Frequently Asked Questions
What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction is an obsessive relationship to sexual thoughts, fantasies or activities that an individual continues to engage in despite adverse consequences. These thoughts, fantasies or activities occupy a disproportionate amount of “psychic space”, resulting in an imbalance in the person’s overall functioning in important areas of life, such as work and marriage. Distress, shame and guilt about the behaviors erode the addict’s already weak self-esteem.
Sexual addiction can be conceptualized as an intimacy disorder manifested as a compulsive cycle of preoccupation, ritualization, sexual behavior, and despair.
Central to the disorder is the inability of the individual to adequately bond and attach in intimate relationships. The syndrome is rooted in early attachment failure with primary caregivers. It is a maladaptive a way to compensate for this early attachment failure. Addiction is a symbolic enactment of deeply entrenched unconscious dysfunctional relationships with self and others.
While the definition of sex addiction is the same as that of other addictions, sexual compulsion is set apart from other addictions in that sex involves our innermost unconscious wishes, needs, fantasies, fears and conflicts.
Like other addictions, it is relapse prone.
While there currently is no diagnosis of sex addiction in the DSM-IV, clinicians in the sex addiction field have developed general criteria for diagnosing sex addiction. If an individual meets three or more of these criteria, he/she could be considered a sex addict:
1. Recurrent failure to resist sexual impulses in order to engage in compulsive sexual behaviors.
2. Frequently engaging in those behaviors to a greater extent, or over a longer period of time than intended.
3. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop or control those behaviors.
4. Preoccupation with sexual behavior or preparatory activities. (rituals)
5. Frequent engaging in the behavior when expected to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic or social obligations.
6. Continuation of the behavior despite recurrent social, financial, psychological, or marital problems that is caused by the behavior.
7. Giving up or limiting social, occupational or recreational activities due to the behavior.
8. Distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior.
How do I know if my partner is a sex addict?
Sometimes, it’s difficult to know whether someone close to you has an addiction. The addict might hide the addictive behavior or you might not know the warning signs or symptoms. Here are some of the signs and symptoms:
* Staying up late to watch television or surf the Web
Looking at pornographic material such as magazines, books, videos and clothing catalogs
Frequently isolating themselves from spouses or partners, and doesn’t inform them of their whereabouts
Are controlling during sexual activity or have frequent mood swings before or after sex
Are demanding about sex, especially regarding time and place
Gets angry if someone shows concern about a problem with pornography
Offers no appropriate communication during sex
Lacks intimacy before, during and after sex, and offers little or no genuine intimacy in the relationship
Does not want to socialize with others, especially peers who might intimidate them
Fails to account for increasing number of toll – 800 or 900 – calls
Frequently rents pornographic videotapes
Seems to be preoccupied in public with everything around them
Has tried to switch to other forms of pornography to show a lack of dependency on one kind; concoct rules to cut down but doesn’t adhere to them
Is increasingly dishonest
Hides pornography at work or home
Lacks close friends of the same sex
Frequently uses sexual humor
Always has a good reason for looking at pornography (Psych Central.com).
Why can’t he control his sexual behavior?
It’s important for you to know that your partner is not volitionally involved in these behaviors so you can begin to understand and, perhaps, forgive. Most addicts would stop if they could.
It’s been said that of all the addictions, sex is the most difficult to manage. This syndrome is a complex mixture of biological, psychological, cultural, and family-of-origin issues, the combination of which creates impulses and urges that are virtually impossible to resist. Despite the fact that acting them out produces considerable long-term negative consequences, the addict simply cannot resist his impulses. Individuals who are highly disciplined, accomplished and able to direct the force of their will in other areas of life fall prey to sexual compulsion. More importantly, people who love and cherish their partners can still be enslaved by these irresistible urges.
From a biological standpoint, research has shown that certain formations in the right temporal lobe make certain individuals more prone to sexual arousability from birth. Whether or not such an individual becomes sexually compulsive or perverse then depends on the child’s home environment.
Research has also shown that the inability to control sexual impulses is associated with neurochemical imbalances in the norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine systems. The use of certain anti-depressants (SSRI’s) has thus shown to be very effective in treating the impulse control problems of many sexual compulsives. Biological predisposition contributes and combines with psychological factors. One of the reasons the “erotic haze” is so compulsory is that it unconsciously repairs earlier disturbed, anxiety-laden relationships. It shores up an inadequate sense of self that results from these early-life interpersonal abandonments, intrusions and misattunements.
This combination of biological and psychological factors results in an “affective disorder” in the sex addict. Feeling of depression, anxiety, boredom and emptiness are quickly alleviated by immersing oneself in an imaginary world that provides novelty, excitement, mystery and intense pleasure. Sex addiction is better than Prosac. It heals, it sooths, it contains, it provides a “safe place” free from the demands of actual performance, and it gives an illusory sense of belonging. The sense of empowerment in the illicit sex act rectifies “holes in the soul” and lifts the addict from feelings of inadequacy, insufficiency, depression and emptiness into a state of instant euphoria.
Relinguishing this very special (but delusional) mental and physical state can result in a sense of withdrawal which may include mood swings, inability to concentrate and irritability. These symptoms usually disappear in therapy as the sense of self is solidified and he finds more creative ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
* What are the effects of sex addiction on the partner?
Effects of sex addiction on the sex addict’s partner can be numerous, encompassing a wide range of emotions and reactive behaviors. The sexual codependent’s experience is similar to, but not thoroughly identical to, a codependent person in a relationship with a substance abuser. A codependent partner of a drug addict or alcohol, for example, may manage to understand and even sympathize with her partner’s alcohol problem due to appnana hack tool the lesser society condemnation.
But a compulsive addiction that involves engaging in sexual activities outside of the home inflicts a psychic injury of ultimate betrayal. How much harder it is for the
partner to be understanding, to extend compassion towards the person who has been sexually unfaithful to her. People don’t talk about sex addiction – the social stigma is considerable. Forgiveness can seem impossible. She feels as if her trust in him has been irreparably corrupted.
Furthermore, there is an element of intense shame for both addict and sexual codependent attached to sexual addiction, especially if his sexual interests involve an object, cross-dressing, dominance and submission or children.
So the partner is often stunned, confused, and in extreme pain upon discovery of the sexual addiction. Anger and resentment can be overwhelming. For many partners, the sex addict’s betrayal can precipitate trauma that resembles
post traumatic stress disorder. It’s important to understand that a particular dynamic is present in the sex addict/
sexual codependent relationship. Both members of the couple store internalized beliefs about themselves that converge in unhealthy ways. For example, the partner often
has a battered sense of self-worth. It’s likely she grew up in a family environment without affection or positive affirmations. Thus, she has “learned” that she’s lacking in some way, and not worthy of respect. In other words, she “deserves” to be mistreated and undervalued.
She can believe that sex is the most important way to express love, so her partner’s sexual acting out can leave her feeling deeply inadequate, unlovable and frightened of abandonment.
At the same time, the sex addict’s upbringing is similar in that he has been “taught” that tells him that he can never really measure up to other people or be good enough. His unconscious belief system that includes the belief that sex is his most important need. Their life together as a couple, even before the sex addiction is exposed, is frequently characterized by chaos and dysfunction.
Within the union, the partner’s low self-esteem can contribute to anxiety
and fear of being abandoned. Often she will set aside her moral values and tolerate engaging in sexual behaviors with her partner that are unacceptable to her. She feels too unworthy to have solid sexual boundaries. Some partners will consent to participate in sex acts that are repugnant to them, mistakenly believing it will make the sex addict stop acting out.
A surprisingly common effect reported by many partners – after the shock of discovery – is the feeling of losing one’s mind. Obsessing about the details of the sex addict’s
betrayal, repeatedly confronting her partner with “evidence” of infidelity and being told she’s “crazy” or “just jealous” results in a loss of focus and an inability to concentrate. Fear and anger aggravates this condition. She isolates herself from friends, family and community due to her shame.
This is fertile ground for depression. In some situations, the partner is brought to a point of absolute despair.
Some maladaptive strategic responses the codependent may engage in as a means of coping include excessive alcohol consumption, food binges, excessive house cleaning, and overtime career activity, acts that can serve as distractions from her distrust, pain and hostility. Distractions, of course, provide only a temporary and false “relief” and often create more problems than they solve.
When the partner’s anger and resentment are suppressed over a period of time, they will eventually explode in a volcano of rage, blame, and furious criticism of the sex addict.
The explosion of frustrated emotions can open a door to enormous guilt and remorse, so the partner may forgive the addict’s offense.
When this happens, the result is an unfortunate snare for the couple, in which the partner unwittingly enables the sex addict to carry on with his unacceptable pattern of sexual acting out.
The converse is true regarding the emotional influences on the partner. The partner may at times turn inward, withdraw, stay silent and distant. This can include withdrawing from any sexual activity with the addict. These stonewalling behaviors can ignite strong feelings of shame and rejection in the sex addict. In a way, the partner succeeds in punishing the sex addict through these behaviors. But the price of this punishment may be a return to his active addiction as a way to deal with conflict in the home.
A tremendously debilitating effect on the partner is to assume all responsibility for the
addict’s sexual acting out, and even for all of the problems in their relationship. The
sex addict may exploit this to his advantage, creating self-doubt within the partner.
For example, the partner may confront her spouse with evidence of a transgression, like a credit card charge to a hotel, but the sex addict is skillful and experienced in deception. He will boldly challenge the partner’s credibility, suggesting she see a “shrink” for being so paranoid and suspicious of him. He can persuasively feign righteous
indignation, causing the partner to distrust her own instincts and perceptions, even in the face of tangible evidence.
Self doubt can plague the partner, aggravating her confusion, making her doubt her own perceptions, and contributing to the feeling of “losing my mind”, which leads her to retreat into denial, the basic and most fundamental defense mechanism for both partner and addict. When in denial, she will believe the addict’s lies, however far-fetched they may be. She will accept whatever lies the sex addict offers to cover up his addiction, to “not rock the boat” and to assuage her abandonment fears.
What are the characteristics of a sexual codependent?
Firstly, let’s consider what codependency is. Codependency is an overworked and overused word and definitions can be confusing. At core, it revolves around the fear of losing the approval and presence of others due to early developmental issues with early caretakers. This underlying fear can result in manipulative behaviors that overfocus on maintaining another person’s presence and approval. Control, obsequiousness, anger, caretaking, and being over-responsible are among the behaviors that can be the manifestations of codependent behavior. Because of dysfunctional family-of-origin issues, codependents learn to react rather than respond to others, take responsibility for others, worry about others, and depend on others to make them feel useful or alive.
Codependence also refers to the way events from childhood unconsciously produces attitudes and behaviors that propel people into destructive relationships in the present. The self worth of the codependent comes from external sources. They need other people to give them feelings of self-worth. Codependence is a particular relationship with one’s self in which the person doesn’t trust his or her own experiences. Lacking the inner boundaries necessary to be aware of and express their true wants, feeling, goals and opinions, they are “externally referenced”. They constantly seek affirmation and validation from other people because they are unable to endorse and validate from within. “Internally referenced” people are able to do this. They often focus on an addict’s sobriety as a way to achieve a precarious sense of self consolidation. Sadly, the way they behave often perpetuates the loved one’s addiction.
Codependent people believe they can’t survive without their partners and do anything they can do to stay in the relationships, however painful. The fear of losing their partners and being abandoned overpowers any other feelings. The thought of addressing the partner’s addiction can be terrifying because they don’t want to “rock the boat” and often are frightened of igniting the partner’s anger.
Codependents show common characteristics:
* spending a great deal best fiends hack tool of time focusing on the addict, sometimes to the neglect of themselves and their children;
* tolerating behaviors in the relationship that others would never tolerate;
* sacrificing with the unrecognized/unexpressed expectation that it would create loyalty;
* doing things for others that you should be doing for yourself while mired in self-neglect;
* becoming someone you don’t like – a nag, a parent to your partners, a blamer, a rager;
* setting rules, boundaries and ultimatums but not abiding by them;
* rescuing others compulsively;
* believing tall tales – giving the addict the benefit of the doubt when it’s not warranted;
* becoming disabled by the addict’s crazy-making behavior;
* being overly concerned with the opinions of others – compulsively trying to “keep up appearances”;
* attempting to keep the peace in the relationship at all costs;
* becoming accustomed to living with a high degree of intensity, drama and chaos
* forgiving – over and over and over again
Sexual co-dependents are similar to the above, but differ in significant ways. Involved with a sex addict, she demonstrates a common set of characteristics. These include: denial, preoccupation, enabling, rescuing, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil, efforts to control, compromise of self, anger and problems with her sexuality.
The partners of sex addicts experiences a traumatic loss of self as they make sexual compromises in the relationship that may go against their moral values. Driven by the loss of her sexual identity, many women try to compete with her partner’s fantasized or real encounters by getting plastic surgery, going on crash diets, having affairs to affirm her desirability, or getting breast implantations. These behaviors are based in the mistaken notion that her partner acts out sexually due to some essential deficiency in herself, which is not true.
Other women engage in sexual activities with their partners that they may find distasteful or even morally repugnant – all in an effort to keep him home and happy, and to stave off fears of abandonment. However, for the addict, this type of sex makes his partner into another object. It was just another fix for him, which makes the betrayal even more painful.
In couples where one partner is sexually acting out and cyphening off his erotic energies from the primary relationship, there may be problems with the couple’s own sexual expressiveness and sex can easily dry up, leaving the co-addict feeling even more diminished as a woman and as a person.
Partners of sex addicts have an inordinate need to get the information straight. “Detectiving” is a common activity: checking his computer, looking up names and numbers, desperately looking for scraps of paper with numbers written on them. One woman even invited a prostitute her partner had been with into her home because she wanted to know the details. The need-to-know provides the partner with a way to check up on her own reality (Am I crazy or is this really happening?) and provides her with a sense of much-needed (although illusory) sense of mastery over an out-of-control situation. Especially in light of the addict’s continual denial, the co-addict has a need to provide “evidence” to ensure her soundness of mind — a ploy that rarely works and is exceedingly exhausting.
Finally, sex as an addiction is rarely discussed and there is a huge social stamina associated with it, resulting in the co-addict wanting to hide or to provide a good “front” to deal with feelings of shame and despair. She may become socially isolated because she can’t discuss the situation with friends. Depression easily enters into an emotional environment of isolation and shame.
* What’s involved in therapy for someone who is the partner of a sex addict?
There is hope. The pain you are experiencing is normal. Learning your partner is a sex addict is devastating and can be debilitating. The betrayal triggers a myriad of strong emotions. Feelings of anguish, despair, rage, hopelessness and shame my overtake you. You may feel alone in unchartered territory, wondering “Where do I go from here?”
It’s important to know that your situation is not unique. There are many, many people who share your exact dilemma. Sexual codependents who attend either “S-Anon” or “COSA”, (see the “Resources page”) 12-step programs for partners of sex addicts, often feel extraordinary relief. To break the shame and isolation, it’s important to know others are going through the exact thing you are. Some members have been grabbling with these issues for years and can be a beacon of hope for the newcomer who begins to discover how to cope with the situation and attain some measure of serenity, whether the sex addict is acting out or not.
Psychotherapy is also extremely important. Be sure to find a therapist conversant with these issues. What should happen in your therapy?
Stephanie Carnes, in her book “Mending a Wounded Heart” cites six stages of healing for the sexual codependent.
The Developing/Pre Discovery Stage.
Characteristics of this Stage include:
believing tall tales
tolerating and normalizing unacceptable behavior from the addict
self-doubt such as second guess, not trusting your gut feelings
having a hunch that something isn’t right
loss of values, morals, or beliefs deemed important to you in an effort to keep the peace.
The Crisis/Decision Stage
Characteristics of this stage include:
a catalytic event occurs: you discover or are disclosed to about the details of your partner’s sexual behavior
taking action/making decisions, such as sending the sex addict to therapy, seeking therapy yourself, or joining a 12-step program such as S-Anon or COSA
The Shock Stage
Characteristics of this Stage include:
emotional numbness or avoidance
terror about future relapse
feelings of despair
anger, hostility, self-righteousness, blame and criticism
Grief and Ambivalence
Characteristics of this stage include:
feelings of depression
ambivalence about the relationship
increased introspection and focus of the self
less focus on the addict’s behavior and more on your own
Characteristic of this stage include:
decision-making regarding the relationship
deeper insight into yourself
family-of-origin themes examined and integrated
increased strength, clarity and coping skills
ability to set boundaries
Characteristics of this stage include:
decreased feelings of being victimized
focus on issues not related to his addiction
communication skills and conflict resolution skills developed
awareness of your role in the dysfunction of the relationship
acknowledgement of gifts the addiction has brought to your life
ability to be fully present and focused on other areas of life
Treatment for sexual codependence can become a process of continued growth, self-realization and self-transformation. Working through feelings of victimization can lead to a new sense of resiliency. Going through this process and dealing with the suffering you’ve endured can be an avenue to discovering meaning and to building stronger self-esteem from having gone through the process and survived. The challenges you’ve faced can elevate you to a higher level of well-being. You may develop a sense of serenity and peace from the appreciation of having worked through this process.
You will be able to do things that you weren’t taught in your family-of-origin: appropriately esteem yourself, set functional boundaries, be aware of and acknowledge your personal reality without fear, take better care of your adult needs and wants while allowing other adults to take care of theirs.
Your internal and external boundaries will be strengthened. Strong external boundaries will ensure that you will not again put yourself into a victim role. A sense of having internal boundaries will open up new avenues of healthy intimacy as you will know who you are and be able to hear who another is. At the heart of healthy intimacy is the ability to share your real self with another and be available when someone else shares his real self with you.
You will no longer have to bend yourself into a pretzel to be someone somebody else wants you to be. Rejection or disapproval may be unpleasant, but not devastating – and you’ll stop marring your personal integrity in order to get external approval and validation. With increased self-knowledge, you’ll be more able to rely exclusively on yourself and your own healthy behaviors as the source of your self esteem.
You may choose to leave the relationship or not, with the knowledge that you can craft a fulfilling life for yourself whether alone or in a partnership. Should you decide to stay, you can reclaim a sense of dignity and renewed sense of purpose even if your spouse is still active.
Finally, time and energy spent on preoccupation and control of the addict can be used to attend to and emotionally support your children, to recommit to and obtain increased satisfaction from your work, to meet new people and to develop new recreational activities.
How can I possibly forgive him?
Despite the fact that it may seem impossible, forgiveness is a critical part of recovery for the partner of a sex addict. To forgive is not to forget. Forgiving means being able to remember the past without experiencing the pain all over again. It is remembering but attaching different feelings about the events, and a willingness to allow the pain to have decreased relevance over time. Understanding the pain, compulsion and despair that your partner has gone through in his addiction can help open you up to compassion.
To forgive is important primarily for yourself, not for the person you forgive. The opposite of forgiveness is resentment. When we resent we experience the pain and anger all over again. Serenity and resentment cannot coexist.
The process of forgiveness begins with acknowledging that a wrong has been done to you. You have to recognize that you have strong feelings about what happened and you need to feel and process those feelings. You are entitled to be angry or hurt. Ideally, you can share those feelings with the person who has hurt you in couples counseling. If that is not possible, then you can share the feelings with your therapist or support group. After that, you can choose whether to stay in a relationship with that person. In either case, forgiveness does not imply permission to continue hurtful behaviors. As part of your own treatment, you need to decide which behaviors you can accept in your relationships and which you cannot.
The primary goal of forgiveness is to heal yourself. In a partnership affected by sexual addiction, forgiveness is aided by evidence of each partner’s changed behavior and commitment to treatment. These are also elements in rebuilding trust. For many couples, forgiving and learning to trust again go hand in hand. Both take time, making amends, continued treatment and trustworthy behavior.
After the acting out has stopped, it’s critical to not use his past behavior as a “hook” to punish or manipulate him. When a desire for revenge exists, you have not forgiven, and you see him in one dimension (“Bastard”). The capacity to see him as a whole person (he’s not just a sex addict, he’s many things) will help you move forward. Couples therapy will help you move toward a sense of tolerance of his vulnerabilities, acceptance of the past and a renewed interest in him as a multidimensional person with on-going issues.
* Despite repeated broken promises to change his sexual behaviors, I’ve been unable to leave him. Why do I stay in a relationship that causes me such emotional anguish?
There may be realistic reasons why women stay in relationships despite repeated betrayals and lost of trust, mutual fifa 15 hack online concern and physical compatibility. Children and finances have traditionally been two of them, although these days even these reasons are not as relevant.
So, why do they stay? For some women, being in love is tantamount to being in pain. The two are indistinguishable. Obsessing about a man’s behavior, allowing it to control her emotions and behavior, realizing that it negatively influences her health and well-being, she finds herself unable to let go. Does she measure the degree of her love by the depth of her torment?
Problems from childhood rear their ugly heads when contemplating why some women masochistically stay in relationships that they find erosive to their sense of security and self-worth. The one characteristic of all dysfunctional families is the inability to talk about feelings and problems. In dysfunctional families, emotions are repressed, major aspects of reality are denied, and roles remain rigid. Children from such families learn not to believe in their own perceptions nor are they able to validate their own feelings. When your family denies your reality, it’s difficult to trust your own perceptions.
What comes to mind is a “Joey Bishop” episode from the 50’s wherein his wife walks in on him in bed with “a blonde” and Joey and his cohort calmly get up and dressed, the woman walks out the door, and Joey denies that there ever was a woman in the room. The (typically 50’s) wife responds by not believing her own perception!
These women become unable to discern when someone or something is not good for them. Situations and people that others would avoid as dangerous, uncomfortable, or unwholesome do not repel them because they have no way of evaluating them in a self-protective manner. They do not trust their feelings and are unable to be guided by their feelings or instincts. Instead, they are drawn to the dangers, intrigues, dramas and chaos that come from living with an addict.
If she comes from emotionally unavailable parents, she was never able to change her parent(s) into the warm, loving caretaker(s) she longed for. Subsequently, she unconsciously is drawn to an unstable, unavailable man with whom she can try to change into a loving, stable man who can give her what she lacked as a child. The ruse rarely works, and these women live in the ever-perpetuating pain and suffering that they lived in as children.
Because her emotional needs were not met in childhood, she is terrified of experiencing the kind of emotional neglect and abandonment she felt back then, and she will do almost anything to prevent a relationship from dissolving. Accustomed to lack of love in personal relationships, she is willing to wait, hope, try harder, give more chances to a partner that has betrayed her many times over. She may try harder to please him sexually, believing that it is her own deficiency that caused his sex addiction in the first place.
In her relationship, she is much more in touch with her dream of how it could be rather than with dealing with the reality of what is. She may be addicted to men and to emotional pain. By becoming enmeshed in a situation that is chaotic, uncertain and emotionally painful, she can avoid focusing on her responsibility to herself, as her family of origin did not provide a role model for guiltless self-care. Alternatively, the highs and drama of life with a sex addict may forestall the experience of deep-seated depression. She may have never been attracted to men who were kind, stable, faithful and reliable. Such men may have been experienced as “boring”.
* I’m incredibly frustrated that he won’t tell the truth. Even when I present “evidence”, he denies his sexual acting out. How can I ever trust a man who so blatantly lies to me?
Sex addiction thrives in secrecy. Addicts will go to any length to protect their double life. Denial, (“Don’t Even Know I’m Lying”) plays a huge part in any addiction process. The reality of the acting out is protected from the conscious mind. If the addict is unaware of the truth, how can he tell you? The very thinking process of the addict becomes impaired as he becomes immersed in the denial process, giving way to the minimization of the extent of his behavior. This connects with “rationalization”: i.e. “I’m not really cheating” – “All guys do this” – “I’m not hurting anyone” – “I work hard so I deserve some pleasure.” This combination of denial, minimization and rationalization makes it extremely difficult for him to know the truth.
More complexing, is the phenomenon of “dissociation”, or “The Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde” syndrome. Dissociation is a clinical process that characterizes multiple personality disorder. While I’m not saying the sex addicts have MPD, I am suggesting that some of the same characteristics of that disorder are shared. One side of the personality protects the other side from the truth. Some level of dissociation is in every man who has a “double life”. Each side of the personality has different values, goals, beliefs and needs that conflict with the other.
This is why, when the sexual acting out is finished, the addict feels so distressed and shameful. Mr. Hyde does the acting out and Dr. Jeckell experiences the remorse.
When the addict is acting out, he has feelings of being disconnected from himself and his environment. Clients speak of “the bubble”, the “erotic haze”, “zoning out”, “feeling apart from myself and watching myself from afar”, of feeling “foggy “or “not feeling like a real person”. Losing track of time is common as is feeling outside oneself as both an observer and a participant. Emotions are numbed; the fantasy creates an alternate reality which obscures the truth of “what is”.
Once in therapy, a primary issue that arises is a feeling of a fragmented sense of self or being unsure of his identity. Therapy will help him get to the bottom of hidden parts of himself that he may not have fully understood or been able to control until treatment starts to work. Only by getting in touch with hidden parts of himself will the full realization of his talents be realized and fulfillment in his personal relationships can begin to unfold.
For more information about treatment and community resources, contact
Dorothy Hayden LCSW
Center for Healthy Sexuality
* I don’t see how our relationship can survive the emotional pain and chaos of his sexual addiction. Have other couples been able to work through these issues? How have they done it?
((((When at least one member of a couple is sexually addicted, restoring trust and building intimacy can be very difficult. These couples must work as hard on their recovery together as a couple as they do on their individual recoveries.
One of the great challenges to recovery from sexual compulsivity is restoring or building an intimate relationship with a committed partner. Many existing relationships are seriously impaired and often don’t survive because of sexual acting out. The partner of the sex addict’s ability to trust is obviously damaged. The psychodynamic and behavioral issues underlying sexual addiction contribute to obstacles to overcoming and building intimate and committed relationships.
The good news is that we have seen from our experience that not only is it possible to repair, rebuild, or newly build a committed relationship, but the level of emotional and physical intimacy that comes from working on these issues together is sustaining, gratifying and growth-producing for each member of the couple.
What is effective in the process of healing and building?
To fix a marriage that has been damaged by sexual addiction, the first step
is to discover what’s been broken. The process of repair is a journey that both
partners must choose to undertake together, as well as separately. Self inventory is
an inescapable feature of the process. Studies of couples who have achieved success
have shown their willingness to ask themselves certain questions:
How committed am I to this relationship?
Do I want to find out what a healthy sexual partnership is?
Am I willing to take the risk of being truly vulnerable to my partner?
Can I face my own interior issues to develop my own personal growth?
A faithful, honest, monogamous sexual relationship with my partner – is
this what I really want? Is this my goal?
A strong commitment to the marriage and a desire to learn and experience a healthy
sexual relationship with the spouse are essential for recovery. For clarity, two definitions
are helpful. The sex addict is the partner who has been engaging in compulsive
extramarital activities. The sexual coaddict is the sex addict’s partner, sometimes
identified as a relationship addict.
Next, the major “breaks” in the damaged marriage need to be identified. The first and
greatest casualty is invariably lost trust. The coaddict has feelings of anger as a
result of being betrayed. The addict feels guilt and shame as a result of hurting and
betraying the spouse. Re-establishing mutual trust must be actively addressed and
worked on in treatment. Forgiveness and opening up to being vulnerable again are
necessary ingredients for rebuilding lost trust.
Another “break” in a sex addiction-damaged marriage is the loss of honest communication.The addict has been hiding his acting out with compulsive sexual behaviors,
so deception has become a part of daily married life. The partner of the sex addict, on the other
hand, has suspicions, yet avoids confronting the addict and hides her fears. Self-blame,
feeling responsible for the addict’s secret sexual behaviors, and even blaming herself for
all of the marriage’s problems are some typical reasons for not discussing their issues.
Thus, both partners keep themselves isolated in their emotions. Problems in their own
sexual relationship – a central “break” to be fixed – are rooted in certain core beliefs
which they hold. The addict’s main core belief is that sex is his most important need. The
partner of the sex addict’s main core belief is that sex is the most important sign of love.
Two more “breaks” in the marriage can be traced back to the communication
breakdown and loss of trust. Neither spouse has effective conflict resolutions skills.
Also, both of them have difficulty setting boundaries on what sexual behaviors they can
accept and where they insist on drawing the line.
* Having identified five of the most important problems – “breaks” – that need to be
repaired, what’s next? Where can couples go for help to recover from behaviors that are mutually hurtful?
Be encouraged because there are a variety of places you can go. First, find a therapist conversant with these issues. Couples report that isolation is their number one enemy. Take the first bold step with your spouse to open up and talk with each other. Acknowledge there are problems and you both want to resolve them. Then look into the self-help available to you. There are 12- step programs for the sex addict and for the sexual codependent.. There are also 12- step programs for couples. All of these groups emulate the Alcoholics Anonymous model, which emphasizes the importance of peer support and identification with others who have gone through what you’ve gone through.
You need to break out of the burden of isolation you’ve placed on
yourself due to feelings of guilt and shame. Bringing it into the open and sharing
with other sympathetic couples is invaluable. In couples counseling you’ll discuss subjects that impact your relationships in major ways. Some of these are the renewal of trust, how to work on your communication skills for problem solving, and how to really listen to each other without disapproval.
Be open to understanding that you both will do well when you accept the need for
patience. Recovery, after all, is a process. Just as the problems you are experiencing
didn’t evolve in ten minutes, keep in mind that healing requires a commitment of time.
Recovering couples stress this, and emphasize that they maintain a positive outlook
because they feel good along the way. They know they are empowering themselves
and learning self esteem.
Couples who have participated in therapy, plus 12 step programs for the addict, the partner of the addict, plus the couples’ 12 step groups, have demonstrated a very good success rate.
There is one essential tool to avail yourself of, and that is seeking
treatment with a professional who specializes in sex addiction treatment. Joint
professional counseling will enhance your personal recovery. Devoting yourselves to
self-discovery together is a choice that will yield excellent results in time.
And remember this – once you choose to take the journey, you will begin to experience
many rewards along the road. One of them is an ever increasing personal freedom in your
spirit. You will discover strengths you never knew you were capable of, and courage you
never knew you had. It is possible for you and your spouse to have a loving, intimate, sexual relationship despite having been through the trauma of active sex addiction.