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Are You Married to a Sex Addict? There is Hope.


Partners of sex addicts recently have been treated in therapy as though they had PTSD.  Such is the nature of the betrayal and duplicity involved in active sex addiction.  You must understand that your husband bought these issues with him into the marriage, indeed, they were formulated in early childhood.  Learning to set firm boundaries — knowing that this is his affliction and that it has NOTHING to do with you will help with the self-blame.  Therapy for spouses of sex addicts is essential to have someone mirror and normalize your feelings and to learn to value and love yourself regardless of the behavior of your partner.  When both partners are in recovery programs and in couples therapy, I’ve seem remarkable new levels of closeness and intimacy develop because they overcame adversity together.  There is hope.

Do you feel that your significant other could be a sex addict? Spouses of sex addicts frequently asked questions and their corresponding answers might help in determining whether your partner should seek therapy for sex addiction.

What exactly is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is defined as a compulsive relationship to sexual activities, thoughts or fantasies that a person continually pursues regardless of negative results. These activities, thoughts or fantasies inhabit an unbalanced degree of “psychic space,” causing a disparity in the individual’s overall performance in pivotal areas of everyday life, including marriage and career. Negative thoughts about these behaviors—such as guilt, distress and shame—wear down the addict’s swiftly weakening self-worth.         


The concept of sexual addiction can be recognized as an intimacy disorder embodied as a revolving obsessive sequence consisting of four parts: preoccupation, ritualization, sexual behavior and despair. Key to the disorder is the person’s inability to effectively bond and form attachments in personal relationships.

Sex addiction is deeply rooted in childhood attachment failure with primary caregivers. The syndrome can be seen as a maladaptive attempt to make up for this childhood attachment failure. Addiction is a representative embodiment of deep-rooted, unconscious maladjusted relationships, with self as well as with others.                    

While sex addiction’s definition is similar in relation to other addictions, sexual compulsion is what sets it apart from others in that sex engages our deepest unconscious desires, fantasies, needs, conflicts and fears. As with other addictions, it is prone to relapse.

Although, presently, there is no sex addiction diagnosis in the DSM-IV, clinical researchers studying the subject have devised standard criteria for identifying sex addiction. If a person meets three or more of the following criteria, he or she could be recognized as a sex addict


  1. Futile attempts and a constant desire to control or permanently end these behaviors.
  2. Fixation with sexual behavior or preliminary actions (also known as “rituals”).
  3. Often engaging in the behavior when domestic, occupational, social or academic responsibilities are expected to be fulfilled.  
  4. Persistence of the behavior despite the problems it causes, including recurring marital, financial, social or psychological difficulties. 
  5. Deserting or confining recreational, social or occupational activities as a result of the behavior.
  6. Feelings of anxiety, distress, irritability or restlessness if unable to become fully immersed in the behavior.


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

It is often difficult to recognize whether someone close to you has an addiction, and should be treated for sex addiction recovery. The addict could keep their addictive behavior a secret or you might be unaware of the warning signs or indicators. Here are some common symptoms of a sex addict that you should be aware of:

  • Watching television or surfing the internet late at night.
  • Looking at pornographic material, including videos, books, magazines and risqué clothing catalogs.
  • Regularly renting pornographic videos.
  • Concealing pornographic material at home or work.
  • Demanding about sex, especially as to when and where to have it.
  • Overly controlling during sex or often have drastic mood swings prior to or after sexual activity.
  • Not appropriately communicating during sex.
  • Lacking intimacy before, during and after sexual activity, and displaying little or no true affection in the relationship.
  • Regular isolation from partners or spouses, with no information as to their whereabouts.   
  • Refusing to socialize with others, particularly peers who they might feel threatened by.
  • No close friends of the same sex.
  • Becoming enraged if someone expresses concern over their pornography problem.
  • A history of attempting to change pornography habits to show a lack of reliance on one specific form; devising rules to cut down but never sticking to them.
  • A failure to account for the growing number of phone calls to 800- or 900- toll-free numbers.
  • Often seems to be preoccupied in public.
  • Is progressively dishonest.
  • Commonly seems depressed.
  • Often uses sexual humor.
  • Always has a good reason for looking at pornography.

Why is the person powerless over his or her sexual behavior?

It is imperative to realize that your partner is not volitionally participating in these behaviors. Once you recognize this fact, you can hopefully begin to understand their condition and, perhaps, embark on the journey to forgiveness. If they could, most addicts would end their destructive behaviors.

Of all the addictions, it’s been said that sex is the hardest to manage. This disorder is an intricate combination of psychological, biological, family-of-origin and cultural issues—the blending of which generates urges and impulses that makes one practically incapable of resisting. Although acting out these desires results in considerably long-lasting adverse effects, the addict is simply unable to defy his inner urges.

Even a person who is highly accomplished, disciplined and has the capacity to focus his urges into other aspects of his life can fall victim to sexual compulsion. Perhaps most importantly, individuals who deeply love and treasure their partners can still become imprisoned by these endlessly appealing impulses.    

From a biological viewpoint, research has proven that particular configurations in the right temporal lobe results in some people becoming more inclined to sexual arousability from the time they are born. It depends on the child’s home environment as to whether a person becomes sexually compulsive or perverse.  


Research has also revealed that the powerlessness to manage sexual impulses is directly connected to neurochemical disparities in the serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine systems. Using certain powerful antidepressants (SSRIs) has proven to be highly successful in combating the impulse control problems many sexual compulsives face.

Another key factor, which combines and contributes to psychological factors, is biological predisposition. One of the main reasons for the compulsory effect of the “erotic haze” is that it instinctively preserves prior anxiety-ridden, dysfunctional relationships. It creates an inadequate sense of self, resulting from prior early-life interpersonal abandonments, misattunements and disturbances.   

The blend of psychological and biological factors combines to create an “affective disorder” in the sex addict. Negative thoughts of depression, boredom, emptiness and anxiety are swiftly overcome by becoming totally immersed in a fantasy world offering excitement, intense pleasure, novelty and mystery.

Sex addiction works better than Prozac—it soothes, it contains, it heals, it affords a “safe haven” free from the demands and hardships of real life, as well as a false sense of belonging. The overwhelming feeling of empowerment repairs “holes in the soul” and transforms the addict’s despairing thoughts of depression, emptiness, insufficiency and inadequacy into an instantly euphoric state.  

Abandoning this intensely pleasurable (but illusory) psychological and physical state can lead to a general sense of withdrawal, the symptoms of which include an inability to concentrate, irritability and mood swings. Typically, in therapy these symptoms evaporate when the sense of self is strengthened and the addict finds better methods to cope with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.  


How does sex addiction affect the partner?

There are many ways that sex addiction can affect spouses of sex addicts including an extensive variety of reactive behaviors and emotions. The experience of a sexual codependent is akin to, but not identically like, the relationship between a substance abuser and codependent person. For example, the codependent spouse of a drug or alcohol addict could possibly comprehend and sympathize with their partner’s substance abuse problem, due to the decreased amount of societal condemnation they face.

In contrast, however, a compulsive addiction involving the participation in sexual activities outside the home results in a psychic injury of ultimate betrayal. Some have compared it to PTSD. How incredibly difficult it must be for the partner to be sympathetic, compassionate and understanding towards the person they love and cherish, who has been sexually unfaithful and disloyal to them.

Society doesn’t discuss sex addiction due to its significant social stigma. Forgiveness can seem unattainable. For the victim, his or her trust can feel permanently tarnished.      

In addition, for both addict and sexual codependent there is the factor of intense shame associated with sexual addiction, especially if sexual proclivities involve cross-dressing, submission, dominance, children or an object. In sex addiction therapy, all of these problems can be addressed. 


What are the Characteristics of Spouses of Sex Addicts?

Codependency is an overused, clichéd term, and definitions of it can be confusing. Essentially, codependency revolves around the fear of losing the emotional support and presence of caring individuals, as a result of developmental problems with childhood caretakers. This deep-seated, primal fear can lead to manipulative behaviors that place too much of a focus on sustaining another person’s approval and presence.

Codependent behaviors include: anger, control, care-taking, obsequiousness and being excessively responsible.        

Those who are codependent strongly believe that they cannot go on without their partner, and will do anything they possibly can to stay in the relationship, regardless of how painful it might be. The fear of permanently losing their partner and becoming abandoned trumps any other thoughts and emotions. The idea of discussing the partner’s addiction can be a terrifying one since the person typically doesn’t want to cause an argument and ignite the partner’s resentment.  

Common Traits of Codependents

  • Spending a large portion of time focused on the addict, often to the neglect of their own selves and their children.
  • Attempting to maintain peaceful communications in the relationship by any means necessary.
  • Tolerating negative behaviors in the relationship that others would never allow.
  • Surrendering to the unexpressed/unrecognized expectation that abiding these behaviors will generate loyalty and devotion.
  • Accomplishing things for others that you should be doing for yourself, while suffering from self-neglect.
  • Rescuing others in a compulsive manner.
  • Becoming hindered by the addict’s extreme behavior.
  • Believing far-fetched stories—allowing the addict the benefit of the doubt when it’s not defensible.
  • Forgiving the addict repeatedly.
  • Devising ultimatums, rules and boundaries but not adhering to them.
  • Becoming a person you don’t like—a rager, a blamer, a nag, a parent to your partner.
  • Being too worried about other people’s opinions—obsessed with trying to appear as if nothing’s wrong.
  • Becoming used to living in a highly chaotic, intense and dramatic environment.

By demonstrating the above characteristics, spouses of sex addicts exhibit the following: problems with sexuality, enabling, preoccupation, rescuing, anger, denial, attempts to control, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil and compromise of self.  It sometimes results in serious medical problems.

Women married to sex addicts suffer a painful loss of self as they make sexual compromises in the relationship that may conflict with their moral values. It becomes exhausting.

As an addiction, sex is hardly ever talked about, and there is a vast social stamina related to it, leading to the co-addict attempting to hide or try to mask her true feelings of despair and shame. Often, she is forced into an isolated existence because she is unable to discuss the problem with friends and loved ones. It isn’t long before depression becomes a factor in an emotional environment of seclusion and indignity.

What Part Does the Spouse Play in Her Husband’s Sex Addiction Treatment?

For sexual codependents who go to 12-step programs for spouses of sex addicts, such as S-Anon or COSA, a feeling of extraordinary relief usually takes place. To escape the cycle of isolation and shame, it’s integral to realize that other people are experiencing the same issues as you. Some group members have been dealing with these problems for years and can provide stories of hope and optimism for newcomers. One-on-one psychotherapy, often with a sex addiction therapist, is also hugely essential.  

Treatment for sexual codependence is often a process of self-realization, self-transformation and continued personal growth. Dealing with feelings of victimization can develop into a new and refreshing sense of resilience. As you go through this process and face the suffering you have been forced to endure, a new inner avenue will become available to you, in which you’ll discover meaning and be able to build stronger self-worth. The hardships you’ve had to deal with can raise you up to a higher form of well-being. From having successfully worked through this process, you may develop a renewed sense of peace and serenity.

You will be able to accomplish personal goals that were never expressed in your family-of-origin: setting practical boundaries, appropriately valuing yourself, taking better care of your adult needs and desires while allowing other adults to take care of theirs, being cognizant of and acknowledging your personal reality without fear.

By adhering to the above, both your internal and external boundaries will be strengthened. Powerful external boundaries will guarantee that you will never again become victimized. By having internal boundaries, new avenues of healthy intimacy will open up as you develop a renewed sense of who you are. At the core of healthy intimacy is the capacity to share your real self with another person, and, in turn, being emotionally available when someone shares his or her real self with you.

No longer will you be forced to transform yourself into a person you don’t want to become, and that somebody else wants you to be. A response of disapproval or rejection may feel unpleasant, but it’s not devastating—and you’ll no longer have to sully your personal integrity in order to gain external validation and approval. With an increase of self-knowledge, you can wholly rely on yourself and your own healthy behaviors as the foundation for your self-worth.             

As for the relationship, you can choose whether or not to leave it, with the understanding that you can create a happy, rewarding life for yourself, regardless of whether you’re in a partnership or by yourself. Even if you decide to stay in the relationship, you can still regain your self-respect, as well as a renewed sense of direction, even if your partner is still an addict.  

Lastly, energy and time focused on fixation and power over the addict can instead be better used to: devote attention to and emotionally support your children, develop new, long-lasting friendships and participate in recreational activities and recommit to and attain increased fulfillment in your career.       

How do I Forgive?


Forgiveness is a crucial aspect of the recovery process. Remember: to forgive is not to forget. The concept of forgiving is the ability to remember the past without re-experiencing painful memories associated with it. This requires remembering events, but attaching different emotions to them, and allowing the pain to have a decreased amount of significance over time. Understanding the despair, compulsion and pain that your partner has experienced from his addiction can help you to become compassionate.

To forgive is chiefly important for yourself, not for the person who has done the wrongdoing. At the opposite end of the spectrum from forgiveness is resentment. When we resent, we once again experience the anger and pain we initially felt. Tranquility and resentment are not able to coexist.

The journey of forgiveness begins with recognizing that a wrongdoing to you has taken place. You must realize that the strong feelings you have about the situation must be fully processed. You are certainly permitted to feel hurt or angry. Ideally, you can attend couples counseling, where you’ll be able to share your feelings with the person who has hurt you.

If that is not a feasible scenario, you should still be able to share your feelings with your support group or therapist. After going through therapy, you can decide whether to stay in the relationship. In either case, forgiveness does not entail the continuation of hurtful behaviors. As part of your own self-help process, you must make firm decisions as to what behaviors are acceptable in your relationship, and which you cannot abide.

The key objective of forgiveness is to heal yourself. In a relationship with a sex addict, forgiveness is supported by confirmation of each partner’s altered behavior and dedication to sex addiction treatment.

These are also essentials in rebuilding a foundation of trust. Forgiveness and learning to trust again, for most couples, are inextricably linked. For both of these concepts to truly succeed, they require time, making reparations, continued treatment and trustworthy behavior. If the above takes place, then the journey to sex addiction therapy has fully begun. 



www.sextreatment.com  (homepage)

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Dorothy Hayden, LCSW has 20 years of experience treating sex and porn addicts, love addiction, codependency, fetishes, sadomasochism, "kink friendly", crossdressers and their wives, partners of sex addicts. She has been interviewed on "HBO", "20/20" and Anderson Cooper 360. Ms. Hayden has authored the book "Total Sex Addiction Recovery - A Guide to Therapy"

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