For sex addicts and addiction prone people generally, the incapacity of a spouse or partner can cause a kind of stress that they are not good at handling and that can put them at risk of relapse.

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.

7 Comments to
Illness in a Partner Brings up Intimacy Issues

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  1. I find it interesting the sweeping generalities, in which you speak about a whole group of people with no sensitivity to fact that painting a whole group with the same brush is what feed stigma. You write as if all sex addicts are the same. For instance, “Sex addicts have as a core belief that they cannot rely on anyone to be there for them.” All sex addicts have this core belief, is that core belief a requirement of being a sex addict??

    • Hi Carolyn, the so-called core beliefs that “I am unworthy to be loved, if someone knew what I was really like they could not possibly love me, and if I have to depend on someone else to meet my needs they will never get met” are the cognitive underpinnings of sex addiction that are generally accepted be clinicians and theorists in my field. If you work with sex addicts you GENERALLY find they are true but not necessarily the whole story of course. They are a way of describing the addict’s M.O. in the same way that the core beliefs if the borderline personality are sometimes described as “everything has to be easy and I always have to feel good.” Not a condemnation, just a way to understand what’s going on.

  2. This is exactly what happened in my marriage, my husband grew distant during my pregnancies and later, a bout with cancer and could not seem to be there for me beyond a short burst of (ego-satisfyingly) heroic effort. I understood the causes and we discussed the roots of the behavior going back into his childhood, but he did nothing to change, faked his way through years of 12 step recovery and therapy until I discovered that his coping went being distance and into full-blown sex addiction. Now he has lost this marriage and his relationship with his children. It is truly tragic the way traumatized children grow up to re-enact their own traumatization and ruin their own lives, as if obeying the command of the original abuser.

  3. Important post. Chronic and progressive illnesses like MS, lupus, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s have massive effects on couples, and especially couple sexuality. Sometimes the illness can bring couples together. More often, it becomes a stressor and a sex-buster. How couldn’t it?

    Some good resources for caregivers are Maggie Strong’s seminal book MAINSTAY, and the resources of the Well Spouse Association ( The latter group has an active and poignant message board.

    For professionals, Dr. Leslie Schover’s 1988 book is still quite relevant.

    I would urge anyone in this situation to consult with a health psychologist who also specializes in sex therapy. There are not many people like this out there, but they do exist. I know, for example, that the Disney Family Cancer Center at Provident Hospital in Burbank, California provides in-house referrals to a Ph.D – level psychologist who has office hours there.

    • Oops. That’s Providence Hospital.

  4. I am glad you put the “illness” concept of pregnancy in here – unfortunately I think it should have been placed front and center in this article. It’s a common scenario that men ‘stray’ during their wives’ pregnancies. So, for sex addicts, is it something more than just the narcissistic withdrawal of them being placed first, as in a spouse’s illness, that results in them acting out during pregnancy? Could there be some subconscious attempt to avoid parenting, since they were so poorly parented? Could they just not want to bring in children to the world since they had such poor childhoods themselves? Or could they resent children since they were resented – repeating the sins they experienced as EB noted above? I wonder whether there is something ‘extra special’ about pregnancy itself and all that that entails for sex addicts.

  5. Wow, one more good reason to drop the sex addict in your life like a hot potato, no matter what the cost.

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