“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.

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  1. Awesome info. I am an addict and Ive been married for 15 years. Just discovered Im an addict. Now Im trying to recover. Thank you for any info on this. Connie

    • Thank you for your comment Connie. I admire your honesty and I hope you will find the support you need in recovery and going forward. Linda

  2. How very true of everything in this article! I am the addict myself personally and this is exactly what I do and look for. And wow at the many people I have hurt. However the relationship I am in now has been totally different from my past addict experiences im hoping im finally making a break through since ive been in recovery for years. I pray that this is the start of a better relationship for me and my partner!

  3. So good to hear this good news! I wish someone would start a forum on this topic because people’s stories are so interesting and relevant.

  4. This is wonderful article!
    Now I have a lot better understanding about the person(addict)
    I love.He is deelply wounded from childhood and the the wound is still raw and bleeding.
    Only love, unconditional love and patience will heal him.
    I am sure!

  5. Thank you so much for this article, sadly my relationship ended before we both realised what was going on. By reading your article I understand more of what was happening and it helps me to begin to let go.

    I write a blog and would love to link to your work if that is possible please. It is so good that more people are talking about this ‘silent’ addiction.

    Thank you very much.

    • i agree, i dont view it as an illness i just see it a time to pass time, i mean would you raethr have somebody spend mindless hours just watching TV? what if you dont really have anything else to do? then your just sitting around with nothing to do. the game isnt an addiction its just somethign for your to do and since it never ends you can use that time more and more and more with the game. Doesnt mean your addicted just means its fun

  6. Great article,
    This describes my husband and I to a “T”. My husband of 16 years was discovered to be an addict six months ago. The loneliness stage is where we both feel we are at. He doesn’t live with the children and I now, as a therapeutic separation is what was necessary for us. Trying to develop an attachment for him is extremely hard work. That has left me feeling lonely. The addiction is very strong for him and I believes that it makes him question his strength daily. I am not sure if he can turn the corner and learn how to communicate and develop a healthy attachment to me. Both people in the relationship are hurt, but the addict has to fight extra hard to learn attachment – in my opinion.

  7. I wish my sex addict husband would read this . He wont. He is still acting out and lying about it. He attends saa meeting once a week. But I can tell he is still acting out. If I bring up anything about it he gets mad. I have proof he acted out about a month ago. He doesn’t know I have it. He still lies. I about done. 30 years of deception is long enough.

  8. I have been considering my part, as the wife of a sex addict, for over two years now and, despite my deep respect for Dr. Hatch’s writing, I am not sure this is a one size fits all assessment, as indicated in this article. I don’t think I had any good choices for the years he was acting out. Did I think the early intensity was intimacy so I went toward it or was I afraid of intimacy? This article kind of says both. Should I have seen more intimacy in my parents? I think I did see and experience it but most of us only have a couple of serious romantic relationships to provide perspective so, despite what I experienced as a child, aren’t we all just novices trying to figure it out? And, there was vulnerability during our courtship. It disappeared intermittently, but not completely, after we got married and pregnant. How often are healthy people intimate/vulnerable? Everyday? Every week? Every minute? Relationships are dynamic (call and response) so how is it that a partner can get something different than the addict is willing to give without being controlling/demanding? I guess what I’m saying is I’m not sure even the healthiest partner could have done this relationship in a way that would have mitigated the damage that ensued. I trusted, blindly, because my family of origin gave me no reason to doubt the concept of trust. So does that mean my naïveté was disfunctional? Should I have been less trusting? Is less trusting more healthy? I guess hindsight in psychology really is 20/20 because we can all look back, make generalizations, and say woulda, should, coulda but I still struggle to know how I could have known what was happening, changed what occurred, or responded to my situation in healthier ways.

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