When You Love a Sex Addict
The natural consequences of sex addiction reach far beyond the addict, and touches everyone that loves them. The deception and betrayal felt by spouses, family and friends reaches far, and are difficult to stomach.
When you love someone with a sex addiction life can be chaotic and you experience betrayal trauma. The good news is, recovery for you both, is very possible.
You don't stop loving someone, even when they've hurt you deeply, though you may wish you could. The connection may be broken and injured, but it doesn't simply vanish. It remains, broken and cold, looking everywhere for the answers to help us understand, "why", "how" and "when."
I've often said I felt like I was hit by an 18-wheeler. Couldn't people passing by see I was bleeding and in pieces on the road? Didn't the driver see me? Why didn't I see that truck coming? Where is the ambulance, and when is it going to get here?
How can I love someone so much, after what they've done to me? If this is love - no thank you and goodbye.
You start picking up the pieces and you try to make some semblance of this new ugly reality that's been thrust upon you without your permission. The perfectly imperfect life you thought you had, has now become something you've only seen in movies or read about in novels.
Betrayal trauma smacks, stings, and burns, all at the same time. And just when it seems to subside, a song, a picture or even the vision of your sex addict can send you spiraling into a trigger, feeling like you're back at square one again.
Yet, sometimes your sex addict has flashes of real remorse. Like a flickering ghost image on a tv screen, you see glimpses of the person you learned to love long ago, still lingering. Something in your gut tells you, that the person you love is in, "there" somewhere -- wherever, "there" is.
You hear that recovery is possible (it is.) You fearfully open the door, with a mixture of hope, and pure panic. Can you ever trust your own perceptions, after being so, "easily" duped?
Yes, you can learn a new way trust ability to discern reality from lies again. You learn that sex addiction is not a moral failure, it's an emotional illness that causes very real physiological changes to the brain, and knows no race, creed, color, gender and respects no religion.
Can you remain in a relationship with a sex addict, as long as he's working a real recovery? Yes, and there can even be gifts.
1. You're dealing with a different person now.
The person you decided to love long ago, has now become invisible and is hidden behind the mask of addiction. It's normal to react to this person as if they are the same person you know and love, but the sex addiction has changed that person - until they change again in recovery.
When you love a sex addict, it's easy to forget this. Especially when you see glimpses and glimmers of that old person from time to time. That person isn't gone, they're just hiding somewhere inside - not hiding from you necessarily, but hiding from painful emotions, difficult thoughts that they cannot process through other healthy means.
Sometimes they hide from what you symbolize to them - healthy intimacy or maybe even the fear of abandonment if you were to know the "real" them inside.
Don't fall for the gaslighting, manipulation, lying, verbal promises to stop harmful, betraying behaviors. Words are just that - words, and they can either harm or heal. You don't have to accept harmful words.
It's in behaviors, where you'll find a person's truth.
2. It’s not about you and whether you love each other or not.
Sex addicts aren't driven by sex, or love. They are driven by pain and cognitive distortion. In our western culture, we tend to cling to odd myths that are simply lies. Myths like, "Time heals all wounds" and "Love conquers everything". We often believe that love will solve any problem but love never brings about sobriety and it surely doesn't solve addiction, any more than love can cure cancer.
Sex Addicts can absolutely feel and choose love for us, and yet the addiction can be stronger neurologically and physiologically.
When you love a sex addict, you can love the person unconditionally. But when their behavior starts to make us sick, we have to love from afar or we get pulled down into their vortex of dysfunction and self-destruction. Our love for the sex addict can be unconditional, but the addict's presence in our life does not have to be unconditional.
Learn the concept of separating the person, from the behaviors.
3. Addicts can't think logically.
They can be functional rocket scientists, but when it comes to the sex addiction and the need to escape their own emotional pain, the addict mindset will override any logic that is abundantly clear to you and the average 7-year-old.
An addict's reality is distorted, and no, "reason" or deeply emotional plea sways an addict from what they perceive as a "survival" mechanism.
To the sex addict, their behavior isn't hurting anyone, as long as no one knows about it. They aren't betraying anyone, because the behaviors have a different meaning to them, then they to do us.
There are neurological reasons for these distortions, as the amygdala and limbic system become so flooded, that access to the area of the brain that processes logic, safety, morality and sequencing is literally hijacked, and cannot function in a healthy way.
The only way sex addicts ever change is when they see their primary relationship, and all the comforts that come with it, are going to disappear. There's no magic words or phrase of motivation that brings an addict to recovery.
4. Providing relationship comforts to a sex addict, is protecting their addiction and standing in the way of their recovery.
All addicts do just about anything to protect the addiction, because it's their only perceived survival mechanism. Without the addiction, life seems unbearable. The thoughts that fill their brain (resentment, anxiety, sadness, despair, self-hatred, shame, fear - the list is almost endless) will make life hell, and death is the only escape. They believe they need their addiction, or they will die. We know that's not true - however, see #3 about logic.
The only time an addict will seek recovery, is when the pain of staying the same, is more than the perceived pain of changing.
We are the "safety net" that keeps the addict from falling to the rock bottom, just by virtue of staying in the role of the ever-present unchanging wife or husband.
Only when we demonstrate a willingness to save ourselves by walking away, does the sex addict see they have to make a choice to protect either their addiction - or their primary relationship. There are other healthy, loving ways to support a sex addict who truly desires recovery.
5. Loving a sex addict requires a new way of thinking about and maintaining relationships.
In most healthy relationship, spoken or written boundaries aren't necessary because everyone generally agrees to treat each other with honesty and respect. Addicts have no boundaries around their own physical and emotional health, and they certainly have no boundaries around our health. We have to create new boundaries and enforcement that keep us safe physically, emotionally, psychologically and in some cases, even financially.
Addicts - especially sex addicts become masters of deception. Usually what we first discover is only the tip of the iceberg in their behaviors. They could be engaging in sexually dangerous behaviors. The sex addict engages in deception - which is a form of emotional abuse. They also engage in abusive manipulation, gas lighting, blaming others, deflection, projection, minimizing their behavior and your emotions, to the point of pulling the rug out from under you, and making you feel crazy - which is exactly what they want.
Boundaries help you get some distance from the behavior so you can observe it, but not absorb it. It can also give them a strong message that you will not make things comfortable for them while they engage in these behaviors.
Strong boundaries are your first line of defense when you love a sexually addicted person.
6. You cannot help a sex addict get into recovery.
There are literally no magic words that you can plan, imagine, scheme, read in book, that will bring an addict to recovery. However, you can have a boundary that says you will not be in a relationship with a sex addict who is not working a consistent recovery.
You didn't create or cause their addiction and you can't control or cure it either. Even though they may behave like an 11-year-old at times, they are not helpless. They had to be very clever and resourceful to hide their addiction and find ways to act out. A sex addict can use that same resourcefulness to "Google" resources. They can make phone calls, send emails, read blogs and books, and watch YouTube videos about sex addiction recovery. It's not too much to ask them to use more effort to recover, than they did to act out.
When we try to "help" an addict get into recovery by finding them therapists, support recover groups, sending them articles, buying them books - we send the message that we believe they aren't capable adults. But they are capable adults, they're just not in the habit of behaving that way. Recovery means they will mature and start acting that way. Finding their own recovery resources is good place to start.
7. You have to stay grounded in your own personal reality and recovery or you risk long term health issues.
When you love a sex addict, you must decide that you, "will be ok no matter what". Active sex addiction is betrayal and abusive to the partner and causes very real trauma. Untreated, trauma can become PTSD. Repeated discoveries, and repeated promises to stop with repeat slips and relapses can cause complex-PTSD.
When we're living with untreated trauma, our own perceptions can become distorted, and our own self-care can slip. Even worse, if children or elderly parents depend on us, their health and safety can become jeopardized as well.
Getting into therapy with a compassionate provider who understands partner trauma can be validating and encourage you with other recovery resources and encourage you to make self-care a priority.
Your sex addict's recovery may hinge on your own recovery, setting the example of "health or nothing" and putting your own physical, emotional and psychological needs first.
Your own recovery is learning a new language of emotion, and relationships tools to get your own healthy needs met.
To say emotions will run high on your part, and the part of your addict is understatement. Addict's don't speak, "emotion" which is part of why they medicate with addiction in the first place. They do feel, but they have learned how to bury and silence those feelings with the addiction.
You're going to have to take the reins and set the standard for how to interact and communicate in healthy ways. You'll need to learn to feel your own feelings, name them, and express them in a healthy way. You'll need to learn the language of boundary setting and enforcements. You can also benefit from learning to listen differently. You can learn manage the thoughts swirling in your head that are distortions from untreated trauma.
8. Things generally get worse before they get better.
The people who most need boundaries, are the ones who fight against them the most. The addict may use anger and blame you for their behavior. Or they may act like they are the victim and threaten self-harm. Don't give in, and if it continues, consider therapeutic separation so you can feel emotionally safe and focus on your own recovery. (If they threaten self-harm, call 911 and let them experience either the real help they need, or the consequences of faking it.) They'll stop those behaviors when they see those tactics don't get the results they want. Self-care is your primary concern - not the addict's care, and it not optional.
We often put our spouse first before our own needs. We have to change that order and put ourselves first. Self-care is not just about hot soaks, massages and shopping sprees. It's also about saying, "no" to boundary violations. We refuse to engage in toxic conversations. In recovery we decline requests to help others when we're exhausted. It's also about protecting our own recovery efforts from intimate partner betrayal trauma.
You can't control the addict's behavior and recovery, but you certainly can control your own. It's not selfish to perform self-care.
10. Most times, given a rock-solid boundary, the addict will choose your relationship over the addiction.
Support them in their recovery by keeping unwavering boundaries. Support them and your relationship by maintaining self-care as your own priority. Maintain your own recovery from betrayal trauma. Learning the new languages of emotion and healthy communication. Keep attending your partner support groups, and maintain a healthy balance of personal growth, fun and a social life, in addition to work and family obligations.
Support your recovering addict by being honest with them about your emotions, and your needs. Be patient while they learn the new languages too, and don't expect a recovering addict to fix your triggers. In time, they will learn new skills to build trust, share their recovery insights, and growth with you. They can be a soft place to fall again with full emotional intimacy and vulnerability.
Don't congratulate them for doing what they're supposed to anyway, like being honest and loyal. But you can commend them for healthy choices and express gratitude for choosing the relationship over the addiction.
Even if your spouse chooses recovery, you still need healing from betrayal trauma. Just because the addict becomes sober, doesn't mean they are recovered. Just because they recover, doesn't mean you're healed. There's still betrayal trauma recovery work for you to do.
11. Sometimes the addict's answer is "no" and they choose the addiction.
Sometimes the sex addict chooses the addiction over the relationship with you. The reasons for this are complex and multi-layered but the addict is never rejecting you personally. They reject their own recovery. I know this doesn't make anyone feel better. Knowing and accepting that does set your betrayal trauma recovery on a different, more accurate trajectory.
Loving a person with an addiction - any addiction - is a harrowing experience. To watch someone make poor choices that lead to an unnecessary cycle of pain is soul piercing. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for them, is to give them rock solid boundaries and if they can't stay within those limits - let them go.
And when we do, we can do it with love and compassion for ourselves first, and then them.
My husband thanked for me setting boundaries around his recovery and safe behaviors. Boundaries are what saved my family. Learn with me, how to prepare, communicate and enforce boundaries with love and compassion.
© Pam Blizzard, Recovered Peace 2019. This article may be freely copied and distributed so long as our copyright notice and Website address, https://RecoveredPeace.com is included.
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