Every year around Valentine’s Day, advertisers inundate us with images of people celebrating love. For instance, a 30-second commercial for a diamond retailer highlights a man, on bended knee, proposing to his girlfriend. Pier bystanders look on with curiosity and admiration. The girlfriend fights back tears and with a huge smile says “yes”, and they then deeply embrace.
The same commercial also features a loving couples gazing into each other’s eyes in a warm coffee shop while holding hands. Two newlyweds then share their diamond rings and wedding vows, after which family and special friends cheer them down the aisle.
For some couples, Valentine’s Day may be a time to celebrate when Cupid shot them with the promise of happily ever after. For couples in early stages of sex addiction recovery, however, special holidays or anniversaries bring up the slings and arrows of betrayal and deep emotional pain. The season reminds more of the hopes and dreams lost – as opposed to those fulfilled.
How then do you navigate around potential pitfalls and triggers of special occasions? Some men feel compelled to make a grand gesture – perhaps buying long-stemmed roses or arranging for a midnight carriage ride in the moonlight.
In fact, NBA Basketball star Kobe Bryant made headlines in 2011 when he bought an 8-carat purple diamond ring for $4 million dollars, as an apology ring for his marital indiscretion. Should other men follow suit?
Understandably so, the partner in early sex addiction recovery feels raw emotional wounds. It may be too soon for her to appreciate such grand gestures. The partner may think, “He’s only doing this to get out of the dog house.” The worst case scenario is that those same gestures may not only be unappreciated, but re-traumatizing to the partner.
Contrastingly, if the addict does nothing for the holiday or special occasion, the partner may interpret that as a lack of care or consideration. The partner may think, “not only have l lost my trust in and for him, he doesn’t even care.”
When facing holidays or anniversaries, the best course of action is to communicate early in advance of the special occasion. Work toward setting clear expectations for both parties.
It is partly the lack of control or even knowledge of an addict’s acting-out behavior that traumatizes partners. Talking about Valentine’s Day plans, for example, gives the partner a voice in what will happen, as opposed to being surprisingly flooded by conflicting feelings.
Ultimately, what’s shown to be effective in helping partners heal is ongoing transparency and following through on promises made. Trust is built when what the addict says corresponds to what is done – over time.
The addict can practice listening to the partner’s needs, whether that need is more space to process the past or specific ways to help repair the relationship. These conversations about setting clear expectations over Valentine’s Day can be valuable practice in being transparent; they act as a barometer to measure current intimacy and trust levels.