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Podcast: Understanding Partner Trauma After Sexual Betrayal

Episode 101 – Understanding Partner Trauma After Sexual Betrayal

Join Josh, Kit, and Anne as they speak to the wounds and traumas that many spouses live with and long to recover from.

Mentions:

Wives Group
Rescue
Coaching

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Original music by Shannon Smith. Audio engineering by Gabriel @ DelMar Sound Recording.

Podcast Transcription

Kit
I worked with a woman a few years ago who was really so tortured by, Um really, I would say, tortured by her discovery of her husband’s pornography addiction. And one of the reasons why it was so difficult for her was that she had been married before. She finally found felt like she found this man who was just this perfect man of God. And of course, one doesn’t exist. But she really felt so grateful and so ready for this new life in this good life with this man who was going to live a godly life. And then 10 years into the marriage, after a lot of difficulties, she found out about the pornography addiction

Josh
it had been going on for that whole time. Well,

Kit
yes, and before they got buried. It had been in pre existing thing, and it was just incredibly painful, too. With the trauma. It was a trauma to find that out.

Josh
Yeah, and that’s what we want to talk about today. I want to talk about just the reality of the trauma that exists for a spouse when they find out that their husband or wife has been sexually unfaithful, either in there acting out with another person or multiple other people are acting out with pornography and or in some other sexual way. So kid Elmer and Donahue and I are gonna just talk about that today. So s. So let’s just start with this. Like, why’s it traumatic? Like what? I mean, like when we think about trauma, I think a lot of times we think about is like, you know, this is the war veteran, right? The person who experienced horrors of people around them dying. But to use this word, trauma here is kind of a It’s not incredibly new in our field, but it is definitely newer than the field of sexual addiction or of sexual infidelity. In general, people have not always looked at it through that grid, so Where did that start and how do we How do we identify it that way?

Anne
You know, the connection between the relation A LL trauma and the trauma at some experts is like from a war experience. Some of the outcomes are the same. And so Dr Barbara Stephens began to follow women and hurt her clients and did a lot of research about what was going on internally in a spouse after they learned of a disclosure discovery either an affair or pornography.

Josh
So this is interesting. So I want to ask you that because when I first when I first started recovery from my sexual addiction, back in 1996 97 somewhere in there, there was a lot of conversation at that time, and I was not married at the time. Remember around the table? There was lots of conversation in the books you’re reading about co addiction, and they were kind of saying, look, healthy people don’t marry and healthy people like both spouses, have stuff to worry about and clean, you know, to deal with in the recovery process, which is there is truth in that. But it was until later that people started talking about the trauma piece of that. So was she. Was she one of the first people are like, How long ago was that? You?

Anne
Yes, in 2008. And so it’s not really been that long. It was Previously it was a co addiction model and from her research and, um, rating her dissertation and she discovered its partner. It’s a partner trauma model. Now. It’s no longer a co addiction model.

Josh
So So let’s just do this is you guys have both. I think we’ve all actually walked of some men and some women who have experienced this kind of this thing in their marriage where there’s the spouse, been unfaithful. But what are some of the symptoms that you’ve seen one of some of the symptoms that are typical of PTSD or people have been traumatized specifically in this way?

Kit
I think, um, one of the things is definitely, uh, anger And, um, a lot of, um, nightmares. You know where they’re imagining their partner doing this thing, or, um uh, and also I I know there’s a lot of, um, for women that I see. There’s a lot of shame, you know, And even though they had, you know, they were not to blame for it. I think they felt a lot of guilt in a lot of shame and a lot of wanting to hide. And so those are things that I see. What about you? And

Anne
I’ve seen all of that, um, crying constantly and unable to eat and sleep. A lot of ruminating thoughts, Um, trying to figure it out. What have I done? What could I do? Better blame. Um, like you said dreams, flashbacks, Um, a lot of rage

Josh
that one of these I remember hearing from that was was walking with a couple for a while. And remember the wife who had been betrayed talking about how there are things in her home, things in their photo albums, things that they kind of been collect along the way. That used to mean one thing that then began to mean something else. So that picture used to be of that great vacation that we took her that significant moment with our kids. And now it began. It was a trigger to like, What was he doing during that season? Or that was the same time? Usually, how can he be smiling in that picture when the truth was that he was doing this or, um, or for a husband. You know that she was doing that during that time. And it’s just it’s so it’s almost like the ground beneath their feet is just gone. Like I don’t know anything. I could stand on any more like what? Israel,

Anne
right? Nothing’s the same. Nothing is safe

Kit
and that that’s such a common report. Looking at pictures and being like this has all been a game has all been like I My life is a is a joke. This is It’s like a fantasy like that. None of this Israel. So just the bottom drops out like a traumatic event would create in someone that the bottom falls out and you feel like your life’s out of control and it doesn’t just affect your marriage. It affects every aspect of your life. Which trauma does to, you know,

Josh
say more about that? Like what? What? What is it, a spouse or what connects passing situation kind of expect to experience what kind of things that are the experience

Kit
like, um, you know, like they look at their Children and they’re like Oh, you know. So if my husband’s looking at pornography like my is, my son could look at pornography or other marriages. Yeah, what are they gonna think of us now? And, um, just like every aspect of their life finances. Have they been spending money on this? And I just think it, like, just, like, bleeds into It’s not just a compartment that they can address leads into everything.

Anne
Yes, at end. If if there was an affair, they’re worried. If there’s any STDs, are they in any kind of financial trouble? Um, are there have their kids found anything on the computer? So it’s so disorienting.

Kit
That’s a good word. Disorienting.

Josh
I mean, so you imagine, like somebody coming back from war and they’re acting as though are They have these moments where they’re responding to the present situation, as though they’re back in the in the battlefield. And so the person who has had the grocery store sitting in the living room and the ground is there. Things were real around them, but in that moment, they’re kind of thrown into this into this swirl craziness, and and it really makes sense to me because I think about cash. You know, you The idea of what I thought was really what I thought I could lean into and lean on actually was never stable for me, it wasn’t really there for me. And now those other things I kind of assume are real that I can lean into and trust. Like, are they stable in real? Um, can you guys I mean, we didn’t I don’t know if you know, you’ve thought about this, but what about relation with God? Like what? Like, you know, people who have leaned in the trusted guy. Like, What does it do? What is trauma due to a person’s relationship with God In this way?

Kit
I think it blows it up. I think it is just like it. It affects everything in their life, including that. Like, why would you ever allow this to happen? Um you know, I I’ve thought about it. Like when you when you meet it with enough people who experience this You you you know, I imagine. What would this be like for me? What if this happened in my marriage? I have a hard time imagining how I would continue to function when that is such a huge. An assumption I make about my life is that my marriage is solid. My my husband is faithful. He will not break our covenant. I count on that maybe more than I should. But account of that. And I think most people would and should you know, they should count on that. And then when it suddenly destroyed, I think it sends you spinning into a place where your faith is affected as well that I put my faith in you. God, I put my faith in my marriage to

Anne
write. I prayed about this I felt led to marry this person. And he’s He was so honest and sincere in about his his faith and his integrity. And it was It’s so It’s so troubling and heartbreaking. Yeah.

Josh
Yes, I can imagine to just anything this is with any kind of suffering. But but with something that’s going on undetected and unknown about for a long time, there can also I think, be a sense of order. You complicity in this. Why would you keep this from me? Like where have you been? Like what? What’s your posture towards our marriage towards me? Ben, This whole time, and I don’t say that cause I wantto accuse God. I think he is faithful and loving through all this, but but our experience of that I just want to come on Earth like, you know, we have to walk through something. So let me shift gears a little bit. Let’s just assume you mentioned beginning that, you know that it used to be the co addict model was kind of the reigning model of treatment. But for a pasture or a friend, you know, girlfriend, a guy friend who’s walking, somebody’s been betrayed. What? What’s gonna be helpful for me to start with this? What? What does it do to the person who’s been traumatized if the person’s people were trying to help them, don’t recognize and knowledge and kind of help them with that piece, but try to approach the whole situation with ignorant of that?

Anne
Well, a number of clients that have come in have said the first place was either a pastor or friend, and instantly they turned it on me and it was re traumatizing to them. I was coming for help. I was coming to say, Can you help me? Can you help our marriage, and instantly it was Well, what have you done? Are you not sexual enough? And it was very re traumatizing, and then it took a considerable amount of time for them to build it open up to another person.

Kit
I second that I hear that a lot. Just this idea that they went to a trusted pastor friend. And the first thing was, um well, you know, men do this, and so you just gonna have to kind of, you know, forgive and move on and patch it up and, you know, uh, maybe liven up your sex life. I mean, it was just a very empty answer for someone who was whose life was spinning out of control.

Josh
So we’ve got the in the recognizing. The trauma is almost like we imagine it as this. You know, there’s this this huge train with cars that are following that kind of, you know, go back into the past, and a person is just kind of responding to this one specific moment. This one thing you told me and now we gotta do something different. Going on is ignoring the momentum of this, that the weight of this train it’s actually pushing them in a new and un unpredicted way in the present. So and when you said re traumatized, like, unpacked it a little bit, how does how does that bring more trauma or or, you know, duplicate the trauma that already experience experiencing

Anne
well, they thought their place of help was now a source of pain. So it’s more pain,

Josh
same kind of thing, right? Miss the source of security. And then maybe I took this risk.

Anne
Oh, yes. It took me a long time to finally go to my pastor. Took me a long time toe to tell somebody. And now I am. It’s my fault.

Kit
So imagine that you have this gate, this huge wound because you just found out that your husband betrayed trust or your wife from and so you you’re trying to get up the nerve to go and talk to somebody about it. Here with this big, gaping wound of love, betrayal of trust, you goto the person you think that’s gonna understand and help you, and they, like, ripped that open, make it even deeper, right? It’s a painful thing, and it’s unfortunately so common that there hasn’t been an awareness of this That that these men and women horse who are experiencing this really need someone to say. I’m so sorry. This must be so painful has given them a safe place to be able to just be angry and and sad and grieving and, you know, really pay attention to this process that they’re in,

Anne
right? Like, what was it like when you heard, um, what happened to you? Did your body experience? Um, you know, trauma. Did you, you know, collapsed. Did you fall apart? What? Was it like that?

Kit
Yeah, Let me hear it. Let me Let me. You know, they want they want to be understood. They want you to understand that this is this is a really thing that has just happened to me. Um, and and I need somebody to deeply understand this with me, right?

Josh
Any time we’re talking about pain or wounds, I think one of mistakes that that many of us can make. And I think it’s usually rooted in our own discomfort with pain, but one of them six that anybody can make Is this kind of like what I’m gonna try to do is give you a prescription Yeah, And if you prescribe something before you give it a chance for somebody to unpack all that they’re experiencing, like, you know, going to the doctor and and they take your temperature and write your prescription. Like, Wait, Don’t you need to, like, Know what my symptoms are? Don’t you need to hear what’s been going on for me? Like I would so like, Part of what I hear you saying is just this space to share the story. What? What do you experience? Tell me what happened. Tell me what you’ve heard. Tell me how you’ve been. Tell me. Tell me how you’ve been responding to this

Kit
And have someone say I understand that must have been so painful. And and and I and and I’ve heard this before, this does happen. What you’re experiencing is a response to it’s a traumatic response to trauma. Your you had a trauma like that so normalizing for them like Oh, okay. So I’m not crazy. I’m not like losing it. This is actually a neck spirits that other people have.

Anne
Yes. And then I can almost picture kit the person having such a sigh of relief like, Oh, you get this. I’m not crazy. Yeah.

Josh
So tell us more about that, because, um, I’ve heard that before. I’m not I’m not crazy. What’s going on? That somebody like, like what’s been happening that a person would in that moment would feel like? Like, I’m crazy.

Kit
I think probably a spouse would say you’re overreacting like, you know, Come on, this is not that big of a deal or or a pastor or a friend like Well, you know, that just happens. And internally, the spouses, like like things were just exploding in them, and their and other people are telling them that’s not an okay response. You’re overreacting. It’s not that big a deal,

Anne
right? And so then they. Then they turn it inward. They begin to think maybe something is wrong with you. I’m not seeing it correctly. And perhaps if the spouse that acted out is not being fully honest and not being forthright with what the situation is, what’s the intensity of it? Um, it feels awful.

Kit
That’s the other challenges. A lot of times, the disclosure is enough of a issue to hear this, But then a month later Oh, there’s more. Two months later Oh, there’s more. I mean, that’s happened a lot. So there’s little red traumatizing. Yeah, so that’s a re trauma to not just being re traumatized by going to see a pastor, a friend and have them respond the way we discussed, but also just this trickling in of more and more. And then they they just don’t know what to do with that

Anne
right? And that’s That’s why we really hope that ah, male or a female struggling with this a husband or wife would would be able to have a therapeutic disclosure. And here, the entire history of it with safe counselors or coaches that’s that’s my heart is that they will hear a full disclosure and so much events. Yes, prevents the trickle, and then it. There’s so much healing that takes place for both the partner and the sexually addicted spouse.

Josh
I know I’ve walked it certainly with more men who have been the unfaithful spouse than I have with men who have have been betrayed, and I know on their on their part, one of the real temptations is I want to try to contain that. What I’ve done, try to keep it quiet and it may have been hiding something for a long, long time, and some part of it comes out. If I’ve been hiding a through F and I and A through C has come out that I you know, I’ll keep D through f kind of quiet. You know I want, because I don’t want to add more pain, more trauma to that. It’s a mistake because now that it is necessary mistake not to disclose everything all at once without help. But it’s a mistake to try to conceal because the rest of the truth comes out. And when it comes out in trickles like that, it can be re traumatizing me. Check this with you because I’ve I’ve actually told a lot of these guys like look the deception. And so I like the distinguishing when I was making like lying is when you say something that isn’t true is true or something that you know you’re explicitly saying something that’s not true. Deception is when you are giving the impression that something’s true, that’s not true. And so silence is a deception. If there’s more to say and I’ve told Spencer the betraying spouses, I said, Look, your your deception actually can can do more long term damage than the sins that you have done sometimes because because that’s the piece that makes the world seem like it doesn’t make sense. And if they can’t trust you, t be in reality with them than what hope do they have ever like we’re leaning on you and wanting to be connected? Would you agree? Disagree?
Anne
Definitely. And the truth is what actually the spouse is asking for and wants to know everything that happened. And, um, it’s actually the research shows from Barbara Stephen’s research is that through a disclosure, when the addicted spell shares fully what’s going on, there is relief for them and not more Jayme. There’s relief and another cyst ih stick is that actually the spouse wants to, um, the acting out isn’t as difficult as the lying, and there’s research that shows that they can handle the acting out if you tell me. But the lying cystic Stickley is more difficult and more traumatic,

Kit
And you can imagine if you’ve heard this and then you’re like, OK, we gotta rebuild trust and you in your down the road, you know, trying to do that working on that. And then boom, Suddenly you find out that there has been a lie in a deception like that would create that. Could that could bring an end to a marriage.

Josh
Let me rewind a little bit, because we’re gonna get close to the end here. And I know that we’re talking about a really, really heavy, difficult area for people. And so just by the way, if you’re listening to this and you’re in this situation and you’re walking with someone, please do not here. This is an extensive. This is all you need to know about. About this now, you know, go for it. Like her. Hope you heard and say, like the value of a therapeutic disclosure. Getting help from somebody who can actually walk you through it If you’re If you’re dealing with trauma, we don’t expect that this 2025 minutes Podcasts give me enough. You’re a spouse who needs to disclose. We don’t expect that. You’re you know. Hey, turn of podcasts. Go do it right now like talk to somebody. Get some help. But all right, so let me ask another question here. So sometimes the pastor or a friend or counselor who’s trying to help knows this person got a history so they they know that the spouse has been betrayed, has their own junk, that they’ve been bringing the marriage their own. You know, their personality issues there, whatever, Like what did they talk to us about that cause that could get in the mix years? They’re trying to help thinking like, Oh, maybe we should address some of those things. And what do you say that?

Anne
Well, of course, the spouse has things she’s or he or human, right? There’s there’s things that that spouse brings into the marriage, that probably at some point do need to be addressed, but not right away. The trauma has got to be addressed, believed, taken seriously and then in, um, further down the road, you you talk about those things in a gentle, careful, honest way, and you can address those.

Josh
And when you say for just get somebody saying I want to help, like how far down the road might it be?

Anne
It could be a year down the road

Kit
probably depends on the situation, you know, That’s why you want somebody, um, involved that has some experience that will be will be discerning, will bring God into it will, you know, have some wisdom because every situation is gonna be very unique. And sometimes it’s going to be important to give a long time. And other times maybe it’s gonna be good and helpful to both of them to introduce it a little earlier. So it all depends on the situation,

Anne
right? Typically, it’s at first. It’s safety, instability that’s worked on for a long period of time, helping you regulate your body, get the right sleep, have help, self care. All that has to be instituted it right away.

Josh
So let’s say say we’re two months in, You know somebody’s getting some help. What can that friend do? What Because? Because you’re not saying, like, you know, Hey, go. You know, go get some help from a therapist or go to regeneration, and then and then you never bring it up. Like I think sometimes when people are going through a difficult situation like this, the friend or pastor kind of checks out not because they don’t care, because they don’t know how to help any. Any other suggestions you can give for kind of long term how can I support you?

Kit
You know, I think it’s a key of of you know, what we refer to as a spiritually friendship, like really be in it with them, Like commit to them. You know, I’ll be here for you if you need to call me at one o’clock in the morning because you’re losing it like I’ll be here for you. It’s when we do that for people when they have ah, loss, you and they when they lose a husband or a wife. So it’s this. It’s in many ways, it’s similar. You’re like, I will be here for you, so I will. You can count on that right?

Anne
What else? How else can I be praying for you? You know, Do you need to be going out to doing some some fun things? Making sure she’s, you know, incorporating self care, going out for, um, you know, movie night’s dinner nights. Just being a friend like you said,

Josh
what? You watch the kids for a bit so I can just go have some space so I could go for a walk. So I go see a therapist or coach, so I can absolutely, it’s, um so another thing comes to mind for me. Is is just the for a friend who’s walking through this, who has been a friend of husband, wife. Your your trauma may not be the same of the same degree, is the spouses in the marriage? But it could be a really thwarting thing to discover. Like Wait, he did what he’s been doing. Why? Who has? Ah, you know, maybe a lesser degree, but still significant. So you may need help to your trying to help your friend. Yeah, absolutely. Even navigating like How do I look? I still care about your spouse who betrayed you howto. Why Dwight, do I give up that relationship Very difficult. Hard things to walk through. The last question. Say you’re the spouse. Say you’ve been the one who’s who’s betrayed. What can you do? We mentioned that the importance of full disclosure and being willing to go walk that hard road What else would you guys ad You can d’oh say? Say you’re you really have a heart for restoration. You will actually do you know you’ve done wrong. And you you really do care about your spouse and you want this to work What can you D’oh Recognizing what? Maybe what? Specifically, what can you do? Recognise? Like I’ve traumatized this. This person I love. Like what? Can you do that be helpful?

Anne
Well, even just what you mentioned is huge that they’re acknowledging I have traumatized her. I have impacted her. I did this and I need to continue to show her love and care. Um, you know things to not say, You know when you’re gonna be over this or, um, it’s not that big of a deal, but stay in it. Be a container for her pain. Stay in it. Stay your stay with your work day with your guys, because that will be difficult, but owned the impact as long as she needs

Kit
and be patient like this is gonna take time. This is not just, you know, gonna be gone in a few days or a few weeks. And then the idea of check ins, you know, the idea of give have, ah, have someone help you figure out a way that you can talk about this on a regular basis, but with boundaries too. So it’s not every day your talking about it, but that there’s a rhythm that you can do it in and that there’s a good way to talk about it. So that that the spouse has been betrayed has a good way to find out what’s going on. Because not knowing can be really hard.

Josh
Yeah, if you’ve been through, you know, 10 2030 years of you didn’t know something. Going a week without knowing something like Caesar has something else happened can be really difficult. So having those times where you can kind of touch base about this again, Yeah,
Anne
right. When when husband asked, How has this impacted you? You know, one husband, um, you know, cried when he realized the the impact it made on his wife. And that meant so much to her. He got it. He he felt her pain. He cried for her pain. It was It made a big difference in her.

Josh
So even Cem Cem education about like, But I mean, like, one. The overarching thing in this whole podcast that I hear for everybody involved everybody. Is this the acknowledgement that the trauma Israel this isn’t like trauma. This isn’t like PTSD, Like somebody who’s experienced a significant betrayal in our marriage has been traumatized and it takes time and it and it is very, very difficult to walk through. And so for the husband, for the wife, for I mean for the friends to all recognize, like we’re walking through recovery from not just the betrayal, but from the trauma that ensued because of it. Um, yeah. Any any closing words for any husband, wife? Um, friend. Pastor listening.

Anne
I think I think for the for the spouse that, um maybe has caused the trauma. Is Thio turned towards the spouse? Not away. You actually can be a healing agent in the record in the recovery of the partner. Traumatized? What do

Josh
you mean turned toward

Anne
turn towards them, move towards their pain, Move towards, um what they need not away in shame. Move towards good beat. Be there for one another, turn towards each other. Really

Josh
good. And you probably need help with that. Yeah. Yeah. So if you are a husband or a wife, you and your spouse is has betrayed you in this way or your husband or wife and you’re wrestling with your own sexual infidelity. We want to just invite you especially this is what re generations here for in part so we have groups for for men who are strong with sexual addictions. We have a group for wives who have experienced infidelity in their marriage. We have spiritually coaching that can walk with you with whatever you’re dealing with in that regard. So we would love to hear from you. So Jesus, Um, I know I don’t know about kidney, and I do know I know that for all of us, Lord was we relate with real men and real women have walked through these things and you’re in the midst of these things. It is another area lord where we’re so dependent upon you and so grateful Jesus that you have born the pain and trauma that we experience on the service. We need your help. We pray for every spouse listening every friend listening, who’s walking through something like this Slur that you’re cross would be a balm for them. We need to find you in the midst of their pain. Our grant in the graces they need tow. Walk forward in the light, Lord, give them healing as they dio pretty for them. In the name of the Father Son, Holy Spirit everybody. Thanks for joining us this week on the regeneration podcast. Please make sure to visit our website at Regeneration ministries dot Ward, where you can subscribe to the show in Apple or Google podcasts and even Spotify. So you’ll never miss another one while you’re at it. If you found value in the show, we’d appreciate a rating on apple podcasts. Or if you’d simply tell a friend about the show that would help us out a lot. Thanks so much for listening. We look forward to being with you again next week.

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