Help for Spouses of Sexual Addiction

Help for loved ones of Sex Addicts:

How could He do this?
The Shock, the Horror, the Disgust
If it is any consolation, the sex addict may have been wondering this same thing.  Why do they do this?  Sex addiction is a disease.  It is something that one catches.  It is caught in one's childhood, sometime adulthood.  It comes from dysfunction.  There are three rules in an addictive home.  1) Don't Talk.  2) Don't Feel.  3) Don't Trust.

The addiction, the sexual acting out becomes the "trusted source of comfort."  Key word is "trusted."  The addiction, which is secretive and shameful, comforts the addict.  They turn to it when they have a stressful and tough day.  When there is any uncomfortable emotion or feeling, they use it to numb themselves.  The sex addict doesn't trust people or God, but trusts they own plan of how they will solve their problems.  Rather than sharing with a spouse or a friend, they isolate.  For us, we feel alone and second best.  We think often that it is about us.  We are not attractive enough, even though we don't want to compare ourselves to digitally altered photos of porn models.  The better phrase to remembers is:

                            "It is not about us, but it affects us."

Sex addicts, like any addict, don't talk about what is really bothering them.  In a family, we don't talk deeply about what bothers us.  The term "act out" not only is a nice euphemism for compulsive sexual behavior, but accurately describes what is really happening.  We act out the feelings and frustration.  Rather than talking things out, we act them out.  We as partners of the addict are on the receiving end of all this.  We sometimes know they are acting out sexually, sometimes we don't know.  We see the ups and downs emotionally, but we really don't know the half of it.  Sometimes we respond like a Sherlock Holmes and want to know everything.  Sometimes we are too afraid to know.  

If we do confront them, they often lie or tell half truths.  They minimize - share but make the amount of acting out or affairs less than it is.  They normalize - making it seem that all men do this.  This is normal.  This can create feelings we were don't trust our own instincts after awhile.  They may blame us by saying the our sex life is unsatisfactory.  The sex life is not good because of the sex addiction, not the other way around.  This is not about having enough sex.  It is not some much about sex at all.  It is very much like any other addictive substance or compulsive behavior--drugs, alcohol, food, spending, gambling, work and even codependency.

Now it all makes sense, but it doesn't make sense
Dealing with the confusion of it all

You may have felt more confused and in the dark before you realized that you were living or dating a sex addict.  The secrecy, the lies, the minimizing, the constant looking at other women.  You might have felt like he used you sexually or he would pout and fall apart if you couldn't get sex.  What is wrong with this picture?  You realized something was wrong, but perhaps he was such a nice guy, or he was good to you.  He told you that all men need sex and the way to love him was to have sex with him.  This might have made you feel responsible to keep him from stumbling into lust.  Little by little you became an enabler without realizing it.  It would have been easier to spot his alcoholism or drug addiction, but sex? 

He might have been grumpy, angry and distant.  Little did you realize that this could have occurred after a binge of internet pornography.  You might have wondered why he wasn't interested in you sexually anymore.  On the other hand, his constant interest in sex might have made you feel, he would never betray your trust.  Studies have shown that the average couple has sex approximately once a week.  This really varies with where you are in life.  Do you have children, or you both working real hard.

The average couple may have sex anywhere from 1 to 4 times a month.  Having sex every day is 7 times the national average.  The addict may have told you that you are a prude or undersexed.  Perhaps they have a problem with wanting it too much.  But amount isn't necessarily the determining factor. 

Does he ignore major issues?

Does he numb himself with other substances, like alcohol, drugs, pot, or work?

Does he have black and white thinking, which is characteristic of addiction in general?

Does he have trouble with intimacy, that is being his true self without feelings of rejection?

Does he suffer from lower self esteem, but over compensate with bragging and grandiosity?

Is he checking out other women in magazines, TV or movies, where you notice him staring or going into a trance?

Was he promiscuous before you met him?

Did he have a childhood where his parents were rigid, black and white and low on the affection scale?

Does he have trouble sharing his feelings, except anger?

Have you caught him looking at porn or masturbating and he promises never to do it again, only to break his promise later?

Has he blamed you for the problems in the relationship and take very little responsibility for himself?

It is not about you, but it affects you.
How to break free from feeling responsible.

It is so tempting think that there is something you did or didn't do to cause this.  We feel very powerless when we find that our spouse has acted out sexually or has a sexual addiction.  Instead of admitting that I am powerless, we tend to take responsibility.  Working with victims of trauma from stabbing, gunshots and rape, each one tends to find someway they could have prevented this.  This is common.  Vulnerability is not a place emotion to face and rather than feel it and experience it, we would rather feel that we were in control of the situation.  So, how does that happen?  We make ourselves responsible in some way.  Here are some things to consider:

Did your spouse have this behavior before they entered the relationship?
Did you spouse try to make your responsible for their behavior? 
Does he blame you?
Do you feel insecure about your sexuality, your looks or the marriage?

to be continued...

What do I do now?
Steps toward healing and recovery for you.

To be continued.

Process the feeling.
Deciding what to do.
Restoration if possible.

Treatment Considerations?
What you should know about how treatment should go

A man came in for treatment.  His wife caught him on the internet.  She knows he has a problem with pornography.  But does he?  So, he comes in for treatment.  Goes a few sessions.  He says that the therapist didn't think he was a sex addict?  What happened?  Here are some things to consider and guidelines for good assessment and treatment.

A counselor can only go on what is presented to them.  If someone comes in and doesn't share everything, they may not be able to help the person see that they have a problem.  should the therapist have a hidden agenda, assuming that the person who looks at pornography is an addiction.  We don't think so.  This would be poor therapy.  What can help the situation.  Having the spouse come in to treatment can help get a clearer picture.  Sometimes the sex addict says that his spouse doesn't want to come in.  It is too painful.  But in reality, he is telling her that she should come in because it is his therapy.  (the addiction is dividing and conquering here) 

The spouse may write an email, letter or try to talk on the phone to inform the therapist of his actions.  There are spouses that have yelled through the phone that the therapist should be talking with his sponsor to get data.  This process is called triangling and often ends up looking like tattling.  Is it beneficial?  Not really.  Is the information necessary.  It could be.  The best situation is where the spouse shares the concerns in therapy with the sex addict present.  This helps build communication in a safe place.  The therapist is not dialoguing with the spouse "behind their back" which could break trust.  The therapist is not going to be misquoted by the spouse as well.  When a spouse feels helpless, angry and scared it is easy to borrow the voice of the therapist and put in things that they didn't actually say.

The spouse or coaddict often needs a safe place to talk about what is going on.  Should the go to the same therapist as the sex addict?  There are advantages and disadvantages of each. 

Some advantages are:

  1. The therapist is more likely to have a better picture of what is going on by getting both sides.

  2. It might be able to preserve the integrity and structure of the marriage.  If one goes to any therapist, the spouse may paint a picture of how bad the addiction is, and how innocent they are.  This also happens when the sex addict has clearly violated the marriage and he wants to talk about his wife's flaws.  Some joint sessions helps prevent this.

  3. It saves on cost because the therapist is more likely to get the bigger picture and when the there are letters of clarification or processing of what has happened, each doesn't have to buy an extra session to process it separately.

Some disadvantages are: 
  1. There can be bias on the part of the therapist.  Is she for the sex addict or for the co-addicts interests?  There can easily be a conflict of interests.

  2. The therapist can be triangled into the conflict of the sex addict and co-addict, thus acting out there anger.

These are just a few considerations for therapy.

  • Consider someone who is well-trained.  There are certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) who are trained according to the research of Dr. Patrick Carnes one of the founders of treatment for sex addiction.

  • Consider the distance.  One could be going to treatment for some time.  While you may stop from time to time, it is worth finding someone close if they are going to be effective.  If not, it might be advantageous to drive the extra miles.

  • Consider a task oriented therapy for the addict.  There are certain tasks that will improve the success of treatment.  Some include, attending 12 step meetings, SA, SAA, or SLAA.   Writing Steps 1, and Step 4 and making amends are important.  Understanding triggers and the sexual arousal template and family of origin issues are vital as well. 

  • Consider that therapist that has a balance between comfort and challenge. Most addicts/coaddicts in recovery need both.  They need someone to challenge them when they are complacent, in denial and going to make a huge mistake.  They also need nurturing when they feel so down and hopeless that they can't go on.

 There is hope for recovery.  Continue to read a learn about addiction and take the steps necessary for recovery and you will make progress.  The "failures" we hear about can be boiled down to not working a program.  If one works a program they will get get.  Co-addicts need a program of recovery as well.  This is often overlooked.  Finding your own journey in healing will help not only you, but also indirectly help the addict and your family.

A video about getting better boundaries between you and the addict