“Why didn’t I see that something was wrong?”
Most partners and spouses of sex addicts feel that they had no idea there were sexual addictive behaviors going on behind their back. They believe, and correctly so, that sex addicts are world class liars and they cannot imagine how they were supposed to have figured out that their spouse was engaging in sexual behaviors like viewing internet pornography at work, having random sexual hook-ups, or spending a small fortune in strip clubs. Were they wearing blinders? Definitely not. Addicts are great liars. But there are ways in which the sex addict’s behavior is a symptom of a larger problem, and that larger problem was almost certainly one that pervaded the marriage or relationship in many other subtle ways. If both addict and partner have some of the same unconscious hang ups, then the partner may not be able to clearly see that something is amiss. The disclosure of the sex addiction will seem to come out of left field.
Both sex addict and partner have intimacy issues
Sexual addictive behaviors are, among other things, a way to avoid intimacy. Sex addicts tend to pick partners who do not demand that the relationship be based on emotional maturity, honesty, and equality. The addict is most comfortable with a partner who is so afraid of abandonment that they are either checked out a lot, keeping distance through drama and turmoil, or through behaving in a needy and compliant way. In other words, one of the ways that the sex addict’s intimacy disorder meshes with the partner’s intimacy issues is that for both of them there is a tendency to choose partnerships with built-in distance.
Separateness and loneliness: the addict
Sex addiction is a lonely business. When sex addicts are active in their addiction, they are “intimacy disabled” – they avoid close relating with a partner and substitute the fleeting excitement of sexual acting out. Most likely they are coming from a place of fear of intimacy that goes way back to childhood experiences. The upshot is that their way of relating to their partner may be very superficial, intermittent and outright deceptive. This is not closeness. Underneath, the addict has feelings of inferiority and loneliness.
Separateness and loneliness: the spouses of addicts
The person living with a sex addict is fearful of abandonment too and therefore fears intimacy because it carries with it the danger of getting hurt. In some way there is safety in a partner who is partly unavailable. Getting too close is not safe. So the partner of a sex addict (or any kind of addict for that matter) is not the “main squeeze” so to speak. The addiction is in some ways the addict’s true love. Often the relationship started out with the addict seeming to be overwhelmingly in love and seductive and the partner may mistake this intensity for intimacy. In this way the partner is unconsciously settling for a relationship in which there is intense romanticism (at first) but really, in one way or another, an absence of deeper intimacy. Worse still, the spouse or partner of a sex addict will periodically have a sense of this lack even if they cannot see the cause. The partner or spouse will be subjected to periodic but constant episodes of abandonment by the person they love.
Learning to be Intimate: new skills for both addict and partner
The cure for all this loneliness and fear of abandonment is that through recovery both sex addicts and their partners will be receiving appropriate support and professional help in order to overcome their fears and learn to be intimate. This is a long process; the old fears are deeply ingrained. But both addicts and their spouses or partners have many of the same fears and the same lack of ability to feel safe in being open with what they feel and who they are. In the process of recovery the addict and partner can count on having a lot of common areas for growth, and this in itself will be a basis for genuine closeness.