What Kind of Primary Relationship Does the Treatment Industry Have in Mind for You?

Are you wondering when someone in the treatment program is going to advocate and act for your interests? I’m talking about basic stuff—like what you need to know right now about his sexual and sexualized activities, or responding to your concerns that having him around right now makes you hypervigilant and unable to function, or asking them to recognize that blaming you for his behaviours is particularly heinous, etc.

Well, I hope you are wearing comfortable shoes. It will be a long wait.

The relationship paradigm underneath the prevailing treatment program (as with the many religious groups involved with recovery programs for men called sex addicts) is based on the man’s best interests being served first, foremost, always. It’s not a temporary therapeutic priority. It’s permanent. You don’t get an adult back as a life partner. You get a treatment industry approved non-adult project. And often a mean one, at that.

Maybe you have been noticing that many sex addiction treatment operations (religious and otherwise) assume your role is to serve him and his needs while setting your own aside on the recovery “to do” list. Sometimes that’s easy to accept because you are so numb and so used to putting yourself last that it never even crosses your mind to check in with yourself and care about what you find there. Is that what you want in a primary relationship? Or have you just washed up on this beach after years of his grooming you to accept so much less than enough?

It takes years of socialized grooming for usually strong women to be this vulnerable to manipulation and neglect, when what they need most is immediate help and safety. It takes the reality of crippling PTSD symptoms to make us even more pliable to those who mouth words of “understanding”, pat our hand while we weep uncontrollably, and then tell us that we need to stay with him for recovery to be possible. If we hesitate, they give a dire warning: What if he gets all better and finds someone else to enjoy the benefits of recovery even though you put up with the hard stuff, and all because you thought you needed to live apart for a while?  Really, what kind of people do this to trauma victims? Apparently, these people.

So, let’s ask the bigger question again, “What kind of primary relationship does the treatment industry have in mind for you?”

I want to make it clear that two people in a primary relationship have the right to live out that relationship as they themselves determine. As clergy, when I married people, I always told my bride and groom to choose what kind of marriage they wanted together, and to change it anytime they wanted as long as they changed it together. No one person in the relationship gets to do that without consulting and negotiating and coming to an agreement together. This, however, presumes an equitable distribution of power and a foundation in something I call Positive Mutuality. Now, positive mutuality may not even be in your vocabulary, but I can tell you that positive mutuality is not what the treatment industry is serving up.

Why you need to know what positive mutuality means

Most treatment practitioners and programs do not make it clear that their program is designed to serve the man called a sex addict’s best interests, and that they act for his best interests wherever there may be a conflict between his best interests and yours. They do not act to create, foster, or reference a primary relationship model in which you are as important as the man called a sex addict.

Let’s make it clearer. You are not their clinical priority. Your importance is that you are the one who brings the business in and keeping you involved will keep him involved (and paying). You also can be useful to support and facilitate accountability programs, if you are co-operative. They never see your relationship as one in which your needs and priorities are as important as their program goals and his right to have his needs control the relationship. Sadly, his control of the relationship is based on his deficiencies and negative core values instead of his gifts and positive core values. That last sentence is really important.

Seriously, is that what you signed up for? Or has this become the default setting that suits him and suits the people taking your money?

HINT: This is where knowing whether you choose positive mutuality in your primary relationship is important.

So, what does positive mutuality mean?

For some years now I’ve been talking about positive mutuality in my work with wives and partners. It’s a term I created to describe the kind of relationship that celebrates positive core values and how we can share them in our primary relationship. I understand that this is not the relationship some women seek. But my concern is that those who do seek it will be served up something that is a complete contradiction in model and practice.

Positive mutuality is based on the fair exchange of positive value for positive value. That means two people can choose what “fair” means. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. But importantly, the term positive mutuality also means the exchange is about positive value. That’s a very different approach than you will find running behind the treatment industry and the religious groups who get into the recovery business. In those cases, you offer primarily positive value, and he offers primarily negative value. The program then gives you work that pretends to protect you from the abuse you will endure from him. On a good day, it might work. On most days, it won’t. And if that sounds like domestic violence, that’s because it is. 

However you thought you began in your primary relationship, you are not there now. You have learned that he was never on the same page as you were in terms of core values or in his capacity to honour marital declarations of intent, vows, or any promises made privately or publicly. Are you willing to continue in a relationship that is now openly defined and constrained by his character deficiencies and poisoned by his negative core values—so much so that you have to create rules, boundaries and consequences in an attempt to keep him from abusing you? That’s where you go when the treatment industry is in the driver’s seat.

Positively mutuality is the antithesis of their agenda.

For now, briefly recall your panic, fear, and distress after discovery (recall but don’t park there.) Remember your frantic internet searches for information and help. Identify your goals behind all that work and even more work that you did in response to dday. Were you looking to examine the dynamics of your relationship? Were you hoping to identify his abusive traits? Did you expect to change the entire course of your interactions?

I have a hunch the answer to those questions is, “No.” 

Like most of us, you were trying to spackle this big crack that you never saw before, and carefully match the paint so it would be repaired, covered, and things would be normal again. But a close examination of how he found his way to do this to you for years and lie about it to your face at the same time—this was not your priority.

Desperate traumatized women are sitting ducks for participating in recovery relationship paradigms they would never accept if they were spelled out honestly and intentionally. Even if we do have questions we think we will straighten it out later, but what a big mistake that is! Any set up where his life is more important than yours is never going to straighten out. Covert abusers who are found out do not surrender power given back to them in recovery.

Some religiously based outfits don’t even admit that the reason you are never a priority for care is because they actually believe he’s more important that you in the sacred order of life. Even worse, they will ignore and “disappear” the signs of abuse you have endured and concerns about the safety of vulnerable others in order to protect his reputation and career at your expense. Is that really “okay” with you?

Let’s not forget that the prevailing sex addict-created and addict-centered treatment model has never made wives and partners a priority for care. Only with relentless advocacy was it shamed into hiding their misogyny more carefully than they used to when they were forced to abandon their hateful labelling wives and partners as co-sex addicts/co-addicts/codependents. “Hiding” their abusive posture toward women wasn’t the goal of the many advocates for women who took on the industry—we wanted it gone! But it’s a very powerful industry and there is no internal motivation for improvement. They don’t care that women suffer in relationships where men with character deficits and negative core values are enabled to have control again.  

Let’s face it, if these problems within his character and core values are not addressed in treatment and recovery programs, how are you going to get them addressed?  Once he’s given the “all clear and sober” by the so-called professionals, do you imagine he is going to be receptive to doing more work to satisfy your expectations? He’s primed and ready to take hold of his power again and never let it go.

Readers, you need to know from the start what your position is in the relationship paradigm set out in the treatment approach. Don’t be patronized by dismissive or belittling responses. If you want a relationship based on positive mutuality you need to be able to see that from start to finish. That means they do not protect his best interests over what yours might be. In addition, his sobriety is not complete without him taking responsibility for repairing his character deficits and regulating his negative core values himself. That’s not your job. It’s his. If your practitioners don’t make that a priority they aren’t making your needs a priority. And when they start feeding you a lot of “boundary” homework, you can know for sure that they are offloading the job of his adult self-regulation onto you. You are now taking responsibility for staying safe in a relationship with an unsafe person.

Our experiences as wives and partners of these men are devastating in heart, mind, body and spirit. We want help. But we aren’t necessarily getting it. Still, it is our core values that hold us together and reveal the meaning of our lives. Now is not the time to abandon the core value questions at hand:

  • What kind of primary relationship does the treatment industry have in mind for you?

  • What kind of primary relationship do you have in mind?

I believe that in asking the real core values questions we find the way forward to healing, wholeness, and abundant life. But you need leaders and practitioners who possess depth, understanding, experience and commitment to your life as an equal priority. If you are ready to talk about what’s happening in your life, click on the second link below and book a trial session. Or, if you are looking for hands-on skilled care and company, click on the link below under “RETREATS JUST FOR YOU”, and choose one of upcoming retreats locations for an experience that helps you know what being a priority feels like. Please know, your story is safe here.

With you,

Diane

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Diane Strickland