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.
- How could I have been so stupid?
- Do I kick him/her out of the house?
- Can we really heal from this?
- Can he/she really stop their behavior?
- Will I ever be able to trust again?
- Do I really know everything?
- What is sex addiction?
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:
- Recurrent failure to resist sexual impulses in order to engage in specific sexual behaviors.
- Frequently engaging in those behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended.
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce, or control those behaviors.
- Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experiences.
- Preoccupation with sexual behaviors or preparatory activities.
- Freely engaging in the behavior when expected to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic, or social obligations.
- Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the behavior.
- The need to increase the frequency, intensity, number or risk level of behaviors in order to achieve the desired effect; or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number or risk.
- Giving up or limiting social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the behavior.
- Distress, anxiety, restlessness, or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior.
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.
- Take a deep breath and care for yourself before you react to the situation.
- Reach out and get professional help. Find a therapist that understands sex addiction. If you can, find a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT). CSATs have extensive training in the area of sexual addiction and can help you and your partner. You may feel a lot of shame about all of the addict’s behavior, but remember this shame is about the addict and not you, so try not to let shame keep you from reaching out for help.
- Reach out to others whom you trust in your support network. This could mean family or friends who will support you in getting help. It is important to really think about who you want to disclose information to, so consulting with a professional is a good step to take before reaching out to others.
- Educate yourself about sex addiction. You can read Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D.’s book Mending a Shattered Heart or Facing Heartbreak by Mari Lee, LMFT
- Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. (STDs), even if you think the addict has not been with anyone else.
- Abstain from sex or use protection when with the addict.
- Begin to set boundaries for yourself. A professional counselor or therapist can help you with that.
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.