Many betrayed partners start down the road of dealing with cheating in their relationship only to at some point begin to realize that their significant other is sexually addicted. If this applies to you, it is vital that you fully educate yourself about sex addiction.
You may ask, “Why do I need to spend my time and energy understanding sex addiction when I’m not the one who is addicted?” You need to have a complete understanding of what sex addiction is, how it manifests, and how it is treated because sexual addiction and infidelity are not the same thing. Infidelity is often an element of sexual addiction, and sexual addiction can play into infidelity, but some cheaters are sexually addicted (they’ve lost control over their sexual behaviors) and some are not. And treatment, depending on the category, is quite different.
Below I’ve outlined five risks you take if your cheating partner is sexually addicted and you do not invest in learning about and understanding sex addiction.
1.) If you don’t understand sex addiction, you don’t know what it takes to treat it.
Understanding and treating sexual addiction is like peeling an onion. There are countless layers to the addiction. It involves all of the different systems of our minds and bodies, along with our childhood wounds, sex and relationship histories, core beliefs, sexuality, and even our basic sense of self. It is a complicated phenomenon and, because of its many layers, it is not easy to treat.
Betrayed partners who are new to the process of healing often have ideas and expectations about what should be happening with and for their sex addicted partner. Unfortunately, those ideas and expectations can be wildly inaccurate. At times, these misperceptions actually end up enabling rather than combatting the addiction. For instance, many betrayed partners think the addict just needs to stop, that a little bit of extra willpower will halt the cheating. But one of the things that therapists who treat addiction know for a fact is that addiction does not respond to willpower for more than a short while. Willpower is finite. It runs out.
So if willpower doesn’t work in any lasting way, what does?
Sex addicts need addiction-focused treatment – a process that teaches them how to change at a deeper level, a level that addresses underlying causes and conditions, intimacy deficits, accountability, shame, trauma, and more. Sex addicts need a treatment process that creates deep, second level (below the surface) changes.
If you as a betrayed partner don’t understand this, you can easily find yourself thinking your sexually addicted partner just needs a bit of therapy and willpower. If so, you can end up enabling the addiction, even though you don’t mean to. When you understand what it takes to truly arrest an addiction and create a long-term sober way of living, it empowers you to hold your boundaries and support your partner in their recovery. If your partner does not choose recovery it empowers you to make choices that are good for you and to not be vulnerable to promises that the addict can and will ‘just stop’.
2.) If you do not understand the addiction, you are vulnerable to misinformation from your partner.
If you are not educated about sex addiction and how it’s treated, your partner can go off to therapy and then provide you with a curated version of what happened – telling you only what they want you to know about how the treatment process works. You won’t be any the wiser because you don’t know how treatment typically goes. Your partner can keep the expectations of therapy secret from you and string you along with statements like, “My therapist says I only need to come in every other week, and that I don’t need group therapy or 12-Step meetings.”
If you as a betrayed partner don’t know that’s a lie, then you don’t know that’s a lie. And believe me, it’s a lie. No certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) would tell a newly recovering sex addict that individual therapy every other week with no other external support is going to cut it. Because that approach Will. Not. Cut. It.
A lack of information and understanding about sex addiction leaves you, the betrayed partner, in the dark about what should be happening and vulnerable to the lies and omissions of the cheating partner.
3.) If you don’t understand sex addiction, you also don’t understand what real recovery looks like.
As you educate yourself about sexual addiction, you will create a vision for yourself about what you and your partner’s recovery can look like from a relationship healing standpoint. You will develop an understanding of the steps both you and your partner need to take to not only curtail the addiction but to rebuild relational trust and emotional intimacy.
You will also begin to understand your boundaries in your relationship and with the addict – what you can live with and what you can’t. With this, you get a better sense of what your relationship could look like moving forward, how things could change, and what you will do if certain things do not change. You can say to yourself, “If we go down the path of recovery together, this is what it could look like.” With that, you begin to understand that real recovery is a change in your relationship with yourself, a change in your relationship with your significant other, and a change in your relationship with systems of larger meaning and purpose like your Higher Power.
With real recovery, those three areas of your life are inexorably altered and restructured, creating a vastly different understanding of who you are, who your partner is, and how you relate with one another. Understanding what you are heading toward helps you to know what type of changes to look for in your partner. As they stop the cheating and the lying, they start relating differently to themselves, to you, and to the larger world. Most of all, they view their relationship with you through a different lens – hopefully, the same lens of hope and commitment through which you now view it.
4.) If you don’t understand addiction, you’re vulnerable to being gaslighted.
Right now you might be thinking, “Isn’t this the same as risk factor #2?” If so, you’re not wrong. But gaslighting takes things a step further than just being fed misinformation. Gaslighting is an intentional form of psychological abuse where you are deliberately lied to in ways that impede your ability to experience reality. It is a deep and intentional form of manipulation. And sadly, most addicts engage in this behavior to one degree or another, even after they enter recovery.
If you are not educated about the nature of sex addiction and the treatment process, you are vulnerable to gaslighting (or further gaslighting) around your partner’s behavior. When you’re educated, however, you know what active addiction looks like, you know what effective treatment looks like, and you have a vision for recovery. This allows you to say, “Hold on a minute. That’s not true and I know it’s not true because of this, this, and this. So I know I’m being lied to right now. I know you’re trying to manipulate me, and I’m not going to allow that again.” In this respect, learning about sexual addiction is incredibly empowering.
5.) If you don’t understand the addiction and treatment, you may try to shortcut the process.
As stated earlier, addiction is complicated. It occurs in layers, and it’s treated in layers. If you don’t fully understand that you might attempt to shortcut recovery. Sex addiction treatment is a process, and not a short process, either. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes money.
When faced with all that is required for effective sex addiction treatment and for saving your relationship (if that is indeed your goal), you can easily be tempted to take shortcuts. You may find yourself thinking, “I think we can do it differently. I think we can cut that out, and that, and we can cut this in half and that will save us money and time.” Basically, you bargain about what is needed and what is not.
Unfortunately, as much as I would love to have magic beans to share with everyone, with sex addiction treatment, you can’t pick and choose. You can’t shortcut the process. Treating addiction is like turning the Titanic around. There is a lot of weight and momentum behind it, so turning things around is a process – a series of steps that must be taken in a particular order and at the right time. Trying to skip a step here and there ends up costing you time, effort, energy, and more.
When you understand addiction and the process of change, you start to respect the steps involved. When you do that, you forget about shortcuts and, in so doing, you save yourself a lot of time, money, and grief. You empower the process of recovery. You also empower yourself (and hopefully your partner) as you walk through that process.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.