Sexual addiction or compulsivity is a very insidious disease. Not only does it take over the life of the one directly affected, the addict, it also has dramatic impact on their partner. More often than not, the addict in recovery receives all the attention, financial resources and time to work on recovery from the addiction. The addict may go to individual therapy, attend groups and begin getting involved in 12-step meetings.
The partner, on the other hand, often remains isolated. Partners frequently take on the shame of the addiction even though it is not their addiction. They are reluctant to talk to anyone about their experiences and find themselves alone in dealing with the pain and trauma caused by the addict’s problem.
In this early stage of recovery, it is common for the addict and the partner to be in completely different places emotionally. Often as the addict enters recovery they realize they WANT to become a person of integrity and love their partner. In contrast, the partner is feeling betrayed and never felt less loved. The addict is often working hard to restore the marriage at the same time the partner is wondering if there is even a marriage left to save.
Some couples handle these contrasting, healing journeys by avoiding talking about the addiction. “Sally” and “Jim” found that every time they tried to discuss the addiction, it ended up in an explosive argument with doors slamming and a lot of angry, hurtful words thrown at one another. Very quickly they decided to stop talking about the addiction and the trauma at all. Two years later, even though Jim had not acted out sexually during that time, the relationship had made very little progress and Sally was still experiencing significant emotional distress whenever a reminder of the addiction arose.
On the other hand “John” and “Mary” could never experience any peace in the relationship at all. John was so traumatized by Mary’s acting out behavior that he interrogated her daily about where she had been, what she had been doing and repeatedly asked the same questions about her past acting out behavior. A year later, they were still having frequent sleepless nights when he could not let go of a thought or fear and he kept Mary awake because “if [he] couldn’t sleep, then neither will she.”
These examples may sound like repairing a relationship after discovery of sex addiction is a hopeless cause. The truth is a majority of relationships stay together. The following suggestions may help in that recovery:
- Ensure both people in the relationship have the resources to get support, whether those resources are time to go to groups or finances to get therapy. To heal the relationship, both individuals in the relationship need healing.
- Be patient with yourself and your partner. Recovery is a journey, not an event, and it comes one day at a time.
- Make space and create boundaries around talking about the addiction. Many couples find it helpful to set up a time and frequency to discuss the topic. This allows them to live life and not have the addiction take over every moment of every day, or alternatively, completely avoid ever talking about it.
- Take active steps towards repairing the relationship. Groups like Recovering Couples Anonymous are available in many communities. Getting some couples coaching through a pastor or therapist who understands sexual addiction and the traumatic impact on the partner is key.
There is hope for recovery from sex addiction when both partners are willing to engage in the healing process.
CPCC’s Sexual Recovery Program offers hope and healing from Sex Addiction for the addict, the partner and the shattered relationship. The Beginning Recovery Group is a 6-week therapeutic and educational program designed to help couples in early recovery. For more information contact Ginny Mosby 925.323.4727, or Terry Kendrick 925.708.6990