As a porn and sex addiction therapist I am often contacted by the spouses looking for sex addiction treatment for their partner. I will look at the reasons for this and give my views on why the role of the spouse or partner is important in getting treatment for the addiction.
Why partners do the initial reaching out for help
- The sex addict usually resists treatment for the same reason any addict does—part of them would really like to keep doing what they are doing no matter what the consequences are. Hence it is easier to let the partner do the leg work of finding help. At this early crisis stage immediately after disclosure the addict will be inclined to say they want help but will not want to be proactive in seeking out what might actually be an effective intervention.
- The spouse of partner of the sex addict may be the one who is experiencing more of the distress in the situation. The addict will surely be feeling shameful and remorseful when the addiction is disclosed, but this is nothing compared to the trauma of the betrayal usually experienced by the partner. This in turn motivated the partner to go into crisis mode and begin trying to find solutions.
- The sex addict may resist being the one to reach out for sex addiction treatment because he is too embarrassed to call up and admit to a stranger that he has these problems. I often hear this discomfort in the voices of addicts who do call me and I hear them groping for a way not to have to state the problem directly.
Why the partner’s role is so important in getting help
Most often a sex addict or porn addict is in the grip of a strong compulsion to “act out” in their addictive behavior, whatever it is; porn, sexual hook-ups, infidelity, prostitutes, online sexual encounters, etc. They may engage in this behavior frequently or less frequently, but the main point is that they are doing it addictively, meaning they are leading a separate sex life, they cannot stop, it is going to escalate over time, and it will have negative repercussions for their life and relationships.
The untreated sex or porn addict is in a state of denial. Very often it will take some force from outside to get his attention and to convince him to get some serious treatment. That force may come in the form of getting in trouble with the law, losing a job, or losing a marriage. But whatever it is it will exert the necessary pressure on the addict.
When spouses and partners discover a sex addiction they are in a unique position to use the crisis to force the addict to get help. Addicts tend to panic at the thought that they will lose their wife and possibly alienate their children. The spouse needs to recognize that very often they and they alone can lower the boom on the addict and cause an effective intervention.
Spouses should not expect that the therapist, even the most expert therapist, will be able to force treatment on an addict. In the simplest terms, the therapist has no ammunition compared to the spouse.
What the spouse needs to do
Spouses and partners seeking sex addiction treatment should be prepared to draw a line in the sand about the need for the addict to get help. They need to say that they will live with a recovering sex addict but not with a practicing one. And they need to mean it, in other words they need to be prepared to separate if there is inadequate movement.
Spouses need to be realistic about the kind of help that is required. Often sex addicts will promise to quit, attend a few 12-step meetings, engage in an online program, install blocking software or get some couple counseling. Sometimes addicts try to convince their partner that the addiction is really the partner’s fault, which it never is!
These can be ways to diffuse the situation while still having no real motivation to change. A serious sex addiction requires a serious treatment program, often a one or two week outpatient intensive or a four to six week residential program followed by active12-step participation, and follow up therapy.
Ultimately the addict will have to become engaged in their own recovery for it to work. But the initial impetus can often come from the desire to hold on to a partner. And in the long term, the relationship can get on the right track if both partners are engaged in recovery both separately and as a couple. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource