This week we wrap up our series on how friends and family can support the couple healing from his sex addiction/her betrayal trauma.
Earlier posts gave you an introduction to sex addiction and betrayal trauma. They also talked about the power of family/friends to influence the person with the addiction and how to respond appropriately (listen, don’t judge) to the betrayed wife.
Today we’ll look at how boundaries and consequences need to be supported and encouraged in this situation.
In the best case scenario, by the time you’ve been told about the addiction, the couple have already worked out some healthy boundaries that support their healing. In a survey I did in 2015 (more details in the Beyond Betrayal book), I discovered that many men were quick to put boundaries around their technology use: i.e. they wanted a filtering/accountability software package such as Covenant Eyes, they set boundaries around when/where/how they got on the internet, watched TV, etc. Some were also quick to suggest individual or couple’s counseling.
However, it is also common for the betrayed spouse to want some boundaries that he’s not keen on. Many of these boundaries can be summarized as “greater transparency.” This might look like letting her go through his text messages at the end of the day, keeping an eye on his email, asking him to tell her each day (or more frequently) how he “did” in a given situation where he was exposed to sexualized media or people. The “what” of transparency is usually influenced by what form his sexual acting out has taken previously.
In his excellent book, Worthy of Her Trust, counselor Jason Martinkus explains that men need to be willing to begin to live more transparently and take the lead on that front:
“Try to anticipate what your wife might want to know. You don't need to be a mind reader. But you can be accommodating, proactive and empathetic enough to help her avoid taking on a private investigator role. Remember, most wives don't want to be in that role and are incredibly disappointed in themselves when they adopt it.”
Thus, if you see that the wife is playing the private detective, don’t have a word with her, have a word with him. Since he has misused his privacy in the past to betray her, he needs to be proactively using it to rebuild the relationship.
If the person with the addiction is refusing to live transparently and resisting her boundaries, this is another place where confrontation is called for. The main message for him is the same as above: “you misused your freedom and privacy in ways that traumatized your wife and greatly damaged your relationship; now you need to give up some freedom in order to lead in the healing process.”
For the wife, she might need your assistance to stand firm on her consequences if her husband is pushing/breaking healthy protective boundaries. This can feel really tough for some Christians, who may themselves struggle with healthy inter-personal boundaries. If you need help with this, consider reading one of the book in the Boundaries series by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
Moreover, Christians often struggle with accepting that sometimes the only suitable consequence that the wife of a sex addict can bring to bear in her situation is leaving. Please try to be hopeful and supportive of the wife if that’s the consequence she has chosen. Not all separations ultimately result in divorce. Not all divorces are irreparable separations. The sex addiction community is full of stories of re-marriage (to each other) following divorce. Townsend (in Beyond Boundaries) tell us it’s important to hold a balance of “hope” that this isn’t the end with “acceptance” that it could be, thus, thus we need to move forward with our lives.
As I said last week, it’s not uncommon for the wife/couple to be withholding some of the worst bits of the story from their community. Thus, please don’t judge if it comes down to separation/divorce. Try to listen compassionately and love them. If you need your own support to deal with the consequences: please seek out assistance from professionals or those who have the spiritual and emotional maturity to walk with you in this.
Above all, as you walk with a sex addict/betrayed wife, pray for compassion and wisdom. As mentioned earlier, this particular healing journey is one of the messiest ever. It is not linear. It results in regular crises: spiritual, emotional and sometimes even physical. It’s the journey of years, not weeks.
You may find it helpful to educate yourself (and those supporting you) further on the topics of sex addiction and betrayal trauma. If so, please refer to our resource page.
At some point in the future I will compile the last month’s worth of blog posts into a downloadable resource for friends and family. Keep checking the resource page for that.
Next week, I’ll be posting a meditation on the four themes of advent, and how they apply to this journey.