My new client had just sat down when I asked how I could help. She told me, “I recently discovered my husband has been viewing pornography behind my back. I found out he has been doing this for most of our marriage.”
I gently asked, “How is that influencing you?”
She responded, “I can’t sleep, I can hardly eat, and I can’t think about anything else. I think I am going crazy.”
“What you are experiencing is normal. You aren’t going crazy,” I said. “What you are experiencing is trauma related to discovering your partner’s use of pornography.”
After conducting research for more than ten years and with more than 3,000 individuals, I can confidently say trauma is very common in women and men who discover their partner’s secret sexual behaviors.
In the early 2000’s, there was very little research on this topic. In fact, many therapists were using the codependency model to treat these individuals. However, that wasn’t matching up with what I was experiencing in my clinic. Many women were just discovering that their partner had been using pornography for years without their knowledge. They had felt something was wrong in their relationship, but didn’t know what.
In 2005, in an effort to understand the effects pornography has on relationships, I co-authored an assessment “Trauma Inventory for Partners of Sex Addicts” (TIPSA). The women and men who took this assessment began telling the real story. Many of these individuals are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms. What does this mean exactly? The following symptoms are very common:
- Indescribable fear
- Reliving the experience (dreams, replaying the discovery over and over)
- Avoidance (not being able to go out in public or be around things that remind you of what your spouse has done)
- Negative self-cognition (I am not good enough or he/she wouldn’t do this. If I were prettier, taller, more attractive, lost weight, she/he wouldn’t do this.)
- Increased emotional arousal (intense anger, yelling, sleep problems related to racing mind, anxiety, suicidal thoughts)
When I share this information with my clients and teach this in educational classes, inevitably women say, “Why isn’t this being talked about more? I really thought I was going crazy.” My response is that we are now just starting to see the powerful and long lasting effects of betrayal trauma. The symptoms are real and individuals suffering from this type of betrayal should be understood and treated using a trauma model.
If you are suffering from your spouse’s hidden use of pornography, there is help and support. You are not alone and you aren’t going crazy. What you are experiencing is betrayal trauma. I offer a free assessment you can take to help identify your symptoms.
Support Resources for Betrayal Trauma
If you are suffering from betrayal trauma, please reach out. In my research, I have discovered that most women wait for months or years to get help. They feel like others will judge them so they suffer in silence. You don’t have to deal with this alone.
Bloom–the world’s largest online support for betrayal trauma. This online support for women offers a support forum where you can receive support from others who understand what you are going through, educational classes on betrayal trauma, question and answer sessions with professional therapists, yoga classes, and much more.
COSA–a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior.
Specialist in Your Area
SexHelp.com–If you want a therapist who understands sexual addiction, you will want to find a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT). All CSAT’s have more than 150 hours of training in treating sexual addiction and betrayal trauma.
APSATS–The Association for Partner’s of Sexual Addicts Trauma Specialists. This group certifies therapists who specialize in treating betrayal trauma.
In conclusion, if you are experiencing extreme pain from your partner’s hidden sexual behaviors, you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals suffering from untreated betrayal trauma. So please reach out for support. There is help available and people who understand what you are going through. Although you may feel like you are going crazy, what you are experiencing is real. It is called betrayal trauma.
Dr. Kevin Skinner is the co-founder of Bloom, an online company that provides support and learning for women struggling with betrayal trauma. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Skinner has been helping individuals and families for over 18 years. He’s authored the best-selling book Treating Pornography Addiction and created multiple audio series regarding pornography addiction and relationship intimacy. Dr. Skinner is also the co-founder and Clinical Director of Addo Recovery, a clinic dedicated to treating individuals struggling with betrayal trauma and pornography or sexual addiction.