One Step in the Process at a TIme
Persons showing up for professional treatment for a sexual misbehavior issue are often going through the correct motions, but because of the shock and hurt, they are sometimes going through those correct motions on some type of autopilot, where they know enough to seek a skilled helper, they know enough to attend treatment, and they know enough to open up, but they understandably don’t know, or can even imagine, any the steps past the one they are on. Obviously, this is understandable and how extreme hurt and crisis situations often work.
After the situation is a bit more stabilized off the acute crisis there can be some discussion as to what the process of recovery may look like. The biggest thing for the client and the spouse to keep in mind is to try to be open, try to be as kind as possible under the circumstances, and try to trust the recovery process while still advocating for what will work for each of you, and what feels emotionally safe.
The Struggle of Disclosure & Shame
Clients may have sexual misbehaviors, and sometimes, attempts at sexual misbehavior, that their spouse does not know of, and to the client, those secrets possibly coming out may feel too disruptive and too dangerous for the partnership to withstand, but the “addict” getting real with themselves is as important, or actually more important, than the “addict” getting honest with their partner. It is the addicts self deception that created all this, and that is why confronting that self deception is so important.
The question of the client revealing their history of past behaviors to their partner can look like this is about getting honest with their partner, and it is, but the part of this that can really creates the change is the client opening up and getting honest with themselves. A client speaking and putting outside the partnership’s boundaries, “vanilla”, sexual misbehaviors out in the open, for “vanilla” example a man cheating with a woman his wife does not know, can feel like an impossible request. When the sexual misbehaviors involve “aggravating factors” such as unusual sexual interests, acts involving persons from their friends, social or community circle, behavior with an employee of the family business, and so on, the disclosure can feel even more difficult. The client feeling all this shame, pessimism, and hopelessness can be an intense struggle, and sometimes the beginning of treatment for persons with sexual misbehavior is not focused solely on them learning how to not act out again, but also a good deal of time helping them manage the intense and acute crisis they created with their sexual misbehavior.
The good news is the “addict” does not need to clean all of this mess up in one session or one week. There is a concept in recovery called “just for today”. It is a counter-intuitive way a dealing with the future. In recovery we deal with the future by working on, and dealing with what we have in front of us, and accessible today. We “keep it in today”. We cannot do tomorrow’s work now, just as we cannot do other peoples healing for them.
A Partner's Reaction to Sexual Misbehavior
The internal and subjective feeling of the situation having extreme unpredictability sometimes seen in the “addicts” spouse, created by the without warning discovery of the sexual misbehavior inside a partnership she thought was free of that, is often dealt with in a compensatory way, by a “need to know” all aspects of the sexual misbehavior, but often also an urgent “need to know” about what are the exact steps of recovery, when these steps will occur, what these steps will contain, what are the standards, all with a palpable sense of urgency. This “need to know” by the addicts spouse is trying to make up for a sense of unpredictability created by the sexual misbehavior, and it understandable that the partner would react this way, but this urge to get enough information to relieve the anxiety, will by definition never relieve the anxiety, at all, not even one bit, it is a quest that cannot be resolved except through time and through the understanding that not all will be known, especially “the why” as there are not real rational reasons for persons to act out irrational choices (sexual misbehavior), so only irrational reasons exist, and irrational reasons never feel as satisfying as a “rational” reason would feel.
Being no fully rational reason for some specific irrational behavior, such as making significant consequences to a real relationship and a real life that they love, all for some often meager sexual interaction, will ever be known, and being no amount of investigation and questioning will gain enough information to satisfy the “need to know” about the misbehavior, the quest itself may create some problems if it is not addressed for the coping mechanism it is.
What Will My Recovery Process Look Like?
Each case of recovery progresses along its particular path, but they sometimes have some basic generalities in common…
1: The “addict” opening up about the extent of the specific behavior he was discovered doing.
2: Coming up with some very short term strategies “right now” to help him not act out again in the very near future.
3: The “addict” opening up about the extent of the similar misbehavior in the past.
4: The “addict” opening up about any past failed efforts to stop this.
5: The “addict” describing his specific self talk/ self deception/ “cognitive distortions” that helped him rationalize what he would otherwise easily know was self destructive. In other words, how he “talked himself into” the misbehavior.
6: Deconstructing, and correcting some irrational views and behaviors created from adverse childhoods experiences, and irrationally and generally brought to his adulthood without a conscious decision that these are useful views and strategies at life, that contributed to his self deception and poor choices.
7: Coming up with long term solutions, and possible lifestyle improvements, to help him reinforce his recovery.
*Partner included when she feels she is ready, not when the “addict” or therapist feels she should do so.