The Therapeutic Use of Abstinence in Relationship and Sexual Addiction Recovery
Try telling a sex addict to stop pursuing and having sex for a month or more and you may quickly find yourself pushed aside for a more enabling (and less directive) therapist, sponsor or friend. Inform a profoundly love addicted (attachment disordered or trauma survivor) woman – the one who lives to seduce – that she can’t wear provocative clothing or makeup for at least 2-3 weeks and you will quickly learn about her level of dedication to recovery and change.
Such is the initial challenge of cognitive-behavioral treatment with sex and love addicts. In truth, a period of abstinence from sexual and romantic behavior, combined with contracted and prescribed boundaries around romance/seduction/dress, can be highly useful clinical tools toward expanding a sex and love addict’s sobriety skill set. This is especially true when working with individuals who’ve spent their whole lives seeing themselves and others as objects.
Why Abstain from Sex and Romance?
Active sex and relationship addicts base their adult self-worth on whether or not they are desirable and typically think, “I have value if I can get x, y or z to desire me sexually.” As such, they objectify themselves and others completely, often viewing their lives and relationships through a lens of conquest, seduction and intensity. This can sadly make the most mundane activities, like finding oneself in an elevator with an attractive stranger or walking past a good-looking person in the grocery aisle, a sexually charged opportunity to pursue people as objects.
Chronically distant and emotionally detached partners are often on the hunt for their mirror selves – the one who will draw them in with romantic intensity and then distance themselves when things get too close. Intimacy avoidant individuals unconsciously check out when their relationship starts to feel too close, whether related to an emotional, physical or sexual connection. Examples include:
The Love Addict/Avoidance Cycle
Outwardly often an unlikely couple, the consistent (often maternal) and desperate seduction of the relationship/love addict is a forever flame for his or her opposite – the intimacy-phobic avoidant. Their emotional dance is one of endlessly circling one another, but never quite allowing themselves to connect.
Behind closed doors, millions of couples are harboring a not-so-dirty little secret: We still love each other, but we don’t have sex anymore.
Can a romantic relationship exist without sex? For an estimated 40 million people in the United States, the answer is yes. Whereas the average married couple over age 30 has sex 58 times a year (just over once a week), 15 to 20 percent of couples are “sexless,” according to national surveys.
What Does ‘Sexless’ Mean?
There is no shortage of opinions about what constitutes a sexless marriage. Some couples aren’t having sex at all, while others do the deed multiple times per week but would still describe their relationship as sexless. So how does a couple earn this dubious distinction?
Women are catching up to – and even outnumbering – men when it comes to college admissions and earning power. Along with these advancements, women have caught up in less savory ways.
Men don’t want to admit it; women don’t want to admit it; our culture tells us it can’t be so. But research is beginning to address an increasing number of women who are also watching porn, engaging in casual and risky sexual behaviors, and cheating on significant others.
How many women cheat? Accurate estimates are hard to come by, primarily because researchers rely on self-reporting and few women are willing to risk their relationships and reputations in the name of science. Studies from Indiana University and Manchester Metropolitan University have found that roughly 20-25 percent of men have affairs compared to about 15-20 percent of women. These numbers are likely much higher for both genders, with some polls suggesting that as many as 50 percent of married women have cheated.