We have spent the last month and a half looking at just how very prevalent domestic and intimate partner violence (DV and IPV) are for partners of sex addicts. For some of you, this will be no surprise and you will have been aware that you have experienced violence in your relationship with your SA spouse/partner. For others, it may have come as a surprise to you that you are the victim of some form of abuse. This is most likely to have been the case for those who have experienced coercive control and emotional violence, but not physical or sexual violence.
Identifying that we are victims of abuse can result in all sorts of emotions—fear, grief, anger or possibly even relief (that our experiences can be validated). It also usually brings up questions: questions about our safety, about the safety of others in the family and about the future of the relationship. As you process the abuse please consider that there are ways to move forward.
Not only did my study reveal that the vast majority (92%) of PSAs have experienced DV, but also that most of those who told a mental health professional found them helpful. If you have a counsellor, coach or therapist you see, please consider discussing what you’ve realised about violence… and, if they don't yet know, how common this is for those in relationships with a porn/sex addict. If you do not find your professional support person to be helpful, try looking for another one.
Even if the violence you have experienced is not recent or frequent, it can be helpful to bring it to therapy. Violence impacts our, and possibly our children’s, long-term physical and emotional wellbeing. Thus it is absolutely worth addressing anything on this issue in therapy.
Your therapist will help you evaluate the level of threat the violence brings to your (or your children’s) life. S/he will also educate you on patterns of domestic violence, help you devise a safety plan and help you work out some longer term strategies to get your life free of DV and IPV.
Please note that for some women the violence is such that more immediate assistance (e.g. a DV shelter, medical assistance) is required. If in the last 12 months you have experienced:
- Being choked, or your air flow restricted in any way
- Physical violence (and you are currently pregnant)
- Having a weapon used against you, or you’ve been threatened with a weapon
- Violence resulting in a serious injury such as a head injury (e.g., where you were knocked unconscious)
please contact a professional support person such as a doctor, women’s refuge, counsellor with experience in DV, etc. as soon as possible. This is particularly important if you are aware that the violence is increasing in frequency and/or severity at the moment.
One of the reasons that women don’t reveal the violence to a therapist is the fear that they will be made to do something they do not want to, such as leave the relationship. Some women also fear repercussions, such as the involvement of law enforcement or child protection authorities.
A discussion with your therapist about the "limitations of confidentiality" s/he works under should put your mind at ease. While in most places in the western world therapists are required to report ongoing child sexual abuse, or situations that are likely to lead to immediate harm (e.g., death via suicide), they do not have to report historical intimate partner violence or child violence. Even with very recent violence your therapist probably does not need to report this, though there could be some exceptions where the violence is life threatening.
Therapists will always try to work to empower you to make the best decisions for yourself. A good therapist will not try to pressure you to report the abuse or leave the relationship if you do not want to. S/he will instead work with you to help you create a safe world for yourself and your children. This will include working to make your relationship with your SA spouse safer. This is obviously easiest to accomplish when our husband/partner is open to addressing his part in the abuse. Even if he is not, you have options that can help you live more safely with him. Of course, if you do not see any way to create safety for yourself and your children while living with your SA spouse/partner, your therapist can help you begin the process of separating safely. A separation might be permanent or temporary, but in either case, it is good to have support for such a journey.
While it can feel uncomfortable, possibly shameful, to talk about the abuse we have suffered (particularly sexual or physical), taking that brave step can start us on a path to the change our hearts truly desire.
It is, of course, possible that the first person we speak to may not have all the answers. Said one of the study participants:
“When marriage and sexual addiction counseling were not bringing about the necessary healing in our marriage, I asked my husband to seek help for his abusive ways… I have gained much insight and wisdom about my abuse situation from Peaceworks Ministry."
So, keep seeking the help you deserve. It is my hope that the research that so many of you participated in will encourage therapists in the SA and betrayal trauma field to become more skilled in working with those facing domestic violence.
I believe that no woman (sometimes contrary to her own belief) did anything to deserve the violence she is facing. Even if she has retaliated at times. We will look at this more next week in a post “I’ve been the perpetrator of violence in the relationship… what does that mean for me?”