Due to the overwhelming shame and stigma associated with sex addiction, it is difficult to assess how many suffer from this disorder. It is estimated that there are millions of both men and women. That means there are also millions of partners dealing with the trauma of loving a sex addict. Their trauma involves profound often ongoing betrayal that can span 10 to 30 years.
Many partners (who for the sake of this article, will be referred to as “her”) may be thinking, “Well, he just looks at a little porn…” only to discover over the years that “a little” porn has turned into an addiction to sex. It evolves into an obsession with sex in which the addict uses sex to cope with all feelings from anger and sadness to even boredom. His addiction has involved to a point in which he sexualizes all dependency needs, i.e., the need to feel worthy, or the need for attention.
A partner is left in the dark feeling alone, confused and betrayed.
Usually, partners have small clues concerning the addict’s sexual activities but no real understanding of what it all means. Books and online screens such as PATHOS can be helpful in sorting thorough the confusion of a partner’s sexual behavior.
As partners try desperately to understand what is going on in their relationship, they encounter what is called “discovery.” Discovery is the process that usually occurs over time, in which a partner discovers the various sexual betrayals of her partner. It could be discovering that her partner has been secretly looking at online porn or she discovers that he has been having sexual encounters on business trips or with escorts. An addicts’ sexual behavior is progressive similar to that of an alcoholic. He typically will begin with “lighter” sexually compulsive behavior such as porn. Then, he will progress to riskier behavior because the initial sexual behavior is no longer stimulating enough. As the addict’s behavior becomes more unmanageable, the partner is more likely to “discover” his discretions.
All of this is extremely traumatizing to the partner. The marriage or partnership is the partner’s deepest attachment bond. She no longer feels safe in her most trusted, most important relationship. Patrick Carnes, PhD, a leading researcher on sexual addiction, has coined these “Betrayal Bonds.”
This is an excellent term for what has become for the partner a bond with someone who repeatedly betrays her in the most intimate of areas – sexuality. She spends much of her time either wondering why he no longer wants to be intimate or enduring abusive sexual intimacy with an obsessive nature due to his increasing need for more stimulating sexuality. Their intimacy is often existing in the extremes.
Partners also endure the crazy-making of the addict’s justifications. He uses arguments such as:
Before long a partner is existing in a world of lies and shifting moods all of which make no sense to her. The addict’s profound shame concerning his sexual acting out causes him to keep it all locked in extreme secrecy.
It’s easy for a partner to conclude, whether consciously or not, that her partner’s sex addiction is her fault. After all, she is someone with whom he has sexual intimacy. It’s common for the partner to struggle with beliefs such as:
It’s important for the partner to know that she is not responsible for the addict’s behavior. Just as children tend to blame themselves when their parents divorce, partners blame themselves for the sexually compulsive behavior of their spouse/partner.
This is why it is helpful for the partner to reach out to a therapist who has a thorough grasp of sex addiction. Many counselors are compassionate and want to help but have little understanding of the impact of sex addiction on both the couple and the individuals. For the partner, for example, it is imperative that her therapist have a comprehensive grasp of trauma, as research has shown that the majority of partners show signs of mild to moderate PTSD.
While it is difficult to recover from sex addiction, it is not impossible. The partner’s part in recovery is to learn to take care of herself and “unhook” herself from the responsibility she feels for her partner’s addiction. She must begin to work through the trauma caused by multiple betrayals and begin identifying the boundaries which are important for her to get safe in the relationship. Partners also wrestle with the difficult decision of “Do I stay or go?” There is hope either way… The journey of working through the trauma which occurs due to sex addiction can bring great self discovery and a much greater sense of safety in the world… whether she decides to stay or go.
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