Sex addiction reportedly affects 12 million people and their loved ones in the U.S. Considering how hidden and shame-ridden the condition remains, that number is very likely low. And although being the partner of a sex addict can be deeply traumatizing (not to mention dangerous), they are significantly less likely to seek help than the addicts themselves.
Yesterday I had the honor of interviewing M, a woman who learned of her husband’s sex addiction ten years into their marriage, just as they were preparing to become pregnant. While her world was turned upside-down, she was able to heal and find her way back to happiness.
On the air, she shared the details of her experience—how she found out, the red flags, what helped or hurt her recovery and lessons the ordeal has taught her. I can’t thank her enough for her courage and openness, which will no doubt help many.
M also took the time to answer additional questions for this post. Pop over to iTunes, Stitcher Radio or Global Voice Broadcasting to download or stream our live-recorded chat, then check out the followup Q&A below.
An After-Chat Q&A with M:
August: What’s one common myth about sex addiction you’d love to see eradicated?
M: MYTH: ‘Sex addiction’ is a made-up excuse by people who just like fooling around to get them off the hook with their wives and the public. TRUTH: Real addicts with compulsive behaviors don’t enjoy sex at all; in fact, they believe it exists to control others and escape from reality, especially intimacy and vulnerability. Their behavior not only destroys relationships, but often results in financial, professional and personal ruin, up to and including incarceration and suicide.
August: If you could change one thing about your decisions since learning of the addiction, what would you choose?
I didn’t tell my in-laws (addict’s mother & stepfather), with whom I was very close, about his addiction. At the time I felt, “He’s the addict. He should tell them. Why should I have to be the one to break their hearts?” Of course he never told, and his family was and are still confused about our split. Their ignorance further enables his behavior to continue. Closer to home, it has also created an expectation that my own family has to ‘act nice’ still on Facebook, etc., about him, which denies them their pain and justified anger at my ex, a completely unintended outcome that pains me deeply.
M: What decision are you the most pleased with?
August: What benefit of healing and moving forward has most surprised you?
The complete absence of loneliness. The day I left our house, the loneliness left me. Of course I was in pain, but it was the horror of betrayal, not a longing to be loved, especially not by an abusive manipulator. There is no life lonelier than one with someone who says he loves you but withholds that love in a thousand ways every day. I actually don’t think I’ll ever feel lonely again, regardless of relationship status, which takes my breath away sometimes still. I never thought I could feel this whole.
M: What are you most grateful for in your life now?
Peace of mind. The unwavering and never-ending love of my supporters – my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and their children, and the amazing friends who have scraped me repeatedly off the floor, who never stop telling me I am worthy and loved. And every day yet to come.
Resources for Partners of Sex Addicts:
Useful resources for partners are difficult to find and programs that subscribe to the notion of ‘co-addicts’ are considered victim-blaming (i.e., harmful) by many. If you’re struggling with a partner’s sexual addiction, M suggests the following.
Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope & Heal by Marsha Means & Barbara Steffens – the Trauma-Based Model watershed study; the first people in the field to NOT label partners as ‘co-addicts,’ responsible for the breakthrough thought: “You can’t know the truth when someone insists on lying to you.”
Note from M: Though both authors have been through this trauma personally, one chose to stay with her partner, and the other didn’t. Regardless, the testimonials in the book come largely from spouses who stayed, as well as from people reliant on a monotheistic God. Atheists, agnostics, and partners who choose to leave the addict are honored here, but pitifully underrepresented in addiction literature on the market so far. The trauma model of recovery however doesn’t require any belief system, and both models leave the decision to stay/go up to the couples themselves.
Partners of Sex Addicts Resource Center: A Trauma-Based support model that acknowledges this level of betrayal as Relational Trauma with amazing resources such as coaches and support groups and articles.
Psych Central: 6 Stages of Recovery for Partners (A quick article)
Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists: Helpful for finding a Trauma-Based Model Therapist for partners in your area
Married and Alone: Healing for Spouses of Sexual Anorexics by Doug Weiss, PhD
Note from M: Weiss, like many in the field, has lost faith in the ‘co-addict’ model of recovery, labelling it narcissistic and steeped in male privilege. You’ll have to be your own judge of what works best for you. Weiss’s work leans too however on the helpfulness of traditional spirituality in recovery.
Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn & Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CAS and Jennifer Schneider, MD, PhD – from PoSARC: “This book is a must-read anyway, and contains many examples of how surreptitious acting out on the web can be.”
Have you or a partner struggled with sex addiction? What’s most helped you? What struck you most about our interview?