Workbook Study: Facing Heartbreak – Processing Through Writing

Workbook Study: Facing Heartbreak
16 Weeks
Led By Coach Rae
REGISTER – Starts March 1, 2018
Limited to 12 participants (minimum 6)


  • Are you trying to wrap your mind around porn addiction and/or its related behaviors? 
  • Are you confused and overwhelmed by your symptoms of betrayal trauma?
  • Are you feeling (a) stuck in the past, (b) wounded in the present, or (c) ambivalent about the future?
  • Are you struggling to get traction toward your next stage of healing and hope?

If so, please consider joining us for Facing HeartbreakSteps to Recovery for Partners of Sex AddictsBTR’s most popular Workbook Study group.

During this four-month journey, Coach Rae leads participants through a series of specific, sequential and strategic topics, including 20 of the most important challenges faced by women recovering from betrayal trauma. These topics include:

  • Physical, emotional and spiritual trauma (self-assessment)
  • Creating my personal “shield of safety”
  • Whom do I tell, and what do I tell them?
  • Boundaries to protect my health, my heart and my relationships
  • Planning for outreach, support and self-care
  • Improving my awareness: identifying manipulation, deception and reality distortion
  • My betrayal trauma timeline: documenting key events, emotions and ideas
  • Naming and normalizing my losses
  • Making peace (or making progress toward peace) with my present reality
  • Time to talk back: writing my own, unfiltered letter to sex addiction
  • Coping through shame, denial, distraction and emotional numbness
  • Navigating through the anger
  • The nature of sex addiction: who, what, why—and does it even matter?
  • Communication patterns, pitfalls and planning
  • How to talk about hot-button topics
  • Expressing the enormity of it all: writing my emotional impact letter
  • Making my own empowered choices
  • Recovering from the sexual impact of betrayal trauma
  • What about forgiveness?
  • Choosing my next steps

For more details, email Coach Rae at

How To Heal From Betrayal Trauma Through A Support Group

So, let’s start with the coaching group entitled Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts. For those of you who are familiar with the name Dr. Patrick Carnes, Facing Heartbreak was coauthored by his daughter, Dr. Stefanie Carnes, along with two other veteran CSATs (or Certified Sex Addiction Therapists) Mari Lee and Anthony Rodriguez. Published by Gentle Path Press, this book has sometimes been called a companion volume to Partrick Carnes’ book Facing the Shadow, a similar workbook for porn and sex addicts.

One of the things I love so much about Facing Heartbreak is the comprehensive quality of the content itself. This book doesn’t swing in the dark, hit or miss, lucky to make contact with a few randomly common experiences. On the contrary! One of the best features about Facing Heartbreak is its strategic, sequential and specific lineup of recovery steps. When helping my clients decide which group or workbook might suit them best, I often tell them, “With Facing Heartbreak, you take one brave step onto a fast-moving freight train… then you hold on tightly, stopping at station after designated station, riding the rails of cross-country recovery.” Because, let’s face it: for most of us women, recovery is stressful enough without needing to chart our own independent roadmap through the process!

There’s something truly special about a book that ONLY asks you to crack open the cover, then continue taking the next indicated steps, one after another—fully KNOWING that, along the way, you’ll visit all the important, crucial and time sensitive issues that comprise our communal experience of sexual betrayal trauma recovery. 

Discovering Your Husband’s Sex Addiction . . . 

Speaking of trauma? That’s precisely where Facing Heartbreak begins, with Chapter One, “The Trauma of Discovery.” Within these opening pages, you’ll find a number of key self-assessments, allowing you to identify and rate your own symptoms of emotional, physical and spiritual trauma. Immediately following that, Facing Heartbreak invites you to create your own Partner’s Shield of Safety, asking you to identify four quadrants of proverbial refuge for yourself along this journey, including S = support, A = affirmations, F = areas of focus, and E = sources of encouragement. Together, these four quadrants spell out the word “SAFE,” and as your coach throughout this workbook, I’ll frequently remind you to USE your Shield of Safety when the process gets tough—which again, if your recovery’s anything like mine? You’ll have your fair share of days that aren’t easy.

Having customized your Shield of Safety, Facing Heartbreak digs deep into the good stuff, with Chapter Two, entitled “Manage The Crisis.” And here we find one of the next things I love so much about Facing Heartbreak: this workbook has its priorities straight! In the interest of establishing safety and stability in facing the trauma induced by our loved one’s sexual betrayal, “managing the crisis” is all about BOUNDARIES—the limits we conclude are absolutely necessary to protect ourselves within our relationships: emotionally, physically, sexually and environmentally.

This chapter provides a straightforward process for each area of self-protective boundaries, including the challenge of defining consequences (or as I prefer to call them, “responsive actions”) in the event that these boundaries are violated by our intimate partners. In addition to managing our crisis through self-protective boundaries, this chapter also addresses the important topic of what, when and how much to tell others, regarding the sexual betrayal and our subsequent trauma. Readers are prompted to create a detailed communication plan, one that honors our need for safety and privacy, balancing that with concurrent needs for support and community. 

As you might imagine, both these areas of crisis management lend themselves to particular challenges. So I’m gonna tell you something I’d tell you even if I WASN’T a betrayal trauma recovery coach: self-care boundaries—including boundaries that determine what, when and how much to tell others—is NOT an area most women successfully navigate all by themselves. I certainly couldn’t, back when I was new to this whole overwhelming experience!

Which makes Chapter Two a prime example of something you’ll get from me as your BTR coach through this workbook: I’ll provide as much back and forth Q+A as you NEED while drafting your own unique boundaries; you won’t need to face one single element of it without my training, experience and support to back you up.

Discovering The Behaviors Related To Sex Addiction & Pornography Addiction, Like Lying, Gaslighting, And Narcissistic Personality Issues

By this point in the book, we’re almost one full month into our 4-month Facing Heartbreak coaching group experience—and that’s when we approach Chapter Three: “How To Deal with the Emotional Aftershock.” I’ll be honest: this chapter tends to get heavy. In this section, we come face-to-face with some of our most painful “aha” moments, and we highlight some of our most significant and retrospective hindsights, through exercises that help us to identify our guys’ deceptions, manipulations, gaslighting and other forms of relational and psychological abuse.

Together, we document our discoveries, record a chronological timeline of memorable events, make an inventory of losses we’ve suffered as the result of sexual betrayal, and envision making peace with the pain of those specific losses.

We spend time learning to distinguish anger from other emotions, and we explore features of shame, denial, distraction and emotional numbness. Finally, we each write a personal letter expressing the weight of our unfiltered feelings toward porn and sex addiction—and trust me when I tell you that this letter is, without question, one of the most productive and empowering exercises many women in trauma have ever experienced.

As the coach for this group, I’ll have your back each step of the way; I’ll hold space FOR YOU as YOU hold space for your own “sometimes fierce, yet sometimes fragile” selves.

Healing From Betrayal Trauma Takes Support

Now at this point, I have a theory about something: Having made it through the intense “emotional aftershock” work of Chapter Three? I think the authors of Facing Heartbreak did us a favor and gave us a much needed break from staring down our own emotional overwhelm. 

Because in Chapter Four, we shift gears a bit, turning our attention to the chapter entitled, “The Nature of Sex Addiction.” Up to this point, while we have—very appropriately, I might add—prioritized the ways our guys’ compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors have impacted US, we pivot here, for a few compassionate moments, to better understand how sex addiction impacts THEM.

This is our chance to explore several common preconceptions about sex addiction, including statements like, “It doesn’t exist,” and “If he cheated, he’s automatically a sex addict,” or “Every sex addict was molested as a child.”

We share about the ways we may (or may not) recognize factors that contributed to our guys’ problematic sexual behavior, including issues like gender abuse, childhood trauma, sexual exposure or other kinds of unhealthy influences.

As we delve into these areas, as your coach, I’ll contribute my 16 years of awareness and experience of sexual betrayal—both in my own two marriages, and within the lives of the hundreds of women I’ve met and supported along this journey.

Better yet? Through my professional affiliation with APSATS (The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) I’m extremely well networked, with some of the smartest, most savvy, most academically advanced experts on the topic of porn and sex addiction, within reach at the click of an email—meaning that, if you have nagging questions about these issues that you’ve never had a chance to ask? This is your time!

If together we encounter something outside my scope of awareness and training, I’ll reach out to my peeps and GET an answer for you. Sometimes… it really does help to know people who know people who literally “write the books” on subjects like this one

In Chapter Five, we come back to us, and this chapter is a favorite for many women, as we begin to explore the section entitled, “How to Communicate our Feelings”—in this case, within a relationship wounded by sexual betrayal. First, we identify some of the unspoken rules from childhood—and while those issues are NOT the cause of our betrayal trauma, understanding them goes a LONG way toward helping us communicate our pain within our wounded intimate relationships.

Equipped with newfound keys to initiate productive and empowered communication—even about our most dreaded “hot button topics”—we close Chapter 5 by writing an Emotional Impact Letter to the addict himself.

Much as we a letter to sex addiction in Chapter Three, this statement invites us to articulate the depth, severity and specificity of our betrayal trauma. Facing Heartbreak prompts us to describe the thoughts, feelings, pain and fear we’ve suffered since discovery, including the cumulative loss of our emotional, sexual, relational and spiritual safety.

In some cases, women do either read or deliver their Emotional Impact Letter to their sexually addicted loved ones. In other cases, women choose not to communicate the content of their letters—instead, they consider it an “inside only” job, choosing to retain the value, effort and personal affirmation they’ve poured into that letter for themselves, close and safe at heart.

And this is when I invite participants to pause to take a VERY deep breath… or two… or three. Because having written that emotional impact statement? Most of us feel like we’ve let some serious trauma weight roll off of our shoulders—which makes it an ideal time to stretch, to reach, to reorient and to breathe again, often for the first time in a very long time. 

By this point in the book, we’ve only got one month left in our 4-month Facing Heartbreak coaching group, as we move into Chapter Six, the one entitled, “Make Empowered Choices” This chapter is one of my personal favorites, as it encourages us to take ownership of any issues or coping mechanisms that may actually be harming us more than they’re helping us.

Several tools and exercises invite us to deeper levels of self-awareness, and self-introspection—and it’s within this chapter we refresh our opening themes of self-care, self-focus and self-support. Encircled and empowered by one another, we even tiptoe—slowly—into the topic of forgiveness, in conjunction with ownership, restoration, growth and empathy. 

Just FYI… at this point, you probably want to keep taking those deep cleansing breaths… because here we come to Chapter Seven, the one entitled “Reclaim Your Sexuality”—and the like other deeply challenging, intimidating and sensitive themes, Facing Heartbreak handles this one beautifully.

With yet another series of simple self-assessments, we women are invited to reflect upon our own awareness of sexual hurt, sexual health and sexual hope. This chapter prompts us to ask questions like, “If your body could speak to you, what would it say?” and “What parts of my own sexuality do I want to heal and explore in the future?”

Like other parts of this book, this topic isn’t easy or automatic for most of us. However, in the company by other women, asking the same difficult personal questions? We find it’s exponentially easier than it would be if we were having this conversation in isolation, all alone.

Releasing The Pain Of Betrayal Trauma

Which brings us to the Eighth and Final Chapter of Facing Heartbreak, the one entitled “Choosing Your Next Steps.” As we cross this finish line, representing four whole months of deep inner work? This is where our communal efforts become undeniably and expressively obvious. Together, we plan a special, ceremonial, virtual “workbook burning party.” (Don’t worry, you can totally keep yours intact if you want to!)

But bottom line, we pause to stop the spirit of companionship and sisterhood that’s escorted us through this journey, and we communally vow to pay it forward—forward into the future of our own yet-unlived lives. We celebrate by leveraging the confidence we’ve developed from facing our heartbreak together, putting it to work on behalf of our own BRAVE and beautiful SELVES. 

So there you have it ladies: my best attempt at a marathon sprint through the overarching themes of Facing Heartbreak. As I said at the beginning—I hope I’ve left you wanting more, pursuing more, and believing in more healing—because as we often say in recovery circles: It works if you work it, and you’re really really worth it.

On a quick logistical note, many of you have emailed me with questions about how our workbook study operate. I’ll be up front about this: the downside of a workbook study is that women miss out on the real-time, on-screen group interaction of a traditional support group environment—so if online, face-to-face, eye-contact coaching is what you really need, you’ll find a better fit in one of our other groups.

That said, this workbook study offers a few popular factors that just can’t be beat. The first one is convenience—you can engage the group from the comfort of… well, anywhere!

The second benefit is flexibility—you can engage the group whenever you have time and opportunity to do so: for example, in the middle of the night if you can’t sleep, or on your lunch-break, or while you’re nursing a baby! And the third benefit is affordability—this is the most cost-effective coaching support option we offer here at BTR—so if a really tight budget excludes you from other kinds of professional coaching support? This group might be an option that’s more within reach. 

When all is said and done, joining myself and others through this Facing Heartbreak coaching group MAY — or may NOT — be what you need for your recovery in this specific moment. I’ll tell you what I tell ALL of the women I support in a professional coaching capacity: Even if you feel uncertain about your next steps (which is ridiculously normal, by the way!), I TRUST YOU COMPLETELY to discern which direction you need to go, at every single crucial, decision-making juncture.

Even at times when you feel deep levels of self-doubt, confusion, anxiety and overwhelm—you are still impressively capable of making clear, intentional and healthy choices on your own behalf.

If you feel that Facing Heartbreak is one of those choices, I invite you take that brave bold step onto our fast-moving freight train! Register here, and order Facing Heartbreak. Beyond that, you can email me with ANY questions you have. My email address is And if for any reason this train doesn’t feel like the right one for you? I invite you to honor that decision as well.

The reality is, myself and Anne and the other amazing coaches I work with here at BTR? We’re not going away anytime soon—because sadly, it seems, neither are the sexual betrayals perpetrated upon us, by the broken men we know and love. So in the meantime, feel free to be yourself—whomever that is, and wherever you are—and rest assured that once this train departs the station? There will be another one, coming soon behind it.

APSATS Trauma Model: Why The Training Matters

I am honored and delighted to have Barbara Steffens here today. She is a PhD, LPCC, CCCIS, CCPAS, CPAS, APSATS . . . she has every certification! She specializes in helping women recover from sexual betrayal and related behaviors and is a sought-after speaker and presenter on special issues related to partners of sex addicts. She is the president of the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS).

At her practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, called Safe Passages Counseling, she provides both individual and group counseling for wives of sexual addicts, who are also experiencing the related behaviors of emotional abuse. 

Dr. Steffens is the author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, which has dramatically affected and changed the lives of those who are victims as well as the professionals who are trained to serve them. It is one of my favorite books. Welcome Barb!

Dr. Steffens: Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. There are a lot of initials after my name. My kids really get after me about all of them! 

Anne: It’s awesome! You are well-trained and an expert in this area. This is why I am so honored to have you here today. What and who is APSATS? We know it stands for The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, but why was it formed?

APSATS Helps Women Get Appropriate Treatment For Betrayal Trauma, Including Establishing Emotional Safety

Dr. Steffens: APSATS was started out of discussions between myself and other clinicians and other coaches who were talking about the extreme need to provide better care for partners, better support, because at the time there was very little available; what was available didn’t seem to be meeting the needs of the majority of partners we interacted with. So a group of us got together and did a brainstorming phone call. Out of that, we decided to start our own training and certification program.

Which, by the way, was on the very last place on any list of things I wanted to do in my life; I never wanted to start a non-profit! But we did. It was formed out of a real sense of a felt need. Partners were being hurt or not being able to find appropriate treatment and so we stepped up and tried to figure out what we could do. We now have a strong board. We have a great curriculum and provide three trainings a year; we do them in a webinar format so people can stay home or once a year we do a face-to-face training.

We have trained over 150 people now. We’ve trained people from all over the US, Canada, the UK, Singapore, and in July we are doing a training in New Zealand. This will give us APSATS trained providers in New Zealand.

Get Help For Your Husband’s Lying, Gaslighting, Cheating, And Emotional Abuse

Anne: That is awesome. I love APSATS because they are people who understand it from the very beginning. I’ve said so many times that I went into therapists and I sat on their coach and I paid them to train them about betrayal trauma! And then it was like, “this isn’t helping.” So six weeks later I would try to find a new therapists rather than actually pay someone to help me–which is what I needed.

Dr. Steffens: And that’s not fair. You shouldn’t have to train your help provider. And sometimes in the process of this, you get harmed and hurt.

Anne: Partners of sex addicts have difficulty finding appropriate support and help for themselves. Why do you think it is so difficult to find appropriate support?

Finding The Right Support After Discovering Your Husband’s Sex Addiction And Narcissistic Traits

Dr. Steffens: First, there isn’t a lot of knowledge about the topic in general. I teach in a counseling program and I know that when I look at the course offerings, there is very little being taught to therapists that are getting trained about sex addiction or compulsion in general, let alone talking about the impact on the family. So I think it starts there for the help providers. There isn’t a lot of public education on the topic and it still tends to be one of those things people don’t understand so they don’t want to talk about it. So there is very little information out there.

I think the general therapist or counselor, if this problem comes into their office, maybe they have some awareness of addiction but they don’t make the leap to trauma for the family member or the wife, the spouse. Also, sometimes people think they know just enough because they read one book or something so they begin to say they can help this population and end up not being helpful and sometimes hurtful. But I think overall, it is just a lack of conversation and information.Certainly a lack of training.

We Understand What It’s Like To Live With A Sex Addicted Man Exhibiting Narcissistic Traits

Anne: I’ve been talking to my mom about this and it seems I’m fighting two different fronts . . . society in general and its misunderstanding of the issue and also the church which has such a misunderstanding! You’d think they would be on opposite sides, and they kinda are, but at the same time, because it’s so misunderstood with both populations it’s difficult to be able to teach it.

The religious community sees it a certain way and they think you should heal in a certain way that, at least for me was not helpful at all; and then society in general accepts pornography or they don’t accept the trauma aspect of it. I think this makes it very difficult.

Responses To Betrayal Trauma In Faith Communities

Dr. Steffens: It really does. I’m really glad you brought up faith community because I, too, have found they don’t talk about it, they’re afraid to talk about it, or when they do, they lack adequate information and especially when the wife or spouse goes for assistance, they can get crazy advice that can really be hurtful; ie. just be more sexual, if your husband is looking at pornography you must not be doing something you are supposed to do.

Those kinds of things don’t help at all. Trying to get into faith communities to educate them about this is extremely difficult. I think they have a lot of fear; they don’t want to talk about it. I think also that, as we know, leadership in faith communities are struggling with this as well; so this can be a hinderance to talking about this.

Anne: Plus the fact that it’s trauma and with the trauma model, we are identified as actual true victims. Not that we need to stay in victim mode, and not that we can’t make choices or be empowered, but I think that for a faith community that might have many men who are struggling with this, they don’t want to admit that their behavior is causing this much trauma in someone else and that they have left a trail of destruction.

When It Comes To Lies, Pornography, And Narcissistic Behavior – Yes One Person Can Be Completely At Fault

They would rather have it be, “This is my part and your part is….” (You’ve asked me too many questions or you’ve done this or done that, or you didn’t make dinner) One of my coaches said that her religious community told her that she needed to win him over with her ‘Godly demeanor.’) This type of stuff is re-traumatizing to women. 

Dr. Steffens: What you are describing is a lot of the common features in someone who is engaging in compulsive sexual behavior. They have distorted thoughts and beliefs. Those responses from faith communities sound like so much of the distorted thinking that people have when they are engaged in this compulsive behavior: It’s someone else’s fault; it’s not really that bad; no one needs to know; no one needs to get hurt.

They minimize and rationalize and blame shift, so unfortunately, in a lot of places where there isn’t adequate training or they don’t want to talk about it, they do the very same level of harm that the person does who is betraying their spouse. They use the same tactics.

Anne: Absolutely. I was abused by my church leader during this time of disclosure. That has actually been more traumatizing to me than the actual betrayal because I was going to someone for help and I was being abused by proxy because he believed all of the things that my ex was saying.

Treatment Induced Trauma – Also Known A Secondary Trauma Or Institutional Trauma

Dr. Steffens: Treatment-induced trauma is a way of describing the process when this happens. In this situation we are talking about the partner of the spouse who does to someone with an expectation that the person can help them.

And then in that process they find themselves feeling harmed and sometimes the harm in that setting can feel worse than the original betrayal because the person goes, feeling betrayed and very needy and needing to tell someone and get help, and then when you are not believed or blamed or minimized, it just adds to the level of trauma.

I compare it to a child who is being sexually abused who has the courage to speak up and tell someone and when that person does not believe them or tells them they must have imagined things, or they shouldn’t talk like that, the victim pulls away and is even more hurt. When I have worked with abuse survivors, the ‘not being believed’ they say is worse than the actual abuse. I think for partners there is a level of this that is true as well; not being heard, believed, seen, valued adds to, and in some situations, intensifies the trauma.

There is a clinician that also calls it ‘institutional betrayal.’ She describes it as an expectation that this place or person I am going to is there for me; and when they turn against me, they add more level or harm and trauma to the individual.

I can tell you that since I have begun doing this work, I hear it all the time. I get emails, letters, phone calls from women all over the US and other countries and they are describing the similar experience of taking the risk to tell someone and then not being heard and being harmed in the process. It really angers me because by now there is enough information out here that I would think people would know what not to do. But it still occurs.

Lying, Gaslighting, & Narcissistic Traits Play A Part Creating Secondary Betrayal Trauma

Anne: One of the things that I see is that the addict is so good at lying and manipulating that they are believed over the victim, repeatedly, and so this is difficult to get away from. How do you get away from someone who is lying about you or manipulating the support you are trying to get? This leads me to think that it is much better to get help for yourself without dragging your husband in so that you can get a clear picture of what is happening and get solid with what you are doing.

In cases of abuse, couples counseling for example is contraindicated until two years after the last abuse episode. And yet I would tell therapists this and they would say, “Ok, let’s keep doing couple’s therapy.” They wouldn’t say that we needed to stop and he needs to get help for his abuse. It’s really difficult to want to get help, to be willing to get help, to actually make the effort to get help and then to be harmed further. 

Sex Addiction, Emotional Abuse, And Narcissistic Rage Are Not Marriage Issues

Dr. Steffens: Yes. I think a lot of times what happens because we don’t have a lot of information about what sex addiction is and what treatment looks like, a lot of times the first person a spouse goes to is their clergy who is going to look at as a marriage issue or to a couple’s counselor who will view it through the lens of a marriage issue as well. An addiction is not a marriage issue.

Addiction is something in the individual that affects a marriage but a lot of times people try to treat it as a couple’s issue. And it’s not. I think this is where a lot of partners are, just as you described, harmed, not understood, or abused within the session and the therapist doesn’t catch it. I also want to talk about the word “abuse'” that you are using.

I think that therapists are trained to recognize domestic violence physical abuse but they don’t have a lot of awareness of emotional, verbal, and especially psychological abuse and manipulation. So again, they are going to see this as a communication issue rather than a power issue, a control issue, or an abuse issue. They need more training on how to identify those types of abuse.

The Wrong Type Of Therapy Or A Therapist That Doesn’t Understand The Trauma Wives Of Pornography Addicts Suffer Due To The Lies & Narcissistic Behaviors May Cause More Harm

When we do our APSATS training with therapists and coaches, we spend a lot of time talking about the emotional impact, the psychological manipulation, gaslighting, controlling behaviors, intimidation…all of those things that can go hand-in-hand with active addictive behavior that really contributes to the harm and trauma that a partner experiences.

A lot of times people think the only trauma is the discovery of the secrets. That’s horrific! That’s traumatic! What is missed in a lot of help settings is the on-going emotional abuse that has occurred before the addiction is even found out…and it’s already done tons of damage and harm to the relationship and particularly to the person who is on the receiving end of that.

Anne: And then sometimes the continued abuse from addicts that are in “recovery” who are actually not in recovery, showing recovery behaviors.

Dr. Steffens: Right. They may have stopped the acting out behavior but they haven’t taken on or begun practicing healthy relational behaviors.

Anne: In some cases, I don’t know if they have stopped acting out sexually at all. Sometimes they may be lying and hiding things better, just talking the talk because they have figured out what to say in order to get their wife off their back.

When Women Aren’t Healing From Betrayal Trauma, It’s Usually Because Their Still Being Lied To, Blamed, And Abused

Dr. Steffens: I did a workshop a few years ago at a large conference that is there for the sex addiction community. I called it “When the Chaos Doesn’t Stop.” I wanted to do this workshop because when partners, say at six months to a year after a discovery and partners are still not getting better, and so I tried to uncover the issues that get in the way of partner recovery.

Most often it is either because there is ongoing sexual acting out that has not been uncovered yet, and/or the ongoing chronic emotional abuse, manipulation, psychological abuse, and gaslighting–the things you were describing. The recovery behavior hasn’t kicked in yet. So how is a partner supposed to begin healing when the traumatizing has not stopped?

We pathologize the partner for not getting well rather than looking at what is going on in the relationship that she still doesn’t feel safe. To me that is a huge place where treatment-induced trauma occurs; where the partner is blamed for her not getting better when she still is not safe in the relationship.

Establishing Emotional Safety Is The First Step To Healing From The Effects Of Someone Else’s Pornography Addiction and Narcissistic Personality

Anne: I see this time and time again. It’s so distressing to me because the women in these situations are feeling guilty and terrible and they can’t figure out why they don’t feel good when the behavior they are describing to me about their husbands sounds terrible. I’m wondering why their therapist isn’t picking this up! They aren’t being protected? They aren’t safe?

There has been a lot with the anti-pornography movement and the movement to bring pornography addiction into the light, to not shame addicts and to give them more voice and to maybe “normalize” it somewhat so they don’t feel as deviant or terrible; but in this same vein, I think in some ways the “normalizing” it has made it so that maybe it’s not as bad to some people.

The Related Behaviors Aren’t Being Addressed When It Comes To Pornography Addiction

Dr. Steffens: What isn’t being addressed are the behaviors that go along with this and the behaviors that come as a result of chronic viewing of pornography or the other types of acting out that can happen with this type of addiction.

They are looking at the acting out behavior alone, not looking at how it is impacting the character; this gets in the way of that individual caring about having empathy for the people they are harming. So therapists can talk about how to control behaviors so porn isn’t being used but they are not addressing how this is impacting people as human beings in relationships with others.

The Effects Of Betrayal Trauma Treatment Related Injuries

Anne: As people are trying to get help but they are not getting appropriate help, what are the effects of these treatment related injuries?

Dr. Steffens: One of the saddest impacts is that is gets in the way of spouses, of partners, going to get help for themselves. Who wants to get help and be told they are part of the problem, that there is something wrong in you or this wouldn’t have happened to you…and then if they don’t agree with this then they pull away and say they can’t trust telling this to anyone because all I am doing is getting blamed for it.

And so they pull away and don’t seek help again. To me, this is the greatest damage.

We know that people who do not get help, who are being traumatized or who are in chronically unsafe abusive relationships, can develop long-term mental health issues. This adds to the level of distress for the spouse. For me, this is the greatest impact. Also, there is the secondary trauma that the partner experiences.

Emotional Abusers Can Abuse Their Victims Through Other People

So not only are they working through the betrayal trauma in their relationship, but now they are working through the betrayal trauma that they experienced at the hand of a clergy member or a therapist or some other health provider…such as a physician. Many people go to a physician to talk about what is going on and try to get medication or something. The physician can do something that is harmful as well.

It’s the extra trauma that doesn’t need to be there. The shame that comes to a partner when they are blamed for what is happening. Partners experience this anyway; it’s part of the first response (“Wow. How did this happen to me? How did I not know? What did I do or not do that my husband is acting this way?) And then when a care provider shames them and blames them as well, this heaps more shame upon the partner.

Anne: It’s an extended form of the abuse.

Dr. Steffens: Yes. There is a lot of gaslighting that happens to partners and it’s not all within the relationship.

How To Avoid Treatment Induced Betrayal Trauma

Anne: In your estimation, what can partners look for in treatment or what health care providers to avoid this secondary injury?

Dr. Steffens: Partners are getting a lot more wise now that there are a lot more resources available to them, much like what BTR is doing. It is phenomenal that you are offering this kind of information for spouses. Getting educated and really asking questions before you begin working with a care provider is important.

Asking what kind of model do they use in working with partners; how do you view the partner? Do you believe all partners are co-dependent? Ask the therapist or coach, “If I don’t agree with you, is it okay for me to ask to do something different?” another questions is, “This isn’t working for me, can we try another approach?”

If you have a therapist or coach that says the one way is how they always do it and it works, then you might want to get someone else. You want a therapist or coach who is aware of what you need and their primary focus is on getting to know you and identifying to be able to help you and allow you to be an active part of the process.

Unfortunately, I hear a lot of times that partners go to get help and they are given a program to follow…and there isn’t a lot of room for individual needs and unique treatment opportunities. The therapist is looking at a “one size fits all” way of working with partners. I’ve never found this to work.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Only Gives Personal Assistance For Betrayal And Abuse Survivors

Anne: This is why we don’t have static modules at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We don’t have static classes. All of our educational materials are free to everyone. The support calls and groups and a crisis drop-in group that we will begin soon have individual assistance from an APSATS coach. This is where the real change can begin.

Dr. Steffens: We deal with the real person who is in front of us, with their unique history, their unique now, their unique strengths, their unique personality so people can’t be put in a module and expect it to work for everyone.

So, just ask questions. Ask questions about how to work with partners. What is their belief about how this happened; what is their understanding around the model of co-dependency and co-addiction verses trauma. What books have you read? What training do you have?

I’m always encouraging people to find someone who has specific training. As clinician (I’m both a clinician and a coach so I’m putting on my clinician hat), I am bound by ethical codes that say if I am declaring I am a specialist in something, I better be able to demonstrate that I have specialized training, experience, and supervision in that area.

Unfortunately, a lot of therapists say they treat something but if asked where they got specialized training, they say they have not but that they have a read a book or something like that. So ask how they got their training and who supervised them and what is the model of the training they received.

Anne: I’m excited because I am going to get APSATS trained in June!

What can wives or girlfriends expect if they attend a family week at a residential treatment center where their husband or their boyfriend might be receiving treatment?

Residential Treatment For Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Steffens: They can expect a variety of things…I don’t claim to know what all of the various programs do. Most of them have some kind of family week program where family members, including the spouse or girlfriend, can come and get information about sex addiction as well as perhaps participate in some sessions.

It used to be very common for partners to be called to go to a week long family week and during this process go through a disclosure-type experience where the person who is being treated gives their timeline and then shares it with the spouse who comes.

The problem with this was that a lot of harm was done to the spouses in these kinds of settings because the partner didn’t have a therapist who was uniquely there for them; they didn’t have preparation; they usually traveled out of town and were in a hotel room. So after hearing the disclosure and going home alone or to a hotel room without adequate support, it was too much. I never recommend a partner doing a disclosure in a setting like this.

I want to encourage spouses to be aware of asking what the program is like, what they can expect, would there be a therapist for me, what kind of contact do they have with my therapist or my coach so information is shared; is there an opportunity for disclosure during the week, and if so, then I recommend to partners to opt out of this for the reasons I just gave–there is not enough support. I have too many horror stories about women who did go through this.

So ask the questions: what do you do and what if I do not want to participate in this piece of it. I also let partners knows that they do not have to go. They can offer it and be told it will really help but if the partner doesn’t think it sounds safe or like it will meet a need, then “no thank you” is fine…”I am working on my own and if my husband has things to tell me, we can work it with our therapists after he is out of residential treatment.

Take initiative. Ask questions and be empowered to ask for what you need and say what you don’t want.

Educate Yourself About Betrayal Trauma So You Know What Questions To Ask A Potential Care Provider

Anne: Listening to this podcast or to this information so you know what questions you can ask. I had been with my SA spouse for 5 years before I even heard about a therapeutic disclosure or a polygraph. A friend of mine told me about it. I didn’t even know it existed!

Immersing yourself in books is good and learning about it because then you will know which questions to ask the treatment center before you go. Sometimes women are at the point of not knowing what to ask or how to go about it. Having a little bit of a foundation is helpful I think.

Dr. Steffens: I think it’s hard too because if someone is going into residential treatment, most people with controlled sexual behavior don’t go there. If someone is there, it’s pretty extreme and been going on for a long time. It’s a crisis situation.

To think about flying to another city while the individual is in crisis, trying to go to a family week…to me just doesn’t make a lot of sense. I wish more residential programs had a designated partner component that really met the unique needs of that partner, rather than putting them through a step-by-step program while there. They don’t need programs. They need support. 

What Can A Wife Do If She Has Experienced Treatment-Induced Trauma? 

Dr. Steffens: I think the most important thing to do if you can is to not take responsibility for what someone else did or didn’t do that you needed. I think like we were talking about earlier, one should not have to train their treatment provider or caregiver. So don’t own it. Go and talk to someone about it.

When I’m talking to my clients, if there is prior treatment or treatment-induced trauma they have experienced like from their faith community, processing this is part of what we do, working on ways to find healing so it doesn’t fester. It makes it more difficult in the healing process but it certainly is not insurmountable; it just needs to be discussed and worked on.

Anne: Do you recommend picketing? (Laughing.)

Dr. Steffens: No but if the treatment-induced trauma is severe and you talk through it with a therapist and it seems like they not only didn’t understand but it that it is a clear, ethical violation. A partner certainly has every right to complain in this instance. This can be done privately by going to the therapist or clergy member and talk to them how it hurts. Don’t do this right away because it’s important to feel safe and empowered and strong. This may be helpful.

Sometimes there is a level of complaint to a state board if it’s a licensed individual. Again, this is usually more extreme. A therapist using an antiquated model may be an extreme and filing a formal complaint in regards to it, but it is an option. I always encourage talking this through with someone to know what your options are and then do what fits for you.

Anne: For me, being stuck in the wanting to picket phase is where I said, “This has to change. This is an institutional problem that I see within the church. It needs to change. I don’t know how to change it or how to start . . . “

Last night I actually spent a lot of time praying and asking God what I should do . . . I don’t know how to overcome this…I don’t even know if it’s healthy for me in my recovery to worry about the institution as a whole or feel like the weight of it is on my shoulders . . . but because I talk to so many women about it, I think that someone needs to do something and maybe that is me. This is such a difficult thing to understand.

The Sex Addiction / Abuse Model For Treating Partners Of Sex Addicts Is Changing

Dr. Steffens: It really is and going back to where we started–this is a large part about why APSATS exists. We all said, “Something needs to change. Something needs to happen.” There are various ways to do this short of picketing! Going and talking, getting an education, the services you provide through your podcast and coaching are making a difference and bringing about change.

The model is changing in the sex addiction field. In large part it’s because spouses and partners have become educated, they have found support, they are connected with other people that believe similar things, and the consumer in this case is changing the institution. People are speaking up–like APSATS. When we do an educational program, we are making change too.

As an organization we are looking at what else can we do. We want to promote more research and community education in different communities to help raise the topic and talk about it. There are a lot of things we can do. It is up to the individual and what makes sense to them and what is safe. This is risky stuff. If you start talking out loud in a community setting about this, because we don’t talk about sex addiction, it really can feel emotionally dangerous and risky.

Talking About Betrayal Trauma Is Risky, But Important

Anne: Dangerous in other ways too such as reputation and emotionally. It’s really risky and not something that I would necessarily would like to do and I appreciate everything you have personally done to help APSATS move this forward. We owe a great debt to you actually. 

Dr. Steffens: I’ve experienced it as a call all my life. Anytime I have the opportunity to talk to someone about partners and spouses of sex addicts and what they need, I know I am not just speaking for me and I am not just speaking just for APSATS. I am speaking on behalf of spouses and partners everywhere that don’t have a voice or don’t know how to use it. Whatever opportunity I have to verbalize and stress how extreme this need is for ethical and appropriate care for partners, I’m going to do it!

Anne: Thank you, thank you, thank you! from all of us. I will be the collective voice for all of us!

Dr. Steffens: I’m not alone in doing this. We have a phenomenal group of people in the APSATS community, which is amazing!

Anne: Yes, I am very grateful to associate with the coaches I do and I also frequently talk to Dr. Jill Manning who is also very helpful.

APSATS Therapists & APSATS Coaches

Dr. Steffens: An APSATS therapist is someone who is clinically trained such as a professional counselor, social worker, psychologists; we have some physicians and MDs who are clinically trained and a therapist will usually be working on symptoms like anxiety, depression, the trauma symptoms and trying to resolve some of them.

A trained APSATS coach will do the coaching around calling out the strengths in the individual, helping them identify what are the barriers to what they want and need; really coaching and encouraging them by working with them to meet their goals and get past those barriers and gain resources.

There are some similarities and overlap such as building resilience. Both a coach and therapist can do some of the same things. Coaches have specialized training on how to pull on the strengths and vision for the future and get past the barriers that are there. I love it when partners can work with both.

Perhaps in the beginning when all the symptoms of trauma are intense, working with a therapist may be the place to begin and then work with a coach once the symptoms have subsided; or, I have a lot of clients where I work with them on the trauma and then I will have them meet with a coach who helps them provide more support, work on resourcing, work on recognizing gas lighting when it happens, and then taking steps to learn how to communicate and how to take care of themselves when it happens.

So they work really well together as a team. The APSATS coaches give a phenomenal job or providing support groups for partners. For a lot of therapists, we don’t have time, we don’t have the setting, there are barriers to partners going to face-to-face groups. Sometimes I have partners who don’t want to be seen because their loved one is high profile in their community.

So a coaches group is a safer place to go. A lot of pastor’s wives will go to a coach for support rather than going to a local face-to-face group. The training is the same in terms of the APSATS training. Our coaches are already trained as coaches and have demonstrated skill there. Then they are getting additional training on how to help in a trauma informed way, doing what good coaches do.

Betrayal Trauma APSATS Coaches Are The Best For Women Experiencing Trauma Symptoms Due To Their Husband’s Pornography Addiction

Anne: The coaches at Betrayal Trauma Recovery are in all different time zones. All of our services are provided online. The support calls can happen during your son’s soccer practice and you’re sitting there for an hour waiting for him. You can call in and have your support call then. The groups are all online so it can be done while your child is napping.

We are going to try to get one at 2 am because one of our coaches is in the UK so for a crisis drop-in group for women who can’t sleep, this works. We are trying to provide for women for where they are and when they need it because so many are busy with children or work that one more thing in addition to the trauma is very difficult–which may be a reason why women don’t get help: they are so overwhelmed with everything that they have going on.

Dr. Steffens: Absolutely. I’m always amazed when my clients who are in the throes of crisis somehow or other find their way to think clear enough to get to my office and to get back home. Knowing they can have additional support by picking up the phone or going online is great. I love that. As a coach, I love doing partner groups.

I haven’t done one for awhile but when I’ve done it, it is amazing because we can have people from all over the country come together as the same time and support one another. 

The other difference that some therapists don’t like is that there are no bounds, no state or country bounds. For therapists in the US, we are licensed by our state. So as a licensed counselor in Ohio, I can only do counseling with clients from my state. I live 30 minutes from two other states but I can’t practice in those states as a therapist.

But as a coach who is coaching and not doing treatment, I can do that with anyone, anywhere.

Coaching Through Betrayal Trauma Recovery Can Happen Anytime, Anywhere

Anne: This is the bonus of doing coaching through Betrayal Trauma Recovery…that people can do it everywhere. We’ve had sessions scheduled in five different countries so far and . states. It’s beautiful. I think of myself as shouting out into the void of the universe: We are here. You are supported! You can come! It doesn’t matter where you live, you can find us. 

Dr. Steffens: We know there are so many areas where there is no trained specialist in treating sex addiction or compulsion and certainly no partner specialists; there are many areas in our country and outside of our country where there is nothing. I mentioned that we have an APSATS trained person in Singapore now, soon to be a partner specialist…in Asia–she is the only one. I hope it doesn’t stay that way but that we get more and more. Having coaches so that people can have access no matter where they are is absolutely essential.

For Women Who Don’t Have A Trained APSATS Betrayal Trauma Professional In Their Community

Dr. Steffens: If they are having some real distressing symptoms, trauma related symptoms, extreme stress, trouble eating and sleeping, feeling depression, it’s really important to see a mental health professional so my suggestion usually is to find someone who is trained in treating trauma and/or find someone who is trained in working with relational abuse and betrayal.

Someone who has worked in the area of domestic violence or helping people who are emotionally abused will understand what partners are experiencing. I prefer this than going to someone who understands chemical dependency because they are different…the impact on the family members and spouse are so different.

Anne: I also think an abuse specialist or domestic violence specialist is better than a marriage counselor in this particular counselor.

Dr. Steffens: I would agree, unless that counselor has specialized training in recognizing betrayal trauma and working with the couple. We have a lot of APSATS trained therapists who do really good couples work in this situation because they are aware of the dynamics.

Dr. Barbara Steffens Speaks Directly To Betrayal Trauma Survivors

I want to say to the partners who are listening to this that I am so proud of you for doing what it takes to get support and information, that you are seeking it out. It takes risk, especially if you’ve ventured into reading things or hearing things that don’t make sense to you or hurt you. If you are still seeking, you are courageous and amazing!

Those of us that understand this and are specially trained in how to help you, we want to do whatever we can to help connect you to whatever you need. I’m really, really grateful for these types of podcasts. Thank you so much for the work that Betrayal Trauma Recovery is doing. There is nothing more isolating, I think, than being a spouse of someone who is sexually compulsive; it is so isolating; so shaming; so scary to think about telling someone. Just taking a risk to listen to a podcast takes courage! I commend you for that!

Anne: Dr Steffens, thank you so much for being here and for pioneering this for women all over the world who are desperately seeking information and help that can be found through APSATS. Betrayal Trauma Recovery has eight APSATS couches that work for us. We encourage you to join a support group by clicking here.

We used to do free consultations but got overwhelmed with them so we are unable to do that anymore. If you have questions, you can email any one of the coaches using their first You can do a free email consultation to any of the coaches but we are unable to provide the free 30-minute phone consultations anymore due to the overwhelming response.

We are so grateful you listened to this podcast. Please keep coming back. If this podcast is helpful to you, rate it on iTunes and SoundCloud. Each rating helps women who are isolated to find us. This podcast is supported by your donations. Please donate to help keep this podcast up and running and the information coming to you. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

I pray for all us to have the strength to find our voice, to speak our truth and to heal as well as help others who are recovering from sexual betrayal and related behaviors like gaslighting, narcissistic behaviors, and abuse. Until next week, stay safe out there!

Betrayal Trauma Healing Stages – A Proven Path

Before reading this, please read:

What Is Betrayal Trauma?
Betrayal Trauma Symptoms

How Do We Heal From Betrayal Trauma?

The good news is that there is hope for recovery and healing from any kind of trauma including Betrayal Trauma. The approach to your healing follows a path well worn by trauma survivors and is adapted for use with this particular demographic. It approached trauma recovery from a three stage approach. What follows is an overview of what you might expect to be covered in each stage:

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Stage 1 – Safety and Stabilization

In this stage we will be most concerned with finding some safety and stability amongst the post discovery mess! In the first stage of trauma healing you can expect to feel supported and validated throughout. You should expect to find space to express yourself in response to the turmoil that your life has just been thrown into and be helped to identify your immediate needs in this situation.

You will be supported to manage any crisis that has developed with the discovery. Here we will address issues relating to all aspects of safety; emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual and financial. You will likely be encouraged to undertake a health screen to rule out the possibility of Sexually Transmitted Infections and, where your physical health is impacted, for example by lack of sleep, weight loss or significant distress that becomes unmanageable on a day to day basis, assessment by a medical doctor may be encouraged.

There will be conversation about the reactions of the addict to discovery and whether there are any threats to your safety or the safety of others, most notably any children, in the home. If such a threat is discerned you will be supported to make a plan to address that. Your emotional safety will also be addressed, with an emphasis on avoiding further trauma by seeking details that you may find traumatic in the longer term and assessing your vulnerability to emotional abuse through gaslighting and verbal abuse.

There will likely be some conversation about immediate boundary needs whilst you stabilize yourself as well as longer term boundaries beyond the crisis stage. Your financial stability may be discussed as it relates to your ability to care for yourself. You will be supported in implementing coping skills for emotional regulation and identifying safe people to lean on. 

You will be provided with resources and education on both trauma and sex addiction and may use this information to plan for all eventualities moving forward with a focus on creating safety, no matter what happens.

This stage will also cover the possibility of a therapeutic disclosure and polygraph as a means of avoiding the traumatic experience of staggered disclosure, where information is drip fed over a period of time, after many assertions of the fact that the full truth is now known.

Whilst there is no specific timeline for each phase of healing, it is important to recognize that this is a long term healing process. It is also not a linear or ‘end to end’ process and  there are likely to be a number of bumps in the road, setbacks and occasions where you find yourself circling back on some items.

Of course, the behavior of the addict has much to do with the ease with which you pass through each stage. The aim, at every stage, will be for you to feel empowered to heal, with or without the support and assistance of your addicted partner.

During this stage, we recommend the following support groups:

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Stage 2 – Remembering and Mourning

In Stage 2 you will be digging deeper into the traumatic after effects and learning to process the trauma, loss and grief experienced as a result of the betrayal. This season is about facing the reality in which you now reside.

I sometimes think of this as the FEELING stage, where, in the midst of the new safety you have created (and continue to create and uphold) in stage 1, you are able to create time and space to feel the emotion produced by the trauma. This is a delicate balance of courage and pacing. To heal from the trauma and grief we must be prepared to feel it and allow the pain to ‘pass through’ but we must do so carefully and sensitively so as not to become overwhelmed.

This stage of healing is best conducted under the care of a well trained professional for those reasons.

This phase includes telling your story, often repeatedly, which can help you to come to terms with the traumatic memories by ‘making sense’ of what has happened. Telling your story also helps to name, explore and mourn the losses you have experienced and break down some of the dissociative effects of the trauma.

You  may also be encouraged to explore other therapeutic options, including some of the emerging treatments that are proving effective in trauma recovery such as EMDR and Somatic treatments. These modalities aim to approach trauma healing from the holistic ‘body, mind and soul’ perspective as understanding of the impact of trauma on the body, and its ability to be held and stored at a cellular level is increasingly understood and accepted.

This stage is likely to build on the trigger response and emotional regulation work begun in phase 1 as you gain a deeper understanding of how your trauma triggers impact you and begin to reclaim and reframe some of your experiences. Here you will be encouraged to see the progress you are making in dealing with triggers and unwanted emotion as ‘fuel for the fight’, proving that you have the tools, resources and resilience needed to remain on the road to healing and thrive.

Stage 2 may include additional work for those whose relationships end in long term separation or divorce. This is a traumatic event, in and of itself and will require some deeper processing during this period.

In this stage, we recommend the following groups:

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Stage 3 – Reconnecting

Stage 3 invites you to reconnect with the world around you. This is about integrating your story into the bigger story of your life, where the traumatic experience is no longer the only experience that defines you, but part of a larger pool of ‘life experiences’ which have shaped who you are. Here you will begin to feel more acceptance than resistance as you continue to ‘come to terms’ with the life you now live, whatever that means for you as an individual.

This stage will look different for those who have made the decision to remain in relationship with the addicted partner, than for those for whom this has not been possible. Indeed, this may the point at which some of those decisions are made.

For those whose relationships have not survived the discovery of the addictive or problematic behaviour, this phase of healing will include working towards a new sense of self and identity. It will allow for vision casting, creating a vision for the future and examining all of the possibilities this offers. There will be questions around those possibilities to be confronted, such as the possibility of any future relationships and where you find meaning and purpose going forward. There will also be the practical aspects of co-parenting and healthy separation for those in that position.

For those who remain in relationships, this period will focus on reconnection. There are the challenging topics of trust, intimacy, sex and forgiveness in this stage which will need to be addressed sensitively and with patience and grace. Couples work may include assistance with communication and conflict management as well as emotional intimacy and sexual reintegration. There are also opportunities for couples to create a vision for their future relationship, built on an understanding that things will not be the same as they were before the discovery/disclosure.

Across the board, this phase encourages you to make meaning from what you have been through and to use that meaning to develop the identity of a ‘thriver’, no longer a victim but a VICTOR. This is also where many of us begin to feel a desire to use our experiences for the greater good and as a means of giving something back.

This is the stage at which you will try new things and learn more about who you are and what you could be. You will be encouraged to assess the skills that have brought you this far and capitalize them to take you even further, integrating them into your life and as part of your ability to care for yourself in the future.

I hope that through this series you have been encouraged and that you have come to know something of the heart we have at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We truly know that healing from betrayal trauma is possible and achievable with the right approach and support and we love to hear your stories of healing and success in the face of this pain. If you would like to learn more about any of the areas we have covered over these last few weeks, please schedule a support call with me to see what APSATS trained coaching can offer you.  Until then, I wish you peace.

Coach Cat xx

Click here to schedule an appointment with Coach Cat or any one of our Betrayal Trauma APSATS Coaches.

Betrayal Trauma Symptoms – Am I Crazy?

If you haven’t yet, please read What Is Betrayal Trauma? before reading this post. 

Note: Since Coach Cat is from the UK, you will find British spellings throughout:).

Betrayal Trauma Symptoms

So, what are the trauma responses most often seen in female partners of sexually addicted men?

  • Overwhelming emotions
  • Unusual/uncharacteristic behaviours
  • Sleep difficulties – too much/too little
  • ‘Brain fog’ – inability to think clearly, memory loss, getting lost easily
  • Eating problems – inability to eat/overeating
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Rumination/obsessive thoughts and intrusive images/flashbacks
  • Difficulty caring for self or others
  • Isolation
  • Obsessive need to check the internet history, GPS, email accounts, text message history etc for signs that the danger is still present

There will be many more trauma responses to those listed here, this is an attempt to outline the more common responses post discovery/disclosure. 

Omar Minwalla writes the following in a blog for

Partners often present with a set of symptoms that match symptoms similar to rape trauma syndrome (RTS) and complex post-traumatic-stress disorder (C-PTSD), including psycho-biological alterations, re-experiencing of the trauma, social and emotional constriction, constant triggering and reactivity, significant anxiety, emotional arousal and hyper-vigilance. Sex addiction-induced trauma is a highly specific type of trauma that involves nuanced symptoms that can include fear and panic of potential disease and contamination, fear of child safety and potential of child molestation, social isolation, embarrassment and shame and intense relational rupture and attachment injuries.

Betrayal Trauma & Abuse

The work of Minwalla, Steffens et al, reveals some added dimensions to the trauma suffered by partners of sex addicts in the vulnerability they experience to behavioural abuse, treatment induced trauma and spiritual crisis. Many sex addicts accompany their secretive sexual behaviour with a number of mind bending tactics to conceal their secret lives. Many are experts at gaslighting and demonstrate an impressive array of narcissistic traits, all designed to confuse the partner and render her incapable of trusting her reality and thus incapable of challenging the addict’s behaviour.

Many women report aggressive and violent behaviours from the addicted person after their secret world is discovered.

Many experience spiritual abuse with their religious beliefs exploited as a means of control or minimisation. Sadly some women experience this outside of their relationship, by other members of their religious communities. Many are thrown into a spiritual and existential crisis as they grapple to understand what has just happened to their life, who they actually committed to and the knock on effects of who that makes them in this relationship, nay, ALL relationships. They are prone to question God’s presence in all this and can feel as betrayed by God as by their partner. Add to that some of the well meaning but misguided advice of some professionals and ‘lay-helpers’ and you have a recipe for compounded trauma, confusion and terror for the partner.

There is also the issue of the circumstances surrounding the discovery/disclosure of the issue. Most often this happens by discovery, the addicted partner is ‘found out’ by some means or another. In the most dramatic of cases this can be after an arrest for illegal behaviour which of course creates a significant crisis. Looks messy, doesn’t it! Tell me again how I’m supposed to tell this broken woman that she created this?! 

So, clearly this is a very complex issue with a whole load of possible nuances, symptoms and responses. When written out like this, it is not hard to see why this condition is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. A single, ‘cookie cutter’ approach to healing will never work for this diverse group of women, each bringing their unique selves to this experience. That is why you should expect an approach uniquely tailored to you. That said, when we come back to conclude this series next week, we will take a look at the proven approach to trauma that has been adapted for those nuances we have discussed by APSATS in their Multi Dimensional Partner Trauma Model.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we recommend scheduling a support call with one of our trained Betrayal Trauma Recovery coaches.

We also recommend starting by joining Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club.

In healing and support,

Coach Cat