Divorce is always a big adjustment and often carries with it a period of grief and other strong emotions. But breaking up with a sex addict brings its own strange set of challenges.
Here are some of the questions people in this situation have to deal with.
- Will I ever be able to find a healthy relationship?
Finding out that you have been in a committed relationship with someone who was leading the double life of a sex addict makes you feel like you can’t trust your own judgment. Man or woman, gay or straight, it is normal to doubt your own ability to pick a healthy person. You may even begin to doubt that they exist at all.
This is especially challenging if you have had a prior relationship with an addict, any kind of addict. But I think the answer is that you will be able to make different choices. Sex addicts are notoriously good liars but once you have learned a little about them you will know what to look for and the red flags will jump out at you (see also my post “How to avoid picking an addict”). Being paranoid won’t help, but listening to your intuition is always a good idea.
- Should I consider getting back together?
This is a question that you may not be able to answer right away. That is because recovery takes a relatively long time for many addicts and you will want to be assured that the sex addict has really changed in some basic ways. Also, you will have to get to know each other all over again post-recovery. No doubt both of you will have changed and grown through the process and you can’t be sure you will want to be with that person.
- What should I tell friends and family about my sex addict ex?
This is a really tricky question for most people. Some ex partners of sex addicts tell friends about the addiction in order to get support only to find that the friends are uncomfortable with the issue and the friendship may suffer in the process.
Not everyone understands or can deal rationally with sexual addiction issues. It can be risky to tell people who will be unable to keep it to themselves. It can even jeopardize your work life or that of your ex partner.
Still there are the inevitable questions that crop up. A friend who had divorced a sex addict found herself at a party talking to a group of people when someone asked her about the break-up. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for this kind of situation. The same applies to family. Family may be particularly insistent about knowing what went on between you and your former partner but you have to be prepared to put them off and keep to that boundary until you have thought it through.
If you have younger children they don’t have to know anything about the sexual aspect of the problems between you and your spouse. If they are older, like high school age, and are sophisticated enough to get the idea that the break-up has to do with something sexual, you may want to validate that in general terms. You don’t want to deny what the teen-ager is intuitively aware of but most kids really don’t want to know all the gory details until they are a lot older, if ever.
Most of all don’t succumb to the temptation to enlist kids as allies against your ex. Remember their relationship with the addict is very different from yours. And kids need to have a good opinion of their parents. That said, there may be things that the addict has said or done with children that are unsettling to them. If that is the case then, once again, the child’s perception of something upsetting needs to be validated rather than denied.
- How come the addict feels fine and I’m still struggling?
Leaving a sex addict doesn’t mean that you will instantly feel fine. In fact many professionals believe the road to feeling normal again may be longer for the partner than it is for the addict.
It is not unusual to continue to feel some preoccupation with the ex and some jealousy. This does not mean that you necessarily want to reunite with him/her. Even the partner who says “I don’t need this, and I’m OK alone” will still have to make an adjustment. And for many the act of leaving and starting over requires great bravery and faith. Any loss, even the loss of something crummy can still be considered a loss.
- Should I have tried harder, was it my fault?
Addiction is not the partner’s fault. It is a problem in sex addiction is not a problem with the relationship. Trying harder would not have stopped the addict from being an addict. But I have heard it said that a good relationship is one you learn from. So there is no harm in seeing even the upheaval of sex addiction and divorce as a chance to grow and learn.
Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource