Flowers. Candy. Chocolate. Romance. Silly love songs. Cards. Lots of cards. Cards with hearts. Cards with words of love. Cards of adoration. Cards of “my one and only” and promises of forever.
But if your relationship has been shattered by sex or porn addiction all the cards feel like lies. The sugary words and happy, smiling faces seem to mock you and the naive fantasies you had of love conquering all. Instead, you’re robbed of what other women look forward to, of what you believed in, of what you deserved. What you are left with is grief over your lost hopes and dreams. Your trust in the power of love is gone.
You may have had sweet memories of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of your love. But now you wonder if it was all a sham. Or, if your mate’s sex addiction is accompanied by intimacy anorexia and love avoidance, your Valentine’s memories may be of loneliness, sabotage, token gifts and token efforts designed to underscore how little you meant to your spouse. You may have resigned yourself to the intimacy deprivation, told yourself that it didn’t matter, that you didn’t need to feel cherished by your mate. But now you know that you were lying to yourself.
Regardless of what your Valentines past looked like, facing those cards now unleashes an avalanche of feelings: sadness, anger, shame, shock, nausea, betrayal, grief. Whether the discovery or disclosure bomb has recently gone off or you are further down the road in the recovery process, Valentine’s Day is likely to be a huge trigger for additional pain. It will be particularly difficult if this is the first Valentine’s Day since disclosure or if it signals a season of pain – a series of predictable triggers that occur in relatively close proximity, such as your wedding anniversary, birthday, D-day (discovery day) anniversary, etc., that may make you feel as if you are running a grief gauntlet.
Know that as painful as they are, your feelings are normal and ultimately you will get through them. Don’t look too far ahead. Just get through each day, one day at a time, until the grief eases and the next emotional hurdle presents itself. If you’re faced with the choice of going through the motions of empty Valentine’s Day rituals or burying your head in the sand and trying to pretend the day doesn’t exist, consider toning it down, tearing it up, and taking it back instead.
Tone down the day by reducing the obligatory relationship activities as well as your expectations of yourself to not feel sorrow. Tear it up by journaling your heartbreak or collecting the cards that most represent the lies, deceit, illusions that are now trapped inside of you and tear them up, preferably in some deliciously, destructive way. Shred them, rip them, bury them, burn them – release the pain about the losses the cards symbolize.Take it back by making the day about cherishing yourself. Seeking the support of a healing community of women who understand your pain, such as a COSA, S-Anon, RCA, or Married & Alone group will provide an emotionally safe outlet.
Set your boundaries about what you do and do not want from your mate. Be specific with your mate about what you do not want from him and the expectations you have for what you do want. For example, “I do not want a card, flowers or to out to a restaurant. But I would like for you to pick up supper at my favorite diner and help the kids with homework so I can take a bubble bath and journal afterwards.”
Be fair. If your mate respects your boundaries and you’re disappointed, own your feelings but don’t blame him for following your requests, and don’t expect him to mind read or hit him with, “you should have known.” Even great mind readers can’t decipher what you yourself didn’t know.
Dr. Janice Caudill, founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery, is a psychologist who specializes in helping individuals and couples heal from sex addiction, intimacy anorexia and relational trauma. McKinney Counseling & Recovery serves the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Frisco, Dallas and Sherman area.