Vail Daily health column: Partners of sex addicts usually seek help first
Ryan Summerlin January 8, 2014
Very few addicts will come forward and self-refer to treatment. Almost always they must find themselves in some sort of trouble. Before they will enter treatment, there must be consequences which they face if they continue with the addictive behavior. For alcoholics, this is often described as “hitting bottom.” There can be any number of consequences; a DUI, losing a job, losing health, losing relationships, failure in school, legal problems, loss of status, etc. For the sex addict, the consequences are almost always preceded by “discovery.” After discovery there can be similar consequences to those faced by an alcoholic. The facade of the addict is exposed, and often there are cataclysmic events that cause the partner of an sex addict to confront the reality of addiction. For the partner of a sex addict, there are many questions that immediately arise when the sex addict has hit bottom. “What is sex addiction? Will this get better? What do I tell the kids? Should I stay or go? Where do I get help?”
Partners of sex addicts are often the ones who first seek help to address these questions and others. Addicts can be very persuasive, and often the addict will reveal only a small portion of the addictive behavior or as little as they imagine they can get by with. The typical path of disclosure is to deny everything, to disclose what you think you can get away with, to disclose a bit more, to get confronted as more comes out, to disclose all.
Typically partners will be getting information for more than a year. In the best circumstances, revelations will continue. The partner must be prepared for this to be an on-going process. This stage of recovery is characterized by a great deal of emotional turmoil, and often the partner will be in a stage of shock. One partner described this stage as, “It’s like he threw up in the kitchen, the living room, then the bedroom. He feels better and I’ve got to clean up the mess.”
The partner will want the disclosure of all previously concealed behavior. Reasons they cite include to make sense of the past, to validate their suspicions, to gain a sense of control, to assess their risk of STD exposure and to assess their partner’s relationship commitment. Sometimes the sex addict and the partner will be tempted to use alcohol or drugs to mask the addiction, avoid the pain and avoid the reality of what they must face together. The level of trauma experienced by the partner will be determined in part by the amount of the deception, the length of time of the deception, covert emotional abuse, the type of offending behavior, exposure to the offending behavior, public embarrassment, impact on the children and the impact on finances. The good news is that this period of time when life is awful can be the precursor of repair, growth and developing a new intimacy that did not exist in the past. For the partner to have hope, they must see that the sex addict is in the process of recovery. If the partner sees that the sex addict is in the process of recovery, then he/she can begin to recover by addressing the level of trauma, gathering information, dealing with their grief, repairing the relationship and experiencing growth. This is a process that moves at different speeds for different people and there is no way to predict exactly how long each portion of the process will take. In addition, the sex addict and the partner will often recover at different paces. Not everyone in a family gets better on the same day, but everyone can get better.
For the past three years, I have been training with the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP.org, sexhelp.com) to provide therapeutic treatment for sex addicts, their partners and their families. You can find more information about me, other therapists and the services we offer at www.sexhelp.com.
Don Bissett is a licensed professional counselor. He is a certified sex addiction therapist trained by The International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals. He is also trained in emotionally focused marital therapy. Call 970-390-7377 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.