If you are reading this material you have likely discovered that your spouse or romantic partner has engaged in sexually compulsive behaviors. Some of these behaviors may include use of pornography, visiting strip clubs, massage parlors, prostitutes, or having affairs. What is common for partners in these situations is the overwhelming experience of broken trust and betrayal. You may have learned the truth in a staggered manner, in bits and pieces over time, wondering what additional information is yet to be discovered.
Sex Addiction may be the most destructive to relationships of any addiction. It is different than other addictive disorders like alcoholism, drug addiction, or gambling in its capacity to traumatize the partner of the addict. Considered a behavioral addiction, sex addiction is a complicated illness. However, if the sex addict is willing to engage in treatment, there is a good chance of recovery and a return to honesty and integrity. More may be read about sex addiction on this website.
For the partner of a sex addict the impact is complex. It creates, in the words of Christine Courtois, PhD., a “multiple and repeated experience of interpersonal trauma,” affecting the partner’s sense of safety, trust, and sexuality. Common responses by partners may include shock, anger, anxiety, depression, low self-worth, sleeplessness, and often hyper-vigilant behaviors to find out what is really going on. Therapists refer to this experience as Chronic Betrayal Trauma. In fact, research studies on partners of sex addicts have found that many experienced acute stress and anxiety symptoms similar to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Partners have been lied to and manipulated to the point doubting their own reality. Many feel devastated that they can no longer trust the one they loved. Some realize that they have been lied to for many years, creating a deep sense of confusion and despair. Families are ripped apart. And, often the partner is left unattended, alienated, and alone— with treatment and attention provided solely to the addict.
At Healthy Sex Consultants, we consider help for partners to be critically important. We follow a highly effective trauma model in addressing the profound hurt suffered by partners. Support begins with processing the pain of betrayal and the ways in which it has impacted the partner. Education about sex addiction is also an important part of the process to help make sense of the lies and manipulation which commonly occur with this disorder.
If the partner wishes to repair the relationship, therapists at HSC have been trained to assist in stabilizing the couple and rebuilding trust, working with the partner and the addict in both individual and couples counseling. Strategies may include the use of a polygraph and formal disclosure as part of the process to hold the addict accountable and help the partner feel more confident in moving forward. Sometimes, the relationship may not continue. In these cases, partners are supported through the separation and healing required to navigate through such difficulty.
If you are the partner of a sex addict, do not lose hope. You have been badly hurt, but a return to strength and resilience is possible with understanding, guidance, and support.