Finding evidence of your spouse’s sexual infidelity or pornography habit can be emotionally devastating. Particularly if a history of sexually addictive behavior exists, even the plausible suspicion of a relapse can bring on a gut-wrenching, panicky feeling. You cannot simply ignore either of these things; neither willfully ignoring evidence of cheating or addictive behavior, nor letting your suspicions fester unaddressed is healthy. Letting these things go will be harmful to the relationship, harmful to you, and ultimately harmful to your partner. For the sake of everyone involved, sometimes family members of addicts must confront the addict’s behavior.
As difficult as it may be to wait when your emotions feel so urgent, the best thing you can do for yourself, for your spouse, and for your relationship is give yourself a little time before you confront your partner with what you suspect or what you have found. Think about what your goal is for this conversation. Is your goal to vent your anger, or is your goal to get a particular response from your partner (an admission of guilt, an apology, corrective action, or another constructive response)?
If your goal is to elicit a positive response from your spouse and open the way for constructive progress and a return to successful management of the addiction, you need to approach this confrontation in a deliberate, mindful, and careful way; you need to make sure that your approach puts your partner in a position where he or she is able to respond productively rather than defensively. An angry, accusatory tirade will only make your spouse defensive and therefore unreachable; even though you feel the need to shout, insult, and vent the intense emotions you are feeling, doing so in the initial stages of confrontation will effectively shut down communication.
Most addicts of any type are likely to respond defensively when confronted. The addict may at first deny the behavior and attempt to dismiss your suspicions or refute your evidence, and if those attempts fail, then he or she may become angry and attempt to deflect blame for the situation onto you. Underlying these reactions is usually a sense of shame or guilt; accusatory and aggressive approaches will only exacerbate that shame and guilt, and thus increase the defensive response.
Experts on conflict management advise using “I” statements rather than “you” statements in any potentially tense discussion; phrase things in ways that emphasize your own feelings, actions, or needs, because this can help avoid making your partner feel as attacked or cornered as (s)he otherwise might. Instead of angrily blurting out “You cheated on me and I have proof!” try to say, more calmly, something like “I found those explicit texts in your phone. Can we talk about that?”
Try to remember that even though your partner has just hurt you deeply, this is still your spouse whom you love and have a relationship with. Also try to remember that although this fact will not take away one bit of your pain or betrayal, it is still true that your partner has an illness and in many ways has limited control of his or her choices. You have every right to be angry and hurt, and you have a right to express that, but try to find it within yourself to do so with compassion. Tell your spouse that you are hurt, that you feel betrayed, and even that you are angry, but try to do so calmly, and emphasize that you are concerned about your partner’s well-being and that you want to help. This should set a positive, loving tone for the difficult conversation ahead and clarify that even though you are angry, you are an ally, not an accuser or an enemy.
You are still confronting the addictive behavior, but in a less aggressive way, and it may then be harder for the addict to attempt to deny the behavior or respond with plausible anger. Unfortunately, no matter how constructively you confront your spouse’s addictive behavior, he or she may still respond defensively; this may include attempts to deflect the blame onto you, or other hurtful words or actions. Professional counseling may be the only way to really resolve these issues, but in the meantime, it is vital for you to remember that the addict’s behavior is not really about you, and that you are not responsible for his or her choices, behavior, or actions. You are responsible only for your own, and you will have set the stage for the initial phases of your mutual recovery.