Discovery of Sex Addiction in a Partner: What to Do First

When you first discover sexually compulsive behavior in a partner, it may be hard to think straight.  Nevertheless, you are in a position of being a “first responder” in a crisis situation that seems to require action of some sort.

You are the “interventionist” for the moment

Very often a spouse or partner of a sex addict is alone in confronting the situation.  An alcoholic or drug addict may have half a dozen friends or family members who are fed up enough that they will band together for a professionally led group intervention to try to get the person to accept help.  Sex addiction is a less public problem and the partner who discovers the secret life of the addict might not have anyone to open up to.

But as a partner of a sex addict, you may be a crucial person in determining whether the addict gets treatment.  What you do or don’t do will have significant effects.  How and in what way should you try to have an impact?  What will you need to know to act effectively? Here are some of the major things to consider.

1.     Confront the sexual behaviors.

It is important for partners and spouses to ask the hard questions.  If you don’t take the issue seriously the sex addict may try to placate you with promises or minimize the problem.  What has the addict been doing? How often?  For how long?  It is not necessary to know all the gory details about specific behaviors.  What matters is to begin to be honest.

2.     Choices to make and choices not to make

You do not have to make a choice about whether to leave the relationship in the middle of the discovery crisis.  But assuming you might stick it out, you do have to make a decision to take the necessary next steps.  Don’t get caught up in definitions of addiction.  The label is not what matters.  What matters is taking action to get help.

3.     Expect some distorted thinking and a mix of strong emotions

The addict at first will be prone to some amount of denial and may not be thinking too clearly.  He or she may react to overwhelming guilt with strong emotions and even anger and accusations.  Don’t be derailed.

4.    You have more power than you think: use it

The partner of a sex addict has a great deal of leverage in the crisis-discovery period.  Most addicts will agree to get help if their partner insists on it, even if they don’t quite understand that they have an addiction.  It is important to know that you may have more influence than the therapist in getting the addict to make the initial commitment to treatment.

5.     Find a sex addiction specialist

Initiate contact with a sex addiction therapist and go in together for an assessment if possible.  Don’t plan on continuing in couple therapy at this point.  Sex addiction is not about issues between you as a couple.  There will be time to deal with that later.  The goal is to get the addict into the proper level of individual treatment for his or her sexually compulsive behavior.

6.     Get help for yourself

It is important that you find a sex addiction therapist who also works with partners and spouses and get individual counseling.  You will also begin to educate yourself about sex addiction and recovery.  This is a time to rely on trusted friends and family for help and support. Your addict partner cannot be your major support system and you must rely on other people as difficult as that may be.

It will only be after both partners have had the appropriate treatment and support over a period of six months to a year that they can then begin to re-evaluate and work on their relationship together.  The initial period is one in which each partner will separately work on their problems.  If you as a spouse or partner have taken a stand and helped make this happen then you will have done the best that you could do.