Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at how friends and family can help the couple on a journey to healing from (his) sex addiction and (her) betrayal trauma. In the last post I put particular emphasis on how to support him (the person with the addiction). In summary, lead with truth and grace.
This week we’ll look more at how to help her, the wife with the betrayal trauma. That trauma extends from the discovery of the sex addiction, as well as from poisonous patterns sex addiction has brought to the relationship. Wives of sex addicts have often been living with long-standing patterns of such things as:
- Emotional distance and neglect
- Emotional abuse and gaslighting
- Controlling behaviours such as manipulation, intimidation and coercion
- Anger and possibly physical abuse
- Sexual neglect and/or sexual violence
- Spiritual abuse and/or neglect
- Lying and hiding
Listen to her
In his book entitled Why Does He Do That? Counselor, Lundy Bancroft, writes, “Nothing would work faster to end the abuse of women than having the friends and family of abusive men stop enabling them. And that begins, in turn, with making sure that you listen carefully and respectfully to her side of the story—something the abusive man never does.”
Experienced sex addiction counselors always work from the assumption that “his story” is hardly ever a true and full picture of what is going on in the relationship, or his recovery. If, as a friend or relative, you’ve been given his “dark picture” of the betrayed wife, hold it lightly. You need to hear from her to begin to understand what is really going on.
Allowing her to tell her story is also an outlet for her pain. Try not to be shocked by either the content of the story or the manner in which it comes out. Her pain is enormous and the freer she is to express it (which depends in part on how safe a person she deems you to be) the more healing she will find.
Refrain from Judging
It is all too tempting to make judgements about what you’re hearing, and to possibly even verbalize those judgements. Betrayed wives commonly hear such unhelpful comments as:
- All guys do that
- That doesn’t sound like such a huge deal
- Don’t you think you’re overreacting
- What’s your part in this
- Well you’re not exactly perfect either
- Have you been doing your wifely duties
Here are some things to keep in mind before making such a statement:
- Women rarely tell the ugliest bits of the story: the coercion or humiliation she’s faced in the bedroom, the most depraved (or illegal) parts of his acting out, the physical abuse. Some women save this for the counseling room or her best friend. Some go to the grave with these details. Thus, you almost undoubtedly don't know the full story, and that's for your good as well as the couple's. Please don't press for it.
- His sex addiction has nothing to do with her: her sexiness, her willingness to have sex, her temperament or character. God does not hold her accountable for his sin (which almost always preceded the marriage anyway) and neither should we.
- She has been traumatized by the discovery of his addiction or infidelity. Traumatized people behave in strange, socially unacceptable and/or uncharacteristic ways at times. She is often aware of where she has failed to live up to her own (God’s/society’s) standards and probably doesn’t need it pointed out to her. Before you bring up her behaviors, ask yourself, “would I say this to a friend who just told me she’d been raped?” (another type of traumatic event, though one which many find is easier to cope with than betrayal trauma).
It’s not uncommon to hear betrayed wives say they don’t talk to friends/family because they just “don’t get it.” I find that sad. I believe that the friend or family member who is truly making an effort to understand her experience CAN give her good support.
Next week we’ll wind up this series by looking at some practical ways (beyond listening and not judging) to help her, him and them.
For now: I just want to remind those who do not have family and friends to support them, that Emmanuel (God with us) is with them now and throughout this challenging season. He understands what it is to be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to us—and he's sticking closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).