Written By: Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager-EHN Vancouver
Just as the rise of patients identifying their own compulsive sexual behaviors is increasing, partners of people with compulsive sexual behaviors are also seeking treatment in greater numbers. What type of treatment should partners receive? Why do partners need treatment if they aren’t the ones with the compulsive sexual behaviour? Experience and research tells me that partners are emotionally and psychologically affected by this disorder and they too, need therapy and support to heal from the damage that comes with compulsive sexual behaviour.
Partners, most of them women, struggle with the betrayal and accompanied unraveling of what might have appeared to be a satisfying relationship. Statistics on infidelity are difficult to compile but conservative estimates range between 30% to 60% of marriages in the U.S. feature infidelity. These estimates do not include infidelity where partners are not married, nor do they account for same sex marriages, which only recently have become legal in the U.S. Still, let’s be clear. Partners of people with compulsive sexual behaviors include men and women of any sexual orientation and level of commitment. Depending on how ‘infidelity’ is defined, the figure would be greater if the myriad expressions of compulsive sexual behaviors, like problematic pornography use by a partner, are included.
What is it like for a female partner of a ‘sex addict’?
Many women describe an experience as having their world flipped upside down. What was once a familiar person to you is now revealed to have a completely different life from the one you thought you shared. Even when there have been some indications of infidelity, confirmation carries with it an overwhelming shock to the relationship and all that surround it, including children, families, finances, sexuality and community. Questions that typically arise are:
- – How did this happen to me?
- – How did I not know?
- – Is there more I don’t know?
- – What do I tell the kids? My family? My friends?
– Many partners vacillate between shock, anger, denial and grief.
First Steps Towards Recovery
A useful first step is to seek the support of a non-judgmental and trusted confidante. Someone who need only listen and help the partner through the first hours and days to regain calm and a sense of self.
The next step would be to consider the immediate implications of the discovery:
- 1. Does the partner move out temporarily?
- 2. Who in the community can help contextualize the infidelity and provide guidance for the way forward?
- 3. Whom can I count on?
Many partners will seek out the comfort of family and friends, others find help through a marriage or relationship counselor. It used to be common that partners would start marriage counseling, with an examination of the marital dynamics which ‘led’ to the infidelity. If the offending partner is acting out compulsively, it’s likely that an emphasis on what triggers the behavior, apart from the relationship, is a better place to start.
Addiction treatment, with its understanding of compulsively driven behavior, is the current standard for treatment of sex addiction.
What Help Is Available For The Partner?
Counseling help for the partner has gone through a dramatic shift in recent years. Some therapists treat partners of sex addicts as if they were partners of alcoholics or chemically addicted people. This included framing the problems and solutions, through a ‘co-dependency model. This model implies enabling, rescuing and efforts to control the addict by the co-dependent. While those behaviors are often present, the co-dependent model leaves out a critically important piece of the puzzle. That is, the trauma of the betrayal.
Research indicates that betrayed partners experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. These symptoms include heightened anxiety, intrusive thoughts about the addict and/or the behaviors, sleeplessness and avoidance of relevant stimuli.
Trauma therapy, along with the support of others in similar circumstances in self-help settings, helps the partner to work through the betrayal and regain empowerment. Trauma therapy also helps a partner to work through much of the lasting damage to self. These include sexual shame, broken trust, body image issues, rage and aversion to sex.
At the Edgewood Health Network Clinic in Vancouver, we provide sex addiction therapy to men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours. In addition, we provide support and therapy to partners who have been affected by this disorder. Our team consists of Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT), which who are qualified to help a partnership understand the behaviors and provide a roadmap for successful treatment.
If you’d like to learn more about our services offered at our Vancouver clinic, please call 604-734-1100 or call our toll free 1-800-683-0111 to learn more about the range of treatment programs we offer under the Edgewood Health Network across Canada.
Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager of EHN Vancouver holds a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology as well as certification in substance abuse counseling. He has been working in the addictions field for 20 years. Nelson sees his role as helping our clients and their families to understand the nature of addictions, and to facilitate discovery of their inner strengths and integrity. As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, he is also available to help men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours
Facts and Statistics About Infidelity. Retrieved on July 2016 at https://www.truthaboutdeception.com/cheating-and-infidelity/stats-about-infidelity.html