When I first learned that my husband was a sex addict, I made the choice to stay and be an active part of his recovery process. He had already successfully battled drug addiction and I knew that he was absolutely committed to freeing himself from unhealthy and addictive behaviors around sex as well.
While specific definitions of sex addiction vary within the medical and psychological communities, the issues that my husband struggled with ranged from cheating to engaging in virtual sexual relationships in online chatrooms. As we confronted his addiction together, each challenge offered an opportunity for growth and helped us to create a relationship that is stronger than ever before.
With my husband's support, I now speak openly about my experiences because I am no longer bound by the shame and isolation that I once felt. It's my hope that by breaking the silence around such a misunderstood topic, I will help others find much-needed hope and healing as well.
I will always be grateful for the journey that we've shared and the following lessons that I've learned from being a part of his recovery from sex addiction.
1. Sex addiction is more than just a high sex drive.
It would be easy to think that a sex addict is simply someone who has an incredibly active libido, but sex addiction is not that simple. Unlike someone who chooses to have sexual experiences often for enjoyment, the sex addict is less about pleasure and more about managing personal insecurities and anxieties around close relationships.
A study out of Massey University in New Zealand found that "those with problematic sexual behavior are more likely to feel threatened by or anxious about intimate relationships."
In other words, sex addicts may use sexual experiences both to avoid and replace the anxiety-producing experience of true intimacy. The study also highlights the difference between people who cheat simply because they choose to and those who compulsively seek out sexual experiences as means for coping with uncomfortable emotions.
2. Intimacy is about sharing your true self, not sex.
Before I took part in my husband's recovery program, I did not understand how a couple could have sex without experiencing intimacy or experience intimacy without having sex. What I have since come to understand is that intimacy is experienced in relationships when people are able to share their authentic selves, including their internal experiences, with other people.
Robert Weiss, the founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute, wrote in the Huffington Post that many of the people who struggle with sex addiction are "seeking sexual intensity as a substitute for emotional self-regulation and the comfort of genuine human connection."
In order to differentiate intimacy and sex, my husband and I abstained from sexual interactions for periods of time, so that we could reflect on our personal relationships to sex and intimacy.
We explored the ways that my husband had used sex as a drug to cope with difficult experiences and worked together to connect emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Ironically, it was only after we developed a deep sense of intimacy (that was not based in sexual interaction) that we were able to have a truly intimate sexual relationship.
3. Honest communication is vital to a healthy relationship.
Before we set out to free ourselves from the toxic impacts of sex addiction, my husband's obsession with sex and compulsive behaviors had been shrouded in secrecy.
In many ways, this secrecy was the most destructive aspect of my husband's addiction because it injured the trust that was absolutely necessary for the survival of our relationship.
As we began to openly discuss my husband's addictive thoughts and behaviors, as well as my experiences throughout recovery, we became more aware of triggers and more able to develop effective coping strategies.
Not only did this sort of open communication allow us to develop increased capacities for authenticity, intimacy, and compassion, it was the key to rebuilding the trust that is now the foundation of our relationship.
4. Ask for help when you need it.
Of all of the lessons that I learned during the recovery process, the importance of reaching out is most definitely the biggest. Because of the stigma that surrounds sexual addiction, both my husband and I had difficulty reaching out for support from family and friends.
It took a lot of trial and error to find a support group that felt like the right fit, but once we did, we were so relieved to no longer be carrying the burden of addiction alone.
Through other couples who were also in recovery and compassionate friends and family members, we were able to find the support that was ultimately the grounding force of our recovery process.