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Sex Addiction Treatment: Is Couples Counseling the Answer?

In intimate relationships in which sex addiction is discovered, the question of whether to stay together arises, whether it is spoken about or not.

Should they go to couple counseling right away?  I say no.  After an initial “couples” session in which the addiction is brought out into the open, each partner needs their own therapy and treatment program.

In the early stages of discovery and crisis surrounding sex addiction, couples counseling is not the answer and is not even a good idea.

Sex addiction is not a couples problem  

Sexually compulsive behavior is not a result of problems in a relationship; it’s much more likely that it’s the other way around.

Sex addiction goes way back into the history of the addict. While an addict may have picked a partner who somehow doesn’t get in the way of the addiction, or who may be a stand-in for someone in the addict’s early life, that partner is still an innocent participant.  They didn’t cause the addiction and they can’t cure it.

Couples counseling misses the point

Couples counseling addresses problems in the way people relate to one another; problems with intimacy and vulnerability, communication, relationship skills and so on.  So while there will undoubtedly be some areas where their relationship as a couple is askew, there is no point in trying to address these until after the addict has addressed his or her problem and established some success in recovery.

It is partly a question of triage in the sense that the addiction is more serious, more life-threatening, so to speak.  But also the addict being active in their addiction stands in the way of any meaningful work on the relationship.

Couples counseling can be counter-productive in the beginning of recovery

Couples therapy as a primary or sole way of dealing with sex addiction can be detrimental to the recovery of the addict, and ultimately to the recovery of the couple, in the following ways:

  • Using couples therapy as a way to deal with sex addiction means that the addict can avoid getting the necessary treatment for their addiction. The addict can in effect stay in denial, convincing themselves and those around them that they are getting help without really getting help.
  • The couples counseling situation places the partner in the situation of trying to work cooperatively and supportively with the person who has betrayed them.  The partner is in fact a victim in the situation and needs support from people other than the person they feel has traumatized them.
  • The discovery of sex addiction in a relationship fractures trust and can bring out the worst in people.  The partner is in a state of PTSD in which their reality has been shaken.  The addict is in a crisis in which his or her darkest and most shameful secrets have been exposed.  In this situation, both people will be more prone to blame, projection, and distorted thinking.

Why couples want couples counseling in the crisis-discovery phase

The crisis of the disclosure of sex addiction in a relationship can be very abrupt.  Couples are couples; they have made an adjustment to being together that cannot just turn on a dime, even when there is such a massive rift.

Both partners naturally want to cling to the relationship when they are in this vulnerable place.  But trying to work together on the problem can be extremely confusing.  Both partners need a lot of help and support, but they need it from people other than each other.

The data show that rebuilding trust takes a long time and a lot of independent help and support for both partners.  After their initial months of individual work, couples can begin a period of starting their relationship anew.

Sex Addiction Treatment: Is Couples Counseling the Answer?

Linda Hatch, PhD

Linda Hatch is a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist specializing in the treatment of sex addicts and the partners and families of sex addicts. Linda also blogs on her own website at

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APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2019). Sex Addiction Treatment: Is Couples Counseling the Answer?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Dec 2019
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