A sizable number of couples stay together through the upheaval of sex addiction. According to my educated estimate about half of all sex addicts in sex addiction recovery are working with a partner to try to repair the relationship.
By the same token many sex addicts end up losing their partner following the disclosure of sex addiction and the ensuing crisis. I have found that there are complications for recovery in both situations.
If the sex addict’s partner chooses to stay in the relationship, then the sex addict has certain advantages. The presence of a partner (and possibly children) very often provides a strong motivation for the addict to follow through with treatment and recovery. No matter what the addictive behavior, internet porn, prostitutes, hook-ups, etc. the married sex addict has a lot to lose by failing to get “sober”. Also the presence of a partner adds a level of accountability. If the addict is truly engaged in recovery, then he or she will be committed to transparency and honesty with a partner and in general. Agreeing to tell all can help to give the addict a reason to be more conscientious about avoiding situations that might lead to relapse.
But what happens when the addict comes clean to a partner, becomes sincerely engaged in recovery and then the partner or spouse leaves? I would like to share my observations as to the impact of divorce on sex addiction recovery; both the negative impact and to whatever extent, the positive impact as well .
Negative impact of break-ups
- Apart from the loss of motivation and accountability that was connected to the relationship, separation and divorce add serious emotional stresses to the situation. The end of any relationship, even a bad one, is experienced as a loss. This means that even for a person who was not struggling with addiction and recovery, there would be grief and deep feelings of abandonment.
- As I have discussed elsewhere, sex addicts tend to be highly co-dependent themselves even though they have lead a secret life outside their relationship. They are insecure and tend to base their self worth on the perceptions of others. The rejection of a break-up only reinforces their feeling of unworthiness which in turn can derail any new found sense of strength in recovery.
- The turmoil surrounding a separation or divorce can become a serious distraction from the addict’s recovery routine. The mechanics of leaving familiar surroundings, finding a place to live, arranging to see their children if there are any, and dealing with the legal process of impending divorce proceedings can sap the addict’s energy and resources.
- Addicts in a break-up will be experiencing a great deal of emotional pain and distress. Their typical way of dealing with negative emotions in the past was through escape into their addictive behavior. Thus the added emotional distress of shame and rejection increases the motivation to reach for their “drug”.
- Most sex addicts have a problem dealing with boredom and loneliness without wanting to act out sexually. Isolation is not helpful to sex addiction recovery and the fact of suddenly being on their own can be a big risk factor, especially if break up has left them feeling less motivated to engage with supportive people.
- The addict can become obsessed with the partner who has rejected them, thus leading them into destructive fantasies and delusional thinking. They may fantasize that they can win the partner back, or they may ruminate and become angry and resentful. They may also become obsessed with finding a new partner immediately in order to bolster their damaged sense of self and restore parity with the person they have lost. All of this obsessing and emotion pulls the addict away from reality and from the need to address their own recovery and growth.
Is there any upside to break-ups?
Obviously there may be advantages for the spouses and partners who feel that moving on is in their own best interests. But what about the addict? I believe that after the immediate crisis of the break-up and its impact on sex addiction recovery have subsided, the addict will be in a better position to assess the intimacy problems that almost certainly characterized the relationship. I contend that practicing addicts are drawn to partners and styles of relating that do not demand. In that sense, I think the practicing addict promoted a sort of dysfunctional situation both because it was somehow familiar and because it provided a situation that at once allowed and was an excuse for sexual acting out.
In sex addiction recovery, the divorced or separated addict has a chance to recover from the addiction and to learn a new kind of relating built on intimacy and trust.