvings.  You’ll consider how you will approach the marriage after the betrayal, which involves moving into a new phase that will be decidedly different from the pain that now colors the first part of your marriage.  

Rebuilding trust requires that both spouses have an active role in this process.  It is impossible for just one of you to be doing all the work.

The Deceiver’s Role

For the individual who has betrayed their spouse, the simplest way to rebuild trust is to continually match your words up with your actions.  The first step involves honesty.  You will need to be more truthful about your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors than you ever have before.  Allow your spouse access to private accounts and information.  Some spouses need this level of transparency and others don’t, but your willingness to offer it regardless of whether it’s needed or not rebuilds trust. 

Particularly in the case of sex and love addiction, formal disclosure of acting out behaviors is a major step in rebuilding trust.  In order to establish a foundation of trust before you move forward in the relationship, you will need to have a formal disclosure of all your behaviors with your spouse.  This is a major step of honesty that will lay the foundation for the other rebuilding actions to stick.

Each time you are honest about your behaviors in the future, you will move some sand back into that sand castle.  Every time you carry out an action you said you would, you build more trust.  When you are honest about difficult, negative emotions and responses, that builds trust even stronger, as it allows your spouse to see you take ownership of your feelings and actions. 

The Betrayed Partner’s Role

While it may seem that the action of change rests in the hands of the deceiver, the betrayed partner actually has a significant role in the trust-rebuilding process.  In order for trust to be built, the partner be willing to take the risk to trust.  You will (understandably) be self-protective and you won’t be ready to fully trust for quite some time.  In fact, if you were ready to trust immediately after discovering the betrayal, I would caution you against it!  But the long-term goal is to help you find ways of offering trust as the two of you heal.

When you first find out about the deception and broken trust, you ought to spend some time building up your network of support individuals and self-care so you can practice self-care and be kind to yourself as you heal.  Establish safety for yourself that isn’t dependent on your spouse’s behaviors, as they will certainly not be able to meet all your expectations at first.  Create boundaries as a way of seeing if your spouse is willing to change and adapt.

Once you’ve decided to move forward, take small risks to trust.  Acknowledge or praise your spouse when you see their actions and words lining up.  Choose to focus on the progress more frequently than the past betrayal, as it can be easy to lose sight of positive changes.  However, if the deception is still going on or if you haven’t seen actions on the spouse’s part to substantiate their commitment to rebuild trust, tread cautiously.

As mentioned earlier, rebuilding trust requires that both spouses take an active role.  But even if you do, you might feel like you keep hitting roadblocks that set you back.  When you are stuck and need a way to move forward, seek out couples counseling.  In counseling, you’re able to further discuss those areas of conflict in a way that creates change.  You’ll set goals together and consider how you’ll approach this new season of your marriage. 

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Are you still hurting from the betrayal you experienced due to your partner’s actions?  Are you in recovery for sex and love addiction and wondering how your spouse will ever trust you again?  Do you keep running into roadblocks to rebuilding trust that leave you hopeless for change?  At Restored Hope, I help individuals and couples to walk through rebuilding trust after it’s been broken.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more about how I can help.

The Unexpected Power of a Thank You

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When was the last time you said thank you?  Was it to the cashier at the grocery store out of politeness?  Was it to your spouse for helping you carry in the groceries?  Was it to a friend who was there for you when you had a hard day?

What about the last time you received a “thank you” from someone else?  Or when did you receive praise?  For most of us, this is the more difficult question: whether due to disqualifying the positive events of our lives or genuinely not receiving praise, it can be difficult to identify positive words that have been spoken about you.

How about this: when was the last time you asked for praise or affirmation?  When did you express what you needed to someone close to you?  If you can think of an example, what did that feel like for you?  If not, what holds you back from asking?  Would you feel needy?  Like the praise was forced?

Listen to this short, three-minute TED talk from Dr. Laura Trice about the importance of genuine, authentic praise. 

How can you up your praise quotient in your own life?

Offer specific and genuine praise to those around you.

Saying a simple “thank you” is better than offering no praise at all.  But to take it a step further, think of one or two specific affirmations that you can offer another person or specific actions for which that you are thankful.  This type of praise helps others to know that you see them and their efforts, which, in turn, feels more genuine and authentic.

Offer praise rather than assuming the other person knows you’re grateful.

Dr. Trice shares a powerful example from her work with addicts.  She indicates that the core wound of many addicts comes from their parents neglecting to tell their child how proud they were of him or her.  Often parents talk about this pride with others, but did not directly express that pride to their child.

We can’t assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them if we don’t express it in words.  Take time to thank your spouse for something that you usually take for granted, or offer an “I love you” just because.  As Dr. Trice suggests, thank your children for completing their chores, even if it’s what’s expected of them.

Ask yourself: what praise do I need to hear?

If you’re feeling down or having a hard time feeling appreciated, think through what you need to hear that would help you feel more secure.  Do you want to be recognized for the contributions you offer to your workplace?  What about the parenting “wins” you’ve had lately?  Or how you put effort into finding the perfect gift for your spouse? Make a list of these areas, and then identify: where can you offer that praise to yourself?  Where would it be helpful to hear that praise from others?

Acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask for what you need.

When she gets down to the “why” of the difficulty related to asking for praise or thanks, Dr. Trice reveals that it is a vulnerable ask.  By requesting specific affirmations, we are indicating our weakness or a need.  It is difficult to admit this need, as we fear it could be used against us or withheld from us in the future.  Asking to be praised involves risk and trust.

You could neglect me, you could abuse it, or you could actually meet my need.
— Dr. Laura Trice

For some of us, having our needs met might be the most vulnerable experience we could have.  Perhaps we aren’t used to others meeting our needs, or we’re used to having to fight for ourselves.  It can be both healing and redemptive to ask for what you need and to receive it. 

Practice asking for the praise and affirmation you need to hear.

After you’ve listed out your needs, seek out the people you trust to ask for them to offer praise or appreciation for you.  Choose someone who is safe first and who you trust to be able to offer genuine praise.  Get creative with your ask and offer praise for them as well.  Create this as a regular practice in your life. 

I’m giving you critical data about me, I’m telling you where I’m insecure, I’m telling you where I need your help.
— Dr. Laura Trice
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Do you struggle to feel appreciated?  Are you feeling taken advantage of, used, or disappointed by the lack of praise in your relationships?  Are you struggling with negative thoughts about yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples counseling at my Ann Arbor office in Michigan to help you understand your needs more fully and learn how to communicate with others about the praise you need.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help you.

One Simple Phrase to Change How You Prepare for Marriage

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Have you ever been to see the ocean?  Walked out into the salt water and felt the waves pushing against you? 

Growing up in Michigan, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go to lakes nearby.  Because of that, I’ve only been to the ocean a few times.  I’m always struck by the size of the waves and the force of the current, so much so that I’ve avoided going in the water higher than my waist.

I can see how dangerous the ocean is when swimmers get caught in the undertow of the waves.  One second they’re swimming and having fun.  The next moment, the sea is sweeping them further and further out, and they’re struggling to swim back against the current.  

You might ask: what does this have to do with marriage?

Amidst all the wedding planning that comes with engagement, preparation for the marriage itself often isn’t as high of a priority.  Premarital counseling classes are commonly offered at churches, but often they are teaching general principles on managing the household and finances, or they’re a prerequisite for using a church venue.

Instead of preparation for the realities of marriage, there are plenty of messages distorted by our culture’s obsession with romance that lead to expectations of perfection from your partner and a “happily ever after” story.  We expect that our spouses will fulfill our every need, sex will be easy and fun, and we’ll never have serious arguments.  These faulty expectations set us up for disappointment.

How do you protect yourself against that possibility?  How do you prepare for this? By reminding yourself of this:

Marriage will be hard. 

I believe this one small phrase, if both partners walk into marriage believing it, can create a buffer against the difficulties that will come.  It doesn’t mean that it’ll reduce how often you fight or feel hurt.  Instead, the acceptance of this truth and the willingness to look it full in the face helps to prepare you for the inevitable arguments, loneliness, and disappointment you will face.

Let’s go back to the ocean for a moment.  Imagine yourself standing in the water and facing the horizon.  You’re able to see the waves coming.  When a massive one crests and falls over you, you’ll brace your body in preparation for the impact.  You might lose your footing for a moment, but you’ve already set up a foundation that won’t be hard to re-establish.

Now imagine that you have your back to the waves and you’re looking at the shoreline.  You have no idea the wave is coming: you’re completely blind to it.  How much harder do you think that wave will hit you?  It will knock you off your feet, pull you under, and take much more effort to stand up again.  The wave may be large and powerful enough to pull you back into the undertow, making it feel impossible to make it back to shore.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage*, Timothy Keller warns against the faulty view of marriage in our culture, saying we expect too much from marriage.  In the search for a spouse, we’re looking for the perfect person who fits all of our lengthy list of requirements and expectations.  One flaw immediately rules a potential mate out.

Once married, couples may see the purpose of marriage as satisfying our personal desires and needs, rather than seeking the best for the other person.  Often our distorted beliefs lead to expectations that our partner will make us complete.  We think marriage is the relationship that provides ultimate satisfaction.  And when we are disappointed by our spouses, we blame them instead of acknowledging that our own faulty expectations set ourselves and our partners up for failure.

At the same time, Keller says we expect too little from marriage.  But how can that be? 

Marriage has the potential to be the most significant, life-altering, and rewarding relationship you have.

I’m sure you know couples who have walked through the difficulties of marriage and come out bitter, resentful, and angry at their spouses for disappointing them.  But facing these difficulties with openness to change will impact you if you let them. 

You will have to learn new ways to see the world through your partner’s eyes.  You will have to work at the aspects of marriage that do not come easy to you.  Just as you are likely not the same person you were 10 years ago, Tim Keller acknowledges that your spouse will change over time, and you need to be ready to get to know these new aspects of who they are.

Being aware of both the difficulty of being married as well as the potential for growth prepares you well for the reality of marriage.  It allows you to look with a far-reaching view at the waves that are coming into shore and prepare for the impacts that will come.   They will still be painful, but being prepared and accepting the reality that your marriage will be hard will help you move through those difficulties and grow closer as a result.

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Is your marriage disappointing your expectations?  Do you feel like you’re caught in the undertow?  Are you arguing constantly, frequently let down by your partner’s actions, and feeling as though you don’t recognize the person they’ve become?  At Restored Hope, I help couples who feel like their marriage is hanging on a string to reconnect, manage the difficulties of married life, and fall in love with their partner all over again.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment and hear more about how I can help.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

Disappointed With Your Sex Life in Marriage? Tips to Improve Sexual Intimacy

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Sexual intimacy is one of the most thorny issues for married couples.  Messages we get from media and our world tell us that sex is supposed to be easy, natural, and feel good.  Unfortunately, that’s often not the reality in marriage.  Histories of past abuse, faulty beliefs about sex, conflict in your marriage, or past sexual experiences can influence sexual intimacy.

Add sex and love addiction into the mix and you’ve got deeper layers of trauma, distorted sexuality, and faulty communication styles that get in the way.  Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder, meaning that all areas of intimacy, including sexual, are influenced by the addiction.

What does it mean to have a healthy view of your sexuality?  Marnie Ferree, in her book for female sex and love addicts No Stones*, speaks of the cornerstones of healthy sexuality as sexual choice, sexual information and attitudes, and sexual presence.  I also believe understanding expectations around sex, particularly those influenced by spiritual backgrounds, are important.  Addressing emotional intimacy in the relationship is an crucial component of feeling comfortable in the sexual realm. 

Sexual Choice, Not Coercion

Sexual choice involves the freedom to choose to be sexual out of a desire for the other person, rather than feeling forced or coerced into engaging in sexual activity. Sex with mixed motives (to feel good about yourself, to keep your spouse from bugging you about it, as a bribe) can distort your view of sex.

If you are feeling coerced into sexual behaviors with which you do not feel comfortable, or you are forced into sexual acts without your consent, this is sexual abuse.  If this is happening, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to get connected to help in your area.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel like I have to be sexual in order to be loved?

  • Do I feel like I need to give my spouse sex in order to keep them with me?

  • Do I not have a choice in the matter?

Messages, Information, and Expectations about Sex

Couples need correct sexual information and attitudes, as these are often flawed or distorted by past abuse and abandonment patterns, the influence of media, comparison with peers, and messages from family or the church.  What you expect from your sexual relationship may be drastically different from the reality you experience.

Part of the issue comes from a lack of knowledge about sex.  With school programs focused on abstinence-only education, and many parents feeling uncomfortable having the “sex talk” with their children, it is easy to see how we are left with misinformation about sex.  For most of today’s teenagers and young adults, sex education comes from peers, media, or pornography, which all offer skewed pictures of healthy intimacy.

Unfortunately, distortions around the purpose of sexual intimacy can also come from churches.  Sex may be seen as simply a way to procreate, or it can be associated with shame due to an overemphasis on abstinence.  In reality, the Bible indicates that sex within marriage is intended for pleasure and delight. It gives couples the opportunity to honor and love someone other than the self in addition to creating new life. Song of Solomon is an entire book of the Bible focused on marital sexuality and its role in reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church.

Ask yourself:

  • Where or from whom did I learn about sex?

  • What were some of my earliest sexual experiences?

  • What expectations about sex did I have walking into marriage?

  • How have they changed?

  • What messages did I get from the church/my religious upbringing around sex?

  • Do I feel awkward or like I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m being sexual with my spouse?

Presence

Sexual presence, or ability to stay engaged in the present moment of sex with the partner, is necessary.  It can be easy to become distracted or to have your mind on other things when you’re engaging in sexual intimacy with your spouse, particularly for women.  Addicts may dissociate or fantasize during the sexual act as a residual coping mechanism.  Body image issues can be a distraction to being present, as well as unresolved conflict or tension.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a hard time staying in the present moment in life in general?  While being sexually intimate?

  • Do I tend to fantasize or distract myself during sexual intimacy?

  • Am I too focused on the way my body looks to relax and enjoy sex? 

Communication

Another key element of healthy sexuality within marriage involves direct communication with your spouse about sex before, during, and after sexual activity. Without these clear lines of communication, there can be misunderstandings about what each of you prefers. Affirmation about what you like helps with closeness and understanding of sexual needs within marriage. Addicts who are dealing with sexual shame can be aided by honest communication about feelings and acceptance with their spouse.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I talk regularly with my spouse about sexual intimacy?

  • How would talking about sex make me feel?  Nervous?  Afraid?

  • Do one or both of us tend to be critical about sex? 

Emotional Connection

I believe healthy sexuality involves not just sex itself, but also emotional connection in the relationship.  The intimacy present in marriage outside the bedroom of knowing one another and expressing and receiving affection, appreciation, and respect feed feelings of intimacy.

Honesty and vulnerability are often difficult concepts to grasp, especially when you have been in situations where you were taken advantage of or unsafe.  It involves great risk to open yourself up to emotional vulnerability with another person, and yet it elevates intimacy on all levels when you engage.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I struggle with any of the other areas of sexual intimacy because I don’t feel emotionally close to my spouse?

  • Do I have a hard time being honest or vulnerable, and turn to sex to create intimacy instead?

  • Do I use sex to run away from painful or uncomfortable emotions?

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 Are you and your spouse struggling with sexual intimacy?  Is your story of addiction or abuse getting in the way of healthy sexuality?  Do you have a hard time feeling safe being vulnerable and honest with your spouse?  At Restored Hope, I’m here to support you on your path of restoring your sexual relationship within your marriage.  I offer couples counseling at my Ann Arbor location.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

A Real Couple Talks Sex and Love Addiction with a Marriage Therapist

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For couples seeking to heal from sex and love addiction, the process can be exhausting and difficult.  Addicts need to process their own pain, handle their spouse’s trauma, and have patience in the trust-rebuilding process.  Partners of addicts must address the pain of betrayal, decide whether or not to stay in the relationship, and deal with the consequences of whichever decision they make.

A recent podcast I’ve been listening to is Where Should We Begin?, a series of one-time couples sessions with renowned couples therapist Esther Perel.  Imagine my delight when I came across a session with a couple dealing with sex and love addiction.  I immediately thought about how helpful this conversation would be for my couples.

A few disclaimers before I encourage you to listen.  Esther is not a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.  Early in the podcast, she claims that there is little research support for sex addiction as an addiction similar to drug or alcohol addiction.  In fact, there is indeed a growing body of research indicating that brain changes occur in sex and love addicts similar to those of substance addicts.

Also, this podcast addresses the issues of this particular couple.  As a couple with your own unique story, you may have different struggles in communication or needs for healing.  For example, this particular couple was recommended to include more touch in their interactions, but that may not be appropriate for you if touch makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  Don’t take the advice she gives in this podcast as a “must do” for you in your relationship, but instead seek to apply the general principles to your own relationship.

Finally, this podcast contains strong language and mature themes.

Here are a few thoughts I have for both the addict and the partner.

For the Addict

You need to seek healing for the pain your addiction allows you to avoid.

A pivotal moment in the recording is when the husband admits he feels sad all the time, which the therapist points out as an emotion from childhood.  Taking away the addiction, which provided a way out from feeling pain of past abuse or current circumstance, meant he would feel the pain more deeply.  As an addict, you need to understand what you did was hurtful, and that it was done in an attempt to find healing from the past.

There is a delicate balance between taking responsibility and being consumed by shame.

Addiction is a shame-based disorder.  As a result, the addict’s typical default mode is one of shame and self-blame.  The abuse this addict experienced in his past taught him that he deserves to be punished or harmed because he is bad.  These shaming beliefs make it particularly difficult to feel appropriate guilt and take responsibility because of the pain they create.

It's time to integrate the good and the bad.

One of my favorite phrases with my clients is to remind them that there’s always an “and.”  There are two sides to every situation, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  Those coexist, and don’t need to be divorced from one another.  When the addiction was going strong, the “good” and “bad” selves were kept very separate.  Now you are tasked with integrating these two sides together into an understanding of the self that is realistic and kind.

Your spouse needs to have his or her pain acknowledged and understood, rather than hearing “I’m sorry” all the time.

Self-absorption is the name of the game with the addict.  In order to engage in the addictive behaviors without regret, the addict has to cut off empathy or compassion for their spouse.  In this case, the husband was still focusing inward as he explored his abuse and hadn’t adequately connected with the wife’s pain.  As you seek to rebuild trust in your marriage, you need to step out of your own pain and acknowledge the hurt of your spouse.  Your spouse needs to know you understand how hard it was for them before you can move forward.

For the Partner

It’s normal to be blindsided by the disclosure of addiction.

In the podcast, the wife makes comments like, “I thought I had the perfect marriage” and “I never knew anything was wrong.”  Addicts become adept at hiding their compulsive behaviors and putting on a mask.  If this happened to you, you are not alone.

Because of increasing acceptance of divorce, it is becoming more of a stigma to stay in the relationship and make it work.

Friends, family, even clinical professionals might encourage you to leave the relationship after a spouse’s revelation of sexual addiction.  They might not understand why you’ve chosen to stay if you are able to separate or divorce.  The lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  While the addict is getting support from therapy or 12 Step groups, the partner also needs significant support.

It is difficult to separate the person from the behavior, but it is important to see them as separate.

Because of the significant betrayal, the perceived narrative about the relationship has been shattered.  The partner begins to distrust her own perceptions not only about the addiction, but also about any positive or good moments in the relationship.  It is important to, as much as possible, see the addict’s behaviors and his identity as separate entities.  The addict’s actions speak to his destructive, addictive behavior, but that does not invalidate the good in him or her.  Similar to what I mentioned earlier for the addict, keep in mind the important of the “and” – good AND bad likely coexist in your spouse.

The addict can’t promise they’ll never act out again.

This is a frightening concept for many couples as they face recovery.  The pain of the discovery leads partners to threaten divorce if the spouse ever acts out again.  But in the course of addiction, there’s a chance of slips or full-on relapses.  The couple has to make a choice that they’ll face the risk together.  As a partner, rebuilt trust doesn’t come from empty promises, but instead from assurance in your spouse’s recovery work and process of setting boundaries.

It is incredibly important to name your needs.

As your spouse seeks rebuild trust in whatever ways they can, they cannot accurately predict what helps you to feel safe and secure in the relationship.  It is a marriage myth that once you are married, you should know everything your partner needs.  Examine why you might be reluctant to share your needs as you look at parts of your story where it wasn’t okay for you to ask for what you needed.  Know that in asking for your needs, you will likely feel vulnerable – this is normal.  Seek to risk in trusting your partner with what you need. 

There is hope to turn this tragedy into a triumph.

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Have you gotten to the end of the road with the attempts you’ve made to fix your marriage that’s been ravaged by sex and love addiction?  Do you feel as though you can’t integrate both the good and bad in yourself or in your spouse?  Are you tired of fighting all the time and not getting to any place of understanding or resolution?  At Restored Hope, I offer marriage counseling specific to couples facing sex and love addiction.  Schedule an appointment at my Ann Arbor office at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more.