Any porn addict will tell you how hard it is to stay away from porn. In recovery the sex addict will work at identifying his or her most treacherous situations, circumstances and ritual behaviors that can be an engraved invitation to relapse.
The obvious triggers might include situations like being alone in a hotel room on a business trip. There the deck is totally stacked against the addict: he is tired, bored, lonely, under pressure, and there is easy access to porn. Other common life stressors like having your in-laws move in next door, a major illness or losing your job are also obvious stressors that can lead to cravings for an escape and can weaken the addicts defenses.
However, there are positive life events that are as likely, if not more likely, to trigger sexual acting out. These are so common that the addict may not see them as posing a danger. Also they are generally so positive that no one would really want to escape form them.
Nevertheless, sex addiction therapists know these situations well and they can anecdotally support the fact that these happy circumstances are correlated with episodes of sexual acting out.
Three positive life events that trigger relapse
Each of the following circumstances can trigger relapse in its own way and for its own reasons.
- Having children, no matter how much an addict welcomes the event, is a major life change. It places stress on a relationship or marriage in a way that is challenging for an already intimacy-challenged addict. Addicts fear they will not get their needs met under the best of circumstances and may be seriously stressed when their partner is less available. Addicts typically experience abandonment fear due to early relational trauma and this may kick in as well. And addicts are often quite narcissistic, meaning they may not take well to sharing the spotlight with a child.
- Getting a promotion, getting a raise or otherwise gaining success and recognition add stress to the addict’s life. Addicts are insecure to begin with and getting promoted may increase the demands and expectations of their work life. This means increased fear of failure. And the way addicts typically cope with insecurity is through escape. Becoming more involved with work means the addict will have less energy for the relationship with a partner or spouse and may literally be gone more. The resulting stresses for the couple can lessen the level of intimacy in an already intimacy challenged situation. The addict may even use the new demands of work as a way to escape the interpersonal demands of relating.
- Dating, or beginning to date again after engaging in sex addiction treatment is very problematic territory for a sex addict. Very likely, the addict has never been comfortable with beginning and building a real relationship and may lack confidence and experience in conducting a normal courtship. Addicts in early recovery will most likely bring their old addictive habits and fantasies with them into this new situation. They may pick the wrong kind of person, someone who feels familiar but who mirrors their old acting out sexual fantasies. The early relationships in recovery can become addictive in that they can be obsessive, dishonest or lack any firm basis in mutual caring and shared enjoyment. They may also lack a future. These old habits mean that a new dating relationship will also bring with it the addict’s same old fears and distorted thoughts an expectations. This puts the addict back in an addictive mind set and can lead to further acting out and relapse.
The nature of stress
One definition of stress is: “A loss or the threat of a loss.” Each of these three happy circumstances carries the potential for loss along with their many rewards. The threat of a loss is inherent in any big change. Even in a change for the better something will be given up in the process of change.