Treatment for Partners of Sex Addicts: The Fallout and the Recovery

When a partner discovers they are in a relationship with a sex addict they are to a greater or lesser degree in a kind of post traumatic state of shock.  This means that they may not be able to sort out what they are feeling very well.

Often the first reflex is to be angry and want to reject the addict.  But I have found that the partner or spouse will usually realize that the addict has a serious problem and begin to do the leg work of finding the right kind of help.

Sometimes the partner will be interested in participating in the addict’s recovery and sometimes not.  Often the partner will be on the fence about whether they will be able to stay in the relationship.  There are many different kinds of responses to this crisis and many different ways of coping.

Some common reactions

Some spouses and partners focus too much on the addict.  They go into an emergency mode in which they concentrate their energy on the addict’s need for help that they neglect their own needs.  The feeling is to get this problem solved as fast as possible and get back to “normal.”  But the treatment for sex addiction will of necessity change the people involved in some profound ways and will therefore mean that the relationship will not go back to exactly the way it was.

Getting help for a sex addict partner is not like helping a partner get through knee surgery.  It involves the addict getting help with problems relating to intimacy.   A relationship that was one of dishonesty and compartmentalization becomes one of openness and trust.  This big picture is usually hard for either partner to discern at the outset.

Some partners feel an urge to explain away the addict’s problem.  They feel very invested in what they may think was a great relationship and don’t quite know how to adjust to the idea that there is a major problem.  One way to attempt to get clarity  is to blame themselves or other circumstances, such as a separation, a pregnancy and so on.  “If such-and-such hadn’t happened then my partner wouldn’t have felt X or Y or Z and he wouldn’t have needed to engage in sexually addictive behavior.”

But the addict does have a problem and the fact that a life stressor caused it to escalate does not mean that it is not there.

Sometimes partners are so angry at their spouse or partner that even though they do not immediately decide to leave the relationship they try to completely shut out the problem.  They say in effect: “I’m fine, you’re messed up and you need to go get fixed.”  Meanwhile, their thinking goes, I will just get on with my life, and if you get better then we’ll be a couple again.

This is also a natural response but the fact is that although the addict’s recovery is not the partner’s responsibility, the partner does have to face up to what has happened to the relationship and to the impact that it has had on them.  Eventually partners of sex addicts need to be able to recognize that the kind of betrayal they have experienced is not a small matter and that it is OK to be vulnerable to being hurt and OK to get support.  We are human and we need to be able to trust those we love.  And because we are human our loved ones can hurt us. This means we deserve help too.

What kind of help do partners and spouses need

The kind of support that partners need and want varies enormously.  I have seen spouses so devastated by sexual betrayal that they wanted and needed a residential treatment program of their own.  Other partners find it useful to get therapy with a sex addiction counselor for themselves.  They need to better understand the nature of sex addiction and the fact that they didn’t cause it and they can’t cure it.  They may need to learn to set boundaries, communicate their feelings more clearly and sort out, bottom line, what they are willing to accept and what they are not.

Most spouses and partners benefit from the support of other spouses and partners of sex addicts who are dealing with the same experiences.  This can take the form of group therapy, 12-step programs for partners of sex addicts or co-dependents generally, on online resources for educational information and websites by and for partners of sex addicts.

It is surprising how many couples survive sex addiction and go on to thrive.  The research has indicated that the participation of the spouse or partner in the process of recovery at an appropriate time is key to this success.  Both the addict and the partner need to get the right kind of help and then they need to work together to rebuild their relationship.  Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

The One Essential Key to Porn and Sex Addiction Recovery

Some people start recovery for sex addiction at a full gallop and never look back.  But for people who struggle with sex and porn addiction and who have multiple slips or periodic relapses there is one key thing they may be missing.

I’m not talking here about the spiritual enlightenment side of it, the so called “white light moment” or even just the daily spiritual practice.  Those are important elements but there is something much more mundane than that.

A simple idea with big ramifications

It sounds deceptively simple but the thing you need to get your head around in recovery is that your recovery comes first.  Deceptively simple because it is very hard to put this idea into practice.  For one thing although addicts may be selfish and narcissistic, that does not mean that they are any good at getting their priorities straight.

The idea that  recovery literally comes before anything else. 

You might say well what if I am having a heart attack?  Should I go to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting or to the emergency room?  Well of course you need to deal with really life threatening situations first.  But in day-to-day life it is important to take the commandment to put recovery first quite literally.

Why is this so important?  Because addicts find excuses to avoid getting sober.  The need for the “drug” leads to rationalizations for putting other things ahead of the addict’s own need to recover.  This is faulty logic.  And it is part of the “cunning baffling and insidious” nature of the addiction talked about in the 12-step literature.

Isn’t spending time with your kids more important than your own recovery?  My addict clients are surprised when I challenge this idea.  Off the top it seems selfish and harmful to their children to disappoint them and undermine the closeness.  But dropping the ball on your recovery work is more harmful in the long run to everyone concerned.

There is a saying in 12-step circles that “Anything you put ahead of your recovery you will lose”.

This is profound  The reason recovery comes first is that addiction is so destructive.  Over time, the un-sober addict will forfeit everything that ever mattered to him.  He will destroy relationships, jobs, money, health, and lose any chance to fulfill his potential in life.

Many addicts get stuck in a pattern of continual relapse even though they are quite diligent about going to treatment, going to meetings and so on.  Making recovery the center of your life, at least until you are well on your way (usually at least a year or two and often longer) means more than just going through the motions of getting help.

Recovering addicts may enter treatment for any number of reasons other than wanting to get over their addiction.  In fact few actually want to stop using porn or sexually addictive behaviors in the beginning.  Most likely they have come to get help because their spouse or partner threatened to leave them, because they lost their job, because they got in trouble with the law, or some other crisis situation.

The crisis motivates the addict to get into recovery in order to hold onto something else: the wife, the career, their freedom.  And yet in the long run the motivation needs to shift, the addict needs to put those things after his recovery or he will stay an addict.  He will lose the very things he came into recovery to keep.

Putting recovery first is very hard.  As if the siren song of sex addiction weren’t enough, life throws numerous other challenges our way.  We get temporarily derailed from what we need to do to stay sober.  But eventually the basic principle applies: be ruthless in your pursuit of your own need to recover.  If you think in this way nothing and no one can stop you.  Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource