The traumatic nature of disclosure

10) Steffens, B. A., & Rennie, R. L. (2006). The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2/3), 247-267. 

DOI: 10.1080/10720160600870802

Study type: Quantitative analysis of a self-reported questionnaire.

Sample size: 63 women

Demographics: Wives, age 18 or older, currently married and/or separated from self-identified sexual addicts. Participants came from 26 states within the United States, and from one additional country. Participants were recruited from urban and rural areas as well as from diverse racial and ethnic groups. 

Key findings & quotes: 
  • Each participant completed two self-report instruments: The Posttraumatic Stress Diagnostic Scale (PDS) and the Impact of Event Scale – Revised (IES-R).
  • 69.6% of participants met all the criteria (except for criteria A1) for a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as measured by the PDS.
  • 47.8% of participants reported “moderate-severe” symptom levels as measured by the PDS. 
  • 71.7% of participants demonstrated a severe level of functional impairment in major areas of their lives.
  • 82.5% of participants reported receiving some form of therapy or counseling in response to their husband’s sexual addiction.
  • 75% of women either discovered or uncovered the compulsive or addictive sexual behavior themselves, as opposed to having the behavior disclosed through a planned disclosure or confession by their husband.
  • There is “very strong” relationship between trauma symptom severity and years married at the time of disclosure. The longer the couple has been married, the more severe the trauma is reported.
  • Attachment within the marriage relationship can be severely damaged. The wife can be in a total shock that her husband betrayed her, and therefore injure the attachment between them.
  • “The husband’s behaviors or environmental cues can “trigger” the [wife] or bring about flashbacks, whereby she experiences the threat as if it is currently occurring. If her husband continues to act out, dismiss or deny the destruction of his behaviors, or does not take actions to help restore safety in the relationship, the [wife] remains in a situation of perpetual threat until she finds ways in which she can develop self-protection skills and adaptive ways of managing the anxiety and stress. Prior traumatic event exposure may contribute to her vulnerability to the development of clinically significant stress, as she once again experiences her world as an unsafe place.” (pg. 262) 
  • Early intervention positively affects not only the person who has the addiction, but also can help reduce the severity of trauma for the wives of the addicts.

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