Sexual addiction exacts a devastating toll on marriages. As a result, spouses need support and healing to work through the range of emotions and difficult experiences caused by being in relationship with a sex addict. And although I will be referring to the sex addict using the male gender in this article, it is not only men who become addicts; there are an increasing number of women being diagnosed with sex addiction.
What is sex addiction? Sex addiction is a way some people use excessive sex to “medicate” their feelings and/or cope with their stresses in life. The individuals often cannot stop this sexual behavior for any great length of time by themselves. The sex addict spends a lot of time in the pursuit of his sexual behavior/fantasy or he may have a binge of sexual behaviors.
So how is this different to someone who just has a high sex drive? A person with a high sex drive is satisfied with sex, they enjoy it but it is not the be all and end all for them. It’s not a “fix”, unlike for the addict. When their partner says “NO” the addict overreacts, they need their “fix” and blame the partner for withholding it. They also see this refusal as a rejection of themselves.
Living with a sex addict Wives of sex addicts report many similar feelings about living with the sex addict. The feeling of being alone is a common experience with spouses of sex addicts; the sense that he can’t open up and tell you about his “real” self. They also know that if they pander to his sometimes bizarre sexual requests, it is still not enough, which leads to hopelessness and the feeling that the marriage can’t be saved. Wives also feel anger, against the addict and against themselves. There is also the risk of sexually transmitted diseases; your spouse could be taking unnecessary risks in his desire to get his “fix”.
Five tips for coping
1. Tell your spouse what you want in terms of his behavior. If your partner is uncooperative you may need to let him know that if the two of you cannot come to agreeable terms about what is acceptable in your relationship you will take steps to end it (and you must be serious that you will end it, it cannot be an empty threat). Of course, a major decision like ending a marriage should be made only after significant deliberation, preferably after seeking counseling from an experienced counselor.
2. For your own mental health, be aware that you cannot control his behavior to “make” him do what you have asked. He must want to stop and to be able to demonstrate to you his sincerity by his actions. Do not accept the role of policeman in the relationship.
3. Watch out for your own “codependent” behavior. Strictly speaking, codependency has to do with trying to take care of and control an addict. However, it can also mean that the spouse has been attracted to the sex addicts because of self-esteem problems of their own. They need to be needed and a sex addict can fulfill that need. This is called “codependency.” If this is the case with you, then you are going to need to do something about yourself.
4. There are many helpful books on the subject; you will find a list at the end of this article. Understanding what sex addiction is will help you understand your spouse and also your reaction to his behavior.
5. Talk with someone you trust. Spouses of sex addicts feel isolated and are often too embarrassed to talk to a close friend. You need to find someone, keeping feelings bottled up will only cause you more harm.
Getting help The concept of sexual addiction still does not have universal acceptance. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health has a list of its professional members on the web at the SASH web site. Look there for the name of a therapist who is near you. If there isn’t anyone, then call the nearest name from the list and see if they know someone who is near you. If you still don’t have success, then go to any therapist who works with addictions. Even if your spouse refuses to get help, please be aware that you can get help without them. The feelings of anger, loss, loneliness and many other feelings encountered over the years of living with this addiction will affect a person. These feelings need to be dealt with therapeutically whether they stay married to the addict or not.
And remember, it’s not your fault The addiction is in no way your fault, the addict’s addiction started many years before you even met them. You are as much a victim of their addiction as they are.
• Carnes, Patrick J., Don’t Call It Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction (1992) Bantam Books
• Carnes, Patrick J., Delmonico, David, Griffin, Elizabeth, & Moriarity, Joseph, In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior (2001) Hazelden Information Education
• Carnes, Patrick J., The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships (1997) Health Communications
• Schneider, Jennifer & Weiss, Robert, Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession? (2001) Hazelden Information Education
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