It’s March. Valentine’s Day is a distant memory and wedding season looms. Essentially, this is the time when psychotherapy clients often want to review and discuss their romantic relationships. For clients who struggle with problematic behavioral choices related to love, attachment and intimacy, in particular love addiction (also known as romance addiction and relationship addiction), this can be a very difficult undertaking. These individuals see friends and loved ones finding relationship success, while they take one manic spin after another on the relationship merry-go-round – desperately hoping to find that one special person who can make them feel complete and worthwhile and loved for longer than a few days or weeks at a time.
Debra Kaplan, a psychotherapist working in Tucson, AZ who specializes in trauma, intimacy, and sex addiction treatment has published a new book entitled For Love and Money: Exploring Sexual & Financial Betrayal in Relationships. I recently spoke with Debra about the book, and I wanted to share her thoughts here.
RW: The concept of financial betrayal is not often discussed. Could you explain what financial betrayal is and give some examples?
DK: You’re correct, Rob. Financial betrayal is not often discussed yet it stands as a significant area of discord between couples. Financial betrayal speaks to the hidden use of money, currency, and/or “relational tender” to deceive, exploit, control, and/or manipulate a partner in a committed relationship or marriage. An example might include using a couple’s resources on addictions. When we are speaking about a sex addiction, for instance, the monies or resources might be spent on prostitutes, affairs, the support of an affair partner, and massage parlors.
Amidst revelations of an affair between CIA Director General David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, not to mention the alleged inappropriate communications between Petraeus’ successor in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Petraeus family friend Jill Kelley, one can’t help but wonder: What were these men thinking? Of course, we asked the same question with Tiger Woods, Anthony Wiener, Eliot Spitzer, and a whole bunch of other sexually misbehaving public figures.
Working Out… With Benefits
Until last week, most people probably hadn’t even heard of Kennebunk, Maine, and those who had probably remembered it only as the summer home of former president George H.W. Bush. But that was before the Zumba gym turned prostitution ring opprobrium came to light. Now, once again, we find ourselves in the midst of media frenzy over a sex scandal involving prominent men.
For most people affected by serial sexual or romantic infidelity of a spouse, it’s not so much the extramarital sex or affair itself that causes the deepest pain. What hurts committed partners the most is that their trust and belief in the person closest to them has been shattered. For a healthy, attached, primary partner, the experience of profound and/or unexpected betrayal can be incredibly traumatic. One 2006 study of women who had unexpectedly learned of a loved one’s infidelity reported such women experience acute stress symptoms similar to and characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, it’s only in the past few years that the aftermath of intimate partner and marital betrayal has been considered a legitimate area of study. Today, family counselors and psychotherapists are slowly gaining insight into the traumatic, long-term emotional effects of betrayal of a closely attached partner. As part of this professional growth, those specialists who deal day-in and day-out with marital infidelity and relationship betrayal have become much more open to spotting and treating the oftentimes fragile, rollercoaster emotional state of cheated-on spouses – both male and female.
“Infidelity is the breakdown of trust caused by keeping secrets in an intimate partnership.” – Robert Weiss
The Agony of Betrayal
I’ve employed the above definition to describe cheating ever since the Internet came along in the early 1990’s. When working with clients and their betrayed spouses, I attempt to bring home the concept that it is the betrayal of relationship trust caused by consistent lying, rather than any specific sexual act, that both defines infidelity and causes the deepest pain to the betrayed partner. The emotional violation and trauma experienced by a spouse who is forced to live with ongoing secrets, lies, and the resulting denial of his or her own reality by a cheating partner is indeed deep. The sudden discovery or unraveling awareness that a long-term intimate partner has been living a secret life filled with sexual infidelity—whether that infidelity has been carried out in-vivo (affairs, prostitutes, anonymous sexual partners, etc.) or online (porn, webcams, social media, dating/hookup sites, etc.)—evokes feelings that lead the betrayed partner to question literally everything about his or her relationship.
Nuptial Nonentity, or, Why Go to Weddings When What You Really Want is to Have One?
Late spring and early summer in America is wedding season. If you’re already married, good for you, even though you may now dread this time of year because it means you have to attend the weddings of god only knows how many friends with weird relatives and buy them a gift that’s at least as nice as the one they bought you—not to mention the expense of a new dress (or dresses) and possibly a new suit or tuxedo (if your friends insist on formality), plus plane tickets, car rentals and hotel rooms.
Frankly, it can all get a little expensive. But you didn’t want to go to Hawaii this winter anyway, did you?
If you’re not married, then during this seemingly endless “mating season,” which lasts until mid-September at least, your biological clock/time-bomb is probably ticking double-time as you desperately wonder what the heck is wrong with you that you can’t seem to find Mr./Ms. Right.
—Robert Weiss, 2006
Last week I published a blog on why men cheat. The piece generated an unexpectedly overwhelming response from all sides, with one of the main comments being, “It’s not just men who cheat.” And that statement is absolutely correct! Our cultural stereotypes tell us that it is usually men who step out on wives or girlfriends, but research actually indicates that nearly as many women cheat as men. And it does take two to dance the infidelity tango.
Studies on modern Western culture universally suggest that between 10 and 20 percent of men and women in marriages and other committed, long-term relationships are sexually unfaithful to their spouse or significant other. Interestingly, the reasons men and women cheat often differ by gender, and these reasons tend to parallel our general understanding of male versus female sexuality.
For example, when actively viewing pornography, males are typically more aroused by a rapid-fire succession of visual images, objectified body parts, and concrete sexual acts, whereas females tend to be more responsive to sexual imagery that includes some kind of emotional connection.
Stepping It Up in Treatment
Sex addicts, like many in early addiction recovery, are often highly resistant to the idea of attending 12-step recovery meetings. Their reasons are myriad and usually without merit, though they sure can sound convincing on first listen.
Basically, it boils down to this: individuals who hang out in adult bookstores, cruise local red light districts looking for prostitutes, download hard-core pornography on work computers and masturbate in their office during business hours, post hi-definition photographs of their exposed genitalia on dating websites, and openly announce their extramarital availability on Ashley Madison (with a face photo but without a second thought) are the same folks who become very concerned about being “spotted” at one of “those” meetings.
“What if someone sees me there and thinks I’m a pervert?” they fret. Never mind the fact that these meetings usually take place in churches, school classrooms and local businesses after hours with no neon signs announcing what’s going on. Resistance to change is what it is, and even though sex addicts invite risk when acting out, they are risk averse in terms of being seen in 12-step sexual recovery meetings like SAA, SLAA, SCA, SA, and SRA.
It is therefore up to the addiction therapist, when working with a 12-step-averse client, to bring the themes, neurobiological rewiring, and experience of 12-step recovery into the treatment arena—especially in a group therapy setting. Once the sexual behavior problem has been clearly assessed and client/treatment goals and expectations aligned, sex addiction treatment is well served by the therapist initiating discussions on themes like surrender, feeling out-of-control/powerlessness, developing personal integrity, asking for help, accepting responsibility, turning it over, establishing accountability, etc., all within the framework of cognitive behavioral treatment.
Pride and Problems
June is unofficially “Gay Pride Month,” when major cities around the world host gay and lesbian focused celebrations and events featuring parades, parties, festivals and forums. In Los Angeles (home of The Sexual Recovery Institute), Pride takes place this weekend, June 8th – 10th, in the form of a huge parade and a weekend-long outdoor festival.
And there is much to celebrate. Without doubt, the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) community has come an incredibly long way since the American Psychiatric Association was labeling homosexuality as a diagnosable and treatable pathology in the 1960s and early 1970s.
In most American urban areas, gay people now can adopt children and openly build lives together without fear of repression or overt discrimination. Gay marriage is now legal in many countries (Canada, England, and Spain, to name just a few), and the topic is being addressed in the US.
Most notably, last month, for the first time, a US President spoke out in favor of marriage equality. But for every step forward, we slide a half-step back, and gay and lesbian people remain in many ways marginalized, stereotyped, and highly susceptible to prejudice, negative bias and oppression.