How the mind is affected by the discovery of sex or porn addiction in your relationship

The shock of hearing about your partner’s sex addiction and/or porn addiction has a devastating effect on the mind, body and soul.  This blog series will focus on how the mind, body and soul is affected by the discovery of sex addiction in your relationship.  This blog will focus on the mind.

How did you find out?

Discovery of sex addiction in your relationship can happen in a variety of ways and each way is very distressing and shocking to the partner.  Discovery can range from one dramatic moment of revelation to a slow drip of information being revealed over time.  Discovery is traumatic.

How our minds react to trauma

When we experience trauma, we initially go into shock, the rational thinking part of the brain switches off and the survival part of our brain kicks in.  Our brain prepares to either fight, flight or freeze depending on what the situation requires.  When you heard the news about your partner’s betrayal, you may have rushed from the room (flight), you may have screamed and hit your partner (fight) or you may have sat down feeling numb and unable to talk (freeze).  These are all normal reactions to receiving a shock.

What happens when shock dissipates

Once the shock of discovery starts to dissipate, a flood of other emotions can be experienced.  These emotions can range from anger, grief, shame, through to disgust, fear and disbelief, etc.  Partners comment that they feel like they are going crazy because one minute they are feeling ‘okay’ and then the next they are flooded with rage and they don’t know what do with the rage.  What you are feeling, and thinking is perfectly normal.  Your whole world has been turned upside down and your mind is trying to play catch up and make sense of it all.  It is very unsettling when your mind is on an emotional roller coaster.

I feel out of control

It is common for partners to be hyper vigilant after discovery.  They are on high alert to spot further acting out behaviour.  Your mind is trying to protect itself from further danger and more hurt.  Be on high alert the whole time is very tiring on the mind and on your body (we will talk more on the effects on the body in the next blog).  Understanding what ‘triggers’ your mind into high alert will help you to reassure yourself that you are not in danger and learn to calm your mind.  Here are two examples of situations when your mind could be triggered:

You are out with your partner and a pretty girl walks by:

- THOUGHT: was my partner looking at the pretty girl?

- THOUGHT: I am fat and ugly

- THOUGHT: I hate my partner for putting me in this situation

When your partner is late from work or away on business

- THOUGHT: is he/she visiting a sex worker, is that why they are late?

- THOUGHT: is he/she acting out in the hotel room?

- THOUGHT: he/she didn't kiss me goodbye when they left this morning, are they acting out again?

Partners can get caught in a ‘cycle of reaction’.  The thoughts start to swirl around your head, your body starts to respond (fight, flight, freeze) and then you act out.  This can be either lashing out at your partner, having a panic attack, go start checking partner’s computer or feeling despair and withdrawing.

Taking back control of your mind

It may feel like you have no control over the thoughts racing around your head.   However, you do have the power to control your thoughts.  When our mind is triggered into high alert, the brain needs to get to a place of calm, before it can start thinking rationally again.  Do some breathing and grounding exercises to reduce your heart rate and become aware of your surroundings.  Once your heart rate is down, tell your mind that you are safe, that you are okay and that you will get through this.  Once you feel more grounded again, note to yourself what the trigger was and if this is something that can be avoided in the future e.g. ask your partner to text or call to inform you what time they are going to be home, so you know when they are expected home.

There is much more information on how to control your thinking and reacting in Paula Hall’s book “The Partner’s Perspective”. 

Next blog:  Focus on how the body deals with discovery – physically and emotionally.