What About the Wives?
by Anne Brown
Notable public figures such as Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jesse James have garnered substantial media attention for their uncontained sexual behaviors. Much mention has been made of their sexually compulsive behaviors and the affair partners with whom they have been involved. However, less attention has been given to the loved ones of these men affected by sexual compulsivity: their wives.
COSA, or co-sex addict is the term generally used to describe the spouse/partner of a sex addict. The addict is addicted to sexual fantasy and behaviors, while the COSA is addicted to the relationship with the sex addict. Some COSAs are also sexually compulsive;others are not. All COSAs are co-dependent. Frequently, the COSA will take on the role of 'detective,' trying to find out what her spouse is 'up to.' As the sex addict feels the increased pressure for closeness or fears discovery by the COSA, he often will act out his resentment through continued sexualized behaviors. Thus, a destructive cycle of 'hide and seek' begins. The COSA will go to great lengths to try to change, so as to be the sole object of the sex addict's desire. Sometimes, she will even engage in sexual behaviors outside of her value system. The intent is to sexually appease the addict in hopes of controlling infidelity. Tragically, it tends to add "fuel to the fire" for the cycle of the COSA and the sex addict. The continued detective work also provides the COSA with the illusion of control: "If I know all about it, I might be able to do something about it." By operating under this belief, the COSA assumes some responsibility for the sex addict's behavior. It is often a stance that the COSA finds hard to let go, as doing so unveils the reality that she has NO CONTROL.
Sex addiction is NOT the COSA's fault. It is about the trauma and shame the sex addict has carried since childhood. Co-sex addicts also act out the trauma and shame they have carried since childhood. They often engage in a cycle of love addiction that results from abandonment issues. Furthermore, sex addiction and co-sex addiction are not gender specific. Men are equally likely to be the COSA, while women can be sexually compulsive. The determining factor is not gender, but trauma. Both the sex addict and the COSA need treatment for unresolved trauma, relational issues, and addictive behaviors. It is a pattern that, without treatment, will continue to affect many families for generations.
Anne Brown, a primary counselor at The Meadows since 2008, has a master's degree in counseling from Johns Hopkins University; she specializes in treating sex addiction, co-sex addiction, eating disorders, co-dependency, and the underlying trauma issues of addiction. She has been working in the counseling field since 1999.