I love my mother-in-law. She can be nutty, but I adore her and I am deeply thankful for her presence in my life. We didn’t always get along and still have to work to understand each other. This is a fact of life, though, and is not unique to mother/daughter-in-law relationships. Sex addiction has really made navigating our relationship very confusing at times, but we hold together and talk to each other and make it through.
When something as difficult to handle as sex addiction enters into a family system, or is discovered, it is a very human reaction to search default to “whose fault is it”. Hard things are, well, hard. So when we face realities that makes us feel all the emotions that are something we don’t want to face the easiest default action is blame.
If you pick up any book written about sex addiction (or any other addiction or mental health issue for that matter) in the last 10 years, you’ll find that the bulk of explaining the why of addiction is heavily rooted in family of origin observations. You’ll read about “families who were cut off emotionally”, “unable to process negative emotions”, and have a myriad of other armchair diagnosed dysfunctions. I’ve felt the pressure and the lure of blaming the family of origin.
“Of COURSE Garrett is this or that way… his so and so is this or THAT way.”
I’ve wanted to pass the buck and somehow free Garrett of responsibility in exchange for blaming his parents. It is much easier to say they messed him up. It is much easier to believe that he is that way because of every other reason except his own choice.
And there is truth there, still. In essence ALL of us are screwed up because of our parents. All of us carry baggage from being raised by and in relationships with other humans. It is inevitable. Sometimes recognizing that our family of origins had patterns of relating that helped us land where we land makes us feel less “broken”. Sometimes understanding the dynamics helps us move on, and that is good. What isn’t good is when we allow ourselves to damage other fallible humans because of their humanity. When facing the destruction of sexual addiction in a family system we must be gentle with one another. Here is my how to list, compiled from my own experience.
This principle can be easier if you have children of your own. Walking through staying married to your sex addict partner or separating with your sex addict partner, embracing grace first will be a powerful tool. Grace is not ignoring, it is not a free pass, and it is not “making nice”. Grace is the mindful recognition that YOU MAKE MISTAKES TOO. I try and remember that years from now my sons and daughter could very well be sitting across from a therapist crying about how I screwed them up.
Empower the Process
Does your sex addict partner report that his or her family is the cause of some of the problems they’ve had? Awesome. Acknowledge the reality and then determine how that knowledge will inform your future. Don’t stew and seek to retaliate. Determine (with or without your partner) how the information will effect boundaries.
- Do you need to establish new boundaries
- Do you need to re-work old boundaries
- Do you need to process through what you feel with a therapist?
- Do you need to talk to the offending family members?
Whatever you decide to do should come from a place that is empowering and NOT reactionary.
It is easy to want to find a reason and explanation for the hard realities of our life. Don’t get swept away with this distraction. Keep a sober mind and understand that regardless of what happened to a person, they are still fully responsible for their actions as an adult. You have a right to your pain and difficult experiences. It is easy to feel bad about being angry toward and addict when “someone else caused him/her to be that way”. Nothing changes what you experienced.
Don’t Become Rigid
When people begin to feel unsafe I tend to respond by becoming very rigid. I do this because I am afraid of being hurt and being vulnerable feels like too much. If you are tempted to respond this way, take a step back and dare to lean into people. By this I mean, dare to communicate: “This situation is confusing for me and I feel afraid,” instead of becoming so rigid that you push people away from you. When the dust settles, especially when children are involved, I believe it is better to have bonds in tact rather than severed from reactionary living.
Even if you aren’t struggling with sex addiction in your family, can you see yourself in any of these instances? What ways do you work to try and stay grounded during emotional storms?