FAQs for Wives/Partners of Sex Addicts

  • Betrayal Trauma to Healing and Joy FAQs
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  • 1. Isn’t porn normal in today’s culture?

    If “normal” means used by almost everyone, the answer would be yes. However, if “normal” means “okay because everybody does it,” my answer is no. Yes, it is common, and becoming more common every day. I’ve heard young people say they don’t have one single friend (including female friends) who don’t use pornography. And I’ve seen porn-use statistics as high as 80% to 100% among the teens and young adult males. It permeates society in the digital age. However, I would rather tell you why some young people are leaving porn behind.

    A quick Google search will provide numerous articles, talks, or studies that are showing the impact porn use has on those who use it. Ted.com has several. My favorite there is titled, The Great Porn Experiment, and can be found at the link below. There are many others, but I’ll only include one more here. It’s from a Psychology Today online article, and is the second link below.

    There are lots of good reasons to avoid or beat porn. All it takes is a little looking to find dozens of reasons to be concerned if the man you love is using it.

    The Great Porn Experiment: http://www.youtube.com/embed/wSF82AwSDiU

  • 2. How do I know if my partner is really a sex addict?

    At this writing, there is still controversy about the clinical label, “sex addict.” Some clinicians still argue no such thing exists. But to me, that doesn’t really matter, because if one partner is being hurt by the other’s lack of emotional or physical unfaithfulness, the relationship has a problem. No amount of denying the existence of a diagnosis will alleviate the heartbreak of the wounded partner. Therefore, if the “sex addict” wants to save the relationship, he or she needs to get help. Or the relationship will eventually end.

    If your partner seeks sexual gratification outside your relationship, whether that comes through pornography or some other form of sexual activity, and if it hurts you enough that you question the relationship, I believe he and the relationship have a problem. And as long as you have a problem, the relationship will suffer, and in time it is likely to end.

  • 3. Can a sex addict heal?

    Yes, a sex addict can heal, but healing requires a rigorous program and consistent lifestyle-changes. Most people who treat sex addiction recommend Sex Addicts Anonymous, or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, though there are other programs that have developed over the last 20+ years that can also lead to freedom from addiction. But all sexual addiction recovery requires support and accountability, which is built into the 12-step program. In addition, most sex addicts also need to work with a therapist to resolve childhood trauma and any family of origin issues that can contribute to their using sexual activity as a medication for their emotional pain.

    Some sex addicts determine that in time they can stop attending meetings, while continuing to abide my certain lifestyle changes. However, for some, that leads to eventual relapse. It has been said that recovery is a team sport, and it’s a wise addict who maintains safe, honest relationships that provide support and accountability. Doing so provides the best insurance policy against relapse.

  • 4. Are sex addicts Narcissists?

    While sex addicts definitely have some narcissistic traits, true Narcissistic Personality Disorder is quite rare: generally, it is thought that 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for this disorder, though some put the number as high as 6%.

    But diagnostic criteria aside, sex addiction is a selfish behavior/addiction. Though sex addicts don’t set out to find a way to be selfish and hurt those they love, the result of this addiction is a selfish drive for their next “fix.” And the secrecy and broken promises that are a part of the addiction do bring trauma into the addict’s family’s lives. But even when the addict wants to stop his hurtful behavior, because of the psychic hold this addiction places on the addict makes it incredibly difficult to break free of. Even addicts who love their families deeply find the addiction very difficult to beat.

  • 5. Is infidelity sex addiction?

    Infidelity isn’t necessarily sex addiction. Sex addiction, like other addictions, is a dependency on something that stimulates the pleasure center in the brain, and fairly quickly, the brain wants more, setting up a dependency pattern.

    Whereas infidelity is often one relationship outside the bonds of another committed relationship, usually marriage. Infidelity, such as an affair, is quite often only one indiscretion, with no ongoing pattern of stepping outside one’s committed relationship.

    Even so, many sex addicts do have ongoing affairs, often with multiple people. So while an affair can be one, isolated relationship, so too can an affair be a signal that other forms of non-monogamous sexual activity may be going on outside the marriage.

  • 6. Are sex addicts abusive?

    Going outside a committed relationship for sexual gratification is a form of relational abuse, which generally creates betrayal trauma. However, not all sex addicts are abusive in other ways. While secrecy, betrayal of wedding vows, and risk of passing STD’s to one’s partner are all a form of abuse, they are not the kinds of a abuse that is categorized as domestic violence. Nonetheless, sex addicts’ behaviors sometimes include domestic abuse, especially emotional and psychological abuse.

    A desire for power and control are at the heart of abuse, and when one has a sexual secret that he or she withholds from one’s life partner, it often requires a lot of power and control to keep the secret.

    Our clients often talk about how their husbands keep them ignorant about family finances, often spending tens—and even hundreds of thousands—of dollars of household income or savings on prostitutes, etc.; or they have secret electronic devices; or refuse to disclose where they are going, or where they have been, for hours, and sometimes days.

    And of course, sex addicts must frequently lie to keep their secret. These are forms of gaslighting, along with deflecting, blame-shifting, put-downs and threats. And gaslighting is emotional and psychological abuse. And occasionally, a sex addict will use physical force to control his wife or children, or to maintain his secret life. While not all these things are classified domestic abuse, many are. And the harder it becomes to keep his secret, the more likely an addict will devolve to outright abuse.

  • 7. Can’t God heal sex addiction?

    While He walked this Earth, the Son of God proved again and again that He is capable of miraculously touching a life, and in that touch, delivering an instantaneous miracle of healing. Even since He left the Earth and returned to heaven, God has demonstrated himself through miracles on many occasions. Yet His display of instantly healing us doesn't happen often during the times in which we live. Rather, the Bible instructs us to "work out our salvation," and repeatedly it tells us that change is generally a process that comes from our obedience to Him over time, sometimes over a lifetime. Yes, the on-going freedom we long to see in our husbands often results from a process that requires that he diligently exercise certain spiritual principles in his choices and life. And maintain those choices throughout his life.

    That is one reason why the 12-step process provides the tools and skills we need to keep addiction in check if we use the process on a daily basis. Each of the steps is grounded in spiritual truths. We know that God promises that his word will not return to us void. This is one reason the steps work, if we work them, even for people who do not know God when they begin to work them. And when you understand that the 12-step process includes a cognitive/behavioral component proven helpful in the treatment of addictions, you realize that this process holds what can be a powerful 1-2 punch in the lives of those who work it.

    So, yes, we need to utilize the elements of our Christianity to grow and gain increasing freedom from sin of all kinds, but the physiology of addiction is often more easily contained from the addition of 12-step elements.

  • 8. How can I get free of my anger over what he has done? Sometimes I almost hate him. He is working hard to become a different man, and I really do want to move on, but I don't know how. What do you suggest?

    Anger is a natural human response that most partners feel at some point as they move through the process of grieving their lost dreams and expectations of emotional and/or physical faithfulness. Anger produces energy that needs to be expelled in ways that allow us to release it without harming ourselves or anyone else. If we try to hold it in and clamp down on it because we feel guilty about our anger, we drive the energy inward where it can foster depression, illness, stress, resentment, or, it can boil and build until it explodes like a volcano, spewing damage on our relationships.

    Understanding our emotions and finding helpful ways to deal with them is an important part of knowing ourselves and gaining emotional maturity. Some people find that doing physical exercise, such as running or lifting weight while mentally and emotionally processing their anger expends its energy. Creative people often find that painting, journaling, or playing a musical instrument works best for them. Others process anger best by talking it out with a counselor, along with using "experiential therapy" to expel it. One way to do this is to write down a word or two that represents the injury, such as the word betrayal, tape it to a padded chair, then use a plastic or foam bat, or something similar, to hit the "injury" again and again. You will know if this works because of the flood of emotion and tears that pour out when you give yourself permission to let it go.

    Whichever method you use to deal with your anger, you may need to repeat your efforts to complete the release of negative emotions. But you will become aware that you are "done" when the anger feels like a dry well-empty, with nothing left to pour out.

    If anger continues to plague you, you have probably not been able to reach forgiveness for your husband. Christian psychologist, Doug Weiss, Ph.D., outlines a helpful experiential therapy exercise in his book, A 100 Day Guide To Intimacy (Siloam, 2001), pages 47-66, to help readers reach out toward forgiveness.

  • 9. Can I ever heal from betrayal trauma? Will this pain ever go away?

    We know well the pain you feel. Millions of women share your heartache. But if you make yourself a priority, and find resources to help you grieve and work through your feelings, time will heal most, and perhaps all, of the pain in your broken heart. In addition, take time to learn about sex addiction and co-addiction so that you can deal with any behaviors that you may have contributed to the subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) games that typically play out in addict's homes. Learning more about this addiction will also help you avoid (or try to avoid) being attracted to another man with the same broken places. Of course, greater and quicker healing will come if your husband's heart softens and he commits to his own intensive recovery process so that your marriage holds hope for restoration. But regardless of what he ultimately does, work hard to become your own, separate person, a woman who can deal with life on life's terms. Ask God to give you the courage, wisdom, and strength required to walk through life on planet Earth feeling secure in your value as a precious daughter of the King of the universe, and strong enough to make the tough decisions about your future if your husband doesn't want to get help.

  • 10. What do I do if my husband refuses the label, "sex addict?" Is there another term I can use when I talk to him about using pornography?

    Although your concern about your husband's feelings is seemingly kind and caring, in order to "get well", your husband must face how deeply he has hurt you, and compromised himself and his marriage. Yet we understand your desire to not use words or labels that would cause him to tune you, out or to get angry and direct attention away from his own behavior. The term, "sexually compulsive behavior" is a little easier for a man to wear, and if it seems important to you, it might provide the verbal bridge you are searching for. But do be careful not to work so hard to protect your husband from pain, that you make it easy for him to avoid reality. As partner's of sexually compulsive men, we often err on the side of over-protecting our partner's feelings, and by doing so, become a part of his problem. Let him feel his failure, and pray that it causes him to realize where he is going and to reach out and ask for help before he sinks any deeper.

  • 11. What do I do if my husband is a sex addict and has another addiction too? Is that what is meant by “Dual Addiction?”

    Addicts of any kind generally have what is called an addictive personality. Therefore, multiple addictions, and or addiction swapping, are not uncommon. Over spending and overeating or bingeing on food seem particularly frequent in sex addicts. The key to understanding why this happens lies in understanding what usually drives addiction: the addict is trying to soothe emotional pain with a substance or activity. That is why it is important for the sexually compulsive person to work with a counselor to deal with leftover pain, usually from childhood, at this time in his life. But it is equally important to understand that addiction has a physiological component as well. Whether the "drug" of choice is heroin or sex, science has proven that neurochemicals are released in the person's brain, giving him a chemical "hit" that provides some soothing and satisfaction for the inner pain he carries. Over time, more of the chemical is required to achieve the same hit, which causes the addict to use more and more of his drug. With sex addiction, this reality generally drives the addict to move on to riskier sexual behaviors in his quest for satisfaction. For these reasons, 12 step programs offer a very beneficial component when treating addiction. Not only are the 12 steps a spiritual process, they are a set of cognitive and behavioral modification tools, and over several decades, they have proven they offer hope and help in treating all kinds of addictions.

  • 12. If my husband only used pornography, is he really a sex addict?

    Sex addiction is often called "a progressive disease," meaning that if left untreated, it often leads to progressively "worse" forms of sexual acting out (although this isn't true 100% of the time). In addition, Scripture doesn't categorize sin of any kind by degrees of "badness." So, while you may not be at risk of contracting Herpes or HIV today if your partner only uses porn, you cannot know ahead of time what your risk may be tomorrow, or next year, or five years from now.

    Therefore, if your partner is using any kind of sexually inappropriate behavior to deal with life or achieve an emotional or physical high, you are married to someone who is violating your marriage vows, someone who is using outside sexual stimulation in place of true intimacy with you, and someone whos behavior could progress to more dangerous forms of sexual acting out behavior. And, no matter what he does when he acts out, his behavior drains away sexual energy that God intended for your mutual love relationship. That energy may hold the spark needed to add an exciting "zing" to your sex life, and make it the thrilling physical relationship you have always dreamed it could be.

    So, no matter what form your partner's sexual acting out may presently take, you both have a problem, and you are most likely the only one who is currently ready to get help and deal with it. And for that reason, there is a good chance that you hold the key to recovery, not only for yourself, but for him and for your marriage.

  • 13. Is healing from same-sex attraction possible? My husband’s attraction to men has devastated me and stolen my view of who we were as a couple. I worry every time he goes to the gym or goes on a business trip. Can our marriage heal?

    I've come to feel a special empathy for women who face the discovery of  their husband's same-sex attraction issues. My heart really goes out to you.

    Though I've never had to face that heartache myself I've met many women whose partner falls somewhere along the continuum of struggle between bi-sexuality and homosexuality issues. And every time I encounter this reality I encounter raw, pulsing pain in the woman who makes the discovery.

    Those who specialize in same-sex attraction sometimes take differing positions on whether or not it is possible to "re-set" the sexual attraction "dial." There are also differing opinions about the best therapeutic approaches for treatment. I encourage you to take care of your needs around the pain and loss that come with any form of sexual betrayal, whether it's hetero-or homosexual in nature. Your trauma and pain are compounded by this extra element that I've learned adds a painful twist of the knife many of us never have to experience. So take steps to deal with your pain and to get help to process it, as well as to evaluate where to go from here.

    There are Christian resources to help your husband if he wants help. But it's important that he "owns" his healing and recovery, just as it is for all addicts, so you can't be the one putting together an action plan for him. While it's healthy and only fair to let him know what you need in order to feel safe continuing in the marriage, it wouldn't be healthy for you to do all the leg work for him.

    I encourage the addition of specialized help. There are several Christian ministries now dealing openly and lovingly with the extra challenges this attraction creates in a life and a relationship. Do some Internet research and call Focus On the Family, then begin to write or call those you feel drawn to.

    Several women I've encountered have found the book, Coming Out Straight , a helpful, hopeful resource. Written by Christian therapist Richard Cohen, MA, it share his own story/struggles with homosexuality, as well as his treatment style.

    I pray that you find the resources you need to heal your broken heart, and that your husband seeks help for himself. I also pray that in time your relationship heals, and that from this struggle a deeper, more powerful intimacy bond grows and continues to develop.

  • 14. What can I do to help my son with a porn addiction?

    If your son’s father is rooted in good recovery, your son will likely be more receptive, assuming his father talks to him as one struggler to another, rather than an authority. Finding help for a teen or young son will likely present a huge challenge. I suggest you call 1-800-New-Life and ask if they are hosting retreats for young men. And order a copy of, Every Young Man's Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation (The Every Man Series) . Ask New Life if they know of other resources for teens and young men.

    Avoid shaming and preaching, which can only drive a wedge that will guarantee that you cannot help. Also, be aware that you may need to create in-home boundaries to protect younger children and teenagers, especially girls. If that is necessary, do it quietly in a conversation with your son.

  • 15. What do I do if friends and family don’t understand? When I explained our situation to our small group at church, they told me I need to surrender my marriage to God and trust him to change my husband. They said that as long as I am obedient, my marriage will be healed

    Unfortunately, you are right; they don't understand your circumstances, nor do they realize the depth of the pain you feel. Of course, you need to place your trust in God, but unless they have been where you presently find yourself, they cannot possibly know the anguish in your heart. Their words undoubtedly feel like careless quips and pat answers to the complex questions your soul is asking. Try to give them grace in their lack of understanding, and recognize that this is the best they can do with their limited experience with the tough issues you are dealing with. And make this commitment to yourself and the hurting women you will meet in the future: "Help me Lord, to learn from my pain, and to be willing to use it with love, empathy, and understanding to help the hurting women you bring my way in the years ahead, and to be 'Jesus with skin on' in their lives."

  • 16. Does sex addiction lead to pedophilia?

    In general, the answer is no. Though I know several people who didn’t start out using children sexually, but ended up there. One important take-away is to understand that those who make pornography create content that can take the viewer further and further along a continuum, by overtime including animals, same sex content, group sex, and young-looking young people. Porn is designed to lure the viewer further and further in, and it’s possible for the user to be numb to the fact that they have likely crossed a line to viewing children. And all it takes is an FBI agent monitoring the viewer to change a family’s life forever. Having walked with several women on that painful path, it’s a wise person who avoids it altogether.

    I don’t specialize in pedophilia, so I won’t venture further on this topic. But I have personally known several pedophiles after they were in recovery. And in my experience, a true pedophile—someone who doesn’t begin with porn, but instead is a child molester from the beginning—generally has unresolved emotional and psychological issues, almost always rooted in their childhood, that planted the seed for his or her sexual deviation.

  • 17. Is sex addiction really an addiction?

    Yes, sex addiction is really an addiction. The best proof of that addiction is found in SPECT scans of sex addicts’ brains. Dr. Daniel Amen has the world’s largest collection of SPECT scans (you can find him online), and it’s fascinating to view SPECT scans of addicts of all types—including sex addicts scans—and see how similarly the brains look during active addiction.

    Darrell Brazell, who is included on this site in the Books & Resources link External Resources has gotten Dr. Amen’s permission to include one of his SPECT scans of a sex addict’s brain, if you have trouble finding it elsewhere online.