Your partner is probably both, and is potentially an addict or potentially an asshole. I get asked this question all the time and it is not a one time question. A lot of my betrayed partners experience ranges of emotions when the event or events or relapses take place and they have every right to be pissed and this question is asked constantly, from the moment of betrayal, and frequently during recovery. I would like to explore more about what the question means in context of therapy.
What is an asshole?
My cat pushes my purse off the counter while looking at me, he’s an asshole, but he’s annoying me. Is intentionally betraying me, being selfish, dishonest, gaslighting, lying, manipulating, and making them feel hurt on purpose? No. He’s just acting like an asshole at that moment.
It is more about the behavior, they are just being an asshole, or committing assholery.
Being an asshole and being an addict comes down to Intentionality. One of the elements of addiction vs asshole that is so confusing and requires a third party are the behaviors, the lying, selfish, dishonest, manipulative that do accompany addiction, that by all standards are for sure ASSHOLE behaviors. It might seem that way to the betrayed partner, but for the person with the addiction, typically it is compulsive. There is no premeditation or intention to be hurtful, spiteful, or vengeful.
When is it an addiction?
Addiction is a package deal. Lots of behaviors come with addiction. Secrecy, lying, deceptive, hiding, omitting, manipulating, all the behaviors are hurtful. Partners can also say they don’t have control and it feels like addiction. To the betrayed partner, it can feel like assholery and my problem as a third party lies in this disparity. One person sees it as compulsive and a problem, the other sees intentionality and that decisions were premeditated.
Finding Middle Ground in Therapy
It is my job to be in the middle of a betrayed partner and an offending partner. I cannot pick sides. I cannot hold the feelings of betrayed partners over the despair over the addict. For some couples, the addictive behavior has gone on so long and started so long ago, it has nothing to do with the current relationship. Perpetuating addictions often means resources and emotions that are not spent in the relationship.
Where is this hurting? Betrayed partners are enraged and many cannot look past the betrayal. With resources spent secretly and outside the relationship, it is very difficult to look past the betrayal. Experiencing compassion for addicts does not have to be your stance as a partner.
As a therapist, I need to go deeper into what exactly happens to an addict. What are the triggers? What goes on? What are the thoughts? What is really happening? This tells me the purpose the behavior serves, conquest, power, control, ability to feel desired or validated without the risk of rejection.
Not every asshole is an addict, not every addict is an asshole, but you have to understand the perspective of whose story it is. The biggest component of the betrayed party when they choose to stay in a relationship is that the addict has a plan and does everything they can to make it up to them. Offending partners need to rebuild the trust with the partner.
The Work and Way Forward
This stuff is WORK. It is heavy. It complicates everything. There are families, friends, work, self care, self esteem, it is a combination of many things. This question is valid and it is important but finding the answer is not the goal for this. What is most important is to see what the person is feeling when they raise this question. The betrayed partner shows that they are conflicted, they need help, and be supported. This question is a doozy, it is loaded and comes with a lot of information. Healing from betrayal and reconciling what happened and how to move forward, this question comes up and it will be asked many times.
Before you ask this question, consider what you are feeling by asking it. Are you doubting your feelings, doubting your partners sincerity? Be clear on where this question is coming from and contact a therapist, practice some self care, or reconsider your plan moving forward.
If you are suffering from Betrayal?I am accepting appointments via Zoom and in office www.julialmft.com.