Is my partner a sex addict?

If you are on this page, more than likely you are feeling confused, angry, helpless and hopeless, or even betrayed.  You may have discovered your partner is having an affair, chatting and flirting with people online, viewing pornography frequently, or other “inappropriate” behaviors.  You are not alone! It is estimated that approximately 10 million addicts and partners in the United States alone suffer from sex addiction. We seldom talk about sex addiction and often feel ashamed, blaming ourselves for not recognizing the signs or being there for our loved ones. 

It is important to understand that an evaluation for sex addiction can only be completed by a trained mental health professional. In an assessment, specific behaviors are evaluated and often testing is completed to help the clinician determine if sex addiction is present.  Each individual case is unique. Your partner may be doing things and/or behaving in certain ways that do strongly indicate the presence of addiction and those behaviors should not be discounted. The best thing you can do when you suspect addiction is to talk to a specially trained professional about your concerns. He or she can best help you determine how to approach the subject with your partner and make a plan that will ensure the safety of you, your partner, and children (if applicable).

You can learn to trust again...There is a whole world of other people out there who are willing to walk beside you. Take the time to take care of yourself, reach out for support, and pursue your dreams.

– Sonja Rudie, MA, CSAT

Mending a Shattered Heart (2011), pg. 145

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is not the same thing as infidelity or an excuse to “behave badly.” Unfortunately, if your partner had an affair, while still incredibly traumatic to discover, it may be simply an affair and not a sign of addiction.  Sex addiction is pattern of compulsive behavior that progresses and escalates until the addict’s life spirals out of control.  The addict continues these behaviors even though his or her life may be crumbling around him or her.  If you are concerned or are feeling upset about what is going on in your relationship, please reach out to an IITAP-trained therapist who can help you figure out what to do next and make sure you are safe.

How did I not know?

 

Sex addiction thrives in secrecy.  Because society, overall, does not easily discuss sex or sexual behaviors, addicts are able to go to great lengths to maintain their secrets and protect their double lives.  Partners may be kept completely in the dark about the sexual acting out or may be aware of some of the behaviors, but not the extent.  As with any addiction, the automatic deceit and ability to maneuver around or out of complicated situations is second nature.  Addicts can become so immersed in their double life, they convince their partners that their sexual acting out behaviors are the result of the partners’ issues or failures.

You may begin questioning your entire relationship with the addict or feel like you are going crazy.  These are both acceptable responses to what you are experiencing.  Healing from this traumatic discovery is a recovery process in and of itself.  Seeing support and qualified help during this time is essential.  To find someone who is experienced in partner issues, click here.

What do I do now?

Finding out your partner is or may be a sex addict can be extremely traumatizing.  There are a million thoughts running through your head and you are probably wondering what to do next.  If you don’t have an IITAP-trained therapist to talk to, there are some critical steps you can take, including the following:

    • Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), whether you believe the addict has been sexually active with another person or not.
    • Use protection or abstain from sex with the addict.
    • Find a therapist for yourself from a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), many CSATs even specialize in working with partners .
    • Work with your therapist to set initial boundaries for self-protection (remember, actions speak louder than words!).
    • Be mindful of who you confide in, and we caution you against making threats to your partner or telling several people about what is going on.  Work with your therapist to determine who in your support system is a safe person to talk to about this. Confide in a select few trusted individuals who can support you.

While it may be in your nature to want to take care of the addict first, it is important to remember to take care of yourself.  You need to be sure you are safe, cared for, and are able to find the support you need.  This is only the beginning and the journey will undoubtedly be tough, so making sure you are able to take care of yourself first it of utmost importance.

Do I need to know everything?

Why do I feel compelled to know all the nitty-gritty details? Is this really necessary?  If you just found out about your partner’s betrayal, you may feel like your world will continue unraveling unless you know everything – right now.  You are not alone, many partners often ask for immediately disclosure of everything the addict has ever done.  This is often a way for them to:

    • Make sense of the past
    • Validate their suspicions about what was happening in the relationship—suspicions the addict often denied
    • Assess their risk of having been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, to financial disaster, and to shame
    • evaluate their partner’s commitment to the future of the relationship
    • Have some sense of control

“No matter how many details you know about your partner’s acting out, the ultimate choice to change the behavior lies with him or her, not with you. Having more information won’t give you more control. On the contrary, sometimes too much information can cause additional problems. You may end up obsessing even more about your partner’s behavior. Intrusive thoughts about the addict can cause additional pain. For example, if you know “they” ate at a particular restaurant, you may decide to never go there again. If you know your husband and his affair partner did a particular sexual activity together, you may find yourself obsessing about them when you and your husband share that activity.”  Exerpt from Chapter 2, pages 16-17. I Need to Know Everything That Happened…Or Do I? Jennifer P. Schneider, MD, PhD, Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts.

Please be sure to consult with a trained therapist before you demand to know everything. An IITAP-trained therapist will help you determine what you need to know to move forward, identify any potential situations that will be difficult for you to hear, ensure you have a support system and are safe, and several other important considerations that will help you prepare for a formal disclosure.

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What about my relationship?

One of the biggest decisions you will have to make is whether or not you are going to stay with your partner.  There may be times throughout the recovery process when there doesn’t seem to be any hope and other times when your relationship will be stronger than ever.  Before making any decisions about the future of your relationship, it is important to determine what is right for you.  To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

      1. Can you continue to be yourself in this relationship? Many partners struggle with the ambivalence of staying with the father of their children and best friend versus staying with the person who lied to them or betrayed their trust.  It is important to be able to feel all of these feelings, but it is even more important to have someone there to help you sort through them.  During any type of traumatic experience, people tend to focus on the cause of the trauma, obsessing about the addict and whether or not to stay or go.  Instead, we recommend you focus on yourself!  How can you best help the relationship if you are not helping yourself?  Dr. Patrick Carnes states, “The great irony in using divorce as a way to escape the inevitable grief is that is creates more.” (pg. 70, Mending a Shattered Heart).  
      2. Can you share the darkest part of yourself and hear about the dark side of my partner? Learning about some of the darkest moments of someone’s life and navigating the consequences requires healthy boundaries.  Boundaries provide structure and self-protection.  An excellent place to begin setting boundaries is to know your rights as a partner. You have the right to not be lied to, to not accept the sexual acting out, to expect a commitment to recovery, to say no to unwanted sexual advances, and lastly, to set these boundaries and expect them to be respected.  There are many important factors in establishing good boundaries and an IITAP-trained therapist can assist you with this and help identify how to handle boundary violations.  Boundary work is an important part of recovery and can help you overcome the shame and self-blame you may be feeling because of your partner’s behaviors. “Taking the time to heal from the pain by setting and keeping boundaries will give you a freedom you’ve never really known.” (pg. 90, Mending a Shattered Heart).

Therapeutic Seperation

In certain situations, separation may be the best alternative and your IITAP-trained therapist may recommend a therapeutic separation, which is different from a legal separation.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that one person has to move out of the house, or that lives have to be completely upended.  What it means is that very clear guidelines are established, boundaries are identified and set, and the primary goal is to work on the health of the coupleship and reconciliation.

 

The separation should be closely monitored by each person’s individual therapist and a couple’s therapist.  The duration of the separation typically lasts 3, 6, or 9 months with clearly established times to assess progress.  All threats are taken off the table, so no talk of divorce, no contacting attorneys, no threat to leave, and no threats involving the children.  
The couple must mutually agree to be “all in” for this process to work.  The therapist(s) will work with you to help establish who lives where, how financial obligations will be met, delegation of parental responsibilities, and establishing the means and frequency of communication outside of therapy.  If you believe therapeutic separation may be necessary, click here to search a list of IITAP-trained therapists who specialize in Couples Sex Addiction Recovery.

Disclosure

Disclosure is the formal process where the addict “reveals” the behaviors he or she has kept hidden from his or her partner.  There is much preparation that goes into the disclosure process both for the addict and the partner.  As a partner, it is highly recommend you work with a trained therapist to ensure your feelings are validated and you have the appropriate support systems in place to help you cope during this process.  You will work to identify what you need to know and what is not necessary information.  You will have the opportunity to discuss what your fears are and how, if those fears become reality, you will handle the situation.  Most importantly, you will never be alone during this process.  To find a therapist that specifically works with partners in your area, click here to begin your search.

How have I been affected? 

When you find out your partner has been sexually acting out, you can be affected in a number of ways.  You can experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, and/or anxiety.  You may experience issues with body image or even your own sexuality. IITAP-trained therapists have a number of specialized assessment and screening tools that can help you identify how your partner’s sexually problematic behaviors have impacted your life.  

One of these tools, the Partner Sexuality Survey (PSS), is available to the public. This survey looks at 11 specific dimensions of your sexuality to determine the severity of impact.  The cost of the survey is $6.50 USD.  It is highly recommended you review the results with a trained mental health professional so you can process through any feelings or experiences the results may bring up.

Another tool, only available through IITAP sex addiction therapists is the Inventory for Partner Attachment, Stress, and Trauma (IPAST).  This provides a much more comprehensive overview of how this experience has affected you, examines your previous relationships both as a child and adult, looks at how you best cope with traumatic or stressful situations, and a number of other areas.  The results of the IPAST are designed to ensure you and your therapist can identify the most effective plan to help keep you safe and cope with your own healing process.