Partners of Sex Addicts
A Life Turned Upside Down
Being the partner of a sex addict often includes discovery of the addiction. With this comes discovery of secrets, and often times a situation that was never anticipated living in. It’s important for people who are in this situation to know that they aren’t to blame. Many have been told why they are paranoid, overbearing, controlling, etc. This can lead to self-doubt and insecurity.
Giving Yourself Time and Space
The first thing that is needed for many in this situation is time and space. There can be mixed emotions at this time. You may see your partner struggling with shame, and want to be a support person, but you might be able to be this at the same time. It is fine if you’re unable to sit in that support section. This is a time to practice identifying what you need, and asking for this. If it is some practiced time alone, then you may need to ask for this. Just know that it is normal to feel confused, and feel unsure. Checking in with yourself several times a day can help with this confusion.
Trusting Your Gut Again
When finding out that your partner is a sex addict, trust in your intuition can take an enormous hit. This can make it difficult to trust your gut. What can make this even worse is that many partners can look back and realize that there were some signs of the addiction well before they officially discovered it. There can be self-criticism and judgment for missing these things.
This is what is meant by “recovery” for partners. Recovery for addicts is no longer engaging in the behavior and rebuilding relationships. However, it’s also gaining a better understanding of yourself. This is true for partners as well. Gaining an understanding of what was missed, and recognition that this was understandable.
Recovery for partners is also recognizing and accepting that lacking recognition doesn’t mean that you are to blame. However, this can be a time to reassess and communicate your boundaries. Many times couples have silent boundaries, where assumptions are made that they will be followed. For couples in recovery, this can no longer be the rule. Instead, identification and communication of these boundaries is important.
Moving Towards Trust
If you decide that you are going to stay in your relationship, then you’ll be working to move back towards trust. However, discovery of a sex addiction can be a traumatic experience. This trauma can make the vulnerability of not knowing whether or not you can ever trust your partner again feel unbearable. Comfort with such vulnerability will need to slowly be increased in order to have a connected relationship again.
Moving towards such trust can be extremely difficult. This can lead some partners to keep themselves out of this risk. Polygraphs are commonly considered as an option. Although some advocate for this, other sex addiction therapists do not. This is not because they are protecting the addict. Instead, they are protecting both the addict and the partner from an unstructured or staggered disclosure. When disclosing information about the addiction is unstructured, the risk for further trauma and relationship damage increases. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the disclosure be a structured process. Along with a trained therapist, the partner and addict can work to prepare questions that must be asked, along with a written disclosure with a pertinent history. This structured process is much more likely to help the couple move forward.
The Importance of Therapy
The focus on the importance of help often is on the sex addict. This is unfortunate, however, because it is important that both have help on this journey. While addicts need help with managing their behavior, and rebuilding trust, partners need help with coping with the trauma that they have dealt with. It’s also helpful for them to have a therapist who can help with establishing boundaries, and validating the emotional experience that you’re having.
Many partners have a feeling that they can “go this journey alone.” It’s true that many of them do, and do OK. However, those who do participate in therapy report finding increased contentment, trust, and intimacy.
What Healing Looks Like
For partners who find the most contentment, they report feeling like they have given up their anxiety and fear, because they have confidence in their boundary system. While many partners who don’t get help find themselves playing detective and tracking their partner’s behavior and whereabouts, those who have healed realize that they don’t have to do this. They may require accountability. However, they recognize vulnerability, and are able to process through this in a way that keeps them from having to live a life in fear. This journey helps these people move from trauma, toward love and connection.