While the mention of sex addictions might be taboo or cause many people to snigger or dismiss them as an excuse for profligate behaviour, for sufferers and those close to them, the reality cannot be dismissed so easily. It is a problem that can lead to relationship break-ups, despair and, as it spirals out of control, descent into illegal and dangerous liaisons. But while the focus is usually placed on the addict, it is the spouse that often suffers the consequences.
Sex addicts are excellent at hiding their behaviour, so they can be difficult to spot. However, signs of sex addiction include:
As a spouse, you may not be aware of this behaviour but your suspicions should be aroused if you find pornographic material hidden at home or your spouse spends time on the computer late at night, has unexplained late nights out or is over-protective towards their mobile phone.However, these behaviours are indicative only and, in themselves, do not constitute conclusive proof.
Discovering that your spouse is a sex addict and has been unfaithful or is obsessed with pornography,can bring on a huge range of intense emotions. You may feel shocked, let down and,in some cases, humiliated. You will probably alternate between feelings of despair and rage as you find out that the person with whom you are sharing your life has betrayed you and is not the person you thought they were. What may be particularly hurtful is if you discover your spouse has been engaged in sexual activity with someone else while showing no interest in you.
And then you will start asking yourself questions. Is this real? Why is this happening? How long has it been going on? What else have they been up to? Worst of all, you may even feel some self-doubt and question whether or not you are somehow to blame. Should you have paid more attention? Would things have been different if you had taken better care of yourself and made yourself more attractive? No matter how hard it seems, however, you have to understand that your spouse’s addiction is not your fault.
At this stage you are in shock and probably traumatised and you need to recognise that this is the case. And while your spouse will need help to overcome their addiction, you too will need help to get over the trauma. Your thought processes will be impaired and you may well feel the need to talk to someone – family members, friends or work colleagues. But while sharing your worries with others might seem like a good idea, you should be aware that it can be detrimental to helping solve the problem. People will take sides, some will give well meaning but ill-conceived advice and your spouse may feel betrayed because you have broadcast the issue to the world. You need to talk with someone, but be a little circumspect to avoid making matters worse.
Help and recovery
Once you have overcome the initial shock and hurt, you have to map out a path forward. First and foremost you should seek qualified help – not only to help your spouse get over their addiction but also to help you get through the trauma and find support. You will need to:
You will need to remember that sex addiction, like other addictions, takes control of the addict’s life, so your spouse will not think or behave as you do. Addiction causes people to lie and deceive, to have a secret life that they take great pains to conceal and to make decisions that a normal person would consider totally irrational. And, even though they might in all other ways be highly intelligent, they will not be able to explain their behavior.
You will have to understand that your addicted spouse will be dishonest and that the addiction, not you, is always to the forefront of their thoughts and you will be moved out of the way if you attempt to obstruct the path to the object of their cravings.
And, of course, you have to be prepared for the long haul. Solid recovery can take several years and there will be plenty of bumps along the way. Progress will be variable and there will be times when you will wonder if it is worthwhile, but stick with it – there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The experience of others
Often it helps to know that others have been through or are going through the same trials and tribulations as you. Many spouses are prepared to share their experiences both in group counselling sessions and online. Several women, for example, tell of how they thought it necessary to have sex with their partners to prevent them looking for other women despite the toll it took on their bodies and the fact that they felt just like toys.
Others tell of the difficulty of having sex with their spouse without conjuring up images of the other partners they have had or else they are afraid to be with friends in the company of their spouse in case he or she takes an interest in the friends. And some reveal how difficult it is to avoid spying on their spouses having been deceived before.
These stories will help you gain a better understanding of your own feelings and encourage you to carry on.
Remember – you need help as much as your spouse and your well being is vital to the recovery of you both.
If you need any help or advice about sex addiction for yourself or a loved one, please visit: Life Works Community