Let’s first be brutally honest. Your partner is probably addicted to more than porn.
We make a serious error to talk simply of “porn addiction.” Pornography is a gateway drug that facilitates or works with many other compulsive sexual behaviours. We ought to be using the term “sex addiction.” To talk of addiction to pornography both minimises the issue (since pornography is so gratuitously accepted) and ignores the reality that there are probably even more serious behaviours involved.
Here are some practical suggestions for the partner of a porn/sex addict:
Your partner’s addiction has nothing to do with you not satisfying him sexually. Stop beating yourself up. There are difficulties in your intimate life, but they are not the cause of his addiction. In fact, it’s the other way around. The addiction is causing problems in your intimate life. Your partner will never be satisfied sexually so long as he is an addict who is not in recovery.
Get tested for STDs. It will pain you. It will put you on a roller coaster of emotions. But you need to know if your health is at risk because of your partner’s behaviour. He is an addict which means, unfortunately, that he is a liar. He has to lie in order to attempt to manage the addiction. You have no way of knowing that he has told you the complete truth about his sexual acting out. Chances are that he has told you a partial truth, one that’s enough to satisfy you in the moment of confrontation. Chances are your mind doesn’t even go where he’s gone.
CSAT Certified Sex Addiction Therapists are professionals that are trained to work with the partners of addicts, the addicts and couples. Many offer both individual and group counselling and CSATs are the most widely known and possibly the most reputable. Their training has been shaped by Dr. Patrick Carnes, the leading expert on sex addiction. His research, particularly on the family, is in line with Catholic teaching. CSATs also are trained in the process of a partner giving full disclosure to his wife (or as little disclosure as she wants). You will need this process in order to move forward.
There are support groups. Find one that works for you. You need help. You are carrying a tremendous load and suffering immensely.
S-Anon is a 12-step programme for the partners of sex addicts. Yes, your partner is a sex addict even if you really do think he’s “only” addicted to pornography. You may have to try several groups because they all can vary greatly. You need to find one where you can feel safe. That doesn’t mean you should feel unchallenged. Al-Anon can be a help if you can’t find an S-Anon programme. 12-step programmes are free.
Read up on codependency and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for partners of sex addicts. If the codependency diagnosis doesn’t resonate with you, don’t let anyone stick you in that box. More and more, therapists who work with the spouses of sex addicts are finding that the spouses suffer more immediately something that looks a lot like PTSD. There’s probably an element of codependency, but the PTSD effect is much more immediate because sex addiction is such a deeply personal and intimate addiction. It’s not like drug and alcohol addictions which also hurt loved ones terribly. It causes a pain that is radically more personal for the spouse. Also, it is often far more secret and hidden. Typically, there’s a brutal moment of discovery for the spouse of a sex addict.
To understand more about sex addiction in general, read Dr. Patrick Carnes’ book, “Out of the Shadows.”
Read up on resources for partners of sex addicts. There are many books and online resources available. Some are written by Christians, others are not. Take what works for you. Being in a group should also help you to sift through the available resources.
Settle for nothing less than sobriety from your partner. As you get stronger, encourage him to get help. There are three main 12-step programs relating to sex addiction. Here’s a brief summary:
COSA ‘Co-dependents of Sex Addicts’ 12 step recovery programme for men and women who have been affected by sex addiction. http://www.cosa-recovery.org /
SAA – Sex Addicts Anonymous. They define sobriety for themselves; so it could include behaviors that are not strictly faithful and chaste. http://saa-recovery.org.uk
SLAA – Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous. Members also define sobriety for themselves. www.slaauk.org
Your partner can also find help from a CSAT therapist and/or group. However, I would recommend working with someone who first requires your partner to achieve some sobriety (90+ days). Only settle for sobriety. He’s sick, and there’s only one way that he can get better. Sobriety.
Don’t argue with your partner. He’s not in a reasonable space. He will turn everything against you. State your needs, requests, etc. But don’t engage if it’s going to become an argument. This is where your own work will be utterly essential. If you are not doing your own work, your partner will pull you into a devastating spiral every time you argue.
You are not your partner’s accountability partner, sponsor, therapist, or spiritual director. The great thing about utilising these resources is that you can start to free yourself from an impossible role in which you probably find yourself trapped.
Don’t start marriage/relationship/couple counselling. until your partner is sober and you are both somewhat healthy, there’s nothing that can be done for the marriage. The marriage is on hold for now. If you do reach the point of marriage therapy, only work with a therapist who does not keep secrets from either spouse. Ask the therapist for their approach to marriage therapy. Does it include transparency? There has to be complete transparency. The marriage should be the patient, with each of you having a role in it. But the therapist should be focused on healing the marriage, not offering cover for one or both of you. It should be tough work. If it’s easy, it’s probably not real.
Take care of yourself. You owe it to yourself, your partner, and your children. Get a medical if you haven’t had one in over a year or if you’re experiencing significant health changes. Exercise. It will help to clear your brain, it may even help you pray. Eat well. Do good things to make you feel good and be strong – for yourself, your children, and even for your partner.
Don’t make any decisions about the marriage unless you need a legal separation to protect yourself financially or you need separate residences to protect yourself and your children. As you begin to recover from this horrible situation, you will get to the point where you see clearly what your next steps should be. You’ll know because you’ll have peace about your decision even if it’s scary.