I hear from partners from all over the United States (and elsewhere), and there is a growing concern over the treatment of partners in treatment settings, both large and small. These partners describe feeling re-traumatized by how some treatment professionals approach their needs in the therapy office or group room. These partners ask that professionals treat them as individuals with unique histories and stories, rather than what some describe as being treated as “an appendage” of the person with the addiction. Seeking the same level of care, support, and individually designed treatment as anyone else walking into a counseling setting for any situation or condition, many partners report this is not their experience.
Traditional treatment protocols have been what I call addict-centric, with partner treatment seen as necessary in support of effective treatment of the addict. The underlying belief here is that if the partner does well and can be supportive, the addict has a greater chance at success. However, the result of this well-intentioned focus on the addict, often results in:
- Neglect of the partner’s needs
- Neglect of symptoms of trauma
- Neglect of associated triggers, or reactivity, seen in survivors of severe stress or traumatic life events.
Here are just a few examples of possible outcomes of this addict-centric approach with partners:
- Waiting a year for disclosure, because “he is not ready” (although the partner needs the information to make informed decisions).
- Receiving a disclosure without adequate preparation or on-going support for the partner
- Labeling the partner as “co-addicted” simply based upon a relationship, among others.
Partner-sensitive treatment for the addict would offer a treatment experience and process that is respectful and inclusive of an appropriate and thorough assessment of the specific needs of the partner. Treatment decisions for the addict are informed by the needs of the partner and relationship.
There are a growing number of clinicians who are dedicated to develop and promote best practice protocols for partners of sex addicts. We are not satisfied with the status quo and will not participate in processes that contribute to marginalizing, traumatizing, or minimizing the experience of the partner. If you are a clinician, I encourage you to join me in promoting more partner-sensitive treatment options.
In my next blog post, I will highlight examples of what partner-sensitive treatment might look like!