How Sex Addiction Impacts Partners
When one partner in a marriage or relationship is a sexual addict, both partners suffer as a result. The extent to which each partner is impacted by the sexual compulsivity or addiction varies, depending on the type of addiction, how long it has been present, whether it has progressed to more blatant and potentially serious behavior, whether or not there are children in the family, if there are multiple addictions, and other factors. If the partner has a sexual addiction, it is already enough to seriously disrupt the partnership or family unit. Without treatment, the sexual addict will only get worse. So, too, will the relationship.
Some individuals reading this may wonder if what’s going on in their relationship warrants treatment or therapy. The sexual addict certainly needs treatment. But the partner who is not addicted most likely needs help as well. Why? Experts in treating sexual addiction counsel that the partner or codependent of the sexual addict often internalizes a tremendous amount of guilt, shame, anger and other very intense feelings. Without some counseling to understand the causes of their partner’s sexual addiction and how to cope with it, these feelings put the relationship – already under severe strain – at further jeopardy.
How Partner Relationships Deteriorate with Sex Addiction
One partner discovers, or is told about, the other partner’s sexually inappropriate behavior. Perhaps one partner inadvertently stumbles upon a pornographic stash, finds tell-tale signs of extramarital affairs, takes or overhears phone calls that appear to be indicative of an inappropriate sexual relationship of the other partner. The children may innocently remark about Daddy’s or Mommy’s “special friend.” Unexplained hotel bills or large gift purchases appear on the credit card statements.
The suspected or admitted sexually addicted partner may spend increasing amounts of time away from home and family, may neglect family relationships, bills, job, social engagements and other responsibilities. He or she may become distant, drink too much, start doing drugs, either demand or abstain from sexual activity with his/her marriage partner, become physically or verbally abusive when confronted over sexual activity. Communication suffers as both deny and avoid the elephant in the room – the fact that one partner is engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior. The sexual behavior may start with pornography, cybersex, or phone sex, and quickly escalate to risky sex, anonymous one-night stands, same-sex, violent sex, arrests and other social, familial and legal consequences.
In no time at all, the couples’ relationship is perilously close to disaster. Unless something is done to address the underlying issues, both partners are doomed to a future of unhappiness, denial, anger, frustration, loss of trust and intimacy, and a potential complete breakdown in the family unit. When children are involved, the situation is much worse, since young and impressionable lives may be forever impacted by the rift in the parents’ relationship.
Sometimes couples go into an intensive treatment session in order to deal with the sexual addiction of one of the partners. Such sessions may last a weekend, several days, or up to 2 weeks. When couples enter therapy for sexually addictive behavior on the part of one of them, both need to address multiple issues. One of the most prominent issues is whether to stay together or dissolve the partnership or marriage. When there are children involved, there are other special concerns that need to be addressed. These include the children’s security, how, what and when to disclose what’s going on relative to the parent’s sexual addiction, how to manage home life during the crisis, and other concerns.
Other things couples address during therapy:
• Denial and avoidance
• Shame, guilt and embarrassment
• Coming to terms with resentment and anger
• Managing loss
• How to work toward long-term healing and recovery
• How to integrate recovery with children and the family
• How to rebuild intimacy, trust and healthy sexuality within the partnership
Help for Sexually Addicted Women
It isn’t only men that can become sexual addicts. An increasing number of women are seeing help as well. Some therapeutic workshops and treatment programs are specifically tailored to help women whose relationships, marriage, family, careers, health and emotional stability have been ruined by their sexually addictive behavior. This gender-specific training and treatment program is often led by female professionals only. The gender-specific treatment for sexually addicted women encompasses the kinds of cultural, emotional and relationship challenges that women face.
Some of the areas such treatment covers include:
• Cybersex and online affairs
• Casual and anonymous sex with multiple partners
• Infidelity and serial relationships
• Emotional affairs, chronic flirtation
• Obsession and stalking relationships
• Rejecting available love and intimacy
• Boundary problems in the workplace
• Prostitution and sex work
• Stripping, dancing and exhibitionism
• Compulsive masturbation
• Alcohol and drug abuse relapse that is fueled by sexual behavior
• Prior sexual abuse and trauma
What Happens in Treatment for Sexual Addiction
For the sexually addicted person, male or female, help is available through treatment programs that specifically deal with sexual addiction. This may be through a residential treatment facility, or inpatient hospital, or outpatient facility or clinic.
The length, scope and philosophy of treatment programs for sexual compulsivity and addiction vary. What follows is a general course of action. First, an extensive interview and assessment is conducted covering sex and relationship problems. Therapists are assigned and a treatment plan is personally prepared. Treatment seeks to identify and eliminate sexual patterns and behavior that are inappropriate and unhealthy. Healthy coping and intimacy skills are taught. In addition, relapse prevention and shame reduction is also covered in-depth. Therapy also seeks to fully explore and reduce symptoms of any prior trauma and abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be offered as part of the treatment program.
Family or couples therapy is usually included as part of the treatment program. During this phase of the treatment, the partner or spouse participates in individual and/or group counseling, lectures, discussions and other therapeutic exercises.
Following treatment, both the sexual addict and the partner are encouraged to attend 12-step support meetings. For the sexual addict in recovery, these groups include:
• Sex Addicts Anonymous
• Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
• Sexual Recovery Anonymous
• Sexaholics Anonymous
• Sexual Compulsives Anonymous
For the co-addict or partner of the sex addict, the following groups or sites may offer encouragement and support:
• A Woman’s Healing Journey
A 12-step fellowship offering help for couples in recovery from sexual addiction is Recovering Couples Anonymous.
Recovery from the Effects of Sexual Addiction
While the roots or underlying causes of one partner’s sexual addiction take time to be fully understood, and treatment to overcome these powerful urges also takes time, those who genuinely want to heal will heal. The partner of the sexual addict also needs assistance, guidance and structured support in order to be a full participant in the sex addict’s recovery, and to benefit the relationship as well.
There will be ups and downs as both partners seek to learn new ways of relating to each other, to rebuild trust and intimacy that has been shattered by sexual addiction, and to solidify the foundation of their marriage or partnership. In the end, recovery is an ongoing process. Unlike addition to alcohol and drugs, or to gambling, abstinence is not the goal. Instead, partners learn about and seek to commit themselves to healthy sexual behavior and true intimacy.