By: Dr. Georgia Fourlas, LCSW, LISAC, CSAT, Clinical Director of Rio Retreat Center Workshops
Partners of sex addicts often find themselves feeling alone and isolated. First, the feelings of loneliness come when the addicted partner acts out. Although the partner of the sex addict is not always able to identify what is wrong, they often sense the addict’s distance and are aware of a shift in the addict or the relationship.
Trying to figure out what is wrong in the relationship can be exhausting. Many times partners end up feeling like they are going crazy. They know something isn’t right but cannot put their finger on it. When the partner tries to confront the addicted person, he or she often denies everything and accuses the partner of acting crazy, imagining things, or being overly jealous and controlling.
Partners may begin to doubt their own sense of reality. They may recognize that they are attempting to control something, but they are not sure what that is! When partners attempt to explain to family and friends what they are experiencing, it is hard to describe. How are they supposed to describe what they do not understand? They begin to feel shame and are not even sure what that shame is about.
There are other times when the partner knows exactly what is going on. The addict has not admitted it yet and has not considered recovery, so the partner hesitates to share anything with their family and friends. They may feel embarrassed and wonder if there’s something wrong with them that caused the addicted person to act out.
The partner may not want to hear the opinions of family and friends, who may advise them on whether to stay or leave. They may not want to risk sharing their pain with those who may judge their decisions about the relationship. Sometimes, there is the fear that others have known all along and that they view the partner as a fool. This belief can deepen their shame over the addict’s behaviors.
The Pain Doesn’t End When The Addicted Partner Enters Recovery
Even after the addicted partner stops acting out and enters recovery, loneliness and isolation can continue. While it is great to have the addict in recovery, it can be frustrating to have the time and energy still focused outside of the home as the addict enters treatment, commits to regular therapy, and begins involvement in 12-step meeting attendance and activities. Partners can resent the time spent away from the family and feel like they continue to carry the family and parenting responsibilities alone. The time spent covering family and household duties while supporting the addict can lead a partner to further isolation. Another isolating factor can be the reactions of family and friends to the partner when they discover the addict’s behaviors. Well-meaning family and friends can react in ways that are not helpful and can be extremely shaming and disempowering of the partner. Some reactions can lead to the partner feeling guilty for wanting to leave.
Those reactions might include statements like…
- “Why would you leave when he just went for help?”
- “You can’t leave; what would you tell the children?”
- “How could you leave her at her most vulnerable? She needs your help.”
Other reactions can lead to the partner feeling guilty for wanting to stay. These include reactions such as…
- “You need to leave that cheater right now!”
- “You can’t possibly stay with her after she has been with so many other people.”
- “What will you teach your kids if you allow this kind of thing?”
These well-intended messages can be perceived by the partner as shaming and controlling. It can feel like no one understands what the partner is going through. It can begin to feel like there is no help or support available.
Partners of Sex Addicts Deserve Help Too
It is important that partners know that the addict is not the only one who deserves help. Partners deserve and need help and support too. Loneliness and isolation are not permanent. It is okay for partners to insist that their own healing is also a priority.
Partners need to connect with others who have been through similar situations, lend a non-judgmental listening ear, and offer support regardless of whether the partner decides to stay in the relationship or leave. There are others out there dealing with the same things, even some who have already survived it.
There are also a variety of options for partners who are seeking help and healing. Partners can go to inpatient treatment, participate in intensive workshops designed specifically for partners, enroll in outpatient therapy, and/or participate in the numerous 12-step recovery groups just for sex addicts.
Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows offers 5-day intensive workshops designed specifically for partners of sex addicts. The Healing Intimate Treason workshop, designed by Dr. Claudia Black, has been very successful in helping partners heal and connect with others who are struggling with the same feelings and issues.
To enroll in a workshop or discuss any of our inpatient and outpatient treatment options, please call our intake department at 800-244-4949. Our experts are happy to answer any questions you may have and help you find the best options for getting you on the path to healing and happiness.