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Information for Partners of Sexual Addicts

What the Partner Experiences

For the relationship partner of a sexual addict, it can be a painful process experiencing the powerlessness of the addict's out-of-control behavior. Whether the partner is male or female or the relationship is heterosexual, gay or lesbian, the dynamics are the same. That is, the partner may not know what the addict is involved in, but she does know something is amiss. (For simplicity, "he" will be used in referring to the sexual addict and "she" when referring to the partner.) If the partner tries to discuss her feelings of uncertainty and confusion with the addict, he will probably steadfastly deny that anything is happening. Often the addict will tell his partner that she's imagining things, that everything's all right. The primary dynamic here is a denial of her feelings.


 


If, on the other hand, she has through one means or another found out that the addict is acting out sexually and confronts him, the addict may attack his partner, telling her that if she was not so (demanding, withholding, out of touch with the times, etc.) there would be no problem. The primary dynamic here is that she's somehow to blame for his behavior. Either way, nothing changes. Most partners describe these processes as "making me feel crazy."

Some Characteristics of a Sex Addict's Partner

Click to buy - Back From Betrayal: Recovery for Women Involved With Sex Addicted MenA phrase that is used to describe a woman or a man in relationship with a sexual addict is a codependent of a sex addict, or co-addict for short. In her book, Back From Betrayal: Recovery for Women Involved With Sex Addicted Men, Jennifer Schneider presents a cohesive description of a co-addict. Schneider points out that the co-addict's self esteem comes from her success as a people-pleaser. Her main goal in life is to try to figure out what her partner wants, and then give it to him. To assure success at pleasing, she may become extremely sensitive to the momentary mood of her partner. She may constantly worry about what he thinks about her and try extremely hard not to make a mistake.

Because of these self-defeating characteristics, the co-addict usually is much more in tune with what someone else wants than with her own wants and needs. The underlying reason for such a belief is the co-addict's conviction that no one could love her for herself, just as she is, that she must earn love and devotion. The energy expended on such an endeavor can take a heavy toll on the co-addict as she tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to " keep her man happy." She may engage in a variety of behaviors that range from the smallest violation of her value system to the truly dangerous and destructive. The co-addict, in an effort to please the addict, may do the following things. She may change her hair color, lose/gain weight, quit her job/go to work, or wear sexy underwear. Or she may perform sex acts that are unpleasant or repulsive to her, or attend events that shock and confuse her, swing with others, or expose herself to sexually transmitted diseases. Or, most importantly for a co-addict with children, she may use them and/or ignore them in her efforts to focus on the addict-partner.

Click to buy - Partners Recovery Guide : 100 Empowering Exercises for Partners of Sex Addicts To "please and keep her man" the co-addict will often attempt to become indispensable to the addict. Not surprisingly, with the need to be indispensable, the co-addict's most constant emotional state is one of fear. In their book, Women Who Love Sex Addicts: Help For Healing from the Effects of a Relationship With A Sex Addict, Douglas Weiss and Dianne DeBusk list some of the common fears a co-addict may experience. The list includes such beliefs as I was afraid I wasn't woman enough for him; I was afraid I could never please him sexually; I was afraid there was something wrong with me; I was afraid I was a pervert; I was afraid that I wouldn't protect my kids if they were being hurt by him; I was afraid of his anger; I was afraid he would give me a disease. Living with such fears inevitably leads the co-addict to attempt to control the addict's behavior. Her (unconscious) rationale for this is that if she can keep him within certain parameters of behavior, she won't have to experience her fears of inadequacy and of being abandoned, In reality, such attempts are about as effective as trying to keep the dam from bursting by running around and sticking a finger in the many holes that keep appearing. Nevertheless, the co-addict repeatedly attempts to control the addict with such behaviors as calling or beeping him several times a day in order to find out where he is; checking his wallet for tell-tale evidence; going through credit card bills; checking his shirts for lipstick smudges or his dirty underwear for signs of semen; throwing away pornographic material. She may also attempt to manipulate his behavior with a variety of behaviors of her own, including acting overly understanding and/or becoming a screamer-yeller. Neither works; nor does anything else she tries.

What Usually Happens Without Help

Since the disease of sexual addiction is, like any addiction, progressive, that is, it gets more time-consuming and costly as time goes by, eventually the secret life of the sexual addict is discovered or uncovered and the couple experiences a tremendous crisis. Often, the sexual addict will then enter a period of extreme remorse, beg for forgiveness, and promise never to act out again. His promises at the time are probably sincere and most co-addicts want to believe the words. A honeymoon period may follow, including intense sexual activity between the two people. Since, for the co-addict, sex is often a sign of love, she may be lulled into believing everything is really all right, offer forgiveness and bind up her wounded spirit and go on. She is later shattered to discover the unaccounted for time and secrecy has returned.


Roots of the Partner's Behavior

The reason the behavior of both the addict and co-addict cannot be stopped by self-control is that the roots of their behavior go far back, usually to their growing-up period. Typically, the individuals in the coupleship were given unclear, unhelpful and unworkable covert and overt messages by her/his caretakers about trust, about how important s/he is, what to expect from others and how to get needs and wants met. As an adult, this person may struggle to make relationship connections and to solve life problems. However, the messages they were given earlier about how to navigate in life usually fail her/him;they often turn out to be ineffective at best and disastrous or dangerous at worst.

A Typical Story

In a typical scenario, Chris and Bobby were introduced to each other one night by mutual friends who were helping Chris celebrate her birthday. She was feeling somewhat vulnerable, not only having had a few drinks to celebrate, but she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years. When Bobby was introduced to her, sparks between the two of them began to fly immediately. He was charming, attentive, intelligent ; also somewhat inebriated. The emotional pain Chris had experienced since the breakup began to dissolve. When Bobby asked to take her home that night, she felt that something miraculous was happening. Although she declined to have sex, they engaged in some heavy petting. The went out together the next night, and soon they were seeing each other on a regular basis. A sexual relationship developed quickly which Chris described as incredible.

One day after they had been dating several weeks, Chris was at Bobby's apartment when the phone rang. Since Bobby had just stepped out to get the mail, the answering machine picked up. A female voice began leaving a message saying she couldn't wait to see him and that she was looking forward to giving him a blow job for his upcoming birthday. Stunned, Chris told Bobby what she had heard, and, in a somewhat irritated manner, he explained that the woman leaving the message was an old girl friend who had been bugging him to get back together and there was nothing to it.


 


Before long, however, Chris began to notice that whenever they were out, Bobby's eyes would follow any woman with a bra size over 32A. He would sometimes make lewd comments under his breath or smile in a trance-like manner. And sometimes at parties Bobby would frequently cozy up to some of the other females and ignore her. Once, he even disappeared for a while during a party, and when Chris looked for him, he was outside in a secluded spot with another woman. When Chris started to confront Bobby about what she was seeing, Bobby dismissed her complaints as "stupid" and said that she was beginning to get on his nerves by being so possessive. Chris, not wanting to lose Bobby, decided she'd better back off with the "jealousy." The doubts she began to experience about whether she was "enough" for him prompted her to begin to visit Victoria's Secret for some lingerie. She also highlighted her hair and went on a body-wrecking quick weight loss diet to lose 10 pounds. After that, Bobby was very attentive for awhile and Chris again felt she had solved the problem of Bobby's wandering eye. After Chris agreed to and engaged in some sexual activities that Bobby had been asking her to do, but that she had felt uncomfortable in doing, Bobby surprised her by agreeing to get married. At the bachelor party the night before, Bobby got drunk, barely made it through the wedding and reception and quickly passed out once they were in their hotel.

Fast forward a few years and a couple of kids later. Bobby is now frequently late in coming home. Sometimes when the phone rings and Chris answers, there's silence on the other end. They fight a lot. Chris accuses Bobby of not loving her and the kids and she alternately tries to set things right by being seductive and then angrily telling him how he is hurting her by the way he acts toward her. She walks on eggshells to keep from upsetting him and hushes the kids when he comes home so he won't get angry about their noise. Exhausted, confused, she wonders just what there is to live for. One day, when opening the mail, she sees a credit card bill that astounds her. The bill is for $450 worth of charges for '900' numbers and visits to a modeling studio. When she confronts Bobby, he at first denies any knowledge of the bill, saying it must be a mistake and then, finally, he tells Chris that he has been engaging in the sexual activities they're being billed for. Chris is rocked to her very core. She questions everything about herself: her intelligence, her sexuality, her reality. Hasn't she been faithful and dedicated to the relationship? Why has this happened? What the co-addict doesn't know is that her partner has a disease called sexual addiction and that she is not responsible for it and she cannot fix it.

The Partner Has a Debilitating Condition Too

It is important, therefore, to recognize that not only her partner has a disease and has developed an irrational way of living and being, but that she, the co-addict, has as well. Each person will need help in erasing or ameliorating the dysfunctional messages they learned during childhood and adolescence that predisposed him/her to their respective diseases and the unfortunate consequences of the addictions.

THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS SAYING THE COADDICT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ADDICT'S BEHAVIOR. He is responsible for his own disease and recovery efforts. However, his taking charge of his life WILL NOT disrupt the co-addict's beliefs and learned behavior of pleasing and controlling. Her belief system was developed long before the sexual addict came on the scene, although the consequences of her beliefs may have intensified in the relationship. Therefore, the "baggage" stays unless both the sexual addict and co-addict get help. Even leaving the relationship will not erase the co-addict's needs to deal with her own issues. Time and again, research has indicated that even when a co-addict leaves a relationship, she almost always picks someone else similar in characteristics to the last partner. Without help, this is the way the co-addict lives her life.

What to Do If You Need and Want Help

If you have related to the information presented in the foregoing and would like more information about getting help, visit the treatment section.

next: Depression and Sex Addiction: The Moment Between the Trapezes

Last Updated: April 8, 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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