Sex addiction treatment lays a foundation
When a sex addict receives enough treatment and support to be able to refrain from sexual addictive behaviors, the addict and those around the addict may wonder if the treatment has also produced a new ability to be open, trusting and devoted in an intimate relationship. In their addiction, addicts remove a part of themselves from their significant other; they live part of their life in secret or perhaps are unable to form a bond with a partner at all. And, if the new found abstinence is more than “white knuckle” sobriety, the addict will have made some major changes in a number of areas which are fundamental to recovery from sex addiction. In addition to getting off the “drug” of addictive sexual behaviors, the addict will have learned some or all of the following:
- A habit of honesty and integrity in all their dealings with people
- A capacity for more open communication rather than being ashamed and secretive
- An awareness that their addiction left them lonely and isolated
- An ability to tolerate unpleasant and painful situations and feelings
- A willingness to be seen for who they are rather than playing a role
- A commitment to continued growth and to helping others
These are all good things and things which will help both the sex addict and their partner or potential partner achieve a healthy, passionate and loving relationship. But although these abilities form a basis for intimate relating they are not the whole story. They are necessary but not sufficient.
There is still a ways to go for sex addiction treatment methods
Sex addicts have a variety of intimacy issues that typically underlie their addiction and although these are addressed in treatment, the process of learning new intimacy skills and practicing a new and different kind of relating will be an ongoing process. Some of the traits of the addict that linger will almost certainly crop up in the relationships that addicts have in the early years of recovery.
Because sex addicts have never had a healthy intimate relationship, they will have had no experience of the day to day reality of relating to a partner in a new way, a way that fits their new sense of self. They have learned how to be better, but they have not had an opportunity to learn how to be better as a spouse or partner or perhaps even how to approach dating. The addict most commonly had a problematic attachment with one or more caregivers early in life which left them with a deep mistrust of intimacy. In addition, the typical addict family of origin is one without committed, open, healthy intimacy between parents, and so the addict has no model to strive toward: he/she doesn’t know what a good relationship really looks like.
Other areas where the addict’s old patterns of behavior may crop up relate to some of the typical ways of thinking and feeling that go along with the unconscious conditioning of most sex addicts.
- Addicts may struggle with sexual avoidance with their partner. Remember sex addicts have been involving part of themselves in a separate very intense sexual life that does not make any interpersonal demands on them. With a partner they cannot go off into a fantasy world or use the sex as a drug in the same way. This may lead to a nagging discomfort with sex that can only be overcome with time and practice. Yes, practice.
- Sex addicts are used to living as narcissists. Narcissism is a defense mechanism that allows addicts to feel superficially good about themselves when they really don’t feel they are worth much at all. They have been avoiding their own painful emotions their whole life and they are not yet entirely ready to admit that they are imperfect, to listen to other people, and to accept a world in which they can feel OK without having to feel special or over-entitled.
- Sex addicts have lived their whole life feeling that they could not entirely trust others and could not rely on others to meet their needs. This leads to an excessive need for control that makes it hard for addicts in recovery to get used to a new model of relating that requires compromise, mutual respect and a great deal of faith in their spouse or partner.
- Sex addicts are often loners. Even if they are overtly social or seem to be good team players they tend to feel a deep sense of separateness and isolation. It is an ongoing challenge for many recovering sex addicts to really bond with another person, to give themselves over to a “oneness” with another person. They will have to gradually learn to break through that invisible barrier, a process that will naturally occur over time if they consciously let it.
So long as recovering sex addicts and their partners or significant others have a commitment to continuing to grow, they will be able to continually gain new intimacy skills for a long time to come. Treatment is only the beginning. As the saying goes “recovery takes a lifetime.”