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
Relational ruptures with our primary attachments (mom and dad when we are children, our husband/partner when we are adults) are possibly the most painful emotional woundings we encounter in life. Betrayal ruptures our attachment bond with our husband in a very deep and personal way resulting in enormous pain.
It is normal and natural to fear being made to go (again) through an excruciatingly painful experience. The more our husband continues to act out after discovery/disclosure (if continues, not all do) 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.
Fear for our 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 (only possible, ofcourse, if you have an invitation into that relationship)
- Ask your own counselor/coach/support person about this (be prepared to give information about the nature of his acting out as you know it and also about the manner in which he relates to the child/ren)
- Talk to your support group about your concerns
- If there are red flags for abuse of any kind, consult a child abuse prevention hotline, such as Child Help in the U.S. or Canada or Safe to Talk in New Zealand
- Consider doing an "emergency disclosure", including a polygraph, around this topic, something an APSATS-trained therapist can definitely help with.
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 they don’t, teach them. If after this, you have an indication from your child that they have been molested (or are being groomed for this), pack up a few things, quickly, and leave... or ask him to if you think you could safely and successfully do this.
If you have a support person nearby, ask this person to accompany you (today) as you inform authorities (or one of the above hotlines) of your suspicions/information. A local counselor specialising in sexual abuse, or an attorney should be able to help you navigate your legal obligations in this area. Remember that you must act quickly on what you know to get to the authorities or you are jeopardizing your own future with your children. Please bear in mind that most local authorities also require you to report if you are aware that your husband has been seeking out child porn.
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.
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
Beyond wariness, fear can motivate us to establish protective boundaries. Protective boundaries are not about control – they are about keeping us and our 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.
In addition to boundaries, 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 fear it brings into our lives.
I'm very excited to be talking with Jake Porter shortly about the issue of domestic violence in relationships with sex addiction. This is for his upcoming summit Navigating the Depths. Stay tuned for more on this summit in future posts.