“Know that you are not alone, and healing IS possible.

Sexual Addiction

Individual Impact-  Relational Impact

How does sexual addiction develop?

Technology is a wonderful thing! However, two great technological advances, the internet and the smart phone, are the major drivers behind the  “Triple A Engine: Affordability, Accessibility and Anonymity” (Cooper, 1997) which has exponentially increased the number of individuals and couples impacted by sexual addiction. With cell phones in their pockets (accessibility), people no longer have to face the shame (anonymity), cost (affordability) and discomfort of visiting  adult bookstores to get their fix. Addictionally, the average age of first exposure to internet pornography is age 11. These under-developed brains are not prepared for the super-stimulus of internet pornography; and the “hit” it delivers to the pleasure centers of the brain draws people back time repeatedly This powerful combination of under-developed brain meeting super-stimuli sets youth up for developing problematic relationships with internet pornography. In fact, many of these youth learn that cybersex is a great emotional regulation tool for escaping boredom, loneliness, rejection, stress, anxiety, depression etc. This means these behaviors become well entrenched long before the person partners, laying the seeds for later relational difficulties. Much like other chemical and behavior addictions, the function of the sexual behaviors (secondary benefit of escapism and emotional regulation) is more appealing than the sexual behavior itself. The increased reliance on sexual stimuli to manage emotions sets people up to develop compulsive and even addictive relationships with sex and fantasy; this frequently results in escalating personal, academic, professional, physical, and relational consequences. 

Do you recognize yourself in these paragraphs? Are you concerned you might have a sexual addiction? If so, you can go to https://www.sexhelp.com/am-i-a-sex-addict/ and take the free Sex Addiction Screening Test (SAST-R) to help you identify the next steps for healing.

Relational Impact = Betrayal Trauma

Sexual addiction is a personal struggle with a significant relational impact. The ease at which sexual information and connections are made online, combined with the overabundance of free acting out options (online pornography, anonymous chat rooms, dating/hook up aps etc), reduces the likelihood of getting caught. This enables people to get sucked further into escalating, compulsive sexual behaviors thereby planting the seeds of relational turmoil that come to fruition upon discovery. 

Unlike other addictions which have more discoverable signs (ex: smells, drug paraphernalia, physical impacts: slurred speech, dilated pupils etc.), sexual addiction, carefully hidden, sets partners up to be blindsided when the addiction becomes unmanageable and inevitable discovery occurs. Whether you had suspicions or were caught completely unaware, let me be clear; this was NOT your fault! The behavioral patterns that led to the addiction likely started WAY before you ever got together. 

Most partners have a nagging gut feeling that something is “off,” but they struggle to identify the problem. Some partners believe the lie that they are the problem and frantically work to “fix” themselves to improve the relationship, with no results. 

However, a significant amount of partners do not see any signs, or the addicts cover their tracks so well that they have absolutely no clue that something is wrong in the marriage. Regardless of which partner you relate to, the discovery that your reality is not what you think it is, is an extremely painful and dysregulating experience. In fact, several research studies have found that betrayal trauma can result in PTSD.  

Partners, fresh from “D-Day” (discovery), experience roller-coaster emotions ranging from sadness, numbness, rage, vengeful thoughts, fear, anxiety, and depression. Partners may also struggle with forgetfulness and inability to focus. Simple daily tasks may become difficult to manage. If this is what you are going through, know that this is a normal response to recently discovered betrayal trauma. Also know that you are not alone, and healing IS possible.

Another factor that determines the level of trauma experienced by the partner is the way the partner finds out about the betrayal. For example, if the addict feels a lot of guilt and shame about his or her double life and comes clean to the partner in a repentant and remorseful way, the impact of the discovery is likely less than an angry addict who denies, gaslights, blames, omits information, and covers up the truth; even in the face of blatant evidence. Furthermore, if the addict participates in a trickle down, or staggered disclosure, in which he or she share a little bit of information but swear there is nothing more (only to find out later share that there has been additional acting out), is more traumatic than when the truth comes out all at once.  In the instance of staggered disclosure, the partner may believe that the addict has come clean and begin to rebuild trust and closeness within the relationship, only to discover that their partner has continued to lie the entire time. When this occurs, any progress that was made is lost and the couple starts to rebuild from a newer low. Every time a staggered disclosure occurs, the ability to rebuild trust slows down and the likelihood or repairing the relationship diminishes. Relational healing comes slowly as trust is rebuilt through consistent truthfulness, integrity, serious commitment to recovery/sobriety, humility, empathy, longsuffering, emotional support, and love towards the injured partner. 

 

The beginning stages of healing is rough on both partners. It is important that both parties get specialized support from well-trained clinicians.  

Our clinicians adopt a Prodependence stance (https://prodependence.com/) that rejects the idea that partners of addicts inherently suffer from codependence. Prodependence favors an attachment-informed way of working with families impacted by addiction. In addition, our clinicians are trained from the Multidimensional Partner Trauma Model (https://www.apsats.org/) that respects the traumatic impact of betrayal trauma and informs partner-sensitive treatment interventions to help the couple heal. 

 

Additional Resources:

 

Podcasts:

 

https://player.fm/series/the-betrayed-the-addicted-the-expert

  • Beyond Bitchy: Master the art of Boundaries – Vicky Tidwell Palmer

https://beyondbitchy.com/podcast/

Books for the Addict:

  • Out of the Doghouse: A step-by step relationship-saving guide for men caught cheating- Robert Weiss
  • Out of the Doghouse for Christian Men: A redemptive guide for Christian men caught cheating- Robert Weiss and Marnie Ferree
  • Help her Heal: An Empathy Workbook for Sex Addicts to Help their Partners Heal- Carol Juergensen Sheets
  • Full Disclosure: How to share the truth after sexual betrayal- Dan Drake and Janice Caudill
  • Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction- Patrick Carnes, PhD
  • Sex Addiction 101- Robert Weiss
  • Answers in the heart: Daily meditations for men and women recovering from sex addiction

 

Books for the Partner:

  • Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How partners can cope and heal- Barbara Steffens
  • Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-step boundary solution for partners of sex addicts- Vicki Tidwell Palmer
  • Facing Heartbreak: Steps to recovery for partners of sex addicts- Stefanie Carnes, Mari A. Lee
  • Mending a Shattered Heart: A guide for partners of sex addicts- Stefanie Carnes
  • Healing and Joy: A workbook for partners of sex addicts- Marsha Means

LGBT Friendly:

  • Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men- Robert Weiss and Patrick Carnes
  • Bridging the Sex Addiction Divide: Mindful Considerations for Vulnerable Clients- Dr. Michael J. Salas