At The Mod, we have couples coming from all over the place seeking help regarding their partner’s SSA (Sexual Stimulation Addiction – Masturbation, Pornography, and/or Sex addiction) and their own Betrayal Trauma.
Most couples make the mistake of thinking relationship recovery happens in the early stages of recovery. When this occurs, the couple jumps in, looking for a therapist or coach or group where they can work on the relationship since it’s been absolutely obliterated by the SSA.
The problem is, when you are looking for help in the beginning, you’re not in a place to do relationship reconstruction work. The addict is still in the “active addict” mindset and thus ANY relationship work will be sabotaged and will only feed the addict’s knowledge of how to manipulate and gaslight their partner further. Many active or early in recovery SSA’s can be known to use the coaches or therapists tips and strategies against their partner behind closed doors, and worse, trick the professional into thinking the addict is okay and put all the blame on the partner.
If a couple is seeing a professional who is not an expert in SSA & BT many professionals will be duped. This is why it’s important for individual recovery to happen first, and then when ready to begin the relationship reconstruction, have the betrayed partner do the searching for the professional. I’ve experienced this personally and heard this happen to countless couples. They go to a couples therapist or couples coach and they tell their story, but the addict gaslights and the professional doesn’t see it. The professional starts to have the betrayed partner feel like they need to change, they need to be more accepting, that “porn is normal” and “you need to get over it.” Sorry, but that is just 100% wrong.
As a betrayed partner, I understand that many betrayed partners want their addict to take the lead in recovery, and they should take lead in Their Individual Recovery, just as the betrayed should take lead in their individual recovery. When it’s time for relationship reconstruction, the betrayed partner should take lead in finding a professional who is well versed in SSA & BT so that neither they or their partner end up getting traumatized by a professional who does not understand the intricate dynamics involved.
How do you know when it’s time for Relationship Reconstruction?
Every recovery has a different timeline, but if you ask any professional in this niche, the average is 2-6 years. There is a huge range because each addict will handle recovery differently, and the betrayed’s recovery (if they choose to stay in the relationship/marriage) relies on the addict being successful in theirs. At The Mod, it’s called The Domino Effect. There are THREE RECOVERIES: The Addicts, The Betrayeds, and The Relationships. The addict must start to get into recovery and become safe.
The betrayed is traumatized, and they cannot heal in an unsafe environment. They can heal, somewhat, but not fully if they are living with an active addict because they are in a constant war-zone waiting for the next bomb to go off and destroy them. I give the analogy of “The Death of a Thousand Cuts” when you’re living with an active SSA. Each lie, each time they act out, each gaslight, each defensiveness, each minimization, each denial, is a slash, cut, or stab to the betrayed.
Living With Your Killer
The easiest way I can explain to an SSA what they are doing to their partner and why relationship reconstruction cannot occur is because they are actively “killing” their partner with their choices. Yes, choices, the SSA is making an active choice to choose once they know they are an addict.
The dynamics in SSA & BT are delicate and often anyone on the outside doesn’t see what I am about to describe. With my criminal justice background and passion for crime, my analogy is a killer and hostage. When a betrayed partner is with an active SSA it’s very similar to Stockholm Syndrome in the way that they are trauma bonded to their abuser. This is often why many people don’t understand why someone being abused will stay with their abuser.
If you can imagine….
You’re in a small house with your abuser. You are frightened, terrified, every day of getting hurt, of what they will do next. The next day, sleeping in bed next top your partner, you awake to being stabbed in the back with a knife. You’re screaming “Why would you do that to me?” as you see porn on their phone and they dig the knife deeper and twist it with, “it’s just porn, get over it! If you were more attractive I wouldn’t need porn.”
You’re on the ground now, bleeding out as they leave the room with apathy. You crawl to the bathroom and try to bandage yourself up, hide the blood, hide the pain. You put yourself together, put on the mask of make up to cover up the tears, and you head to work. The day is a blur and you are home and walk into the bathroom to get slashed on your stomach when you see your partner in the act of using. You cry, and they choke you to shut you up with, “you bitch, why’d you come in here. Get over it, I’m not cheating. Lose weight and then talk to me and maybe I’ll fuck you. Or do I need to fuck you now just to shut you up and get you off my ass!?”
You leave the room absolutely shell shocked and numb. You go take a nap to sleep off the pain and abuse only to wake to him on the floor crying and saying it will never happen again. You desperately want to believe him. He says “I’ll do anything, let’s get help, let’s go to therapy.”
You agree, thinking he finally has seen the light. He finds a therapist and you guys go. The therapist asks about what brings you guys in, and he starts talking, “Well, you see, we’ve been having some issues lately. I’ve been really stressed at work, and I know I’ve needed to try more, but her anger scares me. She gets so angry at me, and she thinks I’m actually cheating on her by watching porn! I mean, she yells at me, and calls me a cheater, and tells me she is going to leave me over some stupid pixels! She has so much insecurity it’s so hard to ever make her feel loved. Honestly her anger makes me feel so abused at times,” he explains as the therapist nods. You try to interject, but the narrative has been set and the therapist, knowing nothing of SSA & BT, asks about your own history, your own insecurities, and what you need to work on to help your stressed out husband, and how porn is normal and you’ll need to accept it. You leave the therapists office feeling even more alone and abused than before going.
You’re now home, alone with your killer, and he seems happy and feels accomplished in that session. You say, “That session wasn’t good, you made it seem like I have the problem, when you’re the one with addiction.” Next thing you know you’ve been hit across the face and are on the floor with him saying, “Are you kidding me? The therapist said porn was normal, the therapist said you need to work on your insecurity and find ways to feel more attractive like going to the gym. You have the work to do, you have to accept porn since it’s not an issue.” He walks away, leaving you bruised and alone again.
This is what we call the Sick Cycle Carousel at The Mod. The SSA acts sweet; they brought you home flowers after cheating, or they wrote a love letter and got you a new ring, crying as they profess their love to you, and you’re thinking, “maybe they aren’t so bad,” and so you’re sucked into the Sick Cycle Carousel of their abuse and addiction because the next day, week, or month, he will act out, gaslight, or lie again and the cycle starts over again.
To some, you may feel it’s extreme to use the term killer, but in truth, the SSA kills the betrayed – who they were before D’Day (Discovery Day). You don’t get to go back to being the sweet, innocent, loving, protective wife/girlfriend. You are now traumatized, fearful, hyper-vigilant, depressed, sometimes even suicidal, from the discovery that your entire relationship/marriage was a lie. The abuse in this relationship is often not seen by those on the outside and the betrayed can often become “the bad guy” to the public when people don’t understand what’s going on.
You have worked individual recovery
If you’ve both been working individual programs or groups for a while, you know the basics, and you’ve implemented what you’ve learned, that is a sign of progress and getting closer to being able to work Relationship Reconstruction. At The Mod, we have “The Betrayed” and SSR for those just entering recovery, and once they are ready to work individual recovery after digesting this new reality by Becoming a Warrior & Becoming a Knight where you learn all the skills you need for individual recovery and laying the foundations for relationship reconstruction, you’re well on your way.
Individual recovery means taking responsibility for your own health, your own journey, your own choices. You will learn about addiction, betrayal trauma, BRoACH, Accountability, Micro-Trust, Self-Care, and know You’re Enough.
The SSA isn’t gaslighting and getting defensive anymore as they’ve had self-reflection and know they’ve done extreme damage to their partner and know they deeply betrayed their partner. The Betrayed isn’t shutting down the SSA’s attempts at “mini-bids” to show effort. When both partners are able to be open to this process, are able to take responsibility, are in their own programs, are working their own recovery, that is when Relationship Reconstruction may be appropriate.
If any abuse is occurring – gaslighting, anger/defensiveness, throwing things, shoving/pushing, lying/deception/omission, etc. – relationship reconstruction is not going to happen and it will be detrimental to enter it. If the SSA is being a “dry drunk,” relationship reconstruction will not work.
Relationship Reconstruction occurs only when The Betrayed is ready to entertain the idea of Reconstructing the relationship when they feel it’s safe to move forward. The addict has a lot of work to do first. This is why Relationship Reconstruction should be led by The Betrayed. They didn’t have a choice in being betrayed/cheated on/lied to, etc. but they do get a choice in how they want to move forward.