by Dan Drake, LMFT, LPCC, CCPS-S, CSAT-S
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” (William Congreve)
Truth be told, most men are terrified of women’s anger. Of course, many will pretend that they are “tough” and not affected. Yet if they’re honest with you, they’ll agree that women’s anger is difficult for them to bear. I wish I were somehow “above” this fear, but alas, I am also part of this group. I could write a volume on WHY this is the case, but I’ll save that for another time. Rather, I’d like to focus on the assertive voice of a partner of a sex addict, and what impact her voice has on the individual with the addiction.
There are of course male partners of addicts and same-sex couples experiencing the damage of sex addiction, yet the majority of partners I see are female, and the majority of addicts I see are male. So of course these roles can be reversed, but I want to focus today on the gendered impact of a female partner finding her voice. When I refer to a partner finding her “voice,” I mean that she no longer sits by and tolerates the behavior of the addict. Instead, she assertively states her needs, lays down boundaries, and expresses her pain in an assertive way. And yes, this assertiveness can often look very much like anger. She IS angry! And why shouldn’t she be? The wool has finally been pulled from her eyes, and she can now finally see a relationship littered with lies, deception, betrayal, and sometimes patterns of abuse. Anger is a protective means of survival. Was Rosa Parks angry on that bus? You better believe it. Was Gandhi angry at injustice? Absolutely. Was Jesus angry when he overturned the tables of the money collectors in the temple? Of course. Anger is an important means by which true change occurs. And in the case of a partner of a sex addict, her assertive voice is a way for her to no longer remain in a defenseless, powerless, one-down position. Her anger makes sense. Make no mistake: I’m not talking about emotionally or physically abusive anger – I’m talking about her assertive voice that will no longer tolerate her world to be shattered again.
So . . . How does this impact the addict? I think it’s safe to say that many sex addicts have this response to anger and assertiveness from their partners if they’re honest: they’re terrified of it. Whether they come from homes with narcissistic mothers, whether they learned through culture or a faith tradition that women should act a certain way, or whether their views of women have been shaped through their own trauma, men have a difficult time with their partner’s anger. Most addicts have a belief at their core, “If she knew the real me, and all of the real me, she’d leave me.” Well, anger for an addict can feel a whole lot like abandonment. So many addicts will implement a host of strategies to keep their partner’s voice at bay. Some will defend, some will shut down, some will disappear into shame, and some will turn to patterns of abuse.
Here’s my encouragement to men and women that are courageously traversing the road of recovery from sexual addiction:
- Partners: Keep finding and expressing your voice in an assertive way. You absolutely have a right to safety, and to have your needs met in the relationship. Be careful to not go into abuse, as this will ultimately prevent you from getting where you truly want to be if you are trying to work on your relationship. But keep working to express your voice to heal from the betrayal.
- Addicts: Hang in there! The more work you do on yourself and healing from your own pain and shame will give you that much more of an ability to help the incredible work you can do to help your partner heal. Your responsibility is to be open, honest, and empathic. This is difficult, but it truly is your living amends for the pain you have caused to your partner. This process isn’t perfect, but with time, AND your continued commitment to be there for your partner and your relationship, your relationship can continue to heal.
- For the relationship: Find safety. Find moments of tenderness. Intimacy like you’ve never known it before can continue to be forged through the pain you are going through. Your hard work to grow and to renew your equal partnership will reap huge dividends in the future.