He told her he would not look at porn once they were married. She believed him. Ten years later, she worried about the late nights at work. Finding texts from another woman sent her spiraling and from that point, nothing would be the same. This story strikes a painful chord for many spouses of sex addicts. The disclosure of hidden behaviors acts as a punch in the gut with each new reveal. As I sit with spouses of sexual betrayal and addiction, the symptoms they experience mirror those of abuse survivors because of the very nature of addiction.

Trauma is defined as anything that happens out of the ordinary, like a car accident. We do not expect it. The severity of symptoms induced by trauma are directly correlated to the amount and repetition of the trauma, as well as, the reaction to the trauma. Survivors without key support, those silenced in telling their story, and/or the continued occurrence of betrayal have higher levels of brain impact than those who have a safe place to tell their story and find care.

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder is the term used for symptoms caused by an actual or perceived traumatic event. The symptoms may include hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression and/or attempts to avoid triggers or associations with the known trauma. Though a person might avoid places, people, or events that would remind them of their pain, the body does not forget. It tracks every moment through our five senses. For example, a smell, color, season or sound might remind the body to specifically react. The amygdala (lower part of the brain) is created to help respond via flight, fight, or freeze. For example, when driving, we rely on the amygdala to help us react quickly with the pedal when we see brake lights in front of us. With PTSD, this part of the brain never quiets down. A survivor constantly hovers their foot over the brake pedal.

Emotional healing from sexual betrayal requires support with identifying hurts and patterns. However, a key component of this process is understanding the way the body stores trauma. Though the mind, spirit and heart might move on, the body cannot forget and needs to have a specific type of treatment to heal. Addressing PTSD is a significant part of the recovery work for successful long term healing for spouses of sexual addiction.

Written by Terra A. Mattson, M.A. LPC, LMFT Clinical Director & Co-Owner of Living Wholehearted