When Elaine first met her boyfriend, nothing about him spelt trouble.
“A few months into dating, I was using his laptop when I stumbled upon a huge stash of porn videos,” she says, “It is not unusual for guys to have porn, I thought, so I dismissed it.” Elaine says that since he didn’t make the fact that he watches porn a secret, she let the matter go. “He even jokingly remarked that he masturbates several times every day. Again I dismissed it as a mere guy thing.”
Unbeknown to her, her boyfriend’s sexual unmanageability was beginning to unravel. A year into the relationship, he told her was not ready for the responsibilities of being a boyfriend and broke up with her. “We’d been having problems because he was emotionally unavailable, he wasn’t intimate, he ogled other women even in my presence and he masturbated even when I was around.
When he broke up with me the first time, he unequivocally said that he wasn’t sure he could be with one woman.”
In spite of this, Elaine and her boyfriend broke-up and got back together several times over the next three years. “Every time we got back together the same problems would crop up.
This one time, we were back together and I thought everything was going okay. Then I found out he’d slept with another girl. When I asked him he said this girl had simply asked him to go over to her place and without thinking, he’d gone.
He said that it’s not until after he’d had sex with her that it had occurred to him what he’d just done to me. He seemed genuinely devastated about it actually. He reminded me that he’d already warned me that he couldn’t be with one woman. I was angry, I blamed myself for not being good enough for him, I compromised, desperately tried to make it work, but it always ended with me being hurt.”
UNABLE TO WALK AWAY
Even when they agreed he’d stop, his porn obsession, sexual disinterest in her and infidelity got worse.
That’s when it occurred to Elaine she herself had a problem “I was simply unable to walk away from this relationship.”
This inability to walk away from such a relationship is one of the most common signs of a co-dependent relationship, whereby a person recognises unhealthy and harmful behaviours in a partner, but stays on, or defends and justifies the relationship. For Elaine, the realisation that she was a co-dependent in a relationship with a sex addict came after four years of a whirlwind relationship with him. This realisation led her to seek therapy for her co-dependent behaviour. Elaine says that she and her ex-boyfriend are currently ‘just friends’.
William*, a 35-year-old gentleman in recovery for sex addiction says he had often been accused by his past girlfriends of either being a ‘selfish bastard’ or a ‘freak’, “They were right,” he says, “but what they didn’t know is that I was a sex addict – and that I was guilty, ashamed and full of self-hate for my behaviour. Recovery from sex addiction is hard especially because there is sex everywhere; from bill boards, to TV to skimpily-dressed girls on the streets … you can’t escape it. But recovery is possible. I was driven to recovery when it occurred to me that I was drowning in what I can only describe as emotional-anorexia…and all these wonderful women kept walking out on me. I had no capacity for love. Lust was my drug. Part of my recovery involves staying celibate for a year … so far, so good.”
According to Alexandra Katehakis, author of Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addiction, the extent to which the addict’s loved ones get affected depends on how long the addiction has been present, whether it has progressed to more blatant/ harmful behaviour and whether there are other addictions (such as substance abuse). While the addict obviously needs help, the partner/co-dependent, needs help as well. The partners often deal with a lot of internalised denial, guilt, betrayal, shame, anger, sadness and confusion. It’s important to note that women too can be sex addicts.
Katehakis warns against focusing entirely on the addict, terming it as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
“Though it can be a normal first reaction, this is neither helpful to you nor to the addict as it allows the disease to consume both your lives.
Addicts, especially those in denial, can manipulate and shift blame for their behavior, which can affect the partner’s self-esteem.”
She writes. “It’s important to learn detachment…this does not mean putting up walls, but rather taking the time and space to focus on yourself and your wellbeing. If you are not well, you will not be able to support the addict anyway.”
Dealing with your partner’s sex addiction
Sex addiction is classified as a disorder characterised by compulsive, persistent and progressive sexual behaviours, acted out in spite of increasing negative consequences on self and others.
If you are a spouse or romantic partner of a sex addict, here’s a guide to dealing with your partner’s sex addiction successfully:
1. Admit that your relationship is unhealthy. Failure to do this will keep you in a rut. Whether your partner seeks help or not, you should seek help for yourself. If they are completely unwilling to change, it might be helpful to both of you if you separated.
2. Explore the part you play in enabling the addiction (i.e. overlooking emotional abuse caused by your partner’s behaviour).
This might be a good time to explore whether or not you do indeed possess co-dependent tendencies and put a stop to it or avoid it in future relationships.
3. However, realize that your partner’s addiction has nothing to do with you. In spite of what the addict might insinuate, you are not the cause, neither are you responsible for their recovery. You are not obliged to stick around and help them get well. However, this is rarely an either/or situation. If the addict has admitted they have a problem and are genuinely willing to follow through on treatment, you can support them if you so wish.
4. Treatment for sex addiction involves therapy to identify and eliminate inappropriate behaviours, exploring past experiences that might have predisposed the addiction, relapse prevention plans and teaching healthy intimacy skills.
In most instances spouses and partners are involved in the process. Following therapy, it’s helpful for both the addict and the partner to attend group therapy sessions such as Sex Anonymous (for the addict) and Co-dependence Anonymous (for the partner).
5. A journey through recovery is not easy and might be characterised by occasional manifestations of the disease. Unlike substance abuse where the solution is abstinence, sex addiction is different because a healthy sex life is part of a healthy relationship. There might be up downs as you and your partner learn new ways to relate to each other (for example, it will take a while to regain intimacy and trust). Remain true to yourself on whether or not you are willing to see it through. This decision is solely based on how committed the addict is to their recovery.