If you have determined, either through a partner’s admission or your own investigation, that your spouse is a sex addict, you are, no doubt, experiencing the pain and emotional upheaval of betrayal, fear and uncertainty. What happens next? Is the relationship ruined? Is it possible to overcome the addiction, the betrayal and the brokenness? Before taking drastic action, it is important to understand a few things about sex addiction, how your partner’s behavior relates to you, and what you can do.
It’s Not About You
This is the first thing to understand. Though the behavior directly impacts you because of your emotional connection to your partner, it is necessary to separate the addiction from your relationship and see it in its own context. While your partner’s sex addiction and the behaviors that have resulted from it have violated the trust and commitment you thought you shared, the behavior itself is not intended to hurt you. It isn’t about you at all. A sex addict is operating from the basis of addiction, not logic or reasoned emotions. The addict may not want to hurt you, but cannot avoid engaging in the behavior that ensures you will indeed be hurt and betrayed. Such is the nature of addiction—there is no reason, there is no resolve, there is only fulfillment of an urge that cannot be ignored.
Yes, it is betrayal, and yes, you have the right to be angry and hurt. But the sex addiction of your spouse or significant other is not intended to be an act of malice. It is also not your fault. Your spouse’s sex addiction has nothing to do with your physical attractiveness or sex appeal, the quality of your sexual life or frequency of intercourse, or any other perceived failing of the relationship. It is an addiction. And with addiction comes the loss of all reason, good judgment, and even the ability to act on what one knows and wants to do.
It’s Not About the Other
If your partner’s sexual misconduct has involved engagement with another person such as a lover or prostitute, it is also important to understand that it is not about that other person either, which is to say, it is not that the addict prefers the other lover to you. Again, the addiction drives addicts to a behavior that they cannot stop. While it is nearly impossible to not take this behavior and betrayal personally, it really is not about wanting, desiring, or loving the other person more than you, it is about the physical compulsion to act on an uncontrollable mental obsession. The other person is merely a vehicle for the exercise of the addiction.
It’s Not About the Sex
For the sex addict, it isn’t about the sex at all. Many actually come to hate sex; it becomes an evil and exacting taskmaster constantly coercing addicts to jeopardize everything they hold dear for the conquest, for the release, for the high that becomes impossible to resist. Sex addicts are not people who simply like sex a lot. Nor are they people who have no sense of right or wrong when it comes to sex.
Society ties sexual conduct tightly to morality, but in the case of addiction, a lack of morality cannot be blamed any more than a person’s cancer can be attributed to bad morals or low standards. Addiction is a disease and the addict has fully lost control. The luxury of choice is gone. The addict’s behavior may be deeply hurtful and constitute betrayal against a spouse, but it is important to remember that the person is deeply ill and deeply wounded. Sex has become a coping mechanism in a hostile, unmanageable world.
Restoration Is Possible
Despite the emotional and/or physical infidelity, the betrayal, and the deep brokenness of the relationship, it is important to know that all hope is not lost. These relationships can be restored. However, there is no denying that it is a long road ahead with perhaps more pain yet to come. Restoration happens when the sex addict becomes willing—willing to admit this is more than just a minor issue or weakness, it is an addiction. When the addict accepts the need for help and a program of recovery, he or she is exemplifying a desire to seek the recovery of the relationship as well.
You cannot force addicts to this place of willingness. They must pursue their own freedom from bondage. No amount of threats or ultimatums will eradicate the obsession or halt the compulsion. Patience and time are required, but you will have to set a boundary around how long you will wait for the addict to make that decision.