By Floyd Godfrey, LPC, CSAT Candidate
Beginning in the 1980’s much research spawned around the concept of sexual addiction as a disease. Following other addiction models as a way to help these men, their wives were soon labeled as codependent. For many women this label became a stigma and held a negative connotation. They felt misunderstood and alone. The label did not accurately describe the emotional reality.
Current research has demonstrated that partners of sexual addicts experience symptoms of trauma (Steffens & Rennie, 2006). What are these symptoms? Similar to any trauma they include things like sleeplessness, heightened anxiety, panic attacks, numbness, bouts of rage or anger, depression, emotional flooding, loss of appetite, and more. Unfortunately, it takes time to heal these symptoms of trauma. But with patience and clinical intervention, the symptoms subside.
One woman said it this way: “My life has been turned upside down, but because everything about sex addition and its victims is kept a secret, I am denied the usual support of friends and family despite the fact that my world has been shattered while my husband’s life goes on like usual, without any external consequences or changes for him” (CSAT module 2 training manual, p. 14).
How bad is the trauma? It depends upon a variety of factors. The following list described by Stefanie Carnes, PhD represents common variables that contribute to the depth of the trauma:
1. The amount of deception.
2. The length of time of the deception.
3. The amount of hiding or lying that has occurred (emotional manipulation).
4. Any public embarrassment that may have been generated.
5. The type of sexual behavior that he engaged.
6. Any impact that might have been felt financially.
7. Any impact that might have been made on the children.
8. Any direct exposure to his sexual behavior that she may have witnessed.
Knowing that most women experience relational trauma, changes the clinical approach. Women need support and validation, the same as people who have experienced trauma in other ways. Rather than asking them to introspect about codependency, we ought to be helping them understand that when they feel “crazy,” it’s probably a trauma response. Helping them understand that many “codependent” behaviors are actually rooted in trauma should provide a clearer pathway toward healing.
We understand these issues are sensitive and overwhelming. Please call us if you would like a free 15-minute consultation with a specialist at our office. We specialize in working with sexual addicts and wives’ trauma in Mesa Arizona. (480) 668-8310.