Today I want to acknowledge two of the more common (and natural) fears wives of sex addicts face – fear of future betrayal and fear for our children.
Fear: It's not all Bad
Experts talk about “attachment injuries” being the most painful emotional wounding a person can encounter. Betrayal ruptures our attachment bond with our husband resulting in huge pain. Moreover, as my colleague Jake Porter explains, when we've discovered that our understanding of our married life narrative was completely "wrong" (due to his lying and hiding the betrayal) it disrupts our ability to interpret the present and predict the future. This causes our brain to move into a "hyper" state where it frantically works to make sense of what our story has actually been.
It is normal and natural to fear being made to go (again) through an excruciatingly painful and safety-robbing experience. The more our husband continues to act out after discovery/disclosure (assuming he does at all) the more we are re-traumatized and the greater our fear will likely become.
Whether it is his first betrayal or a subsequent one, fear is our ally. It helps us emotionally detach while asking us to take protective measures. Working through what types of measures are going to be useful and appropriate (given our level of danger) is something that is best worked through with our counselor, coach or group.
It is very confusing to have our "most trusted ally" suddenly become the source of our pain and fear. This is an excellent time to turn to God for comfort, support and guidance, as well as safe people who get it.
Fear for the Children
Dr. Omar Minwalla says partner trauma “can include fear and panic… of child safety and potential of child molestation…”
The topic of how our children/grandchildren are harmed by our husband’s addiction is so big I devote a chapter to it in Beyond Betrayal. Even when our kids are at low risk of being molested, they are at high risk of being damaged in some way.
The first concern however, is for their physical/sexual safety. If you (like most of us) are having difficulty evaluating your child’s/children’s level of safety there are a couple steps you should consider taking:
- If your husband is seeing a counselor ask him/her about the risk of your husband sexually abusing a child
- Ask your own counselor/coach/support person about this (be prepared to give information about the nature of his acting out)
- Talk to your support group about your concerns
- Consult a child abuse prevention hotline, such as Child Help in the U.S. or Canada or Safe Network in New Zealand
- Consider doing an emergency therapeutic disclosure around this topic including a polygraph. This type of disclosure is often done prior to a full therapeutic disclosure.
Along with the above options, ask God to show you what you need to know and give you strength to do what you need to do (whether that’s staying with your husband, or taking the children and leaving). Read more online, or in Beyond Betrayal, about signs that a child has been compromised.
If you see such signs, it may be time to have a gentle talk with your children. Make sure, firstly, they have the vocabulary to express any inappropriate contact involving their sexual organs.
If your minor child confirms they have been sexually molested, you will need to inform authories promptly and possibly leave with your children. If you have a support person nearby, you can ask this person to accompany you (today) as go to/call the police or contact one of the helplines above.
If you are still uncertain if there has been abuse, or your child is not a minor, start with the helpline. Where this is not possible, a local counsellor specialising in abuse, or a worker at your Women's Refuge, should be able to help you navigate your obligations in this area. Remember that with regards to minors, you must act quickly on what you know or you may jeopardize your own future with your child/ren. Please bear in mind that your local laws may also require you to report if you are aware that your husband has been seeking out child porn. Your local helpline can guide you with regards to this.
In the country of Australia there is a support group specifically for wives of child sex offenders. Please consider looking them up, or another group if this is the position you find yourself in the position of having to walk the journey of healing from being married to an offender.
Turning Fear to our Advantage
Fortunately, it is still a minority of women whose children are in immediate danger of molestation from a sex addict/betrayer husband. Be aware, however, that the amount of child porn on the net has been skyrocketing so these rates are likely going to rise.
Despite the current low(ish) number of addicts who turn child predator, many of us, have to live with the fear that, as our (grand)children grow, the danger to them will increase (“teen” being the most sought after type of porn on many porn sites). However, we can use our God-given fear/caution to keep a close eye on the situation. This means evaluating:
Our husband’s recovery from acting out and lusting (does he go into a trance when looking at a teenager/child? Not a good sign.)
- His willingness to live transparently
- His spiritual health
- His ability to connect emotionally with us and others
- His willingness to seek professional help
- The transformation of his attitude into one of humility and patience with us and others
Beyond wariness, fear can motivate us to establish protective boundaries. Protective boundaries are not about control – they are about keeping us and our (grand)children safe.
As one respondent to the 2014/2015 survey stated:
“It [setting boundaries] has had an immense effect. It created a 'space' for me to be able to live without total panic and fear and anger.”
For more on boundaries, see Beyond Betrayal, and/or read the Boundaries blog series.
If our husband is moving toward wholeness and working to rebuild trust in the relationship, our justifiable fears should gradually recede. However most of us need to pursue healing from our trauma to completely escape fear’s grasp, once it is no longer necessary for safety’s sake.
Over the next two weeks I’ll look more closely at ways to find healing from our trauma – and the ongoing fears it brings into our lives.
I'm aware that this post may have been triggering for some women. Please reach out for support (or email me) if you need to process. If you've learned some grounding techniques, use your favorite one right now. You can also consider using calming music to help.