If you have just discovered that your spouse has engaged in compulsive sexual behavior, most likely you are feeling hurt and betrayed by your partner; you are probably angry at him or her. However, if you are like many spouses in this situation, you also still care deeply about your spouse, want to assist in his or her recovery and treatment, and hope to salvage the relationship. Your feelings toward your partner and about your future together may seem conflicted or appear to change from moment to moment. The most important thing for you to focus on at this point- for your sake, for your spouse’s sake, and for the sake of your relationship- is your own mental and emotional health.
The key thing to realize about your partner’s actions is that whatever occurred, no matter how hurtful and damaging, was not about you. Your spouse has an addiction, which means that he or she is not always entirely capable of controlling certain compulsions or urges, and this is why he or she has done the things which have hurt you so badly. Your partner did not make these choices to hurt you, or because you were not fulfilling some need or desire; your partner made these choices because he or she is ill and needs treatment. That is not directly related to his or her feelings about you. This does not mean that your current feelings are incorrect or invalid; it certainly does not excuse or condone your partner’s behavior. The importance of realizing that it was not about you is that you should not allow your partner’s choices to impact your self-esteem.
Be very clear about this; you are in no way the cause of your partner’s infidelity. Most spouses who have been cheated on in some fashion- including spouses of compulsive or excessive consumers of pornography- feel, at some point, that they themselves must have been inadequate or must have somehow driven their partner to this. This is nearly always incorrect in the case of sex addiction; if your partner is an addict, this means that the causes of his or her actions are a complex interaction of brain chemistry, developmental background, and personal choices which have nothing to do with you and everything to do with your partner’s compulsions. You have every right to feel hurt and betrayed, and you have every right to be angry, but do not take your partner’s behavior as a reflection on you.
If your partner is reacting angrily to being confronted with his or her actions, he or she may even try to shift some of the blame onto you. Sufferers of many types of addiction may try to shift responsibility for their actions onto others when confronted; this is a defensive response, and it is important to remember that like the addictive behavior itself, this is not about you. This, too, is about your partner and about the illness itself, and it best for both of you to address it with the help of a trained professional counselor. Do not allow yourself to be convinced that your spouse’s behavior is somehow your fault, or that you are somehow wrong for confronting him or her about it.
When working with a loved one who suffers from any addiction, family members need to remind themselves that the only person responsible for the addict’s behavior is the addict. This is hard to truly internalize, because if you are in this situation, you are here because you care about this person and want to help him or her recover and manage this addiction. Ultimately, however, recovery and management will only happen if the addict chooses to take responsibility for those actions and for preventing them in the future. You can provide support and help with accountability, but you cannot bear the responsibility for another person’s behavior.
If you wish to help rebuild your relationship and help your spouse manage his or her addiction, the best approach is to take care of yourself. Tend to your own emotional wounds and seek help from family, friends, and a professional counselor to repair and maintain your self-esteem. Remain supportive but establish clear limits on how much and what type of support you can provide; a counselor can help you define your role in the process and be consistent about it. This will help ensure that you are in a position to make healthy decisions and have the emotional reserves necessary to support your partner’s efforts at recovery.
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