During my husband’s last major relapse, I let him persuade me to indulge many unhealthy sexual fantasies related to his addiction, and in the process I involved myself in things that today I am deeply ashamed of and disgusted by. My self-esteem is still damaged as a result. At the time, I engaged in those things because I had convinced myself that if I gave in a little, maybe he would be content with that and not turn to porn sites, dating sites, or other women.
Sometimes it might be tempting to give in to a sex-addicted partner’s requests or demands; sometimes it might seem that giving in is, in some way, actually the best thing for the relationship. You may feel that if you just let him or her have the threesome, or post the pictures, or otherwise drag you into his or her illness, that he or she won’t “need” to look elsewhere to satisfy those urges. You may believe that concession is the only way to keep your spouse from leaving altogether. You may simply want to avoid another nasty fight. In any case, despite your reservations, enabling your partner’s addiction just a little sometimes seems like a valid coping strategy.
There are three main problems with that idea.
- Addiction doesn’t work that way. Addictive behavior tends to escalate as the brain’s reward system requires more and more stimulation to get the same “fix.” Trying to satisfy or placate an addict by allowing him or her a small “fix” will actually drive him or her to seek out even more. I actually helped fuel my husband’s destructive and hurtful behavior, which was ultimately unhealthy and emotionally painful for us both.
- No one respects a sex object. Studies show that as well as promoting unrealistic body images, pornography also conditions users to see other people as sexual objects, which no real partner can compete with. As attractive as some porn users find those “fantasy” partners, they don’t respect them. That is the whole point. When I let myself be objectified that way, I stopped being a partner who had to be treated with respect and consideration. This made it even easier to treat me with further disrespect as his addiction dragged him further down.
- Ultimately, these things are bad for relationships. Although enabling your spouse’s addiction may seem to make him or her happy and reduce conflict in the short term, in the long term it will cause additional conflict and damage the intimacy between you. My husband enjoyed what I offered at the time, but once he recovered from the relapse and looked back with a clear head, he regretted most of it. I always have. Those incidents caused pain, tension, and conflict in our relationship that have lasted over a year and will probably last many more.
The important thing to remember is that you can never save your relationship by damaging it, or by demeaning yourself. If you feel that the survival of your marriage really depends on having a threesome, or any other sexual concession, that probably won’t save it, either. Think long-term; consider the harm that enabling your partner’s addiction will do to his or her recovery, to your self-esteem and emotional health, and to the intimacy and security in your relationship. Always put those things first, ahead of gratifying your partner or avoiding a fight or even keeping him or her in the marriage.
Insist on preserving your dignity and the sanctity of your commitment to each other. Allow nothing less, and do not give in. It will probably cause tension, especially if your partner is relapsing or has not admitted to having a problem, but ultimately your spouse will respect you for it. More importantly, you will be able to respect yourself.