Help For Partners

Nothing can quite describe the devastation that discovering you are the partner of a sex or porn addict brings. Initially you might have discovered that your partner has had an affair or you discover porn on the computer or you find a message or hook-up app on their phone – then the enormity of a reality you were completely unaware of explodes or slowly unravels and the shock sets in. For some partners discovery comes when the addict is arrested or loses their job, or perhaps you discover that your finances aren’t as they should be. The bottom has dropped out of your world and nothing seems safe or known any more. With each new revelation (addicts often operate trickle truth in a bid to avoid their own shame and further hurting you) you drop further and further into an abyss of shame and fear.

Sex/Porn addiction is a growing problem and society isn’t yet educated about what is involved or how it comes about. It’s likely that your partner is unaware that they are addicted. It’s important for both to realise that this addiction is a health issue, not a moral issue. Discovering your partner is a sex/porn addict is often likened to them having an affair. The difference though is that affairs can be a symptom of unresolved issues within the relationship, whereas addiction will have been present long before you met your partner (even if the acting out behaviours weren’t). Unlike an affair, there are no points of reference – it’s unlikely that you know of a friend/family member/colleague who has been through the same experience. This is not written about in the media or acted in television programmes or films.

You might be thinking:

  • Why aren’t I enough?
  • Who have I been living with?
  • Has any of our relationship been real?
  • Have you ever loved me?

It is common for partners, in the aftermath of discovery, to turn into detectives to try and uncover the truth. This is a normal response to try and work out the level of threat so that you can feel in control enough to establish some kind of safety, although this will have an effect on how you feel about yourself. Counselling can help to identify better ways of getting to the truth and formulating an accountability agreement with the addict. It is normal for emotions to swing wildly back and forth from “I love them so much and don’t know how I’m going to live without them” to “I hate them and never want to see them again”. At this stage you need support yet those around you might have their own feelings in response to what has been happening and encourage you to make decisions you aren’t ready to make.

Sex/Porn addiction carries a social stigma so it’s common to feel so ashamed that it’s hard to carry out day to day activities or even leave the house. It’s even harder when you go outside and see “perfect” couples or families and feel rage and jealousy. It might be tempting to tell all and sundry about how badly you’ve been betrayed while you are full of rage towards your partner but it’s important to remember that not only do you have to continue facing people moving forwards but if you decide to stay with your addicted partner (many partners do rather than throw away years of love and shared memories) they may well not understand your decision. Take a breath and choose perhaps one or two trusted people who have shown in the past that they can listen without judgement.

In the beginning the most helpful thing you can do is to learn about sex/porn addiction. This will help you to work out how you feel before making any decisions.

Helpful things to remember are:

  • You didn’t cause this, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it – this is down to your partner. Your task is to get all the helpful support you can while you recover.
  • You might experience physical symptoms e.g. shaking, rapid heartbeat, hot flushes/intense cold, nausea, brain fog, headaches, tight chest, breathlessness. This is your body’s natural response to the large quantities of adrenaline you are producing. If this persists it’s important to seek help from your GP.
  • Sex/Porn addiction is a health issue, not a moral issue.
  • Many therapists haven’t had training in sex/porn addiction so may not understand what you are going through – ask a potential therapist what specialist training in sex/porn addiction they have had.
  • Your addicted partner has engaged in acting out behaviours in response to the chemically driven want of the addiction, not because they like the activity.
  • You might inexplicably find yourself wanting sexual intimacy with the person who has betrayed you – this is a normal desire to re-establish closeness.
  • Discovering that your partner is a sex/porn addict is a significant trauma. You might read (or be told) that partners of sex/porn addicts are co-dependent. This is an assumption sometimes made by professionals who haven’t had specialised training in sex/porn addiction and are unaware that the symptoms of trauma resulting from discovery/disclosure can mimic co-dependency traits. This can result in partners being victim blamed and adds to the trauma.
  • Now is a time to focus on your needs and self-care.
  • You can choose who you tell.
  • Self-harm (in the form of self-injury, alcohol/drug use, starvation, sexual risk taking) is common in partners as the anger is turned on themselves. This requires urgent professional support.

You will perhaps be weighing up your life with the addict before the discovery/disclosure against how the addict has behaved and your feelings in response to this. In time you will also be able to consider another important factor – what the addict does after the revelation. Decisions about staying in the relationship or not moving forwards can become easier when you know if they are willing to make a commitment to recovery (and you have evidence to support this). Professional help is available for both addicts and partners and this can offer education and support during this time of trauma.