Most sex addicts enter sex addiction treatment with a warped sense of what relationships are all about. The relational trauma in early life that made them addicts also results in their having:
- No models of healthy relating over time
- No experience of giving or getting appropriate nurturing
- No set of relationship skills such as openness and mutuality
Some sex addicts avoid relationships altogether, preferring to limit their intimate contact to porn, prostitutes, hook-ups, cybersex or other sexually addictive behaviors that allow them to avoid the demands of real connection with someone.
Other sex addicts form relationships and marriages while they are secretly active in their addictive behavior. They too are avoiding intimacy. They cannot share their deeper feelings with a partner due to fear of being hurt or abandoned.
Mistaken ideas about what relationships are for
Here are some of the superficial ideas that often form the sex addict’s paradigm of what a relationship is for:
- A relationship will bring me social recognition and acceptance in a world I want to belong to.
- A relationship with a glamorous person will make me proud and confident and make others envy me.
- A relationship with the right person will provide the perfect balance to my life.
- A committed relationship with children will make me a normal person with a normal life.
- We will be considered a “great looking couple.”
- The right relationship can cure my addictions.
These ideas come out of a sense of inadequacy and reflect the addict’s inability to imagine a healthy bond. They reveal his or her narcissistic view of a relationship as a useful accessory and a partner as a fantasy.
Recovery lays the groundwork for relationships
In recovery sex addicts have gained enormously in the areas of self-awareness, self control, accountability, honesty, sharing and empathy. They have learned to connect with themselves and with others. And they have learned that they are worthy to be loved and that commitment requires vulnerability. They are less self conscious, more confident and better at communicating.
All of this does not guarantee that the addict is ready for a relationship. Here are some questions that may help clarify whether the addict is ready to try again.
A relationship readiness checklist*
1. I am more aware of what I am feeling at any given time and I am more able to identify feelings and think and talk about them.
2. I have taken care of my basic health needs including having an STD test and other routine tests. If I have been prescribed psychotropic or other medication I follow up on appointments and on the use of medication.
3. My ability to focus on whatever I am doing is improved and I don’t feel anxious and pulled in different directions as much.
4. I enjoy having “down time” and I don’t feel like I have to do something all the time.
5. I have learned that I can go to a counselor or other person I trust for help or advice and I can listen to what they say even if I disagree.
6. I am aware of any problems I have with other addictions and I have done what I needed to do to address them.
7. I have found ways to keep myself accountable regarding my addiction that rely on people other than a spouse or partner.
8. I am willing to try out new activities and interests and I am OK if some things I try don’t work for me and others do.
9. I am willing to experiment with changing my daily ritual.
10. I have a greater sense of what I want and need and am clearer on what things interest me in life.
11. I am more interested and confident in my work or other activities.
12. I am more flexible and more tolerant than I used to be.
13. I feel like I can stick up for myself when I need to without going overboard.
14. I am not as self-conscious about initiating a social contact and I can be more comfortable just being myself.
15. I no longer feel anxious or apprehensive when I am alone. I would like a partner but I am OK without a partner.
Having achieved these milestones is a minimum requirement for a recovering sex addict who wants to start out with a new relationship. But the addict will still have some work to do to. Applying these new found skills in intimate relationship without repeating the mistakes of the past is the next biggest challenge in recovery. It takes time, practice and a whole lot more self-examination.
*From my book “Relationships in Recovery: A Guide for Sex Addicts who are Starting Over.”