The Benefit of Therapy for Partners of Sex Addicts
In this video, I discuss the benefits of the partners of sex addicts coming into therapy and turning their focus inward to move towards a path of healing.
Hi. I’m Heather Henry and I’m one of the therapists here Vantage Point. Today, I wanted to talk about being the partner of a sex addict and what it’s like to come into therapy as a partner of a sex addict, what kinds of thing that we look at, and what it’s like to recover. A lot of times, as a partner, we come in and we are highly focused on the addict. Their behavior. There’s an intense sense of betrayal and pain because of what the addict has done. We don’t see ourselves as having a part. We see ourselves as being the victim and we have been betrayed. This can’t be denied.
But, what we are experiencing, when we come in to therapy, is grief. We are losing the relationship perhaps we thought we had. We’re losing the relationship, maybe, that we never had, or we wanted to have. Even if we’re still in the relationship and choosing to work it out, or waiting to make a decision about whether or not we’re going to separate from our partner, there’s still a process of grief that we engage in. One of the things that I think is essential to being a partner in recovery is identifying shame. It’s one of the things that keeps us stuck in patterns and relationships.
A lot of times, as partners, when we look back historically at our relationships, we will see that this may not have been the first relationship we had where there were patterns of sexually acting out perhaps there were other instances where we weren’t able to say no. Where we did experience shame about our bodies. About our own sexual behavior. Where we may have shut down during sexual interactions. Or felt like we lost our voice in our relationships.
So, what I like to do in the therapeutic process is begin to identify and define what shame is. I will often ask people how they define shame and then I’ll reflect back how research defines shame. What research says is that shame is essentially an experience or deep feeling of unworthiness, unlovability and unworthiness of connection. I see that as a through-line in all of the partners of sex addicts I work with. As a former partner of a sex addict, I can say I felt that very deeply. Often times, that feeling is so overwhelming, it feels as if there is no hope. How can this relationship possibly heal when I feel used- I feel betrayed?
We come in [to therapy]. We feel ugly. We feel as if we just could have done something right. If I was just sexier. If I was just better in bed. If I was smarter. If I was more enough…Perhaps, I could have done something to change the relationship? When the reality is – that’s not true. We have no control over addiction. But, what we do have control over is our own behavior. Looking at ourselves and identifying our own triggers and what keeps us locked into the cycle of a sexually addictive relationship. It can be really scary to look at our own part. It’s very easy to look at the behavior of someone else when they’re acting out. We have to turn the focus on ourselves so that we can heal. So, I have to ask
myself, and I ask my clients, “what are my shame triggers?” “Begin to name them.”
What are the things that caused me to feel unloved? Unworthy? Unworthy of connection? And then begin to talk about them and expose them, in a safe place as we work on it in small pieces. This work can be incredibly painful, but it can also reap great rewards. The other question I get a lot is “How is healthy sexuality possible after going through betrayal?” Healthy sexuality is possible, but we have to do the internal work in order to get there. We have to identify
what’s triggering us, what’s getting us into these toxic relationships and what’s causing us to choose partners that are in a sexually addictive pattern. And, if we are currently in these relationships, are our partners engaging
in the same process as we are in terms of recovery and are they willing to walk this path with us.