When a Co-dependent spouse/partner is in recovery from the trauma inflicted by a sex-addict, we eventually learn the hard way that our hypervigilant behavior and snooping are actually triggers that pull us further away from recovery and serenity, rather than push us towards it. Throughout our entire relationship, I never doubted my husband. The thought of snooping on his personal accounts and devices never even crossed my mind. After the discovery, however, I found myself suddenly addicted to snooping. I was questioning everything, being passive aggressive, and constantly over analyzing everything from the smallest face twitch to the one or two minutes he was late coming home. Being tech savvy, I was able to monitor everything about him, from where he was, who he was texting/calling/emailing, what sites he visited, for how long, and how long he was doing what and where. I had passwords to all accounts (that I knew of) and spent endless hours secretly checking up on him. Since I could no longer trust him, this hypervigilance was, at the time, my only way to feel safe and sane. From my point of view, I was completely within reason to do this. To him (and everyone else) it was sick behavior.
Regardless of how people saw me, I still kept it up. Technology had been my security blanket. It provided me with the truth and transparency I wanted and needed if I were to stay married to a sex-addict. But while technology provided many benefits, it had some serious cons to it as well. The biggest con was that it couldn’t stop him from acting out, and there were still so many things it couldn’t tell me.
So what is that fine line between trusting technology over trusting your sex-addict partner? In this piece, I wanted to go over the role technology plays on both ends, the addict and the partner.
Technology’s Role in Sex Addiction – The Good And The Bad
Technology has increased our ability to see things immediately and in real time. Addicts can view porn, hook up, and contact acting out partners easier and more discreetly. While partners often learn of these addictive behaviors because of the trails left behind on the addict’s technological devices, the benefit to technology is that the partner can also cover up his/her snooping and hypervigilance.
Technology isn’t all that bad though, when it comes to addiction. Recovery has also become more readily available, thanks to the privacy and convenience of smart phones and online methods such as virtual 12-step meetings. Now the addict (and the partner) have no excuse as to why he/she cannot take a more proactive role in seeking the necessary help, because when meetings are online, we can’t use lack of transportation, time, traffic, etc. as an excuse to miss the meetings. With Kindle and Google, we can’t use the lack of resources either. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of free to low-cost books, journals, YouTube videos, and more out there to help addicts and partners begin the journey of recovery.
Additionally, thanks to the convenience of smart phone technology, one can reach out to a sponsor or support group immediately and in real time via phone call, email, or texting. For both addicts and their partners, there is a handful of helpful resources that facilitate sobriety, such as recovery chat rooms, fellowships, newsletters, blogs, and apps for recognizing triggers, learning new techniques to manage those triggers, and even virtual headsets to allow them to role-play their way out of triggering situations.
With all this technology, it can be tempting to retreat into a virtual “self-made” recovery. I’ve met many people on my own recovery journey who have attempted to create their own “recovery program”. What I have learned is that recovery is not, and never will be, a “me” program. It is, and always will be, a “we” program.The thought of joining a 12-step group or an alternative recovery program can seem daunting and overwhelming for many. But it is only through professional help and a support group that is knowledgeable and experienced in the situation can true recovery begin.
Joining a support group and seeking professional help is the first step. The next step? Trusting the process. Just like we can’t completely rely on technology as a singular addiction recovery method, trusting your partner isn’t something that can change with technology either. Although it seems contrary to what we would like to believe, the more you have access to or can see, will not equal the more trust you can have in your partner.
Trust is an inside job and is not solely dependent on the other person, but largely dependent upon yourself and the boundaries you put in place to protect yourself. Admittedly, even before we had all this wonderful technology, sex-addiction has been around since forever and the pain it causes the partners has existed for just that long. As a result, snooping, in whatever shape or form, was likely a behavior that happened regardless of technology, just like acting out is a behavior that will happen regardless of technology. In other words, whatever tool we use to justify our desire to “know everything” (in an effort to feel safe), hypervigilance and snooping does not help ease the pain, minimize the feelings, or assist in fixing the problem. It only adds to the pile of problems (insecurity, lack of trust, and additional acting out).
What I learned in my own recovery (and addiction from hypervigilant behavior) was:
- Snooping is a trigger to further codependency/trauma. It’s like picking at a wound. It doesn’t speed the recovery. It prolongs it.
- Trust is a two-way street that depends on both the addict’s transparent behavior, and the partner’s commitment to allowing the addict to “earn back” the trust that was lost (although we must both admit and accept that it will never fully be restored).
- Transparency is vital in the recovery of both the addict and the partner. There can be no secrets, withholding of information, or hiding.
So if we can’t snoop, where does technology fit into the co-dependency recovery model?
For a long time I tried desperately to find a reasonable, rationale, and justifiable answer to this question because more than anything I really, really, really wanted to keep doing it! I refused to let go of my security blanket. Although I couldn’t justify my secretly snooping on my addict-partner, I could justify the snooping. The answer was that it depends on your intention for use.
- Are you using it to catch your spouse? Are you using it to “prove” he is acting out? Are you using it as an alternative to have meaningful and direct conversations about your concerns and feelings? Are you using it because you simply have zero trust in his ability to be honest with you, and you feel you can only trust the information this technology and/or device is sharing with you? If your answer is “yes’ to any of these, it would be wise to reconsider the relationship, and put all that extra energy into your own personal recovery.
- Is it ever ok to snoop? It is my belief that the only time it is ok to snoop is in either 2 situations:
- 1) Your spouse (the addict) knows that you are “snooping” (in this case it wouldn’t be called snooping, but more like “obsessive monitoring”, which still seems to be a bit extreme and not beneficial to your, or your partner’s recovery), or
- 2) (if you are in a 12-step recovery program) your “snooping” is a slip that you can (and do) report to both your accountability partner/sponsor and your spouse (whom you have been snooping on). The caveat is that you have to make an honest effort to stop doing that and work with your spouse on how to avoid those triggers in the future. So unsettling for a compulsive snoop such as myself…
Ultimately, snooping shouldn’t be necessary in a healthy relationship. If your relationship requires you to be constantly snooping, questioning, and doubting, you shouldn’t be in that relationship. But for whatever reason, you choose to stay in a relationship that is deficient in trust/transparency, having a mutual understanding that there is NO PRIVACY if the relationship is to continue until the relationship gets to a point in which recovery is visible, and both partners come to an agreement that the “snooping” doesn’t need to continue.
It is important to note that the lack of trust doesn’t necessarily mean that it was caused (or lost) due to the addict’s acting out behavior. While the acting out behavior may have started a pattern of hypervigilant behavior in the partner, often times it is caused by something within the partner’s own life history. This is why in addition to the addict actively in recovery, a partner’s personal recovery is absolutely necessary if the relationship is to survive.