Implications for Spouses and Partners of Sex Addicts
By Dr. Heather Schroeder, PsyD, Psychological Assistant
In the therapy world, the term “healthy attachment” is a concept that is often held as a gold-standard for understanding one’s emotional well-being. According to the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby, having the desire for a healthy and secure attachment “is an instinctual and constitutive dimension of being human and endures throughout the life span. One never outgrows or develops beyond attachment behavior, but rather it persists, as Bowlby says, “from the cradle to the grave”1. But what does this really mean in a real-world context? Some argue that a healthy attachment, or secure-base, is synonymous with what we understand as “trust” in a relationship2. Trust is an inherent desired quality of any romantic relationship. Unfortunately, the compulsive use of pornography or sexual addiction disrupts the secure-attachment, or trust, one expects in a romantic relationship. This specific disruption of trust leads to a loss of well-being similar to that associated with trauma. For spouses or partners that discover their significant other’s compulsive sexual behavior, loss of the secure-attachment can be summarized as the “realization that the [sexual addiction] and perceived betrayal had been on-going during a time when the spouse had assumed they were safe and secure in a trustworthy romantic relationship”3.
So what does all of this mean and why does it matter? Spouses who are married to a partner struggling with compulsive sexual behavior face many challenges after they discover this issue in their marriage. As noted above, the loss of trust is the primary trauma I see when working with partners in my office. Often times, I hear the sentiment, “How do I know what is real in my relationship” or “How could they say they love me and be doing what they are doing?” or “How can I ever trust again?”. These questions are legitimate questions and speak to the loss of a secure-base in their world. In the early stages of discovering their partner’s sexually compulsive behavior, spouses often feel lost and need support and guidance as they navigate their new reality. Sadly, many spouses don’t know what steps to take when they are faced with this betrayal and struggle to reorient themselves in the world. Thankfully, this does not have to be the case.
Now, more than ever, there is growing awareness of sexual addiction and the impact this addiction has on spouses and families. Spouses need to know that they are not alone, that there are other men and women who know the distinct pain of discovering their partner’s secret sexually compulsive behavior. In addition to knowing that they are not alone, they need to know that their spouse’s sexual addiction is not their fault. Often times, people who struggle with sexually compulsive behavior have struggled for years, often beginning in early adolescence. Although this is a heartbreaking realty, partner’s hopefully can take that information in and begin to realize that their spouse’s sexually compulsive behaviors are not because they were not “good enough” as a spouse. There is hope amidst this unique pain. Partner’s that are truly willing to explore their unique pain and grief regarding this specific trauma actually open the door to great healing and examination of who they are in the world and how their own stories are impacted by this distinctive journey of healing. There are many support groups, church programs, and therapists specifically trained to help spouses and addicts navigate this healing process. Through the healing process, both partners and addicts, can discover and build a new secure-attachment with God, with each other, and the relationships around them. If you, or someone you know, is facing this particular issue, please call. You can reach me (714) 558-9266 extension 283.
1 Kelley 2010
2 (Zitzman and Butler, 2009).
3 (Zitzman and Butler, 2009).