Let’s be clear—being in a relationship with a sex addict is the last thing you would ever want.  Regardless of the behavior he or she is engaging in, including pornography addiction, phone  sex, or online affairs or the more overt behaviors like exhibitionism, prostitutes, strip clubs or massage parlors, there is no way you are going to see yourself as “enabling” such behavior.

You are probably going to feel justifiably shocked and victimized. There is no way you would want to  make it easier for the addict to act out sexually.  Who would want their partner to betray their trust, waste time and money and maybe bring home a disease?

The original meaning of “enabling”

In the drug and alcohol addiction field there was the stereotype of the “alcoholic wife” who “enabled” her husband’s alcoholism by taking over for him when he could not function, calling in sick for him when he was hung over, and otherwise cleaning up after the him. In other words giving “help” that perpetuates the problem by rescuing the addict and thereby protecting him or her from the need to confront the consequences.

How can you enable something you don’t know exists?

Most sex addicts have a secret, compartmentalized sex life.  The partners and spouses of the addict are unaware that the addict is leading a double life until something makes them suspicious or they stumble on some damning evidence.  Furthermore, most partners’ first instinct to be trusting and supportive and even if the relationship is going badly.

One could argue that the partner should have suspected that there was something wrong and that they were wearing blinders, but sex addicts are very good at covering their tracks.  Alcoholics and drug addicts most often show some pretty overt signs of the problem, whereas sex addicts may not.

Being an unwitting accomplice 

The most likely way in which you can enable your partner’s sex addiction is without your knowing it.  This is not your fault.  It happens all the time.  The addict may be relatively free to carry on his or her addictive sexual behavior due to circumstances in the relationship that you did not seek out.

For example, each of you may be very involved in career, work or children.  This is a good thing, but it can mean that you have less time together and that you fall into a kind of routine in which your life together is more of a partnership and there is not so much time for being alone together and building intimacy. This very common situation leaves the sex addict a lot of opportunity to pursue his or her addiction.  It works for the addict.

Alternatively, you and or your partner are involved in a complicated web of drama and resulting interpersonal chaos.  This can be a leftover from past involvements, emotional turmoil involving family and friends, or other drama that you can’t really seem to do anything about.  This atmosphere of drama and intrigue can also make it easier for a sex addict’s secret behavior to go unnoticed.

How you can get cast in  a “supporting” role

If you are in a relationship with a sex addict they were either already acting out sexually before the relationship or they had long-standing problems around attachment and intimacy that were the basis for the addiction to emerge.  This means that they would gravitate toward a partner and a style of relationship that would be compatible with a secret sexual life.

Your sex addict partner probably genuinely loves you, but as depressing as it may be to think of it this way, he or she was unconsciously drawn to you partly because of the ways in which your life situation, work style or interpersonal style could potentially leave room for and even “justify” the addiction.

It will be part of sex addiction recovery at some point for both addict and partner to examine and understand all the dynamics of the relationship that supported the addiction and to do so without assigning blame.

 







    Last reviewed: 5 Sep 2012

APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2012). Are You “Enabling” Someone’s Sexual Addiction?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2012/09/are-you-enabling-someones-sexual-addiction/

 




Check Out Linda Hatch's books,
Relationships in Recovery & Living with a Sex Addict.


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