Sex addicts and their partners are sometimes in limbo. Sometimes they feel “Do I even want to be with this person?” Others have trouble visualizing what their relationship will look like post recovery.
Obviously what you had before wasn’t what you thought it was. This leaves a kind of void. “What will a healthy relationship look like?” “How will we behave differently?” “What will sex be like?” An old fantasy is gone and there is nothing to replace it with.
I have received many comments from addicts and their partners who want to stick it out, but want some glimpse into the future. (See also “Will Sex Addiction Treatment Cure Intimacy Issues?”)
The sex addict and their partner will be different in many ways going forward. Here are a few of the ways the addict will be different.
Honesty and confrontation
Expect a sex addict in recovery to be more open. It the addict has given up the “double life” of sex addiction, they will be more able to voice their feelings and their needs. This is a good thing but it can also be a pain in the butt. The addict will be practicing the new behaviors of confronting their partner on things that matter, and more things will matter.
The addict may be somewhat sexually confused or even sexually avoidant. They have given up the supercharged sexuality of addictive behaviors and are sometimes at a loss about how to behave in their marriage or partnership in ways that are passionate and intimate.
I have seen several recovering sex addicts who felt inadequate and thought they needed pills to maintain an erection with their significant other. They later found out that if they took their time and took the pressure off they didn’t need pills at all!
Gradually the addict will be letting go of the core addictive belief that “sex is my most important need.” Sex will slowly transform into a passionate but different experience.
Recovering sex addicts will very likely feel a lot of connection to their recovery community. They will be more serious in some ways and may have given up some of their previous charming or seductive ways in favor of a more genuine way of behaving with people, including their partner. This may make the relationship seem less “romantic,” but it is important to remember that it is also deeper and more real.
What should partners and spouses do?
You as a spouse or partner may feel relieved and happy that the relationship is transformed in positive ways. Trust is restored and there is more honesty and common ground. Here are some things to remember as you deal with this “new” partner.
- Be centered in your own life. It will be important to have a separate life and let your addict have a separate life in recovery. The relationship may be much stronger because each of you is separately much stronger.
- Stick up for yourself. The basis for your new and healthier relationship is that both people are genuine and vulnerable. You say what you feel and you say what you need. Anything less amounts to shutting your partner out.
- Be willing to hear “no.” It’s fine to ask for anything and to express feelings. But if your partner is doing the same, you may not always get your way and you may not be on the same wavelength about things. Let this be OK.
- Be willing to have “bad sex.” Sex and romance should be very much alive in your relationship. But sex doesn’t have to be magnificent every time and romance needs to be real and not an act. This means getting rid of any leftover “white horse” romantic fantasies about your partner and what they can do for you. You are equal, flawed and human.
There is a great deal to be grateful for in a relationship in recovery. There can be much more sweetness and much more devotion. But both partners will come to realize that there is always a balance to be struck between the oneness of the partnership and the separate individuality of the partners. Both people need to work at this balance.