When Sobriety Is Not Enough

I’ve learned a lot from the men I’ve worked with over the years, and I’ve learned a lot from their wives. Though I’m still learning, I want to share with you what I’ve learned so far.

Sex Addiction Is Just Half the Problem

  1. Nearly all the men we talk to who’ve struggled with sex addiction love their wives and children, and they truly want their marriages to heal from the damage caused by their choices. They are trying to love well, but so many never learned how. If our parents don’t bond with us and model attachment, we reach adulthood “loving-impaired.”

And for their hurting wives, sobriety doesn’t soothe the aching loneliness in their hearts. That means additional help is needed to heal these marriages.

  1. Most sex addicts feel lost in the land of emotional intimacy, even though they want to learn the lay of the land. However, for many sex addicts, this land requires learning a new “language,” and it will take safety, help, and time to learn. Yet, so many wives are tired of hurting. We were all created for connection, and living without that in our most intimate relationship pierces a woman’s heart.
  2. Men feel beyond grateful for the gift of sobriety their hard work has brought them, and they are prepared to work to remain sober for the rest of their lives. But wives are telling us sobriety isn’t enough to fill the aching hole, and some are losing hope. Many have sober husbands, yet emotional intimacy is still lacking.

For me, these lessons are both enlightening and heartbreaking. When we began to address sex addiction in the mid-1990’s, we saw sex addiction as the problem. Yet now, all these years later, I’m realizing that in most marriages, we’re fighting a two-headed beast:

  1. Sex Addiction
  2. A lack of emotional intimacy, which has come to be known in the treatment community, as  Intimacy Anorexia.

Clearly, there’s more to saving marriages and families than just sobriety. Many, many wives are starved for emotional intimacy. And men are actually starving for it as well, but their desire got sidetracked, usually in childhood. Whatever circumstance starved them as children, now they are starving themselves.

And simultaneously, wives are finding their voices, learning to use boundaries, and asking that their needs be met. And when they aren’t, some feel hopeless about their marriages. Yet as their patience and longing wanes, so too does the possibility their husbands can learn to meet their needs, because vulnerability requires safety and trust. It’s an odd catch-22.

So, over the next few months, we will be working to bring hope to this quandary by sharing with you what we now know and what we will continue to learn. We’ll begin with a foundation of sobriety, because true intimacy remains impossible when sexual addiction is running underground.

But for couples where sobriety has been achieved, we will bring new voices, interviews, and resources to help intimacy-starved wives and intimacy-impaired men find their way to true connection and intimacy. My hope is that as we take this journey together, your marriage can become all that you long for it to be.

Your sister on this journey,