Last week we looked at the idea that friends and family members have incredible power to help (or hinder) a couple on a journey to healing from (his) sex addiction and (her) betrayal trauma. (Note: in this series we’ll be assuming that he’s the one with the addiction, while at the same time acknowledging that it can be the reverse).
So how do you go about using that power for good? Your greatest tools are:
- Listening (particularly to her… more on this next week)
Confront… in Love
Counsellor/author, Lundy Bancroft, who I quoted last week, says that it is impossible to get an abuser (or addict) to work on himself by non-confrontational means. This applies both to the “loud/angry” sex addict (who may have obvious patterns of abusing his wife/children) and the quiet/withdrawn sex addict (who will still have patterns of lying, hiding… and, often, incidents of covert abuse).
This means we’ll have to challenge some of the behaviors discussed last week, as well as any evidence of addictive thinking we see. Challenging needs to be done without shaming—because shame is part of what drives your friend/family member toward addiction. The difference between the two is that shame says, "you're a bad person," while confrontation says, "you are a person of immense value and those behaviors are beneath you and must change."
Bancroft warns that at first, when challenging him, he will say:
“'You are siding with her; she’s turned you against me.’ Respond to these distortions by saying: ‘I am not against you; I am against your hurtful behaviour… [this is] the number-one problem [in the relationship].’”
A Tale of Two Addicts
If your friend/family member with the addiction has a strong personality—and frequent episodes of anger or rage— the thought of confronting him can feel intimidating. Pray for the right timing and make sure you yourself are safe. Please also keep in mind that your challenge may increase his wife’s/children’s risk. For safety’s sake, do not instigate a conversation about his addiction and other harmful behaviors while he has been drinking/using drugs or if he has been triggered into anger already.
Pray that God will prepare the ground of his heart, and yours as well. Then, when you see your chance, ask God to go in with you and sew seeds of truth, while conveying your (and God’s) love for him at the same time.
If your friend/family member with the addiction is the withdrawn type, he is more likely to appear to be the victim. This is particularly the case when his wife is, in her trauma, struggling with rage. When such is the case, it may seem cruel to add to his burden, by confronting him about his addiction or the unhealthy behaviors around it.
However, bear in mind that a lot of this burden is due to the addiction/sin and the changes it is working in him. Hearing the truth from someone who loves him could be a crucial part of his journey to freedom. Moreover, be aware that even very mild men can, when they are in their addiction or the early days of recovery, resort to uncharacteristic abusive behaviors at times. His wife may need your help in confronting these.
Fortunately, as healing takes place, those with the addiction often find themselves thinking and feeling better, and thus less prone to resorting to uncharacteristic, sinful behaviors. The habituated behaviors (e.g. lying), however, will generally take longer to leave behind.
While confronting is important, words alone don’t usually result in change. Addiction requires professional help and ongoing community support. Consider being part of his support community, whether that means:
- Giving him time/space to talk and get helpful feedback
- Taking the kids so the couple can work on building intimacy
- Checking in with him weekly about his recovery work (be sure to check in with her as well… for the whole story), or
- Praying with and for him, because his connection to God is going to be pivotal to his healing
At the very least, please don’t undermine his recovery by supporting the addictive thinking habits (sometimes summarized as “minimize, rationalize, justify and blame”) or shaming him for his addiction.
The journey to healing from sex addiction and betrayal trauma is one of the messiest ever. If at any time you feel you are in over your head, suggest the couple seek specialist support (consider helping them find it here ).
Standing up for right is so difficult, and it comes with the very real risk of rejection by the person with the addiction, who is dear to you. Seek your own support and give yourself grace, knowing that you probably won't do this perfectly, but the Redeemer will still use it for the good of all.