If you have just discovered that your spouse suffers from sex addiction, you probably have a lot of questions. “Why did he do this?” “Is there something wrong with me?” “Should I be angry?” “What does this mean for our marriage?”
Your spouse’s sex addiction does not necessarily mean that your marriage is over, or that you can never regain the intimacy and affection you previously had. If you are both willing to work and forgive, you can make your marriage strong and happy again. However, your partner’s illness does have some important implications for that process, including:
- Your partner has probably not stopped loving you or being attracted to you. It is difficult to accept, but important to remember, that your spouse’s use of pornography has nothing to do with you. It is not the result of anything you did, anything you didn’t do, or any aspect of your appearance or your behavior. Your partner’s use of pornography is entirely about your partner and his or her illness.
- He or she has a real, legitimate mental health issue. Addiction is a real mental illness, caused in part by an imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain, and sex addiction is every bit as real an addiction as alcoholism or heroin addiction. The chemistry involved is just a little different. Please understand that sex addiction is not something your partner made up to gain sympathy or justify his behavior (but please don’t let him or her use this illness for that purpose, either).
- Because of how addiction works, your spouse may have genuine difficulty controlling his or her urges. This is not an excuse for unfaithful or unhealthy behavior, and you should always hold your partner accountable for his or her actions and their effect on you. It is, however, something you should be prepared for as you move forward; there is no instant cure for addiction, and even those who are sincerely trying and making great steps forward sometimes relapse. The chances of you having to go through this again are much higher than they would be in a relationship not affected by addiction, but improvement is possible, and many of our members here are good examples of that.
- He or she will need help. Because addiction is a legitimate mental health problem, your partner will need treatment in order to regain control. This takes several forms. First, if you choose to stay in the relationship, your spouse will need your help, love, and support (sometimes this may be “tough love” and sometimes it may just be a hug and some encouragement). He or she should also seek counseling or therapy from a mental health professional; this will help address underlying issues that may be exacerbating the addiction, teach healthy ways to cope and control urges, and provide a safer and healthier outlet for frustrations and stress. Recovery programs that offer group support and encouragement, such as 12-step programs, are also a proven and useful tool.
- You cannot “fix” your spouse or go through the recovery process for him or her. You have to know your limits, and accept that although there are things you can do to help, recovery is ultimately your spouse’s battle to fight. You can (and should) be a sounding board, a source of comfort, an accountability partner, and a cheerleader – but that’s it. You cannot hold yourself responsible for your spouse’s success or failure, and you can’t do it for him or her. Sooner or later you have to let go and let your partner stand on his or her own. If you don’t, you hinder your spouse’s recovery and place a crushing burden on yourself.
- Your relationship has been damaged, and it will take real work from both of you to rebuild. It is probably pretty clear to you at this point that your partner’s actions have made it very difficult to trust him or her. Knowing that this is an addiction, which makes eventual relapses likely, probably makes that even harder. Your partner will have to work to regain your trust, and you will need to learn how to trust him or her again. Both of you will need to rebuild lost respect, too. Your spouse’s actions probably cost him or her a lot of respect in your eyes, which he or she will need to earn back; viewing porn probably taught your spouse not to view you with respect, either, and he or she needs to relearn that.
- You will also need help to cope with the effect your spouse’s actions have on you. In the aftermath of your partner’s infidelity, you probably feel hurt, angry, and betrayed; you may also be questioning your own attractiveness and adequacy, and your self-esteem has been dealt a serious blow. Counseling can help you deal with these issues, learn to cope with and express your feelings in constructive ways, rebuild your self-esteem, and help you understand that your spouse’s actions are not about you.