A Guide for Partners
If you recently discovered your partner’s sex addiction, you are probably experiencing a myriad of emotions that you have to negotiate while, somehow, keeping up with your daily responsibilities. To add to that difficulty, if you and your partner have children together, you also have to figure out how to continue to parent together. With so much hurt and uncertainty, it may be difficult to try to negotiate parenting roles.
After sex addiction discovery, it is important to remember to slow down before making big decisions. Regardless of what you and your spouse decide to do for a temporary or permanent living situation, you still have to raise your kids together. Here are some tips that can help you co-parent successfully in the midst of sex addiction discovery.
Be careful what you say. You likely are feeling a lot of negative feelings about your spouse, but when talking to your kids or in front of your kids, name calling, disclosing inappropriate details, and sharing your negative feelings about your partner, are all things that will ultimately only hurt your children. Do not argue in front of your kids. Instead, work to keep adult conversations between adults only. While it is advised to disclose some age-appropriate information to your children, to determine what information to disclose, it is best to work with your therapist or to gain specialized support before disclosing your partner’s sex addiction to your children. Whatever you decide is best to share with your kids, make sure that you do not lie. For example, don’t say something like, “there is nothing to worry about, everything is okay.” Kids notice when something isn’t right in the home and lying about the situation only further hurts them. Lying may keep them from trusting their instincts and cause them to question reality. (This is called gaslighting.)
Don’t put your kids in the middle. Your kids are not your messengers or spies. While having boundaries for communication with your partner may be helpful, or even necessary at times, your children should never be a part of that. Do not put your children in the position of having to pass messages back and forth. It causes children to be anxious and they often feel pressure to sugar-coat the information to keep parents from getting upset.
Don’t compete with your partner to get your child’s love. It is healthy for a child to love both his or her parents and have a positive relationship with both of them. When you are experiencing pain, it may be easy to demonize your partner in front of your kids. This usually backfires because kids often feel empathy towards their addicted parent and become defensive. It is exemplified when the addict is in recovery, learning to be a better, more present parent (while the parent without the addiction, understandably, may be feeling more distressed and angry). This can easily cause more family tension. Additionally, doing, saying, or buying things to win your child’s approval causes more uncertainty for them and damages trust. You should not look to your children to provide the emotional support you are not getting from your partner.
Try to keep things as normal as possible. After sex addiction discovery, there may be some big changes in the home as you learn to set healthy boundaries in your relationship with your spouse. Boundaries are a way of providing safety for partners and children of sex addicts. Children will notice the changes and that is okay. Other than healthy boundary changes, strive to keep schedules, routines, chores, expectations, and rules all as close to normal as possible. Some parents struggle with feeling bad for their children because of the impact discovery has had on them. Children will feel that most safe and stable with as little change as possible. Again, that does not mean, you should avoid healthy boundaries with your partner. It does mean your expectations of your children should remain the same. For example, bedtime/curfew doesn’t change, schedule of homework after school doesn’t change, and expectation of being kind to siblings stays the same. If your children start to push limits or break rules, consequences they would have always received provide them stability. Be prepared to give them extra emotional support during this time.
As you try to negotiate co-parenting after discovery of sex addiction, give yourself some grace. No parents ever co-parent perfectfully, and kids are resilient and can cope and heal. Although a lot of the suggestions above are logical, they are not always easy when you are going through a difficult time yourself. When you make mistakes, apologize to your children and move forward. It will be a learning process for the whole family.