Guest blog by Jeff Schultz, LPC, CSAT
The moment a man or woman discovers a mate’s sexual secrets and betrayals is one s/he rarely forgets. From that point on nothing can ever be the same and the future looks as uncertain as the past.
As a sex addiction therapist, my clients describe the days, weeks, and months that follow discovery as being like drowning in a sea of overwhelming emotions.
Making matters worse, the couple doesn’t typically “get better” in the same way, at the same time, or at the same pace. They heal and recover, but unevenly and “out of sync.” Both feel less and less empathy for the other and then make avoidable mistakes that drag on an already painful healing process.
When couples can appreciate why their healing is uneven, they learn to accept these “out of sync” moments with greater empathy. And we know that greater empathy is at the root of healing a relationship and the basis of intimate love.
The Wave: Different Experiences and Different Healing
In my practice, I use an analogy of a giant ocean wave to help couples better understand their different recovery experiences.
The story begins with a couple trapped in a massive wave about to crash into the surf and explode toward the shore. They can’t fight it off, they can’t escape it, and they can’t do much, if anything, to help one another. It could be the end for them both, but instead, it turns out to be a beginning.
The Wave and the Sex Addict
The sex addict, like his partner, gets “caught” in this wave he can’t escape and is swiftly and mercilessly smashed to the ocean floor. His body is pummeled and he fights for air. There is nothing he can do to change his plight.
“It was my idea to swim in the heavy surf and I have no one to blame but myself. I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway, and what’s worse is that she’s stuck in the wave with me. It’s my fault, I can’t fix it, and now it’s too late.”
He is powerless and he begins to drown.
The Wave and the Partner
His partner rises up with the same huge wave, but something different happens. As the wave begins to crest and just before it curls into the surf, time literally and completely stops.
“Is this really happening to me? Why didn’t I see the surf picking up? He said the water was just fine. I can’t believe I trusted him and swam out so far. I’m angry, and I’m afraid, and I don’t want to drown. But it might be too late.”
She blinks her eyes. She holds her breath. And she waits for time to begin again.
Surviving the Wave for the Sex Addict
The sex addict doesn’t drown. Weak and broken, he surrenders to the power of the wave and is finally spit out of the surf and pushed toward shore. In a short time, he can stand and he can walk. He’s going to make it.
“All I have to do is take one step at a time and accept the help of others who know how to swim. With help, I can reach the shore.”
With help, he staggers his way toward the beach.
While the Partner Waits for the Unknown
She sees him in the distance walking out of the surf and feels angry at the injustice. He gets to go on with his life while she stays frozen in time at the crest of this wave.
“When will time begin again and what will happen when it does? Who will help me walk to shore? Can I survive? Will I drown?”
Still, a part of her is relieved that he’s found his way out of the surf and wishes he could somehow help her now. He’s responsible for her plight and yet a part of her cares deeply for him.
Confused, afraid, angry, she waits for time, and the wave, to begin again.
Surviving the Wave for the Partner
Time begins again and she’s carried over the crest of the wave.
Her fall into the pounding surf is painful and terrifying. She fights like mad trying to keep her head above water. Her fight is long and each breath of air is followed by another drowning wave. She grows weak in the powerful surf until she finally surrenders.
It’s then that the waters shift and she discovers that she can swim. In a short time, she feels the sand beneath her feet and she begins to stumble toward the shore.
As she looks ahead, she sees him pushing hard through the hip deep water to meet her and they both open to a vulnerable and intimate embrace.
They have both survived the ordeal and are overwhelmed with gratitude to be together and alive. The couple is new again, and despite forever bearing the marks of the wave, they can finally walk together in recovery and healing.
A Hopeful Future
I’m often asked if I think a couple can survive the trauma of sex addiction and betrayal. “Are we going to survive all of this?”
That’s when I share this story and ask them to consider the famous serenity prayer, which reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change [the wave], to change the things I can [I can swim, I can ask for help, and I can walk], and the wisdom to know the difference.”
My answer is nearly always optimistic. Sex addicts, partners, and couples can and do recover and heal. They just need to ask for help, be willing to swim through the stormy water, and then walk the walk of recovery and healing together.
Jeff Schultz is the Author and LPC, CSAT at Sonoran Counseling Services in Arizona. You can learn more about him by visiting his website or checking out his other posts on his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter or like his Facebook page.