Is my partner a sex addict?

If you are on this page, more than likely you are feeling confused, angry, helpless and hopeless, or even betrayed. You may have discovered your partner is having an affair, chatting and flirting with people online, viewing pornography frequently, or other “inappropriate” behaviors. You are not alone! It is estimated that approximately 10 million addicts and partners in the United States alone suffer from sex addiction. We seldom talk about sex addiction and often feel ashamed, blaming ourselves for not recognizing the signs or being there for our loved ones.

It is important to understand that an evaluation for sex addiction can only be completed by a trained mental health professional. In an assessment, specific behaviors are evaluated and often testing is completed to help the clinician determine if sex addiction is present. Each individual case is unique. Your partner may be doing things and/or behaving in certain ways that do strongly indicate the presence of addiction and those behaviors should not be discounted. The best thing you can do when you suspect addiction is to talk to a specially trained professional about your concerns. He or she can best help you determine how to approach the subject with your partner and make a plan that will ensure the safety of you, your partner, and children (if applicable).

“You can learn to trust again…There is a whole world of other people out there who are willing to walk beside you. Take the time to take care of yourself, reach out for support, and pursue your dreams.”
~ Sonja Rudie, MA, CSAT, Mending a Shattered Heart (2011), pg. 145

What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction is not the same thing as infidelity or an excuse to “behave badly.” Unfortunately, if your partner had an affair, while still incredibly traumatic to discover, it may be simply an affair and not a sign of addiction. Sex addiction is pattern of compulsive behavior that progresses and escalates until the addict’s life spirals out of control. The addict continues these behaviors even though his or her life may be crumbling around him or her. If you are concerned or are feeling upset about what is going on in your relationship, please reach out to an IITAP-trained therapist who can help you figure out what to do next and make sure you are safe.

How did I not know?
Sex addiction thrives in secrecy. Because society, overall, does not easily discuss sex or sexual behaviors, addicts are able to go to great lengths to maintain their secrets and protect their double lives. Partners may be kept completely in the dark about the sexual acting out or may be aware of some of the behaviors, but not the extent. As with any addiction, the automatic deceit and ability to maneuver around or out of complicated situations is second nature. Addicts can become so immersed in their double life, they convince their partners that their sexual acting out behaviors are the result of the partners’ issues or failures.

You may begin questioning your entire relationship with the addict or feel like you are going crazy. These are both acceptable responses to what you are experiencing. Healing from this traumatic discovery is a recovery process in and of itself. Seeing support and qualified help during this time is essential.

What do I do now?
Finding out your partner is or may be a sex addict can be extremely traumatizing. There are a million thoughts running through your head and you are probably wondering what to do next. If you don’t have an IITAP-trained therapist to talk to, there are some critical steps you can take, including the following:

  • Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), whether you believe the addict has been sexually active with another person or not.
  • Use protection or abstain from sex with the addict.
  • Find a therapist for yourself from a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), many CSATs even specialize in working with partners .
  • Work with your therapist to set initial boundaries for self-protection (remember, actions speak louder than words!).
  • Be mindful of who you confide in, and we caution you against making threats to your partner or telling several people about what is going on. Work with your therapist to determine who in your support system is a safe person to talk to about this. Confide in a select few trusted individuals who can support you.

While it may be in your nature to want to take care of the addict first, it is important to remember to take care of yourself. You need to be sure you are safe, cared for, and are able to find the support you need. This is only the beginning and the journey will undoubtedly be tough, so making sure you are able to take care of yourself first it of utmost importance.

Do I need to know everything?
Why do I feel compelled to know all the nitty-gritty details? Is this really necessary? If you just found out about your partner’s betrayal, you may feel like your world will continue unraveling unless you know everything – right now. You are not alone, many partners often ask for immediately disclosure of everything the addict has ever done. This is often a way for them to:

  • Make sense of the past
  • Validate their suspicions about what was happening in the relationship—suspicions the addict often denied
  • Assess their risk of having been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, to financial disaster, and to shame
  • evaluate their partner’s commitment to the future of the relationship
  • Have some sense of control

“No matter how many details you know about your partner’s acting out, the ultimate choice to change the behavior lies with him or her, not with you. Having more information won’t give you more control. On the contrary, sometimes too much information can cause additional problems. You may end up obsessing even more about your partner’s behavior. Intrusive thoughts about the addict can cause additional pain. For example, if you know “they” ate at a particular restaurant, you may decide to never go there again. If you know your husband and his affair partner did a particular sexual activity together, you may find yourself obsessing about them when you and your husband share that activity.” Exerpt from Chapter 2, pages 16-17. I Need to Know Everything That Happened…Or Do I? Jennifer P. Schneider, MD, PhD, Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts.

Please be sure to consult with a trained therapist before you demand to know everything. An IITAP-trained therapist will help you determine what you need to know to move forward, identify any potential situations that will be difficult for you to hear, ensure you have a support system and are safe, and several other important considerations that will help you prepare for a formal disclosure.

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