On July 19, 2019, at a Six Flags amusement park in Bowie, Maryland, roller coaster passengers spent over two hours stuck at the top of the ride. Eventually, all of the passengers were rescued unharmed. Many have described the aftermath of sexual betrayal as an emotional roller coaster. And similar to the ride at Six Flags, wounded spouses can become stuck in their healing journey. What causes this and how can they get moving again?
6 Things That Keep Hurt Spouses Stuck
Some are so devastatingly affected by discovering the sexual acting out of their spouses that they exhibit symptoms of PTSD similar to a soldier returning from battle or a woman who has been raped. If the traumatized spouse doesn’t receive care from someone trained to recognize the signs and to guide them in recovery, they may become stuck in the trauma and unable to heal.
Failure to do recovery work
It is not unusual for those who have been betrayed by a loved one’s sexual addiction to believe that the addict is the one with the problem and therefore the only one in need of help. Unfortunately, the betrayed spouse is left with gaping emotional wounds that will likely not heal without intentional work. Their spouse may fully embrace recovery, be totally committed to restoring the relationship, and have extended sobriety, but the betrayed can remain stuck, unable to rebuild trust and move forward.
Failure to establish a safety plan
Sexual betrayal can leave the wounded spouse feeling emotionally and physically unsafe. Their life has been shattered. Fear of future pain is common. In early recovery, if they establish some initial boundaries, it can help to stabilize them. Failure to do so can cause fear.
Asking questions endlessly
For some, it is their attempt to understand how this could have happened. Others may be trying to gauge how they compare to acting out partners. Whatever the reason, an endless barrage of questions can cause the wounded spouse to become stuck, unable to move to the next step required for their healing.
A victim mentality
Initially, the spouse is unaware of her partner’s sexual acting out. They are a victim. They had no voice in the matter. Once they become aware, they have the power to make choices for themselves. If they continues to see themselves as a victim, they will feel powerless to do anything about the situation and continue to feel stuck in the relationship.
Rarely would anyone label the devastation caused by sexual addiction as a good thing. But many who progress in their healing can find blessings in their lives even in the midst of the pain. Negative thinking adversely affects the brain. It slows down brain function, making it difficult to process thoughts and find solutions. This can cause people to feel stuck, unable to find clarity or direction.
These are a few of the things that can cause the wounded spouse to stall in recovery. Regardless of the cause, knowing how to move forward is key to eventual healing. C.S. Lewis said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
8 Steps to Move Towards Healing
Don’t try to recover on your own. Find a counselor, coach, or clergy who is trained to understand sexual addiction and betrayal trauma. If you were stabbed, I doubt you would attempt to sew your own wound. You would seek emergency care from a trained physician. Also, confide in a trustworthy individual who will be understanding and supportive. The tendency is to withdrawal at a time like this. But healing happens through connection, not isolation.
Engage in a healing plan.
Unfortunately, the old saying that time heals all wounds is untrue, especially in the case of sexual betrayal. Jay Marshall had it right when he said, “The truth is that time does not heal anything. It merely passes. It is what we do during the passing of time that helps or hinders the healing process.” Unless you want to remain stuck in pain, regular, intentional recovery work is necessary.
Seek God and trust him for direction.
The discovery of sexual betrayal causes great uncertainty for the future. Questions abound. Don’t make major decisions right away. Spend time drawing close to God. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time and energy seeking answers can be frustrating and confusing. Seek God and he will supply the answers. “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).
Accept some unanswered questions.
Certainly, you have a right to know if you or your children are at risk. It is also reasonable to want to know how your spouse has acted out. But, the choices of an addict will never fully make sense to the healthy mind. Some questions are bettered left unanswered. Knowing certain details can be haunting. Asking questions initially is normal and healthy. But at some point, accept that there are questions that will remain unanswered and choose to focus on rebuilding your future.
Ditch the label.
Becoming a victim is not a choice, but remaining one is. While it is true that you cannot cure your spouse’s sexual compulsions or control their recovery, you are not helpless. You do have choices, even if they may be ones you don’t like. Author and speaker Steve Maraboli said, “Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”
If you’ve been betrayed, undoubtedly, there are many negative aspects to your life right now. It is important to take the time to process your emotions. These are real and shouldn’t be denied or ignored. But even in the worst of times, there are blessings. Ask God to help you see those in each day. Thank him for what you see. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18). This is not only God’s will, it is your way forward in healing.
Develop a safety plan and do those things which help you feel more secure in an unstable time. Stay in the present. Most fears come when we jump to the future and imagine the worst. Teal Swan said, “We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think we know about the unknown.” Try imagining best case scenarios. But, the reality is that there are no guarantees. Anchor your faith in God. That’s the road to peace and healing. Shannon L. Alder said, “Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck. Faith is the solvent that sets you free.”
Relax and boost creativity.
Stressing over your next steps can shut you down. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Meditate. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to music. Try a new activity. Jot down fresh ideas regardless of how absurd they sound. Spend time with a pet. These are a few things that can help you relax and clear your mind. This may usher in a fresh perspective that will have you moving again toward recovery.
The journey of healing from sexual betrayal is long and hard. It is normal to feel stuck at times. Instead of being frustrated when you aren’t moving forward, use that time to look back and rejoice over the progress you have made. I love the 12-step slogan, “it’s about progress not perfection.”
Take baby steps, but don’t quit. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). American Professor of Literature, Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”