Triggers (for the betrayed partner)

Triggers are hard to define because they can be any myriad of things, and are very personal to the betrayed. Basically, a trigger is anything—an action, situation, circumstance, location, item, word spoken, memory, reaction—which causes the partner to go back into the place of pain as though they are experiencing pain as if it were fresh again. You can think of it like a wound being exposed—oozing and bleeding out. The problem for the betrayed partner is that a trigger can happen so unexpectedly, it isn’t something that they can prepare for. When a trigger happens, it can create a type of post traumatic stress response in the partner. They might experience a physical response—rapid heartbeat, shakiness, nausea, elevated blood pressure. Or they can have an emotional response such as uncontrollable crying, yelling, screaming, anger, or shutting down to name a few. They might have both a physical and emotional response. Just as there are so many trigger possibilities depending on the person, there are many responses also depending on the person.

The more details that the person who is addicted gives their partner, the more likely their partner will experience trigger reactions. Details are detrimental. We can’t stress that enough. Details, though she might pry for them, will only hurt her. Details as “minor” as what gifts were shared, what locations did the spouse act out in, what words were spoken between lovers, and what clothes were worn will lead to the betrayed spouse asking you to sell your vehicle, buying a new wardrobe, never eating at those same restaurants again, and crying uncontrollably when you call her a pet name that you might have used on the other person. You can’t even avoid triggers because you can be watching a movie and a character could have an affair and before you know it, your partner is not speaking to you again. We advise that you speak to a counselor before sharing details. If you already shared, you’ve likely seen the harm play out.

The thing to keep in mind is that triggers hurt. They don’t just hurt a little. They strip the person bare. They feel back at square one again. Triggers serve as reminders that, for the betrayed, their loved one did not choose them and broke their promises. Nothing makes that better in the moment. There is no remedy to offset a trigger. No words, actions, deeds, good behavior in the moment will erase the pain. Only in time with the trigger sting less, but even then, it still will cause the betrayed to remember. All the healing and recovery will never erase the memory, just the immediate pain. If your partner has a trigger response, be understanding. You can’t fix it. You can only be there and apologize that they are having to go through it because of a choice you made. Give your partner the time and space to express their feelings. Don’t push them. Don’t judge the irrationality of their response. They aren’t trying to make your life difficult. Feeling leads to healing. Let them feel, process and express. Find some empathy and put yourself in their situation. It will help you to realize that the pain runs very deep.

[Are you struggling with a sexual addiction? Or are you a partner of a person who struggles? Specialized sexual addiction counselors have training for not only sexual addiction but helping partners through the pain of this addiction. Search your area for counselors who have the acronyms of CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) or SRT (Sexual Recovery Therapist). S-Anon, COSA, and Pure Desire offer support groups for partners. Click on the link to find a meeting near you.]

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