Illness or disability in one partner of a couple is bound to be stressful or difficult, but it will not necessarily bring about intimacy challenges. In fact it may bring a couple closer together in some cases.
But for an addict, the illness of a spouse or partner can be a train wreck.
Some of the reasons for this have to do with the pre-existing intimacy issues which are common even among recovering addicts.
Illness in a partner brings with it a demand for the other person to behave in a more empathic and less self-centered way. The fact that their partner is suddenly laid up means they have to change their priorities and be willing to put the other person first.
A narcissistic defense is a common feature of sex addicts. So being genuinely self sacrificing will likely bring on an inner struggle.
Many sex addicts did not experience much empathy growing up. Often they were expected to be care-takers for their parents or at least cater to their parents needs. Catering to a sick spouse can be a re-run.
One way to restore the egotistic sense of importance is sexually through behaviors like going to prostitutes or making sexual conquests.
Mistrust about getting needs met
Sex addicts have as a core belief that they cannot rely on anyone to be there for them. The incapacity of someone they are close to exaggerates this biased view of the world.
Many sex addicts have a family history in which they were pretty much on their own or in which they understood early that they should not bother anyone with their needs and feelings.
Being in a relationship with someone who is ill can heighten the addict’s feeling of being closed off. Instead of being open with their feelings and needs, the addict’s default position is to become a “closed system.” This isolation then places them at risk to reach for their old familiar addictive behaviors as way to take care of themselves. Internet porn is always there for them; it is trustworthy.
Sex addicts tend to come from a position of feeling needy and deprived. Addicts do not experience life as overflowing with abundance. Rather they often have a feeling of being left out, unable to get enough.
Because most sex addicts experienced early emotional deprivation in one form or another, they have had a handicap in terms of developing emotional maturity. They feel they need things to be given to them, rather than the other way around.
A lack of adequate parenting can lead the addict to experience their partner as a parent and themselves as a child. The incapacity of the partner then places a demand on them to “grow up” faster than they may be prepared to do. This is a stressor that can cause them to revert to behavior such as contacting an old lover or having an online affair.
Addicts are chronically lonely and often urgently seeking to find a way to fill that inner loneliness. A common experience in the early life of sex addicts is that of real or emotional abandonment.
Abandonment is a deep traumatic wound. The addict may not have worked this through enough to be able to withstand the sense of abandonment that they may experience when a partner is sick.
The emergence of old feelings of abandonment may cause the sex addict to reflexively feel that they need to reach out for support from someone, anyone. This can lead to looking for reassurance or the feeling of being loved, even in the imaginary love of cybersex or sexual massage.
The take away
For the average person, incapacity in a spouse or partner (and this can even extend to pregnancy) may be an upheaval but it may not trigger deep unconscious conflicts. But for a sex addict or recovering sex addict in can be stressful enough to make them reach for addictive behaviors as a way to cope. Awareness about these conflicts when they arise can provide the addict an unusual opportunity for growth.
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Last reviewed: 14 Nov 2012