Couple’s therapy is based on the premise that individuals and their problems are best handled within the context of the couple’s relationship. Typically, both partners in the relationship attend the counseling session to discuss the couple’s specific issues. The aim of couple’s counseling is to help a couple deal appropriately with their immediate problems and learn better ways of relating in general. Couples can struggle with repetitive arguments, feelings of distance or emptiness, pervasive feelings of resentment, dissatisfaction or lack of affection with a strained physical relationship. Couple’s counseling is a useful modality of help for couples who are experiencing these and other difficulties.
Sexual Addictions within Couples Work
When a couple enters therapy and one partner exhibits sexually addictive behaviors, the non-addicted partner (co-addict) often asks me to “Fix my partner!” Both believe that their only problem is how his/her sexual acting out (SAO) impairs their relationship.
With all couples, however, I emphasize shared responsibility. When one partner has an addiction, they are an addicted couple. When the woman is pregnant, they are pregnant. When one has an affair, both share the burden of how it evolved and how to resolve it. We discuss their identity as a sexually addicted couple, to reinforce their mutual responsibility toward recovering and repairing their relationship. Imago Relationship Therapy supports this mindset by postulating that we tend to seek out— and need—partners with similar wounding, to achieve our own healing.
Through psychotherapy and 12-Step work, partners of sex addicts often discover why their own individual issues drew them to a partner with these issues. One common factor in the co-addict may be childhood sexual abuse, either overt or covert. An overly sexualized child has confused sexual boundaries, leaving them asexual or not allowing for much sexuality at all in their adulthood. They also commonly are drawn to partners with their own sexual problems.
Co-addicts may also feel drawn to those who may betray them. Perhaps while growing up, they experienced lies and witnessed emotional boundary violations in ways that left them traumatized. If these imprints remain unresolved, the co-addict would likely grow up and marry someone “familiar” who violates and betrays them all over again.
Another factor in sexual addiction is enabling and codependency. The co-addict often lets a partner continue his SAO behaviors and not accept the consequences of his/her actions. Imago Relationship Therapy (hereafter, IRT) advises that the couple, together as a unit, is the client and that they should not be separated during therapy. But early in my IRT work with sexually addicted couples, I decided to go against this model and began seeing the sex addict separately, while also seeing the couple together. The reason for my change in treatment is that sex addicts need a safe place to talk openly about their SAO behaviors, and it’s ideal for the couple’s therapist to hear them firsthand, to understand them more fully and how they impact the relationship.
If you are a sexually addicted couple and are on the road to recovery, these are important points to remember:
Identify yourself as a sexually addicted couple.
Ask the sex addict and co-addict to accept responsibility for your SAO behaviors.
Ask the co-addicts to identify the reasons why they have partnered with a sex addict.
See a therapist who is trained in working with both sexual addiction and relationship issues. Ask the therapist what their relationship training is in as well as if they are a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.
Explore each of your histories to assess if sexual abuse exists.
Attend 12-step meetings; Sex Addicts Anonymous for the partner who is sexually addicted and COSA for the co-addict.
Assess for cross addictions. Many individuals possessing one addiction often are addicted to other behaviors and/or chemicals as well.