Picking a therapist

I’ve been in either individual or couples therapy with 8 different therapists since my husband’s addiction and cheating almost destroyed our marriage.  And I can tell you definitively that all therapists are absolutely not created equal.  Considering that your emotional life – and possibly the future of your family as you know it – is in their hands, it’s vital to select a therapist who is professional, attentive and empathetic.

If I am going to take the time and money to hire someone for ANY job I expect a certain level of professionalism…but when it’s my mind, heart and gut involved that my requirements have hit a whole new level.  In hindsight I wish I had learned this earlier, but better late than never.

To some degree, it’s true that you will get out what you put in.  Regardless of how good your therapist is, if you are resistant to the process it will be a very difficult road.  However, if you can walk into your therapists office each week with true willingness then you should see obvious results.

Here is a brief synopsis of some of the therapists I have seen – they range from complete incompetence to positively life changing.

# 1.  Male “counselor” without a degree who hangs out his counselor shingle for people in his 12 step program.  He was primarily my husbands therapist when he first entered SAA, but saw us as a couple as well. After 2 years I learned that he occasionally encouraged my husband to lie to me since that was the easiest solution.  He cloaked it in “you don’t want to cause her additional pain”.  Of course, when the truth came to light it was the pain of the lie which hurt most of all.  In one particularly memorable session, I was convinced my husband had reached out to an affair partner – it was my gut screaming that it was true – the counselor and my husband both sat there and lied to my face saying it was just my imagination.  Alas, it wasn’t.

# 2.  Older psychiatrist with a long history with couples.  My husband and I saw him for a couple years.  The sessions were fascinating on an intellectual level however there was never any emotional growth.  The experience was purely mental which in the end wasn’t what we needed.  I think we stayed with him longer than we should because we found the sessions to be stimulating and evoked a nice level of communication, even if they weren’t particularly effective for us.

# 3.  I started seeing an MFT by myself.  Sessions with Michelle felt very comfortable and casual.  In the moment I felt like I was chatting with a good friend.  But in the days following sessions her words would start to resonate with me. It was an impressive dynamic.  I started my affair with my ex boyfriend while I was seeing her.  She is the one who encouraged me to seek couples therapy with my husband so I could express my resentments over his cheating.  It took her 2 months to convince me that it was OK to tell him how I feel.  She said that his behavior caused me to develop muscles I didn’t have before and now it’s his turn.  She assured me that he would be strong enough to handle hearing my feelings.  She changed my life by teaching me this.

# 4.  My husband was seeing a sex addiction specialist.  After Michelle’s suggestion that I tell my husband my feelings, we started seeing her as a couple.  It was difficult for me to tell him that I was angry, resentful and was no longer in love – but Michelle had given me the strength to do so.  I cried in every session for the first month as I spoke my truth.  After that we continued to see her as a couples therapist for about 2 more years.  There were no more emotional sessions after that first month.  She phoned it in and we allowed that.  In our final session last year I said that I still feared my husband was lying.  She laughed at me.  No lie.  She insulted my instincts and said that if he were lying that SHE WOULD KNOW and that he would be incredibly sick.  Such betrayal from a therapist could be considered malpractice.  2 months later I discovered I was right and that he had been lying for the past 6 years.  She never checked in with me after that.  She still sees my husband and takes credit for his now being honest.  Her ego can’t see it any other way.

# 5.  I tried seeing another therapist who worked at the same clinic as therapist # 4.  This one was supposed to be an expert in sex addiction as well but held such anger toward my husband it was shocking.  Here I was a woman who still deeply loved and understood her husband and this woman would refer to him as a “dude” and kept suggesting that I wouldn’t stay in the marriage once I got some therapy under my belt.  It didn’t feel like a safe place for me to talk through my feelings…not when the response was so very one sided.

# 6.  I found a therapist who only deals with partners of sex addicts.  She is fair, warm, intelligent & understanding.  But she pushes me so hard to look at my role, my family of origin, my “addictions”.  I cry in most sessions (and I am not a cryer).  I have seen unprecedented growth with her.  Yes, part of it is my willingness – but she takes if from there.  When I am uncomfortable she allows me to hesitate but never lets me off the hook.  Never allows me to change the subject.

Therapy is important business.  It’s so vital to find the right match.  It’s not easy and can take years.  If your therapist has an attitude or an ego you aren’t going to get the attention you need.  If they don’t know how to push you to very uncomfortable places then you won’t have growth. During the therapy process you will often times go to scary and sad places and need someone who is going to know when you have gone far enough – and someone who can sympathize.

Your therapist should never shame or embarrass you.  If you can’t tell them the darkest secret you hold then find someone else.  If you don’t leave most sessions with a clearer understanding of why you are/react/feel/think the way you do, then find someone else.  If you feel you are at a comfortable plateau, find someone else.

They are tough shoes to fill but there are amazing therapists in the world and if you find the right one they can change your life.

Another relapse

Three sex addicts that my husband knows have relapsed in the past few weeks.  Two of them were discovered by their wives.  The third one came clean of his own accord and made the heart wrenching decision to tell his wife about his mistake.  There are many complicated issues at play within any addictive behavior, but in my opinion the man who is willing to admit his powerlessness and ask for help and forgiveness seems so much further down the road in recovery than the others.  It seems that he is truly serious about beating his addiction and understands that he can not remain sober without complete honesty.  He has taken appropriate actions to start again – a day at a time.  It’s refreshing and comforting to hear that men like him exist in this community of sex addiction.  It gives me hope that there are those who are getting sober not because they have been given an ultimatum from their spouse, but because they don’t want to live in shame and regret and isolation any longer.  

99% of the relapses I hear about are when partners discover some horrid secret by accident – this is also how I found out about my own husbands relapses.  Discovering the secret activities myself added an unimaginable degree of pain to the already devastating information.  Being cheated on is one thing…but being lied to about it is a betrayal that is most difficult to overcome.  Although this latest group of guys who went astray doesn’t include my own husband, I live with the understanding that it could be him tomorrow.  I hope that if and when another relapse plagues us that he will have the courage to tell me and together we can figure out how best to proceed.  

Hope for the best – Plan for the worst

He cried and said he is sorry and promised on a pile of dead relatives that it will never happen again…but that doesn’t mean it’s over forever.  There is an extremely good chance that your addict husband will, sooner or later, have a relapse.   Though my experience is with sex addiction, this also applies to alcohol, drugs, gambling, debting or any other addiction.

 
Sadly, you can’t change the fact that 80% of people in recovery will relapse.  What you CAN do is focus on taking care of yourself so that if and when you find out that his sobriety isn’t what you hoped or thought it was, you won’t end up curled up in a ball in the back of your closet.  You will be able to continue to function and flourish in your own life even while he messes up his.

 
Whether you found out a week, a year or a decade ago that your partner is a sex addict my advice is the same:  Attend al-anon or s-anon meetings, get a sponsor, work the 12 steps and if possible, find a therapist who works in addiction.  Read books on addiction, educate yourself, put down strong boundaries.  It’s vitally important to have a support group of people who understand what you are going through – it will make all the difference in the world if you are ever blindsided by his cheating again.  The best case scenario is that he remains sober for the rest of his days – but in that case you can be a friend to the others in your support group who may not be so lucky.  And that’s a win for all of us.

 

Growing Pains

The very reason for living is to grow and learn and develop ourselves and our relationships in a positive way.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  Sometimes it seems so much easier to be lazy about change, to accept the status quo, to ignore the very hard work and live out my days within my learned comfort zone.  
 
Since the discovery of my husbands addiction and relapse I have finally and actively been working on myself.  Sometimes the work gets very painful…but I try to keep a vision of greater serenity mind to help me through those times.  My husband is also working to reach new levels or awareness and grace in his own life.  It’s an amazing thing we are both doing.
 
Lately, I have started to recognize that we are not growing at the same pace – or perhaps, because we started at such different points it just feels that way.  He lived in a dark place for so long and now that he has been catapulted into the light he is experiencing a level of joy in his life that he has never felt before.  I am sincerely happy for him.  I, on the other hand, went from my light, airy, peaceful and safe place to being plunged into a place of darkness, mistrust and fear.  Essentially, I have been buried under all the shit that my husband abandoned when he committed to sobriety.  
 
We are both going to need to work at accepting that we are each at different points on our paths.  We are going to have to be aware of resentments about this when they arise.  My husband won’t always want to deal with my mistrust or suspicions that still exist as they remind him of a time he is trying to move on from.  At the same time, I will need to control my envy that he is now living in that happy place where everything seems golden…that place where I USED to live, before his actions destroyed that.  Getting us to the next level in our relationship is going to require a lot of understanding, forgiveness and honest communication.  As the partner of a sex addict I can say that it doesn’t feel fair – indeed, it is NOT fair – but I have chosen of my free will to stay so fairness aside, I need to commit to not blaming him and not interfering with his positive growth.  Being a person who can do that proves that I am already headed back toward the path to my recovery and return to my own place of joy.