It may have happened in a flash. You picked up your partner’s iPhone only to discover a torrent of sexually suggestive emails and chats. In the first moment you are not sure what you have seen. “Is this…”, you ask yourself. A moment later it starts to sink in and you realize this is something more. Your heart is shattered by what you have found. You might feel as if you are no longer in your body.
You may have suspected that your spouse had a problem. You may have known parts of it before this moment. But finally you can’t take it anymore and you realize the extent of the betrayal. You are feeling heartbroken, defeated, and hopeless.
These are just some of the ways that sex addiction can shatter a partner’s heart and their very reality. If you are a partner you can feel so overwhelmed that you may feel nothing at all, so devastated you can’t even move, or anywhere in between.
If you have recently discovered that someone you love is struggling with sex addiction, you most likely are in a lot of pain and hurt. It is important to understand that this is not about you. Sex addicts are very good at hiding their behavior and the deception can be quite complete. You can feel overwhelmed by shame and fear, wondering how you could not have seen it. You most likely are filled with all kinds of questions and thoughts.
Understanding Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is a term that describes a dysfunctional relationship with sex, where sex is used as a primary coping mechanism for uncomfortable feelings and mood states. The addict can often feel that he/she is “out of control” having made several attempts to control or stop their sexual behavior. In Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D.’s book Mending a Shattered Heart she lists the ten key criteria for sexual addiction:
It is important for any person who needs help with issues around sexual addiction, hypersexual disorder, or compulsive sexuality to seek professional help. (This list is in no way meant to diagnose anyone and is here for informational purposes only.) A good therapist has the experience and training to help you in these difficult times and knows how to handle the complexities of these situations.
It has often been stated that sex addiction is really an intimacy disorder whereas the person who is struggling is unable to attach to others in a meaningful and complete way. Often the only way they can escape the crushing loneliness is through the intensity of sex. Sex becomes their primary coping strategy for their uncomfortable moods and feelings. Sex addicts will say, “It was a rush,” or “It numbed me out, but I wish I could just stop doing it.” Often the loneliness has been so far pushed down that they may not even recognize it anymore or deny it’s existence.
I Think My Partner Is A Sex Addict. What Do I Do Next?
The first step is to protect yourself. Most likely you don’t know the whole story. Often addicts will tell parts of the truth to try and minimize the impact. Sex addicts typically disclose in bits and pieces. They will give you small pieces of information that they think will not cause to much harm. In sex addiction treatment we call this a staggered disclosure.
In the book http://amzn.to/1QcqcRl, Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and M. Deborah Corley, Ph.D. write,
“It is tempting for an addict to attempt damage control by initially revealing only some of what he or she did. Often, only the least damaging information is included, or only the activities that the person believes their partner already knows about. Then, at some future time, the addict discloses additional secrets, or the partner learns the whole truth independently. Unfortunately, this strategy turns out to be very short sighted, and is likely to increase the chances of an unfavorable outcome in the long run.”
So it is important to protect yourself and care for yourself.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
What to do next, and understanding that healing is possible.
Remember that this is not your fault. You may be feeling a deep sense of betrayal and your heart can feel shattered into a million pieces. You may feel an intense amount trauma.
But relationships can overcome these events and couples often find a deeper connection with time if both the partner and addict engage in the healing process. This is by no means easy, but the rewards can be worth it, whether or not the relationship stays together.
Ultimately, it is important to understand that addicts have to find their own recovery. Often it is the moment the addict realizes that he will lose what is most important that he or she takes the steps to change. It is important to understand that this process will take time and patience. You will need to have a strong self-care plan in place; but know that you can heal and so can the addict.
If you are suffering please reach out for help. You can call us at 562-431-5100.