We just completed our 5th Annual Couple’s Conference here in Colorado Springs. It was another amazing experience for us, and we received rave reviews. Many couples return each year. It is very encouraging to see their growth as individuals and in their marriages. This year’s theme was “Adventure Ahead.” The couples who have the most growth are the ones who are able to look through the windshield and the future rather than spending the majority of their time looking back into the rear view mirror of the past and become confused as to why they are in the ditch yet again. Many couples want to accuse, blame, and criticize one another and stay offended. As Kerry and I have written about in the past, many people have an addiction to being offended and never want to let go of their offended heart.
There is a reason the windshield of your car is bigger than your rear view mirror. If you want to stay out of the ditch and stay on the road, it is as simple as not looking back at the past all the time. Now, this is much easier said than done. This means the couple will have to forgive each other and themselves. Again, forgiveness doesn’t just mean, “I forgive you in your wrongness in my rightness.” It means, “I cease to accuse you anymore for the real or imagined offenses you have inflicted upon to me.” Forgiveness can be very difficult. The main reason couples do not forgive each other is generally because they want justice and revenge. Forgiveness means releasing the hurt and allowing the spouse back in, which then means they are going to have to risk getting hurt again.
Early in recovery, it is appropriate to look into the past and all that has happened in the marriage. It is healthy to get all the secrets out and to use a polygraph, if necessary. It is also healthy for couples to have long, painful conversations about the sex addiction, the lies, the half-truths as well as what did or did not happen in an effort to try to understand one another. For most couples, this may last 1 to 3 years. However, if you or your clients are still digging up the past and stuck in blaming each other, you have to ask yourself what’s the payoff? For most, the payoff is “You have to change not me,” “You are the problem; therefore, I am okay and do not need to change.”
Women who spend too much time in the rear view mirror of the past are playing the victim card by believing they have been victimized, which they have been. However, any recovery program that keeps women as victims may be doing more harm than good. Some believe their marriage will never get better, and the couple will be stuck in perpetual and unnecessary therapy and recovery groups. I call this the victim cycle. These women are all about, “Why are you not changing and getting better?” “When are you going to change?” “What’s taking so long?” “This is just not good enough!” “You and your efforts are not good enough!” She has put herself in a place of judgment of her husband’s recovery and managing it for him.
There are also women who cannot give up the question, “Why did this happen?” I have seen women become addicted to the “why.” They will read every book and blog to find any and every resource to try to understand the male mind and heart. I have seen very few women completely understand the reason behind their husband’s sex addiction to their satisfaction. I believe it is a good thing for women to want to understand and me telling you not to act in this way will not prevent you from doing so. However, let me say – you have been warned. Your time and energy would be better spent exploring the questions, “When am I going to change?” “Why am I not changing?”
There are also a small number of women who do not realize they have been victimized and need to embrace the fact that they have been. They need to look to the past and embrace it before they can move forward to heal properly. Much like anyone who has been assaulted would have to acknowledge that their arm has been broken. They will need to seek medical attention and get a cast in order for it to heal properly.
Finally, the main reason the majority of women cannot get their focus off the past is because of the immense pain his addiction and lies have caused her. It is not that she wants to relive the past and the pain. It’s that she needs her spouse to acknowledge and validate that her pain is real. She is not crazy. These events did really happen. It is helpful for her husband to validate her as often as she needs as well as to not become defensive. This will expedite the healing process for both of them.
Generally, men who spend too much time in the rear view mirror of the past are struggling with great amounts of not only guilt but …shame. When their partner wants to talk about her pain from the past that his addiction has caused her, he will most often shut down or become defensive, because it reminds him of what he did. Then, all the guilt comes back. Not only did they do bad things, but shame sets in and says, “You are bad.” “You are the mistake!” He feels unforgiven, and nothing he does will ever be good enough. Shame also indicates he has not fully forgiven himself, which can be very deadly.
Here at Transformed Hearts, recovery is not about shaming the addict in their “badness”. Every addict knows that all too well. The problem is that the addict does not know or believe in their “goodness”. A person who does not love themselves and how God made them will never be able to love their spouse. This is just as true for a spouse who has been hurt by an addict.
There are some women who are treated as the victim and, in some cases, are encouraged to stay there. He is being shamed by her, the therapist and himself, which is a great motivator early in recovery. However, this model does not work long-term and keeps the couple perpetually in the ditch and needing a tow truck.
If you have been in recovery for 1 to 3 years and find yourself continually needing a tow, you may want to consider moving from victim and shame-based thinking. Begin to validate one another’s feelings regardless if you agree with your spouse or not. Validating is not about winning or losing. It is about validating. It is the quickest way to keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and on your way to a brighter future.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.