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If You Are a Spouse or Partner of a Sex Addict

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If you are in a relationship with someone you think is sexually addicted, your efforts to help may be actually adding to the problem rather than achieving the results you desire. Sex addicts usually wind up in relationships with partners who unconsciously fit right into the addictive patterns. To illustrate, typically the sex addict successfully keeps the sexually addictive habits hidden from the partner for a time but inevitably fails and the partner learns what is going on. To “keep the peace,” the addict usually promises not to repeat the behavior but unless appropriate help is found and followed, almost predictably the addict will eventually return to the secret behaviors and in turn will eventually get caught again engaging in the same or similar behavior. When the problem re-emerges, the partner will of course be frustrated and disappointed, if not traumatized.

(The partner may of course be male or female, but for simplicity here we refer to the partner as female.) The partner’s typical behavior is to get upset each time the addict is caught and to react by “throwing the addict out,” threatening to leave herself (or actually leaving for awhile), denying sex to the addict for a time, etc., but eventually “forgiving and forgetting” and returning to an “all’s well” mode. This “peaceful” period lasts till the addict is caught again or until he does something that reminds her of the past transgression, which can prompt her to lash out from the remembered hurt. In some instances, the partner may attempt basically to accept the addict’s sexually inappropriate behavior, denying her hurt and telling herself, “That’s just the way men are.” She may even strike a bargain with the addict by allowing certain behaviors like looking at pornography, as long as there isn’t “another person” involved, only to be devastated later when it comes to light that the addict has been sexually chatting or having phone sex with others when she thought he was only looking at pornography.

Just as the addict has a condition, a problem, an addiction, so usually does the partner. The partner’s denial often is telling herself that she can solve the problem he has, so she may embark on a plan to become sexier, that will “keep him from looking at anyone else,” or will provide the kind and amount of sex he desires “that will keep him at home,” or may develop intricate strategies of monitoring his habits and whereabouts. None of these efforts actually work and really serve to add to the problem, because nothing really changes except that both people engage in more and more extreme behaviors. What the partner has to realize is that she needs help too in order to get out of her own addictive habits. The partner will need to learn how to stop enabling the sex addict and how to focus on herself, as well as how to draw and keep boundaries that actually work. If you would like to learn more about the process partners experience and what to do about the situation, please read the pages that follow. You will probably find answers to your questions by reading these sections carefully.