FAQs for Partners of Sex Addicts

By Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW

Biological predisposition contributes and combines with psychological factors. One of the reasons the “erotic haze” is so compulsory is that it unconsciously repairs earlier disturbed, anxiety-laden relationships. It shores up an inadequate sense of self that results from these early-life interpersonal abandonments, intrusions and misattunements.

This combination of biological and psychological factors results in an “affective disorder” in the sex addict. Feeling of depression, anxiety, boredom and emptiness are quickly alleviated by immersing oneself in an imaginary world that provides novelty, excitement, mystery and intense pleasure. Sex addiction is better than Prozac. It heals, it soothes, it contains, it provides a “safe place” free from the demands of actual performance, and it gives an illusory sense of belonging. The sense of empowerment in the illicit sex act rectifies “holes in the soul” and lifts the addict from feelings of inadequacy, insufficiency, depression and emptiness into a state of instant euphoria.

Relinquishing this very special (but delusional) mental and physical state can result in a sense of withdrawal which may include mood swings, inability to concentrate and irritability. These symptoms usually disappear in therapy as the sense of self is solidified and the sufferer finds more creative ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

What are the effects of sex addiction on the partner?

Effects of sex addiction on the sex addict’s partner can be numerous, encompassing a wide range of emotions and reactive behaviors. The sexual codependent’s experience is similar to, but not thoroughly identical to, a codependent person in a relationship with a substance abuser. A codependent partner of a drug or alcohol addict, for example, may manage to understand and even sympathize with the significant other’s alcohol problem due to the lesser societal condemnation.

But a compulsive addiction that involves engaging in sexual activities outside of the home inflicts a psychic injury of ultimate betrayal. How much harder it is for the partner to be understanding, to extend compassion toward the person who has been sexually unfaithful? People don’t talk about sex addiction – the social stigma is considerable. Forgiveness can seem impossible. The victim feels as if his or her trust has been irreparably corrupted.

Furthermore, there is an element of intense shame for both addict and sexual codependent attached to sexual addiction, especially if sexual interests involve an object, cross-dressing, dominance and submission or children.

What are the characteristics of a sexual codependent?

Codependency is an overworked and overused word and definitions can be confusing. At core, it revolves around the fear of losing the approval and presence of others due to developmental issues with early caretakers. This underlying fear can result in manipulative behaviors that overfocus on maintaining another person’s presence and approval. Control, obsequiousness, anger, caretaking, and being overly responsible are among codependent behaviors.

Codependent people believe they can’t survive without their partners and do anything they can do to stay in the relationships, however painful. The fear of losing their partners and being abandoned overpowers any other feelings. The thought of addressing the partner’s addiction can be terrifying because they don’t want to “rock the boat” and often are frightened of igniting the partner’s anger.

Common Characteristics of Codependents

  • spending a great deal of time focusing on the addict, sometimes to the neglect of themselves and their children;
  • tolerating behaviors in the relationship that others would never tolerate;
  • sacrificing with the unrecognized/unexpressed expectation that it would create loyalty;
  • doing things for others that you should be doing for yourself while mired in self-neglect;
  • becoming someone you don’t like – a nag, a parent to your partners, a blamer, a rager;
  • setting rules, boundaries and ultimatums but not abiding by them;
  • rescuing others compulsively;
  • believing tall tales – giving the addict the benefit of the doubt when it’s not warranted;
  • becoming disabled by the addict’s crazy-making behavior;
  • being overly concerned with the opinions of others – compulsively trying to “keep up appearances;”
  • attempting to keep the peace in the relationship at all costs;
  • becoming accustomed to living with a high degree of intensity, drama and chaos;
  • forgiving – over and over and over again

Sexual codependents demonstrate denial, preoccupation, enabling, rescuing, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil, efforts to control, compromise of self, anger and problems with sexuality.

The partners of sex addicts experiences a traumatic loss of self as they make sexual compromises in the relationship that may go against their moral values.
exhausting.

Finally, sex as an addiction is rarely discussed and there is a huge social stamina associated with it, resulting in the co-addict wanting to hide or to provide a good “front” to deal with feelings of shame and despair. She may become socially isolated because she can’t discuss the situation with friends. Depression easily enters into an emotional environment of isolation and shame.

 

APA Reference
Hayden, D. (2009). FAQs for Partners of Sex Addicts. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/faqs-for-partners-of-sex-addicts/0002611
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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