“Discovery” is a term that has come to mean the event or period of time in which a sex addiction is discovered by a partner or spouse. Partners of sex addicts describe discovery as an intensely traumatic experience that hits with the impact of an earthquake, upending her life and casting doubt on everything she believed to be true about her relationship. It is usually the start of a long period of living on an emotional rollercoaster.
For the sex addict, discovery is when the public life and secret life begin to come together, often with a huge crash. Although some sex addicts voluntarily disclose their sexual betrayals to their partner, research indicates that more often the discovery occurs when the partner stumbles across evidence or follows her suspicions down a trail of questions. This starts the process of the addict slowly leaking the information out, typically as series of confessions rather than a carefully decided upon and executed disclosure.
The earthquake for the recovering sex addicts I counsel is most often the intensity and duration of their partner’s response. Focusing on owning and recovering from the compulsivity that drives sexual acting out can be difficult to do for the addict who is repeatedly ducking and diving from his partner’s pain and anger, or the addict who is trying to save his relationship by tending to his partner’s pain but somehow his instincts on how to do so only manage to make her the discovery worse.
Ironically, while the addict may be feeling shock or shame at the dawning realization of the damage the addiction has done in his life or feeling fear the relationship cannot survive, or remorse for the pain his partner is now experiencing, some may simultaneously feel a sense of relief. Secrets are a burden that when carried over time numbs the bearer to how heavy they really are. Letting go of those secrets during discovery can be a wake up call helping the addict to lighten the load by releasing the secrets. For many, beginning a recovery process instills a sense of hope that may have previously been buried.
Discovery can be a tumultuous time for the addict experiencing a host of seemingly contradictory thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Although research on the discovery process exists, the majority is from the perspective of the partner. Despite numerous subjective accounts, little has been done on systematically examining the discovery process from the recovering addicts perspective. If you would like to contribute to this body of knowledge, consider participating in the “Discovery” survey. The information will be used to help make professionals and recovering individuals more aware of ‘discovery’ issues that need to be addressed during recovery.
Dr Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and 3-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Prosper, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.