Partner Information

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW IF YOU'RE THE PARTNER OF A SEXUAL ADDICT

It can be tough to love someone with this problem. You may feel that you have little control over your partner's compulsion.

But there are many resources for you to learn how to cope most effectively, and choose to live with or without the addict.

HOW TO COPE WITH SEXUAL ADDICTION
BY CAROL JUERGENSEN SHEETS, LCSW, PCC, CSAT, AND HER CLIENT


Sexual addiction is a relatively new problem and has been cited as  affecting 16 million people each year. Although research is relatively new, statistics show that sexual addiction affects approximately 7-9 % of the population. Just like with alcoholism, there are trained sexual addiction therapists, and facilities that treat sex, love and relationship addictions. There are  support groups for the addict, the spouse, and the couple, and there are wonderful reading materials to navigate both the addict and his spouse through the process of addiction recovery.

This is the story about Cheryl (not her real name.) She was born in the early 1950's and grew up in an era where sexual issues were not discussed publicly. Consequently, she had no idea how to deal with her husband's sexual addiction, or what to do to ease her confusion and pain. As you read her story, you will wonder why she stayed in a marriage riddled with pain, perversion and sexual betrayal.

After working with Cheryl for over 10 years, I can tell you that she grew up with values that encouraged her to stay with her husband through sickness and in health. I have many other clients who have left their marriages for a lot less than Cheryl has dealt with over the years.  I can tell you that she is a strong, resilient, capable woman who is constantly striving to do the right thing, For Cheryl, 'the right thing' is to stay married  for the sake of herself and her family. Try not to judge her as she tells her gut wrenching story of being married to a sex addict for over 30 years. 

I have emphasized information and facts that we have learned  about people who are affected by sexual addiction. This will help to educate you about the disease, and assist you in defining if someone you love has a sexual addiction. Hopefully you will begin to understand how this process could occur.


A disclaimer: Not everyone who cheats or participates in infidelity has a sexual addiction. Sexual addiction is a disorder that occurs when there is compulsive behavior and a strong preoccupation regarding sex. There is a pronounced loss of control, a sense of shame, an inability to stop despite consequences, a loss of time and money, profound continued participation in activities despite the consequences that occurs for the sex addict and his or her family. There is also a profound escalation of risk-taking behavior that will occur for the sex addict.


As you can see with Cheryl's story, Donny participated in activities  that worsened over time and caused the family and himself great pain. In Donny's case he continues to stay in denial and has never admitted that he has a problem, therefore there is no chance of recovery until he breaks his denial and wants recovery. Luckily, most of my clients have more insight than Donny and are seeking recovery measures that are contributing to the success of managing this debilitating illness. Sexual addiction can be treated and managed but it takes much work for the addict and his partner.


CHILDHOOD VALUES SHAPE OUR LIVES

"We all grow up with preconceived ideas of how to enter relationships and how to make them work. Most often this comes from our parents and the values that they demonstrated at home. They give you advice that they hope will guide you and keep you safe. After all, their main objective is to direct you into becoming a mature young man or woman. Unfortunately for me, it limited my choices and options as to how I managed my life and what boundaries might be important to have a healthy marriage.


"As a teenager growing up, I was given 3 directives that greatly altered what I believed my responsibilities to be in a marriage. My parents said 1) A girl must be a virgin or a man won't ask you to marry him  2) When your husband wants sex, you better give it to him or he will look elsewhere  3) It is against the church to divorce.  These principals, kept me locked into a secret relationship, and left me unable to know where to turn to get the help that I needed.


"Donny (as I shall call him) and I met in college.  We fell in love but I knew something was not right. It took me 3 different times before we got married. Had I been listening to my intuition I would have known that we were not well suited for each other. Prior to our elopement, I realized that Donny had a problem because he returned me to the dorm by curfew and took another woman out who had a reputation for "putting out."


THE BEGINNING WARNING SIGNS THAT SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT

"Despite these warnings I chose to marry him. I didn't realize that I had married a sex addict. Since I firmly believed my parent's rule that you must be a virgin prior to marriage, I had no experience with healthy sexuality. Because of my naivety, I thought he was eager to experience the frequency of sex. The honeymoon began with consecration of the marriage 17 times the first day, with Donny trying to "break the record" the next day.  I was sore and tired, not understanding why sex was considered so sacred. I remember thinking "What is all the excitement  about? I was really confused and disappointed that sex seemed so meaningless.  It was over six months into the marriage before I could relax and get more comfortable with sex. I always worried that our issues had to do with my lack of experience.

Monthly Playboy magazines were always around the house. Donny proudly shared the pinup of the month with every male that walked in the door. I had that sense that Donny might be obsessed with sex but I would quickly dismiss it and tell myself that “it was a guy thing”.  I remember being concerned, and then putting my fears and intuition on the back burner and focusing on my love for him."


When confronted with sexual addiction, it is imperative for a woman to trust her intuitive feelings because this

will guide her to make healthier decisions for her and the relationship. It will move her out of the

denial that anyone automatically goes into when confronted with an addiction.


"There were definite moments when Donny and I had fun together. We purchased our first used boat and spent every weekend water skiing, fishing, camping along the banks of Raccoon Lake in Indiana.  I remember feeling gratitude that we could have fun together. In the beginning of our marriage, I spent lots of time ignoring our differences and trying to find our commonalities. Unfortunately, Donny would tarnish our good times with a warped sense of sexuality. He seemed oblivious to my feelings and would put me in uncomfortable situations that had sexual implications. One Saturday night at the lake, Donny said "let's go to the drive-in movie, not far from the lake".  Little did I know that it was XXX movies.  I felt sneaky and dirty while scrambling around in the car to perform sex with my husband.  He knew I was not comfortable with this semi-public display of affection but his needs seemed much more important than mine.


"I anguished about how our sex life made me feel used. I was beginning to grow up and find my voice. It was a huge step for me when I learned to assert myself. It only took one more trip to the drive in before I put an end to this uncomfortable and immoral feeling."


In a healthy sexual relationship, there is always compromise and negotiation but you should never feel like you are compromising your values to meet your partner’s needs. When a man asks you to meet his addictive needs, you will recognize that inner voice that tells you not to participate. Listen to it and follow what it is telling you!


"Although I was naïve about sex, I had many other character strengths that I demonstrated in our marriage. I had this strong, entrepreneurial woman inside of me, and I so badly wanted to team up with Donny to work together on projects.  Within a year of marriage, I talked Donny into buying a four unit apartment building. The rents from 3 units would make the payments and we could live for nothing.  I wanted him to be proud of me and I wanted to make our life easier."


WORKING HARD TO PROJECT THAT NORMAL FAMILY LIFE

"I began my career as a real estate sales agent for the second largest real estate firm in Indiana. Working hard and long hours, I became a monthly top listing and sales producer.   I was really feeling good about myself and my business strategies. I knew that I possessed savvy business skills and prided myself on my accomplishments. Donny was extremely talented; however his work left him a lot of free time that contributed to his problems. If it rained or snowed he could not work, and did not get paid.  As a result, the union guys would end up in a bar for the remaining part of the day. Alcohol use seemed to increase his libido. His drinking behavior was problematic for me. but I wasn’t sure how to handle it. To this day, I still have a huge  resentment towards him for violating me after being at the bar.  


"One day, after long hours trudging through inclement weather, I became ill in bed with a high fever.  Donny came home and warmed leftover dinner to serve.  I felt too badly with fever to eat.  The next thing I knew, he was in bed and wanted sex.  I told him I did not feel good and wasn't up to it. He insisted upon sex, and told me he “wanted to see what it felt like with a hot body.”  I remember feeling angry and used about his lack of regard for my feelings.  I  mentally played it off, as he was oblivious because of his drinking."


Most people who experience sexual addiction have at least one other addictive behavior that coincides with their problem. Alcohol, drug use, overeating or overspending, gambling or workaholism generally accompany sexual addiction.


"It seemed like such a contradiction in my life. When I looked at my personal accomplishments I felt secure and happy. When I reflected on the marriage, I experienced that gnawing feeling that there was something really wrong with my marriage. I never felt that I was enough for Donny, and I secretly worried that I lacked sexual energy.  I would frequently find  pornographic magazines in his truck.  Naturally, I questioned his need for the soft porn with no response from him. Although I would destroy the magazines it  certainly did not deter him."


It is important for the partner of a sex addict to develop their own personal consequences when dealing with

inappropriate behavior. Throwing away the pornographic stash, just like dumping the alcohol, is not the

appropriate consequence for an addict. They will always find more stash to replace it.


"Despite my resentment, I continued to believe that I needed to stay married because it was the right thing to do.  I stayed in denial and continued my quest to have the ideal family."


The spouse is also in extreme denial about the sexual addiction. As long as

she stays in denial, her husband can continue his use with no consequences.


"While showing homes, I found the perfect house to make a home and raise a family.  We purchased the house, and built a 30 x 40 steel building on the land especially for Donny. I wanted to please him and make him feel happy that he had married me. I would go to great extremes to take care of him. I even remember sitting on a scaffold, being very pregnant, and painting a steel beam. I was creating a sanctuary for my husband, a place that he could go to hang out and 'do the guy thing.' I certainly had no idea that this special barn we built together would allow him a place to practice his addiction. 

 

"Here we were, six years into the marriage and had our first child. What a bundle of joy! Denial set in even deeper, and I deluded myself into thinking that Donny would now settle down to become a responsible husband and father.  I had a baby, an apartment building, a beautiful home  and a job I loved.  I was the top producer in our real estate office, and I would do anything to make the sale including lugging our daughter in her pumpkin seat with me to the office without question.  I had no idea of the denial I was in. I had assumed that if I' or we, could create a normal life together, it would stop him from finding the time to want pornographic materials."


Like a husband who has a serious addiction---the wife also has a serious problem called denial. A wife's denial

allows the addict to continue “using” despite the absurdity of how it is affecting the family. Breaking the

denial is the first step to breaking away from the insanity of addiction, and often times

the partner needs to break the denial before the addict can get healthy.


"Even though I knew I was not comfortable with his pornography usage, I acted like a wife of an alcoholic and thought to myself “If you can’t beat them…join them.” One tired Saturday night, Donny brought in a pornographic video to watch.  It didn’t improve things at all as a matter of fact; it encouraged him to use me like I was a sexual vessel. He had sex like I was no one special and I remember feeling so hurt and disillusioned with our relationship.  I decided that I needed to take a stand regarding my feelings. I no longer was going to participate in watching what people might or might not do in their bedrooms.    I was mad at him for bringing this into our home and mad at myself for putting up with it. I must confess that I continued to blame myself for what I apparently was not providing in the bedroom, but regardless I set another important sexual boundary despite his despondency!"


Setting boundaries is the first healthy step a spouse can take to break the chains of codependency.


"My real estate holdings began to grow, and I began buying rental property in low income neighborhoods. This served many purposes as it gave Donny, who was skilled at construction, an opportunity to make money and stay busy during the times when he was not working. In my own mind I hoped that it would keep him productive and keep him out of trouble. It also allowed us to do something together while improving the community."


It is not the spouse’s job to find ways to keep the addict out of trouble. This behavior is called

codependency, and actually allows the addict to avoid his responsibility to get healthy


"I spent a lot of mental energy worrying about the emotional state of my husband while trying to juggle a successful business. It wasn’t enough that I had a newborn, and six year old in kindergarten, but I constantly worried about whether Donny was happy. I even gave up my business after several episodes where I depended on Donny to care for our kids, to no avail. I never knew where he was, and suspected he was in the bars with his buddies or gallivanting around town. It seemed he was always missing in action."


THE ADDICTION WORSENS

"Nothing that I was doing was helping our situation. After several years, I felt as though I should try to resume my career. Coming home from a long day I was surprised to find my sister-in-law babysitting the children.  She explained that she had gotten a call that Donny was in jail.  She had little detail, except that he was arrested at a porn shop with an injury, and my brother in law had gone to bail him out.  I was furious!  Donny knew I would never bail him out for any reason whatsoever, let alone this.  Donny was arrested for indecent exposure and resisting arrest.


"How could this have happened? How did his seamlessly harmless pornographic viewing turn into an indecent exposure charge?

Naturally, I asked him what happened and why he was there.  Donny was non-responsive and non communicative. I felt like an interrogator trying to make sense of an insane situation.  I was so embarrassed and ashamed of Donny's behavior. I felt the personal shame and humiliation that this caused our family. I was beside myself, and secretly sick to my stomach that he had involved his brother and sister in-law."


Sexual addiction will always increase in intensity and frequency. Just like a drug addict who has to increase their usage to get the same high, a sex addict will spend more and more time feeding his addiction. Looking at magazines will likely increase to hours surfing porn on the net, which will graduate into going to strip clubs or paying for escorts, or prostitutes or participating in  chronic infidelity. Part of the addiction means that the addict will always look for new opportunities to reach a greater high.

"The misdemeanor remains on his record.  Did I ever share this with family or friends?  No.  I felt like it was a reflection of me, if I told anyone.  Strangely, Donny and his brother live 5 miles apart and have no contact with each other since Donny's arrest. This was a personal black mark for the family.  I secretly hoped that this would put an end to his crazy, sexual behavior but deep down inside I suspected that there would be more episodes. I didn’t understand how I had married such a sick man, and I certainly didn’t think that I could talk to a counselor, minister or family member about it because of the taboo status."


Talking to a counselor or a minister is a healthy way of shattering the silence. Sexual addiction requires secrecy, both from the addict and the partner. When you break the secrecy, you begin the process of making better choices and

decisions. It is important for you to do your research and find people who have expertise in this area.

You can go to Sexhelp.com to find professionals in your area who have been trained in sexual addiction.


"Just as I suspected, the deviant sexual behavior continued.  I started finding "Swing" magazines hidden in the barn. What on earth is a "Swinger,"  I wondered. Skimming through one of the magazines, I noticed that several ads were cut out.  Still not quite understanding why people would swap partners and share in sex, I asked my husband if he was a "swinger?" He denied it and said he was just looking.  Again I felt isolated and alone while trying to make sense of my husband's bizarre behavior. Was he a pervert? Was he sick? Would he ever get better? How would this affect our kids? Didn’t he realize that our children might discover his perversions and it could distort their young minds forever?  I warned Donny with that I would not tolerate this type of behavior. I feared that it would lead to STD's and worse yet, AIDS.   I could not trust him.   He denied being a participant at the swing clubs but I had noticed some 'cannot duplicate' keys on his key ring that I suspected were private club keys for a “Swingers Club.” I was sick to my stomach, knowing that my husband was frequenting these clubs, endangering our marriage, my health, and my sanity. I felt so powerless to get him to stop. Nothing I said or did seem to make a difference. I had nowhere to turn.


"Honestly, I was so busy trying to make a living and raise the kids, always doing what was right for the family first, that I never dwelled on what Donny was or was not doing.  I believed in the sanctity of marriage, that family came first, and as long as there was no physical abuse, alcoholism, or drugs I should stay with him because of my vows and commitment. I didn’t realize that by putting up with his illness I was enabling him to live the life he had always lived.  I rationalized my behavior because I reminded myself that Donny was a good father to the children, and a hard worker.  Am I ashamed of my husband's behavior?  Yes.  Did I take it personally and wonder how I contributed to the problem? Yes.  Did I see a way out other than divorce? No." 


DEPRESSION SETS IN

"In my 50's I became significantly depressed. To this day, I have no idea whether my depression was a direct correlation to Donny’s sexual addiction. I did eventually see a therapist who knew that I needed support and education about my husband's inability to control his sexual behavior.  It was especially difficult for me to begin discussion of Donny's sexual antics.  She was patient, compassionate and knowledgeable as she worked with me.  She immediately reassured me it was not my fault and assured me that there was help. She referred me to a group for women who loved sex addicts.


"As with many sex addicts, Donny could no longer perform in the bedroom.  He tried medications like Viagra/Cialis, but we have not been able to have a satisfying sex life. The therapist has explained that my husband may have developed a template for what sex looks like, and unfortunately his preference is for sex that resembles pornography. His usage has progressed to "Craig's" listings of "casual encounters." It just continues to get worse and worse but I have learned how to detach from his craziness and stop taking his illness personally. I realize that I am not going to leave despite the realization that my husband is not going to change.  Call me old fashion but I made a commitment to stay with my husband through sickness and in health. I just pray that he doesn't infect me with an STD.


Sexual addiction increases with intensity and frequency. If one truly has an addiction, the problematic sexual behavior will worsen and become more out of control. There will be more risk taking and greater sexual preoccupation.

The physical, emotional, and financial cost will increase as well as the time involved finding the “high.”

"I am writing this because I know there are other options in my life, and that I can get healthy despite my husband’s addiction. I admit that because of my own codependency, and the values that I grew up with, I default back into denial. I know that you may be reading this, thinking "why the hell doesn’t she leave?"


STRUGGLING WITH CODEPENDENCY/IT TAKES CONSTANT WORK

"Often times when you live with an addict, you learn how to live with the person and his addiction and this is what I have chosen to do. However  with the help of my therapist and the support of a 12 step philosophy, I realize the work that I must continue to do on myself to stop supporting his addiction. I would love to report that I am no longer moving in and out of denial, despair, and hope but I continue to want this outcome, despite his addiction. I know that we can never live a life of emotional intimacy and closeness until he gets help.  I am fully aware that more than likely that will never happen. Donny remains sick and has done nothing to work on facing his demons and getting help. I can only concentrate on myself, so the bottom line is that I am a work in progress and I am getting healthier every day. I am more realistic and I am gaining more understanding about the disease of sexual addiction.


"There are lots of women like me out there that don’t even know that sexual addiction exists. They have no idea that there are trained therapists and support groups out there, to guide one through this terrible addiction.  Try not to judge me for staying with my husband of 40 years; just know that I am working on accessing the supports that I need so that I can continue to grow healthier one day at a time.

As odd as it seems, addicts are able to compartmentalize their lives. They can love their wife and children, and still be obsessed with prostitutes, or porn, or other women. They use lots of defense mechanisms, such as rationalizations or justifications, to do what they do. They are not bad people, but they do bad things. They are sick. It is up to them to change their behavior and to seek treatment for their addiction."

Sexual addiction or hyper-sexuality is a growing problem. If you are concerned that your husband, partner or child

might have a sexual addiction, you can go to sexhelp.com and get information. The website has information

 on sexual addiction as well as  groups in your area that are available to support you.