Intimate Betrayal: A Unique Trauma

If you are reading this blog then you are likely here because someone you love has betrayed you with his or her harmful or compulsive sexual behavior. Perhaps the person who has hurt you is someone you deeply love and trusted most in this world - your husband or wife, or your fiancé or partner.

Discovering that your significant other is sexually compulsive and has been deliberately deceiving you with a secret sexual life is beyond heartbreaking; it shreds the relational fabric of connection and often leaves one feeling victimized, discarded, devalued and alone. betrayal, sex addiction, gas lighting, pornography

Intimate partner betrayal is a unique wound that is bone deep. The trauma that the partner of a sex addict deals with is different than that of the spouse of a drug addict or alcoholic – not more or less painful, it is just a different type of emotional injury. Please understand that my intention is not to minimize the experience of any partner who has an addicted spouse. All addictions create suffering and have their distinct pain points.

The soul-searing wound for the spouse of a sex addict cuts so deeply because a six-pack of booze does not have a vagina, a penis or breasts. And a cheating spouse cannot have sex with a bottle of pills, or fall deeply and emotionally in love with a marijuana pipe.

Partners of sexually compulsive people often share the following feelings when learning that their beloved has been misleading them, cheating on them, or otherwise sexually betraying them:

*Shock *Confusion *Fear *Anxiety *Rage *Shame

*Numbness *Depression *Grief *Humiliation *Suicidal Thoughts

As a Licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist  I have seen the traumatic impact of deceptive and sexually compulsive behaviors on the partners and families of sex addicts up close. And I am a woman who has gone through my own healing from betrayal. I understand the enormous pain that the partner experiences first hand. I am especially empathetic toward the heartache that hurting partners deal with. I also understand just how important it is to seek support with a qualified therapist who is trained in sexual addiction. Isolating is not healthy – there is no need to hide.

Finding a counselor who understands the unique impact of intimate partner betrayal trauma and the subsequent agony that partners’ of sex addicts experience is a first important step in the healing journey.

Emotional Abuse: The Traumatic Injury of Gas lighting

betrayal, Mari Lee SASH, sex addiction, pornography, partners, APSATSIntimate betrayal trauma often feels like the death of a thousand cuts. Why? Because gas lighting is usually part of the sexually deceptive ritual of the addict.

Perhaps “Gas lighting” is a term that is new to you, or perhaps you’re all too familiar with this pattern of emotional abuse. Either way, you’ve likely experienced this if you are in a relationship with a sexually compulsive person.

Gas lighting is a form of emotional terrorism where the sex addict manipulates his or her partner by creating doubt – a verbal smoke and mirrors that leaves the partner feeling confused and paranoid.

In order to cover their tracks, sex addicts manipulate conversations and lie to their significant other in an effort to hide their deceptive behaviors, affairs, and addictions. By repeatedly denying the victims reality, they intentionally sow seeds of doubt – and do so very convincingly. The result is that the partner begins doubting his or her own perception.

Eventually, the betrayed spouse starts to distrust his or her own memory and sometimes, depending on the level of gas lighting, they begin to question their own emotional stability and sanity.

This brave partner shares her gas lighting story, a nightmare that spans several years,

“My husband would look me straight in the face, with tears in his eyes, and swear on our children that he would never cheat on me. Even though I had credit card statements from motels, and text messages from call girls, he would promise me that someone was trying to break us up. He was such a good liar! This went on for nearly 3 years.

After his constant gas lighting, I began to believe that what he was sharing must be true because he was so convincing. The stories that seemed so far fetched at the start became more and more believable. He would even show me notes that were written in lipstick by a “female stalker” threatening him and demanding money. This is how he covered his lies with the cash withdraws from our bank account. I started to believe that some awful woman was trying to set up or frame my husband. I was terrified that she would hurt him, or me and our children.”

After about a year of this, the hang-ups, the lies, the half-truths, the tears, the promises, I started experiencing insomnia, paranoia, and stomach problems. My doctor shared that I was under extreme stress and prescribed medication that left me feeling like a zombie. You would think that him seeing my health disintegrating would have created enough guilt and he would have stopped acting out with prostitutes and call girls.


 Instead, he took advantage of my fragile condition and began staying out later and more frequently. His excuse was that he wanted me to have peace of mind knowing that the “crazy woman” who was stalking him would not be spying on our home if he wasn’t there.

Only when irrefutable proof arrived through a phone call from a trusted friend who had video taped my husband at a strip club, did I finally wake up. I know that some people will think I was a fool, but he was so manipulative. And I was blinded by my love for him.  

Once I realized that he was lying, I had him followed, and attached a GPS to his car. Within 2 weeks I had all the proof I needed that every thing I had suspected and worse was happening. He had secret profiles on hook up sites, he had a PO box, he had a second phone, and even a secret credit card. He’d been acting out with prostitutes – male and female – for over 5 years, maybe longer.”

I filed for a separation and I kicked him out. We’ve both been in therapy and 12 step support groups over the last year. I still don’t know if I can forgive him or ever trust him again. These days, with the help of my therapist who is experienced in partner trauma, I am focused on healing all of the damage he has caused me. He is working with his own sex addiction therapist, is in an SAA 12 step group, and is focusing on his own recovery work. If he would not have done this, I would have divorced him.

Time will tell if our marriage will survive. It will depend on how committed he is to his recovery and to being completely truthful with himself and with me. Until then, I continue to use the tools that I am learning in therapy.”

 First Important Steps in Healing

betrayal, sex addiction, pornography, SASHPartners often say, “Why should I go to therapy, I am not the one with the addiction! I did not cause this mess!” Or, “My story is not as bad as his/her story, maybe we don’t really need therapy at all.” I understand the resistance and resentment; I said the same thing at the start of my own healing process.

However, being in an intimate relationship with a sexually compulsive person is a traumatic wounding, and it is emotional abusive. You deserve to have the opportunity to heal and focus on yourself for a change, instead of being consumed by and focused on your partner’s addiction – walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You deserve to have your pain validated. And you most certainly deserve to work with a supportive counselor who is both empathetic and experienced in helping partners of sex addicts heal.

A compassionate therapist will help you learn the tools you need to move forward in order to step out of the darkness of despair – whether or not you choose to stay in your relationship or marriage.

No matter how broken you are feeling right now, you don’t have to do this healing work all by yourself. As I often say to my clients, “The most important relationship that you’ll ever be in, besides the one with your higher power, is the relationship with yourself.”

In closing, I hope this blog has been a beacon of light during this stormy chapter of your life. Perhaps what you’ve read here today is a first small step in taking back your mental and emotional well-being. Every little step counts!

As I wrap up, know that I wish you all the best on your journey forward. It’s not an easy road, but healing is possible – please trust that.

With kindness,

Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S



Mari Lee, SASH, sex addiction, pornography, APSATSMari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S is a therapist, speaker and coach in Glendora California.  Her books, retreats and therapeutic practice has helped many partners recover from betrayal.

If you are would like to learn more about what you can do next to support yourself in moving forward, get her e-book, “Healing Betrayal: First Steps for Partners and Spouses of Sex and Pornography Addicts”.

It will offer you a focused road map, a check list, a boundaries exercise, a sample letter, resources, and includes a chapter on sex addiction and first steps for the addict. Download that here as a support to your own recovery:

Carnes, Lee, & Rodriquez (2012), Facing Heartbreak (1sted.),Gentle Path Press.
Rosenberg & Curtiss Feder, (2014), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment, Academic Press.
Hentsch-Cowles & Brock, (2013), A Systemic Review of the Literature on the Role of the Partner of the Sex Addict, Treatment Models, and a Call for Research for Systems Theory Model in Treating the Partner, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity The Journal of Treatment & Prevention Volume 20, 2013 - Issue 4

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