Sexual Recovery Blog

Asking Questions of Your Sex Addicted Partner: Opening Pandora’s Box?

Posted by Joan Edwards, LMFT on

When you discover that your partner is a sex addict, it is normal to be flooded with questions. Your partner has had a life apart from you, a life of secrets in which he or she has betrayed your relationship. He has been lying to you and now he is being honest (you hope!). You are trying to make sense of it all.  While you have a right to have your questions answered, you may want to take care. The answers to some questions will be helpful, but others may just bring you more pain. With some questions you will be promoting healing, but with others you may be opening Pandora’s box.

According to Greek mythology, the “god” Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful container along with strict instructions to never open it. Pandora ignored his warning, opened it, and released all the evils of the world. Once the box was opened it couldn’t be closed. Evil spread throughout the world and could never

again be contained. Today, the term “opening Pandora’s box” is used to describe any action that may seem small or innocent, but that turns out to have severely detrimental and far-reaching consequences.

Honesty and transparency are essential to building an intimate, trusting relationship; however, there may be some details that would be better for you not to know. Which questions do you want to ask and which do you want to avoid? Here are guidelines that will help you maximize your healing and minimize your hurt.

 

HEALING QUESTIONS: THE GENERAL FACTS

The general facts of the addiction need to be brought into the open in order for your trust and your relationship to be restored. It is helpful for you to know:

  • the timeline of acting out
  • types of behaviors
  • whether anyone you knew was involved
  • amounts of money spent
  • lies that were told to you
  • potential for disease due to unprotected sex

 

The answers to these questions will help you make sense of those times that did not seem quite right—when your intuition told you something was going on but you did not know what. They will validate you. Also, they will empower you to make decisions about your finances, your health, and your future based on facts, not conjecture. You are entitled to this information.

Research shows that the best way to learn these facts is in a Full Formal Disclosure, facilitated by a therapist who understands sex addiction (or by two therapists—one for the addict and one for the partner). A Full Formal Disclosure is a therapy session where the addict reads a statement he has

prepared with the help of his therapist. Together they edit it so that it contains what his partner needs to know, without minimizing, blaming, excusing, or unnecessary details. The therapist(s) ensure that both people have the support they need before entering the session. While the Full Formal Disclosure session is painful, it brings far less pain overall than finding things out piecemeal. When there is a staggered disclosure, every new revelation is like an additional stab into a wound that is trying to heal.

 

HURTFUL QUESTIONS: THE “GORY” DETAILS

While the general facts of the betrayal are good for you to know, many of the details are likely to bring you pain. Specific imagery is unhelpful. Consider the woman who, in her pain and confusion at discovering her husband was addicted to porn, hacked into his computer and went to a few of his

favorite websites. She learned that he had a preference for small Asian women with long, dark hair. Now she finds herself triggered and flooded with those mental images every time she sees an Asian woman in her day-to-day life. Though truly a beautiful woman, she now feels insecure about her curves and her short, curly blond hair. She doubts that her husband finds her attractive and is flooded with negativity when he compliments her appearance. Her pain is deeper because she has vivid pictures in her mind

about her husband’s acting out. The more vivid the images, the more intense the emotions and the more frequent the triggering.

You don’t need to actually see images to have them form in your mind. If you ask what she looked like, whether she was beautiful, whether she was thinner than you are, or whether her breasts were bigger than yours, you may be “pain shopping.” If your loved one has made it a goal to stop lying and to be

rigorously honest, you put him in a very difficult position. What if she was thinner than you are? What is he to say? If he is truthful, how will that make you feel? Will it bring healing, or just hurt?

Another category of questions you may want to avoid are those that will result in being told the specific activities that took place between your loved one and someone else. Imagine you discover that he took an affair partner to New York City. Knowing that will be painful and triggering for you whenever you see a romantic movie set in New York. It will make it difficult for the two of you to enjoy a vacation there together.

Other things you may want to avoid asking about are fantasies, pet names, gifts that were bought … the fewer of these kinds of details you put in your brain, the fewer reminders you will have of a past that, hopefully, can be put behind you.

 

WRITE THEM DOWN AND WAIT

The best practice when flooded with questions is to write them down, take a deep breath, and leave them for a period of time. Frantic truth seeking, including spying, is a normal way we try to gain control of a situation when we realize we have been betrayed. It feels empowering and soothing in the

moment, but in the long run it can cause more harm than good. A better approach would be to seek to develop skills that help you tolerate the distress, such as reaching out to a friend, taking a walk, praying, or focusing your thoughts elsewhere. Many of your questions will shrink in importance over time and you will realize you really do not want to know the answer after all. Take your list of questions to your therapist and explore your motive for asking. If the question does not go away over time, and if you cannot move forward without knowing whether he took her to your cabin, then by all means ask.

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