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Sex Addiction and Partners

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Sex Addiction and Partners

I have worked with the partners and families of alcoholics and drug addicts for a lot of years and I must admit that I was naïve to think that the experience of a partner of a sex addict would something similar. I was very wrong about this and the reality is, they are worlds apart.

Here’s just one example as to why.

Finding out

For many partners of drug addicts and alcoholics, it is pretty obvious what the problem is. It is hard to hide being drunk, or even just smelling of drink. With drug use, there are lots of tell tale signs and partners become experts in spotting what these are. It may have been for that for some partners, they got into the relationship knowing their other half liked a drunk, or maybe a bit of coke at the weekend and is quite likely to have joined in. However, they often start to realise that those in their social circle have maybe stopped some of the over the top drinking and drugging or at least toned it down. They realise that their friends haven’t jeopardised their job or relationship because they have put drink or drugs before anything else. Living with an alcoholic or drug addict is devastating, but the knowledge that that is what they are dealing with very rarely come out of the blue………. Unlike the partner of a sex addict.

Partners of sex addicts usually have no idea that their partner is experiencing this type of addiction. They often find out when they accidently come across something on a computer, like a web history, or the discovery of an unknown email account. It can sometimes be by looking on their partners phone and finding evidence of sexting. As I said, these discoveries are sometimes accidental, or it might be that the partner has gone looking because they suspect that something isn’t right, but not sure what it is. Sometimes “disclosure” can come about when the addict has been sacked from work, infected their partner with an STI or even a knock at the door by the police. However they find out, the discovery that their partner has been acting in a sexual way outside of their relationship and agreed boundaries can feel like utter devastation. The extent of the trauma is now considered to be very significant, with people experiencing post traumatic shock disorder (PTSD). Partners (and addicts) often describe how it feels like the addict has been living a double life and the life the partner thought they had now feels like a lie, consisting of multiple betrayals.

Different from an affair

If a husband has an affair and his wife finds out, she is very often distraught. More often, affairs happen because of problems in the relationship and relationships can often survive unfaithfulness because they have something that needs and can be repaired. This is a very different when we consider sex addiction. Addiction of this kind does not happen because of a problem in the relationship. It happens because the addict finds it difficult to manage their emotions acts out sexually to avoid pain. What this means is that the partner did not do anything to create or contribute to his addiction (although they may try to tell their partner differently) and the addiction was most likely there before the couple got together. This can be really confusing for partners because they are being directly affected by something that has very little to do with them.

The above may have painted a gloomy picture but recovery from all types of addiction is possible, including sex addiction. Not everyone chooses to stay with their addicted partners but some do and with the help of one to one therapy and groups, they get through it. Stephanie Carnes describes recovery from the partners perspective like have one husband (or wife) and two marriages. As the addict begins to recover, the partner has the chance to do so too. The relationship can grow and flourish, once the trauma and the emotional distress has been felt and dealt with. It has been my experience that those couples who do stay together and really embrace looking after themselves often have a happier relationship than before. It can be extremely tough, but often people find that it is worth the effort.

Not all partners choose to stay. Whatever decision is made; it must be the one that feels right. However, often partners feel that if they leave the relationship, they will be OK and don’t really need to consider what damage it may have caused them. After all, it was his problem, right? Living with or finding out that a partner has been addicted to sex is devastating and I would always urge a partner who makes the decision to leave to seek support to get over that relationship, to ensure that they don’t carry the hurt into the next one. Walking away might well be the right decision, as long as you don’t bring your addicted partner along for the ride.