What is Trauma?
Sometimes called post traumatic stress disorder, we refer to the trauma partners of sex addicts experience as betrayal trauma. Symptoms may include intrusive thoughts, nightmares, huge explosions of emotions (overreactions to triggers or stimuli in the environment), hypervigilance, flashbacks or psychologically numbing out. Betrayal trauma will impact one's ability to connect relationally in healthy ways and symptoms of trauma can become roadblocks to true intimacy.
The "Day of Discovery" is often initially traumatizing for partners of sex addicts. The partner discovers that they have been living with a stranger, certainly not the person they thought. This trauma can be repeated if the sex addict doesn't seek help as he or she will continue to lie and cheat and do whatever it takes to keep the addictive behavior. This behavior has a purpose for the addict and must be replaced with healthy behaviors. Even if the partner leaves the relationship or if the addict gets into recovery, the partner's trauma must be healed. Left untreated, most partners no longer know what is real or what to trust, their whole existence can feel threatened and it becomes difficult to function fully.
Disclosure by the addict of his or her behavior patterns often leaves the partner's world shattered. The partner is still expected to continue in all roles which may include being a wife, mother and working professional. Unlike most grief, such as death, partners do not get any "time off" from their responsibilities. Just finding time to care for themselves when they have to care for others is very challenging. What once was thought of as a safe place and committed relationship is now the person and place that has just caused more hurt than ever imagined.
Safety and support is necessary! If the stress of the trauma is not resolved, the result can be physical illnesses. Getting out of the relationship will not resolve the trauma. You must resolve and heal the wound. You must do whatever it takes to get the help and support you need to heal.
We cannot change the past, we can change our perception of it and our relationship to it--and that can change everything. Mindfulness (of the mind) and compassion (of the heart) are powerful tools for transforming the pain in the past by learning to accept ourselves as we are in the present moment.