Couples Recovering from Sexual Addiction
Adapted from The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity
Sex addiction is a family disease. Both partners have been part of the problem and both must be willing to 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:
- Have made their individual recovery a first priority
- Both connect with others through attending 12 step meetings as well as reach out to others for support
- Usually have individual and couple counseling to identify systems that no longer work
- Accept that couple recovery is a challenging and evolving journey
- Read books and employ audiovisual resources for information
- Are willing to grow spiritually
- Have a strong respect for and 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/co-addiction 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:
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 that needs to be reinforced by attending meetings, going to therapy, and connecting with program friends for support. Co-addicts also feel a sense of relief at the end of secrecy and validation of their experience of pain.
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.
The work being done by both partners can bring new life and hope to the relationship. Both partners are encouraged to attend separate 12 step meetings as well as couples meetings such as Recovering Couples Anonymous.
The self-esteem of both partners initially may worsen but with continued recovery will improve as both work on a recovery program.
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.
The addict experiences pain over the loss of their “best friend,” the addiction. The co-addict mourns both the loss of the relationship as it was imagined to be, and the reality of the partner being a sex addict. Co-addicts often berate themselves for not having been aware sooner of the addiction.
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.
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
Therapists trained in sexual addiction are an invaluable recovery tool for both the individual and for the relationship. Addicts and co-addicts benefit from outpatient treatment, some may require intensive outpatient services or even inpatient treatment.