How to Live with a Recovering Sex Addict: Help for Partners
Most sex addicts’ partners suffer their traumatic experience in silence, unaware that help is available. Learn why professional help is crucial to get back on track.
Sex addicts face a number of challenges when it comes to getting sober, but their partners and loved ones also go through challenges of their own — that might not even be considered. Many partners of sex addicts start to question their relationship, due to the sex addict’s behaviour. An example of this is Rachel, who felt that her husband had become disinterested in sex, until he eventually confessed that he was a sex addict. When confronted with the truth, Rachel remembers thinking “my life fell apart.”
Sex addiction affects partners in a unique way to any other addiction. A variety of personal pain issues begin to emerge, such as feelings of shame, betrayal, deceit and infidelity. Paula Hall, author of Sex Addiction: The Partner’s Perspective, explains that “sex addiction feels extremely personal when you are the partner because it affects the most intimate part of your relationship in a way that, say, alcohol or drugs just do not.”
Discovering the Truth
Partners generally believe that they can support their spouse through hardships, even when that includes addictions. However, sex addiction tends to never cross their minds until they are faced with it. Like Rachel, many partners find it difficult to wrap their head around the addiction, mainly due to lack of knowledge given that it is still a largely taboo subject. Though it has yet to be formally classified as a ‘real’ addiction, there is mounting proof that sex addiction is very real.
Another difficult aspect about being a sex addict’s partner is that sex addiction is a fairly broad term that does not specify the habits associated with the addiction. According to the NHS sex addiction website, sex addiction could “involve sex with a partner, but it may also mean activities such as viewing pornography, masturbation, visiting prostitutes or using sex chat lines.” Here are the 10 types of sex addiction most commonly treated.
Particularly with sex addiction, most often the addictive behaviours were a betrayal of the vows of marriage or implied commitments to monogamy. Due to the secretive nature of all addictions, coupled with the occasional denial system of spouses, the uncovering of the addictive behaviours are tantamount to a psychological trauma for the spouse or significant other. Spouses often display the classic PTSD signs and require treatment for that as well as guidance through the addict’s ongoing recovery process.
In the past, sex addict partners were treated as codependent, due to the assumption that the partner had an idea of what was happening and was possibly even enabling it. However, in reality, the majority of partners tend to experience a huge shock. This shock is often accompanied by feelings of self-doubt and negative effects on self-esteem. After all, this news can make partners feel as though they have been living with someone that they really do not know.
Hall explains “these guys, and it is mostly guys, are on the whole loving husbands, yet they did this right under your nose, leaving you unable to trust your partner, or even your own judgements.” It is no surprise that many spouses experience trauma, which can result in panic attacks, anxiety, rage and depression.
What Type of Help is there for Partners of Sex Addicts
Understanding the impact of living with a sex addict shows how important it is for spouses to also get help. Partners should seek help from a therapist who is experienced in sex addiction. Though having a support group of friends who mean well can be comforting, they (along with other general therapists) do not have a true understanding of the addiction and cannot offer the help that is needed.
For example, if a sex addict’s spouse were to visit a relationship therapist then the case would be treated as one of infidelity. However, sex addiction is more complex than that and, oftentimes, does not even include acts of infidelity (such as with addiction to pornography).
Connecting with other people who are going through the same thing can also be beneficial. Sex addiction therapist Joy Rosendale who has lead numerous support groups says that “although there is usually huge reluctance for partners to seek help, let alone come into a group, because of the privacy and shame, something happens in these groups that liberates these women.” She adds “I say women because in my experience, it is usually women who access them.”
A large focal point of these support groups is to educate spouses about sex addiction. Skills such as detachment are vital because they help the partner to focus on themselves and set healthy boundaries. Partners are often overwhelmed with a variety of emotions, but are scared to detach because it could be misinterpreted as lack of caring.
However, learning about detachment, and other healing methods, allow partners to take care of themselves first — which is more beneficial for both partners, and the relationship, in the long run. A huge step in recovery is understanding that the spouses’ addiction is not their fault. Additionally, it is not their responsibility since the addict must seek their own help in order to get better.
Spouses must learn how to stop control and blame, and find ways to express losses and pain in a way that is emotionally supportive.
While connecting with other partners who are going through the same thing may not be possible in Hong Kong currently, as there are only support groups for sex addicts (S.L.A.A); a sex addict’s partner can benefit from the Family Programme at The Cabin Hong Kong. It is a professionally led group especially designed to help the loved ones of addicted individuals achieve recovery themselves; but with a more personalised focus, as participants can access individual counselling sessions as well.
Stages of Treatment
At The Cabin, when a sex addict seeks treatment, it is highly encouraged for the spouse to enter treatment as well. Initial phases of treatment for the spouse mirror initial phases of treatment for the addict. The sex addict’s partner has the opportunity to be fully heard and educated about the disease their partner suffers from, in an effort to help them understand the addict’s behaviours — which are often very confusing and contradictory to how they behave in other manners.
In learning about the psychological addictive process they are faced with their own ‘powerlessness’ and ‘unmanageability’ over their partner’s disease. Often they will also uncover some of their own destructive behaviours employed in an attempt to control their partner’s addiction, such as co-dependency and enabling.
Educating the partner about the addiction is only a part of the initial phase. They are also assisted in stabilising themselves after the traumatic disclosure or discovery. Partners are often made to feel ‘crazy’ for being suspicious about the addict’s lying, hiding, legitimising and rationalising. They feel hyper vigilant and will often seek revenge.
Conversely, they may be over-accommodating and think they should have given the addict more sex. We help them with better coping strategies and help them begin to get a better sense of reality about the relationship.
The addict’s initial phases are psychoeducation about the disease, breaking through denial and preparation of a “full, formal disclosure”. This disclosure is reviewed by the addict and his therapist multiple times for accuracy and thoroughness with an emphasis to not re-traumatise the partner. It is then delivered in a therapeutic environment with the spouse’s therapist and the addict’s therapist both present.
The spouse has prepared their own set of “boundaries and consequences”. With the help of their own therapist they have come up with a comprehensive list of behaviours they will either require of the addict or they will not tolerate from the addict. This list of boundaries is delivered after the formal disclosure.
Spouses are encouraged to participate in both group and individual sessions because there is work that can be accomplished in one venue that cannot be accomplished in the other. For example, the spouse would need individual guidance through their boundaries work that could not be fully actualised in group. Also the groups would provide community support and challenge where individual work could not provide this.
Being a sex addict’s partner is not easy but using the treatment options we discussed can help you overcome your situation. Contact The Cabin Hong Kong today to find out how we can help you or someone you know.