“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
“Anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering, while that which promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing.”
When I discovered my husband was a sex addict, the last thing I wanted was to be around other people. But the pain was so extreme I was willing to do anything to make it stop.
When I was encouraged to join a support group, I decided to try it out even though I didn’t see myself as a “group therapy” person. My first experience wasn’t good, but I didn’t give up and eventually found a very helpful, coach-led phone group.
I had many fears about sharing what I was going through with my friends and family. Would they think I caused my husband to seek sexual gratification elsewhere because I wasn’t pretty enough, didn’t have sex with him enough, or wasn’t exciting enough in bed? Would they try to tell me what to do? Would they lose respect for me because I hadn’t left yet? Would they turn on him and think he was evil, a pervert or unforgivable, making things harder for me in the long run if I decided to stay? How would the fact that I “chose” a sex addict reflect on me? Would they think me naïve that I didn’t recognize the problem sooner?
On many occasions, some extra “me time” and time alone with God was just what I needed. But over time I learned that I’d never heal if I isolated myself from people. I felt like I’d die if I kept holding this inside.
So, I chose to open up to a few trustworthy women in my life. They didn’t have to fully understand, they just needed to listen without judgment. But I came to see that fellowship with other wives who had gone through similar situations was critical. Below I briefly describe five of the countless benefits a good support group will provide.
1. Support groups help you discover you are not alone
As I have spent the last six years counseling wives of sex and porn addicts, I have made a fascinating discovery. Without exception, the healing that takes place for women in my support groups happens more quickly and effectively than that which occurs in women seeing me for individual sessions. The feedback I get is overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. It’s what I call the “power of the group.” This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, it is in line with both science and scripture.
It is difficult to put into words what happens when you put a small group of women with shared beliefs and experiences into an environment with a skilled leader or facilitator who has also been there. But I am blessed to be able to see this happen about twice a year, and I am amazed every time.
2. Support groups create connection
At first, women are overwhelmed by the realization that they finally have a place to share their feelings with people who understand their pain. But at week three or four, I begin to overhear discussions about texts exchanged throughout the week and plans being made to meet for coffee or dinner. It is common for me to hear of women who have met in my support groups to remain in contact long after the group ends.
In his book, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, cardiologist Dean Ornish, speaking about the healing power of love and connection, states: “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine—not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery—that has a greater impact on our quality of life or incidence of illness.”
3. Support groups provide a safe space to share your story
Although I do encourage women to risk opening up to at least one trustworthy person in their current social circle, the truth is that you will have to be careful with your words, at least at first. There are stereotypes and assumptions to consider. Sadly, some of the fears I listed in my story above are valid. With a good support group, there is no risk. We’re all in the same boat.
In order for community groups, support groups, or therapy groups to be helpful, they must provide a safe space for women to share their stories. This means there must be an environment of love and acceptance. You may have to try out more than one before you find one where you feel comfortable. Unless your gut tells you a particular group is more harmful than helpful, I encourage you to try a group at least three times before deciding if it’s right for you.
I do not personally recommend COSA or S-ANON, two popular 12-step fellowships for partners of sex addicts, because of their refusal to abandon the outdated co-addict model and embrace newer research supporting a trauma-approach to treating partners of sex addicts. However, if you’d like to give them a shot simply as a way of finding other partners to interact with, by all means do so. I understand the meetings vary quite a bit from city to city and state to state.
Celebrate Recovery is another 12-step program that is Christian based. Because of the codependency focus, I don’t think this is the best option for most wives of sex addicts early in the healing process, but again, try it out if you’d like. Everyone’s experience is different. I’m not a fan of the 12-steps in general for partners of sex addicts. (I love them for addicts though.) However, I do like Infidelity Survivors Anonymous (ISA) overall because they work from a trauma perspective.
You can search online for phone or web based groups. I find online forums and discussion boards to be unhelpful and discouraging most of the time. Some churches have their own support groups for wives of sex addicts. Try looking in your area to see what’s available to you.
4. Support groups provide a guided process for healing
My very favorite option, if you have something like this near you, is a therapist-led, closed group that uses a curriculum or approach based on the partner trauma model. These groups are usually short term, anywhere from a few weeks to several months. You join at the start of the group. The same women go through the group together and end together. This is how the most powerful bonding occurs. Usually no one knows each other the first day so everyone starts from the same place. By the end, lasting relationships have been formed.
In closed groups, as well as some open groups, topics are covered each week that help facilitate discussion and aid in healing. In my groups some of these topics are loss, self care, finding physical and emotional safety, boundaries, coping, and forgiveness. Weekly homework to accelerate the healing process is assigned and discussed.
5. Support groups provide accountability
I’m talking about social accountability, defined as “the process of staying answerable to your goals, dreams, and passions.” In a good support group, over time, others will reach out to you if you’re absent to make sure you’re ok. You might share a plan in group to set a certain boundary with your husband. The next week the group members will be eager to hear how it went. When you’re struggling you’ll have people to call or text who will offer a listening ear or encouraging word.
For those in the greater Houston and Katy, TX area, I start a new group about every six months. My next support group will begin January 25, 2016. It is 16 weeks long and limited to no more than seven women. You can click here to learn more.
God created us to be relational beings. We are wired for community. Whether you walk into a group eager to meet others and no longer feel alone, or whether you go in kicking and screaming like I did, push yourself to do this. It just might be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:24-25