If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you'll know I'm a big proponent of "finding support" for ourselves on this journey. Part of how I survived my own journey of betrayal trauma was: God, support groups, friends, family, books, and informed and compassionate counselors. However, I regularly hear news of women (and sometimes their husbands) finding themselves further traumatised by the people from whom they (or their husband) are seeking support. Below are some of the key signs it's time to challenge or use boundaries with (including the "leaving" boundary) your support people.
1. They say you're co-dependent
If we were to go back a decade (less even) it would have been common for the wife of a man with a sexual addiction, or other problematic sexual behavior to be labelled a ‘co-addict.' This term is a yet-more-pathologizing modification of the term "co-dependent" — which comes from the famous 12-step addiction-recovery model.
I have doubts whether it's fair to assume that all wives of alcoholics/drug addicts are enabling the behavior: enabling being assumed in the "co-dependent" label. I'm quite certain it does not apply in any way to the wives of those sex addicts who have lied and hidden their behavior. Moreover, when the wife learns of the behavior and ignores it (a minority of cases) there is often something more complicated going on for her than "co-dependence" (e.g., there's domestic violence, cultural disempowerment, trauma bonding, etc.)
However, I do understand that the therapeutic community, and particularly addictions professional, are prone to making assumptions until they get better information. Some are just conflating all "enabling" with co-dependence. This is where we can help them by pointing them to more up-to-date information.
Of course, if you truly believe you have co-dependent behavior/traits and the label works for you, that's fine. Perhaps you were already doing 12-step work related to your family of origin and felt that model described you. However, I'd encourage you to also consider the account of one of the respondent's to the 2014/2015 Wives of Sex Addicts survey who said she'd spent seven years in a 12-step support group for wives of sex addicts:
“I do have codependency issues, yet… it took a diagnosis of PTSD and addressing those issues first to begin the healing process. The co-addict model sent me deeper into depression and I never felt like anyone could see or understand I genuinely wasn't trying to control my husband, nor was I being judgmental and trying to make him pay, I was simply TERRIFIED and I needed comfort and reassurance… The co-addict model kept saying, ‘pick your own self up by your bootstraps and get over it. Get over yourself!’ I couldn't figure out how to pick myself up, nor could I find my bootstraps. And how do you begin to ‘get over’ a catastrophe that you supposedly helped to create and are now suffering the consequences of. It was more than I could bear…"
2. They tell you, you're the one with the problem
There's any number of reasons why a woman who is seeking support for the trauma caused by her husband's sexual behaviors might be told, he's not the issue, she is. These include:
- Our secular cultures' current "anything goes" narrative of sexuality
- Our churches' adoption of the above to varying degrees (see more below)
- Our culture's shame around sex and unwillingness to talk about it openly (particularly common in church culture)
- Our culture's misogyny
- Our support person's shame about their own or a loved one's problematic sexual behaviors... which results in a desire to normalize these behaviors and punish shedding light on them
- Our husband has told our support people that we're the problem; combined with, "our culture says his word carries more weight than ours" and "he looks and sounds so together and we're kind of all over the place"
Regarding the second point, In The Solution of Choice: Four Good Ideas that Neutralized Western Christianity, Marcus Warner argues that the church, having followed Western culture in adopting enlightenment values has, for the most part, failed to find a model to help people change. Thus, in the post-modern era, the church has followed as "America moved in a very amoral direction called tolerance."
He goes on to state that in so much as tolerance is loving our enemies, it's a virtue. However, in the church we often just throw up our hands and say (Lisa's adapted example here), it's too hard to honor God with our sexuality in the way He seems to expect, so we'll have to tolerate people's... indiscretions. And while tolerance is certainly better than, "excluding, drowning, hanging, or burning [people] at the stake," Warner warns that this type of tolerance, "is much more hopeless than mercy."
Our supporters coming out of church culture, need to be encouraged that there are indeed ways for the sex addict to change... tolerating their behavior is not the only option. Shooting the messenger (us) is also not an option.
Next week we'll look at more positions your support might take that require challenging, including "you need to forgive him (now)," "you need to leave him," and "you need to stay with him."
If you would like to share some of your own issues with your support people please leave comments, or email me... letting me know if it's ok to share your story anonymously with the community.