Friday, April 12, 2024

How To Know You’re Experiencing Betrayal Trauma vs. Codependency

Unfortunately too many betrayed partners get slapped with the label “codependent” or “co-addict” and it’s just not true (in most cases).

Patrick Carnes developed the codependency model where it’s presumed that the partner of the addict knew about the addiction and enabled the addict and is sick themselves. They are addicted to enabling. While, codependency can fit for addictions that are easily seen – such as a drunk or high partner – sex and porn addiction often is hidden so well that when the partner finds out, it’s as if they discovered an affair.

The discovery is often traumatic and they are experiencing betrayal trauma, not codependency. The problem is, many therapists were trained in the codependent model and when they say they are an addiction counselor they mean a chemical addiction counselor.

They never studied behavior addictions like porn and sex addiction. They don’t know all the nuances (unless they’ve been the addict or the partner themselves in the past). They don’t understand how world shattering it is to discover your partner has been hiding a second life from you. They just lump you, as the betrayed, into the box they knew and studied back in the 1980’s to early 2000’s.

This is not only unethical for a therapist to take on a client experiencing something they have no training, experience, or credentials in, but it’s also risking professional trauma to their client.

I wish I could say this was not the normal experience a betrayed partner gets when seeking a therapist, but unfortunately, too many betrayed partner’s experience professional trauma at the hand of a “well-intended” therapist.

That is why I started my company The Modern Mr. and Mrs. – so that no betrayed partner or sexual addict would walk into a therapists office and experience the old models that are harmful to not only the betrayed partner, but to the addict themselves.

Why The Codependency Model Harms Both The Addict & The Partner

You would think that the codependency model is actually positive for the addict given it’s been the go to model for addiction treatment for decades. Unfortunately, the codependency model is too lenient on the addict and often “babies” the addict in session and will actually enable the addict to not recover!

Yes, the model that proposes that the partner is enabling…. it’s really the model that is enabling to the addict. Too often out of date therapists follow the Carnes model and will let everything be on the addict’s timeline. It’s when the addict is ready to talk about it. It’s when the addict is ready to disclose. It’s when the addict is ready that things happen. That type of model does nothing for the addict except teach the addict that their recovery has no impact on others and it’s all about them and their emotions. The disclosure process in the codependency model is when the addict is ready to disclose what they think should be disclosed and the betrayed partner sits there, listens, and cannot ask any more questions.

This model is absolutely dehumanizing to the betrayed partner as their needs are ignored and they are blamed for the addiction, and fuels a selfish and entitled addict that only further deteriorates what little is left of the damaged relationship.

Are you Codependent or Betrayed?

To answer this question one must first understand what codependency is and what trauma is. They look very similar to professionals who are not trained in this and an untrained professional might say you’re codependent when you’re really experiencing trauma.


“Codependency refers to an imbalanced relationship pattern where one person assumes responsibility for meeting another person’s needs to the exclusion of acknowledging their own needs or feelings.” – Wendy Rose Gould states in her article “What is Codependency?”

Betrayal Trauma

Is a response to a traumatic event caused by an intimate partner, like infidelity, addiction, or other betrayals, where the partner had no idea the behavior/addiction/infidelity was going on.


Trauma & Safety Seeking Behaviors That Mimic Codependency

  • Constantly checking your partner’s devices
  • Having control over the devices settings
  • Constant check-ins with your partner
  • Doing the recovery work for your addicted partner in the beginning


Some Signs of Betrayal Trauma, NOT Codependency

  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation
  • Desire to escape the pain
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • The discovery replays over and over in your head
  • Weight loss or weight gain


If you are experiencing betrayal trauma check out these resources to help you further gain understanding of what you’re going through, how to recovery, and the paths recovery takes:

Vet Your Help

I say this in 90% of my content, but I’ll say it again – Vet Your Help!

Please don’t assume a general “addiction therapist” is a qualified therapist for you. Don’t assume a general “addiction coach” is a qualified coach for you.

When addressing betrayal trauma and sexual addiction, you need specialists. You need professionals who have lived the experience, have trained and gotten certified, and have a solid background in psychology. Not every professional has to have been a former sexual addict or betrayed partner, but many find that those are the professionals who they most resonate with.

However, do many sure that you know which professional to see for the stage of recovery you’re in! Too many times I see people automatically assuming a therapist is the right answer – especially a couples therapist. Unfortunately too many couples get hurt by the well-intentioned therapist who, again had no specialized training, or used the generic training that is outdated.

How To Know You Need A Therapist

Often I will recommend anyone reaching out to me for coaching services that they should seek therapy over or before coaching when:

  • They are a betrayed partner in the first 3-6 months after discovery or disclosure as they are in the processing and venting stage versus taking action stage
  • The addict has unresolved childhood trauma that is the root of the addiction (i.e. parental divorce, childhood abuse/neglect, etc.)
  • There are other mental health issues going on (i.e. personality disorders, chronic depression, anxiety)
  • You enjoy the 50 minute weekly session format

Therapists are great for the “why am I an addict” stage for the addict or “how did I not see this?” stage for the betrayed. A therapist who is qualified and trained in these areas can help the client process the feelings about discovery and/or disclosure day, they can give the client basic coping skills to help ground the client during emotional turmoil, and can help the client understand new feelings.

Caution: Couples therapy is NOT the place to start. Couples therapists are trained in family systems models where each partner is equally responsible for the presenting issue. Addiction is NOT a couples issue, but rather an individual issue.

Oftentimes the addict who is fresh into being clean has no relational skills and couples therapy is a waste of time and money in the beginning stages.

How To Know When You Need A Coach

While I love therapy, I know that therapy only takes a client so far. Hiring a coach enters when you’re ready to take processing into action to get new results and change your life to achieve your goals and dreams.

Once you’re done processing childhood trauma if you’re the addict or when you stop repeating the same story about your addict partner to your therapist, you’re often ready for strategies to implement to get results.

Clients often hire me after a bad experience with a therapist and we have to undo the damage done from that professional as well as work on the damage the addiction caused to each individual and the relationship. I work with clients on building trust, communication, gaining confidence, relapse prevention, becoming a better employee in recovery, becoming a better parent in recovery, becoming a better partner, as well as becoming the best version of themselves that they want to be.

Each session or touch point we have, we are building on something. Action is taken in session, between sessions, and you feel the momentum of the work we do together. While there may be slower points between reaching one goal to the next, you are feeling the progress because we are always working on flexing new muscles and skills you need to be successful in recovery, your relationship, and your life.

One thing I find that clients love when working with coaches, is that coaching is much less formal than therapy and there’s more flexibility. If you need a VIP day, you can get a day where the coach dedicates 4-8 hours to you and your recovery. If you need email coaching because you hate scheduled sessions, you can do that. If you are camera shy and prefer messenger chat sessions, you can do that. If you want the traditional video/audio session, that’s also an option as well. If the coach see’s clients in person, you can even meet your coach at the local coffee shop if you want, or have your coach go to recovery meetings with you or go to an event that might have triggers to support you. The flexibility and options are honestly endless when it comes to coaching, and that’s why I love being a coach. I get to meet my client where they are at and find the best method of working with them to reach their goals in the fastest way!

At the end of the day, coaching is great for those who are ready to put in the work in session and in between sessions.

This is just a snapshot of my How To Vet Your Help email series, but I shared a very important part of it that many people get stuck on – therapy or coaching.

If you’d like to vet me to see if we are a good fit, please email me or schedule a free meet & greet session where we can discuss your recovery needs and see if working together is something you’d like to pursue!


I hope this article helped you with gaining clarity on what you’re experiencing and how to get the right help and support for your recovery journey!

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