Winning Her Back

(To the reader: This letter is written with traditional pronouns. However, it addresses a universal challenge that is shared by our common humanity across all genders, identities, orientations, and culture, race, ability, and faith.)

Dear Sex Addict,

You aced your private life. And you believed that you could always protect your primary partner or family from finding out. Then you got discovered. It happens. Now you’ve got several options.

You can walk away from the relationship and openly have what you kept secret for so long. For some, this is the right thing to do. Your sexual and lifestyle preferences need to come out of the closet for good. You’re doing yourself and your partner a favor by no longer pretending to be someone you are not.

Or you can continue with the same dynamic at home. The weird tension, the double life, the mind games, and the wishful thinking that the elephant in the room will just go away.

But if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to win her back. I want this for you too. Consider this letter a preview of what you’ll need to do over the next year. But I’ll warn you that this is a major turnaround project. Please be clear that this is what you really want before you invest the necessary time and money.

The good news is that most couples who decide to stay together are able to do so. They emerge from the ashes and go on to have a hotter relationship than they dreamed was possible.

The bad news is that the workload isn’t equal. You’ll have to do a lot more personal stretching than your partner. It’s not about being punished or judged. The heart of the problem is that your actions didn’t include her informed consent. You excluded her. To win her back you need to focus on inclusion. Inclusion means mastering a new attitude. It requires that you learn new strategies and tactics.

And it includes accepting a new experience of yourself. Yes, your identity will change as you win her back.  This results from three factors-sobriety,  a trusting partnership, and clearing up any past traumas that drive your addiction.

If you’re ready, here’s what you need to know:

There is an ARTT to winning her back.

  1. Attitude Renewal
  2. Reach Out
  3. Trust Building
  4. Tune Up

1. Attitude Renewal

Discovered sex addiction is like a coin. It has a flip side. Partners have opposing attitudes because they’re reacting from two opposite experiences. Your job is to understand and manage these differing attitudes. This is the single most important key to winning her back.

The paradox is that the betrayed partner needs to talk about what happened, and the sex addict does not.

If you don’t get this, your reconciliation will be weak. Your home and bedroom will become toxic with a growing bitterness, slow burning resentment, and an emotional and sexual Ice Age.

Problems arise when your conflicting needs are misunderstood and neglected. If ignored, her need to talk will come across as nagging, non stop questioning, a roller coaster of freeze-outs followed by flaming wrath, constant suspicion, and trying to control your every move. A perfect recipe for doomed love.

What you need to know is that all of this hostility is driven by one thing: her broken need to know that she can trust you.

This letter is a blueprint for how to convey the deep levels of trust that she rightfully deserves.  Follow it and your cold conflicts will blossom into the sexy warmth of affection. Then both of you can share a heartfelt year of healing.

On the flip side, you’ve had your worst fears come true. Your remorse, shame, guilt, and embarrassment is real. You’ve apologized, said that it won’t happen again and you mean it. You’re ready to put this behind you and move on. Talking only drags you both into the past and makes it worse. And you resent being crucified every time you walk through the door ten minutes late.

While your intentions are good, your approach is called stonewalling. Stonewalling is another recipe for disaster.

My intent is to show you how to dismantle the wall between you and then use those rocks to build a sweet bridge of lasting passion.

This starts with an attitude shift.

You must be willing to exchange your:

  • hubris for humility
  • deceit for decency
  • control for caring
  • detachment for desire

While this shift in attitude sounds simple, maintaining it is work. Stay on track until you get results!

2. Reach Out

There are five “reach outs” that you’ll need to make.

The first three are therapy, counseling, and more therapy. You’ll each need a sex addiction counselor for individual therapy, plus a third one for your couple. Why? Your journey will be far easier. And faster. A neutral third party can coach your relationship past the emotional swamp that’s in front of you. And you also need someone who is neutral and who you can count on to call you on your stuff. Give it a year.

Support groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous are also super important. You need positive energy right now. Groups supply it. How? You’ll get it by just listening to others who have been through what you’re going through. And if you want to unburden yourself, you’ll get the relief of being able to talk without being judged.  Start shopping for your group at saa-recovery.org

The fifth reach out is to your partner. It’s on you to show that you cherish her. I call this a Reach Out of Care and Kindness. Yes, you have to ROCK your relationship. This means creating regular friendly moments. You’re not discussing problems, or your remorse, or her anger. Keep it light and nonverbal. A brief shoulder massage, making her coffee, a weekly flower. Anything easy that leaves you both feeling a bit more connected. If you don’t know what to do, ask her what she would like.

3. Trust Building

All healthy relationships are grounded in trust. In all adult relationships, trust is earned, or conditional. Unearned, or unconditional trust is only given in childhood and is a parent-child dynamic. Because our emotional coding got laid down in childhood, we often unconsciously assume that the same rules apply to primary adult love relationships. We believe that our partners should unconditionally trust us. Wrong!

You job is to keep building trust in ways that counterbalance your previous deeds.

Trust building includes sobriety, but is so much more than that. It just doesn’t work to say, “Darling, I promise I’m over my addiction, so you can trust me again.” You have to take action. If your addiction lasted for years, be prepared to allow at least a year of trust building in order to begin to establish that you are now trustworthy.

Warning- watch how you react as you read the following information. I say this because learning about the methods that build trust often triggers anger, sarcasm, contempt, or a sense of being the victim. If this happens to you, simply notice and accept your reactions.  Don’t act on them or shut down. Your response comes from the part of you that wants to continue with feeling the power of sexual independence and the thrill of secrecy. But you’ve already decided that those parts no longer get to be in control. Protecting those parts is not more important than winning her back, right?

There are five ways to build trust. You’ll need to use all five at every opportunity until they become habits.  At first, many of these will feel awkward and pointless. Stay with it. They’ll get easier and you will get results.  They include being:

    • Accountable
    • Transparent
    • Empathic
    • Communicative
    • Mindful

Accountability and Trust Building

Accountability comes from two sources, Raw Honesty and the Power Apology.

1) Raw Honesty. When asked, and only when asked,tell 100% of what you did, describe every deceit and event. Don’t privately decide, “Oh, I won’t tell that story…or… I’ll just leave out the details because I don’t want another fight/to hurt her/it doesn’t matter”. If you are a sex addict, just learning to come clean will take the support of your group and therapists.  Owning up is a process that can take months.

2) Power Apology. Mastering the art of apologizing will also take a while.  Real apology is not a weak and ineffectual, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” Here are the four steps to a Power Apology.

  • Describe what you did.  She deserves to have her questions answered. Don’t mince words. You need to really own it. “Yes, I took 30K from our IRA and blew it all on a sex vacation when I told you I was on a business trip. I spent 20K on over forty sex workers, and came home with a disease that we both need to be retested for. I did that, and lied through my teeth to you, the kids, our financial advisor, and my boss. And that was only the first time.”
  • Describe the damage done. Show her that you have insight. How much money did it cost? How much did you expose your family or your career to risk? Did your sex partners come to your home or office? Handle your credit cards? See pictures of your kids?Meet your kids? Take precious vacation time away from your family?  Upload photos they took of you?  Posted on FB about you?
  • Describe what 1) and 2) did to your partner. Show her your empathy. Use adjectives for feelings: Yu must feel shocked, bitter, heartbroken, confused, angry, stunned, enraged…
  • State what you’ve done to ensure that it does not happen again.  Show her that you are accountable by taking action. “I’ve blocked their texts and emails, changed my credit cards, I’m going to therapy, I’ve booked us that holiday you always wanted”…

Transparency and Trust Building

Transparency is one of the toughest parts in winning her back. You’re used to secrecy. Now you have to give it up, willingly, every day, until you have earned her trust.
Transparency means turning over all of your passwords to accounts, emails, social media, and phones. Transparency also means calling her every time you have a change of plans. It means texting a time dated picture of yourself when you are out late, or traveling, or if she just needs to know, throughout the day. This may sound harsh, but it benefits you. The more she sees evidence of your innocence, the sooner she will trust. Another important point is that your voluntary transparency will bring you both peace of mind. That’s because the more that you provide transparency, the less she’ll need to ask questions. Believe me, she hates surveillance as much as you do. Volunteer the information, and you end this cycle of mutual seething resentment.
Also know that transparency can feel like being controlled or intruded upon. Because of this, it often brings up ugly memories and feelings from an addict’s childhood with hyper controlling and invasive parents. Inexplicable rage and resistance to being transparent are common reactions. Your SA group, and couples’ and individual therapist can help you understand, manage, and heal this.

Empathy and Trust Building

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the emotions of another person. Hot relationships have lots of empathy. For sex addicts, this is a big problem. That’s because the definition of addiction includes not being able to access the full spectrum of emotion. Did you know that you may be way more numbed out than most people? It’s true. And the degree to which addicts can’t sense their own range of feelings is the degree to which they are incapable of empathy. The good news is that empathy can be learned. But as with any new skill, it requires patience and practice.
Your motivation is that the more you empathize, the more you build trust. Why? When you empathize, part of you echoes that same feeling. Empathic people feel the pain of the person that they hurt as though it is their own pain. When she sees that you are hurt by her suffering, she’s going to sense that you are less likely to hurt her in the future. You become emotionally safe. Books, Youtube, and therapists are great resources for learning the art of empathy. Also the popular Netflix series Sense8 is all about extreme empathy.  Communication and Trust Building
Awesome communicators have a laser beam’s precision for both listening and speaking. This reduces their misunderstandings, frustrations, and conflicts. Guess what increases? Trust. This is one of the easier skillsets to acquire.   You can learn it on Youtube, in a class, in a group or in therapy. I love Youtubes’ Woman with a Nail in Her Head, The Manslater, and the famous Mark Gungor’s Tale of Two Brains. These comedies will inspire you to get serious and learn to communicate.

Mindfulness and Trust Building

Mindfulness means being aware of and calmly accepting your thoughts and emotions in each moment. This is the opposite from reacting from a charged up state.  Mindfulness means you experience your emotions without allowing yourself to be pushed around by their intensity. Mindfulness means staying with your intention of winning her back, rather than sliding into your old habits. If you’re managing your impulses, you’re being mindful. If you’re patiently being transparent even when it’s irritating, you’re being mindful. If you’re remembering to do your daily or weekly ROCK, even she’s not appreciative, you’re being mindful. When you carefully use your new communication skills, especially when you want to slam the door as you leave the room, you’re being mindful. When you remember to inject empathy into your converstions, you’re being mindful. The app “Headspace” is an excellent training  tool in mindfulness. Listen ten minutes daily for thirty days. Then look back, and compare your habits from only a month ago. Most everyone is surprised to notice an uptick in feeling calm and focused, and less caught up in their own emo drama.

4. Tune Up

A psychological Tune Up is a deep dive into the core wounds that addiction has always covered up. Core wounds are the hurtful, enraging things that were done to you, usually in childhood. You’ve probably never connected your early years to your addiction. But the past usually does play a strong role in the development of sex addiction. You need to understand that connection because doing so will make staying sober far, far easier. When you heal those old emotional wounds, you’re less driven by impulses and are more clear and calm. You also do this because your partner needs to know that you are psychologically grounded. She cannot and should not trust you unless you have completed a psychological Tune Up.  This requires working with a skilled professional.I recommend therapists who are cross-trained in sex addiction, Relational Life Therapy (see terryreal.com), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (see mdria.site-ym.com).

 

There you have it, the proven roadmap to get your partnership to a better place. Your upcoming groups and therapy will reflect a similar message, with some variations from what I’ve said.  Give yourself time, you shouldn’t expect to be competent with these skills for a while. You just have to be willing to ACE it:

Attitude – have an open attitude to learning about your couples journey

Consistent – be consistent in order to get the results you want

Experiment – with what you learn. Discover what works best and practice, practice, practice.

I truly wish you both every success and happiness.

Warmly,
Valerie

PS – Stay tuned. My next letter will be to your partner. She also needs to know what her tasks are in the year ahead.

Articles Val's Advice

Couples therapy, Valerie J. Keim MFT

Hey Val,
My boyfriend won’t talk to me. We started off 6 years ago living together happily but have slowly grown apart. I don’t know him or his feelings and he won’t have long conversations with me anymore. I can’t get him to open up. This makes me so lonely and so frustrated. He just seems like he is no longer interested. I love him but can’t see a future for us if this continues. At what point do I give him the ultimatum?
– Burned Betty

Dear Betty,
First, please know that you are not alone. This is one of the most common problems that drive couples into therapy. Usually but not always, I see the woman dragging a silent but compliant man into my office. He typically is content with the relationship, wonders what the fuss is all about, and agrees to attend in the hope that counseling will make her happy.

But it sounds like you are starved for closeness and warmth. My guess is that you are actually trapped by your own strength and talent, which is verbal communication.

Look, women have been historically shut out of expressing themselves through worldly achievements. As a result, we developed the SuperPower of relational expression. Men have been busy bonding with one another and expressing themselves through everything from creating armies and conquering the world, to making poetry, art and architecture. While men built civilizations, we nurtured them. Stuck at home for millenia, women learned to excel at talking as a means to build family, community and culture. Our dependence on verbal skills is intense because we had so few outlets!

But now that we have unleashed ourselves into the world and joined the guys, we mistakenly assume that they all share our SuperPower. Guess what? They don’t.

I’d like to invite you to put your SuperPower to the side, and learn a bit about how guys generate emotional connection. It sounds incredulous, but their channels of communication, bonding, and self expression are way more multi-channeled than women think. We mistakenly assume that they don’t communicate well simply because we don’t recognize the channels they use.

The good news is that you can master these channels and get more of what you need from your boyfriend. But for now, please consider saving the talk channel for those who are most energized by it, such as your female tribe.

I’d like to offer a few tips. We’ll start by remembering that 80% of communication is non verbal. Under no circumstances, ever, would I ask you to give up your voice. But I do want you to take your voice into a new dimension. I suggest a serious but weird project. I want you to conduct a field experiment for half of your shared time each day, for two weeks: pretend that you are mute. Deliberately use generous amounts of time in silence as a tool to get close. Be creative. A wink, a touch, a toss of your head will draw him to you more than words.

Also remember that we can form deep, but different, bonds by doing things together. Bonding can occur in silence through action. So do lots of fun stuff with him. Your mutual body language (which contains the poetry of your couple’s soul) will be signaling, “I’m happy right now” more powerfully than speech. This is foundational for warmth and closeness.

Remain playful, curious, and partially nonverbal. Be attentive to his signals. The more that you engage in his channels, the more his defenses against your SuperPower will melt. Be prepared to respond non verbally as he starts tuning into you. As you practice this new language, your rapport will grow in new and unexpected ways. If, after two weeks, you still want him to learn verbal communication skills, seek counseling. You will have earned the right to ask for this, because you took the effort to learn his language.

This column is for educational purposes only and is not online counseling or psychotherapy.
Valerie J. Keim, MFT, answers your questions on relationships, parenting, stress, trauma, personal growth and more.

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