What’s involved in therapy for sex addicts’ partners?

Sexual codependents who attend either S-Anon or COSA 12-step programs for partners of sex addicts often feel extraordinary relief. To break the shame and isolation, it’s important to know others are going through the same thing you are. Some members have been grappling with these issues for years and can offer hope to newcomers. Individual psychotherapy also is extremely important.

Treatment for sexual codependence can become a process of continued growth, self-realization and self-transformation. Working through feelings of victimization can lead to a new sense of resiliency. Going through this process and dealing with the suffering you’ve endured can be an avenue to discovering meaning and to building stronger self-esteem. The challenges you’ve faced can elevate you to a higher level of well-being. You may develop a sense of serenity and peace from the appreciation of having worked through this process.

You will be able to do things that you weren’t taught in your family-of-origin: appropriately esteem yourself, set functional boundaries, be aware of and acknowledge your personal reality without fear, take better care of your adult needs and wants while allowing other adults to take care of theirs.

Your internal and external boundaries will be strengthened. Strong external boundaries will ensure that you will not again put yourself into a victim role. A sense of having internal boundaries will open up new avenues of healthy intimacy as you will know who you are and be able to hear who another is. At the heart of healthy intimacy is the ability to share your real self with another and be available when someone else shares his real self with you.

You will no longer have to bend yourself into a pretzel to be someone somebody else wants you to be. Rejection or disapproval may be unpleasant, but not devastating – and you’ll stop marring your personal integrity in order to get external approval and validation. With increased self-knowledge, you’ll be more able to rely exclusively on yourself and your own healthy behaviors as the source of your self esteem.

You may choose to leave the relationship or not, with the knowledge that you can craft a fulfilling life for yourself whether alone or in a partnership. Should you decide to stay, you can reclaim a sense of dignity and renewed sense of purpose even if your spouse is still active.

Finally, time and energy spent on preoccupation and control of the addict can be used to attend to and emotionally support your children, to recommit to and obtain increased satisfaction from your work, to meet new people and to develop new recreational activities.

How Can I Forgive?

Forgiveness is a critical part of recovery for the partner of a sex addict. To forgive is not to forget. Forgiving means being able to remember the past without experiencing the pain all over again. It is remembering but attaching different feelings about the events, and a willingness to allow the pain to have decreased relevance over time. Understanding the pain, compulsion and despair that your partner has gone through in his addiction can help open you up to compassion.

To forgive is important primarily for yourself, not for the person you forgive. The opposite of forgiveness is resentment. When we resent we experience the pain and anger all over again. Serenity and resentment cannot coexist.

The process of forgiveness begins with acknowledging that a wrong has been done to you. You have to recognize that you have strong feelings about what happened and you need to feel and process those feelings. You are entitled to be angry or hurt. Ideally, you can share those feelings with the person who has hurt you in couples counseling. If that is not possible, then you can share the feelings with your therapist or support group. After that, you can choose whether to stay in a relationship with that person. In either case, forgiveness does not imply permission to continue hurtful behaviors. As part of your own treatment, you need to decide which behaviors you can accept in your relationships and which you cannot.

The primary goal of forgiveness is to heal yourself. In a partnership affected by sexual addiction, forgiveness is aided by evidence of each partner’s changed behavior and commitment to treatment. These are also elements in rebuilding trust. For many couples, forgiving and learning to trust again go hand in hand. Both take time, making amends, continued treatment and trustworthy behavior.