Recently, Ted Schimer of Freedom Fight asked me if I could share with him what I find to be the most frequently asked questions from wives of porn/sex addicts. Over the next couple of weeks I'll post the questions, and responses, I shared. These questions come from my personal experiences with wives on this journey, as well as from a previous series we ran on the site, "Ask the Experts," featuring your questions, answered by partner trauma expert, Dr Barbara Steffens and sex addiction experts (including Jason Martinkus).
Why aren’t I enough for him?
Porn and sex addiction aren’t about a need for more healthy, marital sex: it’s about an addiction to the high levels of brain chemicals released by surfing porn/acting out, etc. This brain chemical-mix is related to the brain chemicals released as part of healthy, marital sex, but with some distinct differences. His addiction can also be about re-enacting past sexual traumas or medicating negative moods. In any case, his acting out (or at least his habit of unhealthy self-soothing with sex) probably preceded your marriage, thus it truly has nothing to do with how you look or act. God says you are enough to be His daughter and your husband’s wife: and that is truth that can be helpful to hold on to throughout this journey.
Since finding out I can’t eat/sleep/stay present/remember anything/etc. What’s wrong with me?
Mental health researchers in the late 20th century began to consider that betrayed wives might experience trauma when they find out about their spouse’s infidelity. Later researchers, such as Dr. Barbara Steffens and Dr. Omar Minwalla, began to study whether the same might be true for the wives of sex addicts. Their studies (and others since) have concluded that the majority of wives of porn and sex addicts experience trauma from the disclosure/discovery of the addiction. What you are experiencing are common betrayal trauma symptoms, which will lessen over time, if you are not being re-traumatized and if you find safe people with whom to process the traumatic events.
How long does it take people to heal from betrayal trauma?
The healing journey is unique for every person. However, studies show that factors which promote healing are: finding support (e.g., counselor, a support group, friends, church elder), using protective boundaries, getting validation and finding information (books, websites, counselor). Retraumatization (e.g., dribbled disclosure, relapses, uncovering of lies) obviously inhibits the healing. Without major retraumatization some experts say that women will move from betrayal trauma to healing within 3-5 years. Usually the most debilitating symptoms (disturbed sleep; dissociation; strong, negative emotional reactions) dissipate within the first year.
My husband just went into recovery, how long will that process take?
Most men working on achieving sobriety (i.e., living lives free of any sexual acting out), can get to that place within 18-24 months. That said, some men are sober from their first day in group/in counseling/after disclosure. However, sex addiction has other unhealthy patterns of behavior associated with it that often hang around a bit longer. These behaviors—e.g., habitual lying, hiding, anger, avoiding intimacy, lack of empathy— often take a few years of recovery work to conquer. As with wives, the more support a man seeks out (particularly from God and a group) the faster and more thoroughly he’s likely to heal.
My husband was into (cybersex, violent porn, BDSM, homosexual porn, porn of women who look the opposite of me)… is there any hope for him to recover and to be satisfied with me again?
While sexual acting out does change a man’s sexual template and cause him to prefer certain types of people and certain unhealthy behaviors, he can experience healing and go back to preferring sex God’s way (i.e., being bonded to you alone and enjoying marital intimacy that is life-giving to you both). The need for novelty is normal with sex addiction, and your husband’s tastes for the types of things mentioned above probably developed over time (or were influenced by an early, unhealed sexual trauma). However, the same brain plasticity that caused him to be “wired” to prefer the unhealthy, means he can be rewired back to the healthy. Likewise, he can get healing for unresolved traumas. Both of these take time and work, but many men have experienced it (particularly when they leaned into God) and are now quite well-bonded to their wife.
Next week, I'll continue the questions, including key questions women have about sex with a sex addict.