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What is sex addiction?

What is the difference between sex addiction and a "high sex drive"?

Why do people become sexually addicted?

Can women be sex addicts?
 

How do I know if I am a sex addict?

How can I tell if my partner is a sex addict?

Can you be addicted to masturbation?

What is sexual anorexia?

What is sexual co-addiction?

What role does pornography play in sex addictions?

What is the family impact of sexual addiction?

What are some of the consequences of sexual addiction?

How is sexual addiction treated?

Can sex addicts ever be cured?

Disclosure (confrontation) - I KNOW! Now what do I do - how and when?

If my partner will not admit the addiction or refuses to get help, can I still be helped?

 

Questions and Answers


 What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a persistent, progressive and escalating pattern or patterns of sexual behaviors which are acted out despite increasingly negative consequences of harm to one's self or others. There are many types but like other addictions, a sex addict uses the sexual behavior to medicate their feelings or cope with life's stresses. The addict has tried but cannot stop their behavior for any length of time by themselves and spends increasing amounts of time, effort and money pursuing and hiding the addiction.

Dr. Carnes, a pioneer in the sex addiction field, ( www.sexhelp.com ) offers this similar definition: "Sexual addiction is defined as any sexually-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and one's work environment."

Some of the behaviors associated with sex addiction are:
compulsive masturbation... viewing pornography... compulsive heterosexual and/or homosexual relationships... cyber sex or phone sex... multiple anonymous partners... voyeurism... exhibitionism... unsafe sexual activity... visits to strip clubs and/or adult bookstores... engaging prostitutes... sexual aversion (anorexia)... inability to be intimate with partner... deviant sexual requests.

To better understand the complications of sex addiction, read the other related FAQ's on this page. There are signs and symptoms which can be tested by screening devices (for more info see: (How do I know if I am a sex addict?)

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What is the difference between sex addiction and a "high sex drive"?

This is a very common question from partners of sex addicts and from lay persons in general. There are some important distinctions to be made. The first is that a person with a high sex drive is satisfied with sex. A sex addict almost never is. The high sex drive person does not overreact to a "NO" from their partner, does not feel totally rejected and does not need to find another outlet to "act out". The sex addict usually has opposite reactions.

Secondly, the high sex drive person does not break marriage vows, relationship boundaries or laws in pursuing sexual satisfaction. The addict often does one or all of these acts. High sex drive persons usually want sex more often or for longer times. When a partner is not reciprocal, this can become a relational issue but one that most often is worked out by the couple or with minimal professional help. Sex addiction cannot be worked out by the couple alone and without professional guidance (at the least) will lead to destructive behaviors.

Keep in mind, there are high sex drive partners who may cross the marriage vows boundary. Of course this is a serious issue and needs to be dealt with, but it is not a sex addiction issue unless the behaviors meet the definition of  sex addict behavior - (see topics: What is sex addiction?, How do I know if I am a sex addict?). In other words, a partner's affair outside the marriage is serious but needs further professional analysis before considering it part of sexual addiction behavior.

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Why do people become sexually addicted?

This is very complicated and will vary for each addict although there usually are some common reasons shared by addicts. MOST IMPORTANTLY - this question is usually only raised by partners or close loved ones (besides us professionals of course). Often, the real question that person is asking is; "Is it my fault?". The answer is; "Absolutely not!". It is extremely important for all partners and loved ones of sex addicts to realize and internalize the fact that they are not at fault. Getting fatter or skinnier, more tired, less interested in sex, paying more attention to children, going thru menopause, etc. are NOT the causes of a partner's sex addiction. The partner of an addict can be become co-addicted or codependent (What is sexual co-addiction?) but that has nothing to do with the causes of the sex addiction.

Dr. Douglas Weiss ( www.sexaddict.com ) feels the causes of sex addiction fall into the areas of biological, psychological and spiritual reasons. Psychologically, the need to medicate or escape early physical, sexual or emotional abuse can demand a "substance". The sex addict often finds the "sex medicine" before alcohol or drugs but often ends up with multiple addictions. The biological addict is someone who has conditioned their body to receive endorphins and enkephlines (brain chemicals) primarily by reinforcing a fantasy state coupled with ejaculation that provides these chemicals to the brain. Spiritually, the addict is "filling up the God hole" in them with their sexual addiction. There addiction becomes their spirituality by being nearly always available to comfort and celebrate them. Sex addicts usually fall into one or more of these categories and often share these causes with other sex addicts.

To properly answer this question, the diagnosis of a professional sex counselor is required. Also, it is well to note that there are some differences in causes between men and women. One difference in particular is "love addiction" of females - a condition that often manifests itself thru sex addiction and is not common in men.

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Can women be sex addicts?

Absolutely! The number of sexually addicted women seeking treatment is growing significantly. And, more importantly, more counseling professionals are recognizing sexually addicted behavior in their female clients. The idea of sexual addiction in our culture has been mostly associated with men and women have been long overlooked. In addition, sexual addiction in women was associated with an image of "nymphomaniac", "slut", or "whore". These are the least common forms of addiction in women.

For the most part, sexual addiction in women take on many of the same behaviors as presented in What is sex addiction? The elements of the addiction in women are the same as in most addictions: compulsive behavior, continuation despite adverse consequences, and a preoccupation or obsession with the behavior. As previously mentioned, one difference with men is often termed "love addiction". This form has less to do with sex and more to do with seeking love, acceptance and power. The woman uses sex to gain one or all of those goals. Really it has more to do with a yearning for romance and intimacy than love or sex.

Studies and clinical definitions of sexual addiction in women are advancing and now with greater awareness, many professionals are beginning to believe that sex addiction in women may be nearly as common as in men. These advancements are helping women to recognize addictive behaviors in themselves and forcing professionals to more widely accept the idea of female sexual addiction.

Here are some sexually addictive behavior patterns in women:
excessive flirting, seductive grooming, wearing provocative clothing whenever possible, changing appearance via excessive dieting or exercise or reconstructive surgery, exposing oneself in a window or car, making sexual advances or innuendos to younger siblings, clients or others in subordinate power positions, seeking sex in high risk locations, multiple affairs, disregard of appropriate sexual boundaries, engaging in anonymous sex (one night stands or internet sex), compulsive masturbation, fantasy sex and considering inappropriate persons as sex objects like ministers or physicians or a boss.

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How do I know if I am a sex addict?

Healthy sexuality will be a satisfying, pleasurable act of choice and an integral part of your life experience. Sexually addictive behavior will not be a choice nor satisfying. It will be compulsive; interfering with normal living; causing stress to self, family friends, loved ones and/or the work environment. Sexual addiction is or will become progressive and obsessive and if not controlled, lead to consequences ranging from loss of partner to incarceration.

Look at the behaviors surrounding your own sexuality and see if some or many fall into one of these categories: Shameful, Compulsive, Secretive, Abusive, Obsessive.

Do any of your behaviors include the following:

masturbation multiple affairs use of pornography
cyber sex or phone sex unsafe sexual activity prostitution
strip clubs
adult bookstores
partner objectification sexual aversion

Consider if you suffer from any or some of the following consequences:
Social - sexual preoccupation resulting in emotional distance from loved ones, loss of friendships or loss of family relationships.
Emotional - anxiety or extreme stress over fear of discovery, shame, guilt, conflicts of values and spirituality. Boredom, pronounced fatigue, depression and/or despair. Thoughts of worthlessness or even suicide.
Physical - genital injury, masochistic acts of harm and contracting STD's.
Legal - many sexually addictive behaviors have legal consequences such as; sexual harassment, obscene phone calls, exhibitionism, voyeurism, prostitution, rape, incest, and child molestation. These can also lead to professional censure.
Financial/Occupational - indebtedness due to prostitutes, affairs, pornography, sex toys, cyber sex and/or phone sex. Loss of employment.

If after examining the preceding, you feel you are at risk or definitely recognize some addictive behaviors, the first and best choice is to seek professional help immediately. You can contact us here: ( contact page ).

If you are confused or still doubtful or just want more information, I recommend you take the "Sexual Addiction Screening Test" (SAST) provided by Dr. Patrick Carnes. It was designed by professionals and offers versions for the heterosexual male, gay or woman. You can take the test right now by CLICKING HERE

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How can I tell if my partner is a sex addict?

Even by the very fact that you asked this question, indicates something serious is wrong. It is important however, to distinguish those sexual behaviors that do not necessarily require professional help from those that are or may lead to sexual addiction. Even in doing this you would be best served by professional guidance.

The risk is twofold. First, you may become more co-dependent (co-addicted) through an obsessive effort to catch the partner "in the act". You may suffer some of the same consequences for your behavior as the addicted partner. As obsessed as the partner is in hiding and denying, you may be equally obsessed with catching and confronting. Searching the garage, the basement, under the bed, the computer; hiring a private detective; quizzing your friends - these are not good behaviors!

Which brings up the second risk - confrontation. Once you do have evidence, what will you do with it? Your emotional state will be a boiling pot of: shock, anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness and/or disgust.  THIS IS CRITICAL... this is the time to contact a professional who specializes in sex addiction to guide you. What will you do on your own? How will you confront? When will you confront? Where will you confront? And, what will you do with the resulting answers? Most often you can expect denials, lies, rationalizations and attacks on you as the cause. This is a very critical point and you may alone do more damage than can be recovered. This does not in any way mean you are at fault - it does mean you need help from here on.

OK, the warning is over. In order to answer this question, you need to educate yourself (you are doing that here) and follow a non intrusive plan to find answers. You need to look over the behaviors presented under some other topics on this page
(
What is sex addiction?How do I know if I am a sex addict? ). Go over those behaviors and see which or how many fit your partner's behavior. Also consider if the partner has other possible addictions like; alcohol, drugs or gambling. If all this makes you more suspicious or you become convinced of a sexual addiction, get professional guidance before going any further.

Also, realize this... you can and should get professional help as a partner of a sex addict even if the partner continues in denial or refuses professional help.  It is crucial you understand that as a co-addict, you have issues of your own to deal with and recover from. You are not alone and you can enter recovery regardless of your partner's choices. You don't have to be a victim. You are not responsible for the partner's addiction. You have no power over the partner's addiction. The first step is realizing you are powerless over your partner's addiction and you can only change yourself.

CONTACT US HERE

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Can you be addicted to masturbation?

Yes, and this seems to be the most common sex addiction. It occurs alone and along with other types of sexual addictions. This is often where more serious addictive behaviors begin and compulsive masturbation usually progresses to prostitution, chronic affairs, anonymous sex and other dangerous sexual practices. Indulging in pornography and fantasies most often accompany compulsive masturbation. The practice usually continues throughout the progression of acting out behaviors.

For most people, masturbation is the first sexual experience on a repeated basis. For some this may do nothing to hinder their healthy sexual development. For others, it is the "road to hell". What's the difference? This can only be determined by a professional on an individual client basis but there are studies that show a very high correlation exists between childhood abuse (sexual, physical and emotional) and adult sexual addiction.

Here are some criteria which indicate an addiction to masturbation:
1. The behavior is compulsive.
2. It is accompanied by extensive use of pornography and fantasies.
3. You have tried to stop but can't for any sustained period.
4. You have engaged in "binges" and masturbate 3-4 or more times in a day.
5. You feel ashamed and guilty about the behavior.
6. You go to great lengths to pursue the behavior and/or to hide it.
7. It is harming a relationship or endangering your job.
8. It has progressed to other sexually addictive behaviors as described here:
    (
What is sex addiction? )

If you are in the masturbation only phase of sexually addictive behaviors, get professional help now. It will almost surely progress to other sex addictions and risky behavior. And, the sooner you deal with it, the sooner and easier is the recovery.

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What is sexual anorexia?

Anorexia comes from the Greek word orexis, meaning appetite.  An-orexis, then, means the denial of appetite. You may be more familiar with the word anorexia or anorexic as it applies to eating disorders. In the sexual context, it means a denial of sexual activity through the obsessive state of sexual avoidance.

Here is an incredible quote from Dr. Carnes in his book, "Sexual Anorexia":

"They suffer silently, consumed by a dread of sexual pleasure and filled with fear and sexual self-doubt.  They feel profoundly at odds with a culture that tirelessly promotes sex but is strangely unconscious about sexuality.  It is not inhibited sexual desire they are experiencing, although often they possess a naiveté, an innocence, or even a prejudice against sex.  It is not sexual dysfunction, although their suffering often wears the mask of physical problems that affect sex.  It is not about being cold and unresponsive although that certainly is a way in which they protect themselves against the hurt.  It is not about religious belief, although religious sexual oppression may have been a place to hide.  It is not about guilt and shame, although those feelings are powerfully experienced.  Nor is it about sexual betrayal or risk or rejection, although those are common themes.  It is simply the emptiness of profound deprivation, a silent suffering called sexual anorexia."

Sexual anorexics can be men or women. The manifestations of sexual anorexia are many, often masked. The anorexics history may include childhood sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or severe traumatic sexual rejection. It could be the reaction to a partner's sexual addiction. Commonly it is the latter stage of a sex addict who has progressed through the addiction to a point where they prefer their addictive behavior over relational sex with their partner. Then the sexual anorexia becomes an obsessive state where the physical and emotional task of avoiding relational sex dominates their life.

Some anorexics marry and never consummate the marriage. Some go through long periods (sometimes years) of sexual abstinence with their partner. Typically, sexual anorexics will experience some or all of the following ( as presented in Dr. Carnes' book, "Sexual Anorexia"):

§   a dread of sexual pleasure
§
   a morbid and persistent fear of sexual contact
§
   obsession and hyper vigilance around sexual matters
§
   avoidance of anything connected with sex
§
   preoccupation with others being sexual
§
   distortions of body appearance
§
   extreme loathing of body functions
§
   obsessive self-doubt about sexual adequacy
§
   rigid, judgmental attitudes about sexual
§
   excessive fear and preoccupation with sexual diseases
§
   obsessive concern about the sexual activity of others
§
   shame and self-loathing over sexual experiences
§
   depression about sexual adequacy and functioning
§
   intimacy avoidance because of sexual fear
§
   self-destructive behavior to limit, stop, or avoid sex

SEXUAL ANOREXIA in the co-addict

What is Sexual Anorexia? (see above) 

Many co-addicts become sexually anorexic in order to control the addict. Typically, this is an extreme compensating mechanism used by the partner to balance the relationship. Usually, the more out of control the addict is, the more closed down the partner becomes. In order to know if you have been doing this or if you have the presence of this type of behavior, you can answer the following questions. If you answer
yes to five or more, you have the presence of sexual anorexia.

Do you isolate from your partner?

Do you withhold sex from your partner?

Do you withhold love from your partner?

Do you withhold praise or appreciation from your partner?

Do you use anger or silence to control your partner?

Do you stay busy so there is no relational time for your partner?

Do you have an ongoing criticism of your partner?

Do you make the issues about your partner instead of owning your own issues?

Do you avoid or are you unwilling to discuss feelings with your partner?

Do you use control or shame on your partner around money issues?


What is sexual co-addiction?

A sexual co-addict is someone who is in a significant relationship with a sexually addicted partner. Co-addict describes the nature of the relationship much like the word brother describes a familial relationship. It is a recognition that partners of addicts have their own issues and behaviors in need of recovery. In NO way are they responsible for the partner's addiction but they often enable the addict by making excuses for the behavior or even denying that it exists at all.

The word that best describes a co-addict personally is "codependent". Most codependents struggle with unhealthy relationships and live unbalanced lives. The codependency is specifically expressed in a relationship with a sexual addict. Some of the symptoms (or results) of codependency are:

* a difficulty in identifying feelings
* they lose themselves in relationships and tend to put others welfare before their own
* they suffer from low self esteem and feel they never quite measure up
* they compromise their own values and integrity to avoid conflict or rejection
* they often feel sex is equal to love and use sex to gain approval or acceptance
* they feel ashamed and alone
* they lose all feelings of trust and don't know where to turn for help

Co-addicts need their own recovery plan and there is great hope for restoration. Pinpointing and admitting the problem is the first step to finding a solution. It is crucial to recognize:
1. You are not alone - there are thousands (probably millions) of other partners suffering a sexual addiction in their family.
2. You can get help for yourself even if your sexually addicted partner is in denial or unwilling to get help.  You don't have to be a victim, you can enter recovery for yourself regardless of the addict's choices.
3. You have NO power over your partner's sexual addiction. You can only change yourself and you are as much in need of healing as the addict.

You can begin your own journey to recovery today by admitting that you need help and recognizing help is available regardless of what your partner does.

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What role does pornography play in sex addictions?

Viewing pornography is quite often the first sexual experience of adolescents. In fact, research has shown that the median age for the first use of pornography by boys is 11-13; for girls it is 12-14. With widespread sexual activity on TV, home videos and the internet; it has become very easy to access pornography. Pornography is usually the first step toward fantasizing sex and then to masturbation. 

Rare is the sex addict who has not used pornography, sex fantasies and masturbation. Usually these elements remain throughout the progression of addictive behavior. The physical need for this addictive behavior is similar to that of drug addiction. There are big highs and then lows until the behavior is repeated to return the high state. Neurochemical activity in the brain is stimulated by the release of norepinephrine, endorphins (opiods), dopamine and serotonin among others - these feed the system of demand and reward required by the addict.

Quite simply, the body demands a dose of excitement and is then rewarded when that demand is filled (by viewing pornography). Then fantasy and masturbation come into play. At the height of masturbation, at climax, the image being viewed is burned into memory by epinephrine. Later, the body will demand the same excitement level and is rewarded. But, as time goes by, the material required to create the same level of excitement progresses through a fairly predictable pattern. This pattern progresses from initial "soft core" material to "hard core" to deviant and may finally lead to acting out the fantasies in the real world.

In understanding the role pornography plays, it is necessary to understand what it is not. Pornography is not part of an explanation of one's sexuality or "the birds and the bees". It is not the natural curiosity children have about their bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex. It is not about the pictures or descriptions in a health book. Let's face it - from an anatomical viewpoint, once you have seen the parts of the body (any body)... well, you've seen them! To continue to seek to see bodies - new bodies, more bodies, new acts, more acts and to become compulsive about it; that is a pornographic addiction and will lead to an unhealthy and unbalanced life poised to destroy you and the loved ones around you.

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What is the family impact of sexual addiction?

The behavior of sex addicts has profound effects on partners, children, parents and siblings. The addict is usually partially or totally unaware that their behavior has affected their loved ones. Families develop unhealthy coping skills as they strive to adapt to the addict's shifting moods and behavior. Curiously some addicts may act out in solo isolating behaviors leading to feelings of family abandonment.

Partners can be affected in the following ways:

  • Emotionally - anxiety, stress resentment and confusion progress as the addict gradually abandons family responsibility. Emotional support consisting of the feeling of being cared for and listened to lessens, or repeated promises are unfulfilled.
  • Socially - the partners can experience subtle to outright embarrassment with the addictive spouse's behavior, such as flirting, staring, inappropriate sexualized jokes or comments. Social activities may be canceled to avoid this embarrassment. Opportunities to do things together become fewer as the addiction progresses.
  • Physically - some sex addicts favor abusive techniques in their sexual repertoire, which can result in physical harm. Partners also may experience unwanted physical touch in private or public.
  • Sexually - the sex addict may pressure their partners to participate in unwanted sexual behaviors and if they don't, physical consequences may result or even stalking behaviors. Alternatively the sex addict may lose all interest in sex with their partner. Partners of sex addicts are more prone to sexually transmitted diseases such as vaginal warts, genital herpes, syphilis and HIV.

All of these factors leads to an unhealthy, unbalanced and unstable family environment. A deceitful, chaotic environment surrounds the family. The addict's partner suffers from codependency ( as discussed here: What is sexual co-addiction? ). Children are profoundly affected and may experience fear of abandonment, lack of trust, low self esteem, a sense of hopelessness, overwhelming shame and a desire to perpetuate a family conspiracy of silence or denial. Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect of the children may occur.

Furthermore, besides the increased danger of STD's in the family, there is a danger of legal or professional consequences when the addict acts out their addictive behaviors. These consequences can be even more devastating. Imagine public disclosure, a trial and incarceration and/or professional censure or loss of licensure.

At some point, disclosure to family members is necessary. Where children are involved there are many considerations - how much do they know already, what is the child's age and maturity and how much of the details are necessary. Disclosure should only be done with the guidance and help of professionals trained in sexual addiction issues. See the discussion on disclosure here: ( Disclosure (confrontation) - I KNOW! Now what do I do - how and when? ).

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What are some of the consequences of sexual addiction?

Consequences of sexual addiction or compulsive sexual behavior are serious and usually fit into an escalating pattern of behavior that affects the addict's internal and external world.

Consequences to the Addict:

Addicts become lost in preoccupation with sex

Anxiety or extreme stress are common

Serious diseases

Possible violation of the law

Possible debt and other financial issues

Thoughts (or actions) of suicide

All behavior in this area is progressive

 Consequences to the Addict's world:

Emotionally...anxiety, stress, resentment, and confusion along with feelings of not being cared for or listened to. Promises are usually made and not fulfilled.

Socially...the partners can experience subtle to outright embarrassment over the addictive spouse’s behavior. Social activities are often cancelled. As the addiction progresses, less is done together.

Physically...some sex addicts favor abusive techniques in their behavior, which can result in
physical harm. Partners may also experience unwanted physical touch in private or public
.

Sexually...the sex addict may pressure their partners to participate in sexual behaviors they are not comfortable with and if they don’t, consequences may result. The sex addict may lose all interest in their partner. STD’s are also a strong possibility

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The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity quotes some of the following statistics which indicate the severity of addiction consequences:

70-75 percent of addicts have thought about suicide. Many sex addicts suffer from broken relationships. Forty percent experience severe marital and other relationship problems.

Partners of sex addicts may develop their own addictions and compulsions, psychosomatic problems, or depression and other emotional difficulties.

Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect of the children may occur. In one study, 72% had been physically abused in childhood, 81% had been sexually abused, and 97% emotionally abused. Growing up in such a home increases the risk for the next generation to have addictive disorders.

Sixty percent of addicts have faced financial difficulties, 58% engaged in illegal activities, and 83% of sex addicts also had concurrent addictions such as alcoholism, eating disorders, or compulsive gambling.

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How is sexual addiction treated?

We at the Lifehouse Restoration Counseling center are working on a goal directed model to treat sexual addiction. We realize that every case is unique and must be given that respect in order to properly treat the case. We also know that there are many similarities to sex addiction cases and to the partners and families involved. By recognizing the similarities and establishing relatively standard techniques for treatment, recovery and eventual restoration can be accelerated.

The importance of a professional trained in sexual addiction counseling CANNOT be over-emphasized. The trained counselor is able to identify the case similarities as well as the unique factors of family of origin, past abuse, couple's intimacy, partner issues, etc. This information will lead a trained counselor to establish a plan for recovery and restoration.

Here is what we envision such a plan might look like in general terms:

1. Assessment of the addict upon first contact

 

The following article is reprinted with permission from SASH (The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health) website: http://www.ncsac.org./

Couples Recovering From Sexual Addiction
Sex addiction is a family disease. Both partners have been part of the problem and both can participate in the recovery process, individually and together. Couples who are willing to identify and to work through individual issues such as family of origin difficulties, possible past traumas or neglect, and the need for better skills to cultivate intimacy, can do well in recovery.

Couples who do well:

1. Have made their individual recovery a first priority,
2. Both connect with others through attending 12-step meetings as well as reach out to others for support,
3. Usually have individual and couple counseling to identify systems that no longer work,
4. Accept that couple recovery is a challenging and evolving journey,
5. Read books and employ audiovisual resources for information,
6. Are willing to grow spiritually,
7. Have a strong respect for a commitment toward each other.


WHAT TO EXPECT
The first three to six months of couple recovery are usually the most stressful. Both partners will experience a wide range of powerful feelings. There are often difficulties in the areas of communication styles, intimacy levels, sexuality, spirituality, parenting, past trauma, and finances. Identification of the sexual addiction/coaddiction systems, although painful at first, holds hope for eventual relief of the far greater pain of the addiction.

The following is a list of what to expect in the early stages:

Relief: The addict usually finds a great sense of relief after admitting the secret of the addiction. The end of the double life and shame may bring a premature sense of accomplishment, which needs to be reinforced by attending meetings, going to therapy, and connecting with program friends for support. Coaddicts also feel a sense of relief at the end of secrecy and validation of their experience of pain.

Anger: Both partners can expect to experience anger. The revelation that the life partner is a sex addict may trigger much anger mixed with legitimate hurt and betrayal. The addict feels anger about the need to make changes as part of recovery. Both partners may blame and shame the other.

Hope: The work being done by both partners can bring new life and hope to the relationship. Both partners are encouraged to work in therapy and attend separate 12-step meetings as well as couples meetings such as Recovering Couples Anonymous.

Self-esteem: The self-esteem of both partners initially may worsen but with continued work will improve.

Intimacy: Recovering couples begin to communicate at a more intimate level, often on issues they have never discussed before. Communication skills such as empathic listening, being respectful, and expressing vulnerability, are essential to both partners' recovery.

Grief: The addict experiences pain over the loss of their "best friend," the addiction. The co-addict mourns the loss of the relationship as it was imagined to be. Co-addicts often berate themselves for not having been aware sooner of the addiction.

Sexual issues: Sexuality has a different meaning in recovery. The goal becomes intimacy rather than intensity. Abstinence, and later the frequency, types, and quality of sexual contacts, are issues that the recovering couple must address. Past sexual relationships as well as possible past child sexual abuse of either partner need to be explored. Where other sexual partners were involved, the possibility of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases must be faced early. Couples who continue to learn about healthy sexuality will do better as they address these sexual issues.

Spirituality: Couples who grow spiritually together have hope that a power greater than themselves is also involved in the re-creating of their relationship.

HOW TO GET HELP
A therapist trained in sexual addiction is an invaluable recovery tool for both the individual and for the relationship. Some addicts and coaddicts benefit from intensive outpatient services or possibly inpatient treatment. For information on such services, write or call the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.

*********************************

return to questions


Can sex addicts ever be cured?

One problem with sexual addiction recovery is defining the recovery. A drug addict is recovered if he is not doing any drugs. This is not the case with the sex addict - who will still be engaging in some sexual activities. A better definition of recovery (or cure) may be in defining the "healthiness" of the sexual activities as they relate to the partner in the relationship.

As is the case with other types of addicts, some sex addicts may never be "cured." They may achieve a state of recovery that will continue to require a lifelong, day by day recovery plan. Any 12-step program will teach the addict to take one day at a time and provide accountability for the present.

Many sex addicts who commit to recovery, come totally "clean" in admitting their acts, work on individual and partner counseling, join a 12-step group and make recovery a lifelong effort will be "cured." Part of their recovery will be in learning a new intimacy and fulfillment with their partner relationship.

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Disclosure (confrontation) - I KNOW! Now what do I do - how and when?

When the partner discovers some type of compulsive sexual behavior taking place outside the marriage or relationship, a crisis is likely to occur. This is a very important time and what happens at this time may even dictate the outcome of the relationship. At this time the partner experiences many conflicting emotions (see below). The discovery may be such that an immediate explanation is necessary (ie: "addict caught with hand in the cookie jar"). However, if the discovery was not confrontational, we DO NOT recommend confronting the addict without the advice and guidance of a professional counselor.

It is natural for people whose sexual behavior is discovered to attempt "damage control," by minimizing, rationalizing, excusing, or denying their behavior. They may fear that the spouse will leave (threats by the spouse to do so are common) if the full extent of the behavior is known; they may wish to avoid the additional shame of disclosure and potential legal consequences of the disclosure; they may wish to hide some of the activity because they want to be able to continue it in the future; or they may wish to spare the spouse more pain. Sexual addiction is a treatable disorder, but only when the disease is confronted in the open and treatment is undertaken.

Partners who learn about extramarital sexual behaviors experience a whole range of emotions, including pain, at times devastation, and usually anger. Threats to leave the relationship are common at this stage, but preliminary findings from a 1997 survey conducted by some professional members of SASH suggests that these threats are not usually carried out. Partners report that honesty by the addict at this painful time can be the first step to rebuilding trust. Although disclosure of graphic sexual details is rarely helpful to the partner, most partners find it valuable to receive information about health risks, the timing, location and nature of the behavior, how committed the addict is to the marriage, and whether the behavior has stopped.

Most spouses or partners want additional information. They feel they have a "right to know". They want to be able to assess their risk of HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases. Many spouses had suspicions but were told they were imagining it or were crazy; now they want validation of their prior feelings. Others feel that they were lied to for so long that they now want the truth. If the sexual misconduct is now a matter of public record (e.g. revealed by the media or the subject of a legal inquiry), most spouses want to know the facts so that they can decide what to do and how to respond appropriately to others' questions.

Partners will have these conflicted emotions and the addict will deny, evade and lie when confronted. It is our experience that a discovered addict will not come entirely clean upon confrontation. The relational conflict that may occur at this time can possibly damage the relationship beyond restoration. Again, this is why it is so important to seek professional sexual addiction counseling to guide you through these critical times.

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If my partner will not admit the addiction or refuses to get help, can I still be helped?

REPEAT AFTER ME: 

  1. I am NOT alone – there are many others just like me.
  2. I am NOT responsible for my partner’s sexual addiction.
  3. I CANNOT “fix” my partner’s addiction.
  4. My partner DOES NOT define who I am.
  5. I will get help for myself, NO MATTER WHAT my partner chooses to do.
  6. I WILL be OK with or without the relationship.
  7. I am NOT a victim and I will be restored to wholeness.

REPEAT THEM AGAIN! This is the "PARTNER'S FREEDOM CREED"

So, yes you can be helped and you MUST be helped. You have issues.

First of all, the partner is a CO-ADDICT by virtue of the fact they are in a relationship with a sex addict. This is recognition that the partner has issues of their own and behaviors in need of recovery.

The word that best describes a co-addict personally is “codependent". Most codependents struggle with unhealthy relationships and live unbalanced lives.

Codependency is a style of relating usually started early in life and and reinforced through time. They are caretakers and pleasers. They do these things to win love and avoid pain. Many relationships have unhealthy patterns coexisting with healthy ones. The problem is that codependency tends to be progressive, and if left unresolved it will contaminate the healthy love, care and commitment in a relationship.

Some of the symptoms (or results) of codependency are:

* a difficulty in identifying feelings
* they lose themselves in relationships and tend to put others welfare
   before their own
* sense of worthlessness without a relationship or partner
* feelings of not being whole outside of a relationship
* they suffer from low self esteem and feel they never quite measure up
* they compromise their own values and integrity to avoid conflict or rejection
* they often feel sex is equal to love and use sex to gain approval or acceptance
* they feel ashamed and alone
* they lose all feelings of trust and don't know where to turn for help

On top of all this, add in that the codependent may well have addictions of their own. In some cases the addiction was present before the present partner relationship and in others, the addiction began after. In either case, when present, this will greatly complicate the recovery of the co-addict. It does point out the tremendous need for the co-addict to be in recovery regardless of what the addict does. Without some measure of recovery, the co-addict will not be able to work on the relationship just as the addict will be incapable of the same without recovery work.

This is VERY important to understand. Regardless if the relationship ultimately recovers or fails, the co-addict’s only hope is to work on their own recovery. They are powerless over their partner’s addiction. The co-addict is not at fault, they didn’t cause the addiction and they cannot “fix it”. Also, they cannot “force” the addict into recovery. What they can do is work on their recovery and set boundaries (see last month’s newsletter) for the addict and the relationship.

Unfortunately, the relationship cannot be restored to health until each partner has willingly achieved some measure of recovery and there is a reduction in the friction and conflict that exists in the relationship so that no further damage is done. A very good resource for calming the relationship is Dr. Doug Weiss’ book, “Intimacy: A 100 Day Guide”. Dr. Weiss lays out several techniques and skills such as the “feelings exercises” that will lead to reduction of friction as soon as they are practiced. Only after this calming of the relationship and with the direction of a Therapist can the two partners consider working on truly restoring their relationship.

Think about it! You have two “broken” people. How can you put them together and expect to have a healthy, whole relationship? They can’t heal each other and they certainly cannot heal a broken relationship. Only through individual recovery therapy can each begin to see what is necessary to put the relationship back together and no relationship counseling should take place until each partner has the approval of their Therapist (meaning they have achieved a satisfactory level of individual recovery).

The co-addict must always be prepared for the possibility that the relationship will fail. This possibility gives even greater reason for the co-addict to enter and achieve their own recovery. All this leads to not only recovery for the co-addict but a “Life Plan” for restoration and wholeness either within or without the current relationship. We always proceed on the premise of eventually restoring the relationship, but, we do recognize that is not always possible.

So, we have a picture of the partner and their dynamic interaction with the sex addict. We will discuss the road to recovery in more detail another time but let’s briefly restate the partner’s path. The partner must admit to being the co addict (and codependent), seek individual professional therapy, establish boundaries, attend group 12 step meetings, seek accountability for themselves through group(s), commit to ongoing individual work, commit to couples counseling to restore the relationship and finally to understand the need for a long term “Life Plan” for a whole and healthy life.

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If you need immediate assistance, please call or
email Susan Anderson
.


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All Rights Reserved
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