Maybe you cherished your “normal” sex life with your husband, only to find out that he’s been harboring dark and deviant fantasies. Maybe you have stumbled across a stash of pornographic magazines and DVDs-even though you never suspected your husband of being aroused by such graphic images.
Sex is an integral and beautiful part of a healthy marriage. Sometimes, though, sex becomes something that feels like constant physical craving rather than an expression of love. This is a form of “sex addiction,” and it can bring a lot of pain into your relationship.
Sex addiction is a complex topic. Let’s look at ways in which sex addicts try to justify their behavior. When you see these signs, you can take proactive steps to combat the addiction and possibly heal your marriage. Read on to find out how together, you and your spouse can fight back problem behaviors and rebuild honesty in your relationship.
Speak Up for Yourself and Resist Coercion
A sex addict does not have his priorities straight. He puts sex near the top-maybe even at the very top-of his list. Sex is more important than his marriage, his friendships, or his own well-being. He craves sex like a drug addict craves his drug of choice. And, just like the addict, he will do anything to get a fix.
He might even try to coerce you into sharing a deviant and dangerous lifestyle.
This is sad but not too shocking, given the extremes that other addicts will go to. A heroin addict might steal from his own mother. He might take the mortgage money and use it to buy more drugs. His actions are driven by his cravings-his need to get high above all else.
When your spouse gets the craving, he might go to the Internet. He might pick up a woman in a bar. He might do any number of things that he promised you he would never do again. In order to justify his behavior to himself, he might even ask you to join in.
This is how some women end up committing sex acts that make them feel violated. It’s how some women end up joining swingers’ clubs, even when they hate the very idea of sex with someone else.
Don’t let your spouse’s sex addiction make the decisions in your marriage. You need to have boundaries around your relationship. Coercion destroys those boundaries and takes your feelings of self-worth with it.
Say “no” to suggestions that make you uncomfortable, and work to rebuild those important boundaries.
The first step is “Building the Fence Within: Becoming Sensitive to Danger and Setting Internal Boundaries.” Your spouse may not be willing to set boundaries yet. But you can begin building these fences on your own to strengthen your own character.
Be sensitive to the activities, actions, and people that could put your relationship in jeopardy. If you go to bed early and your husband stays up for hours on the Internet, ask him in your friendliest tone and with a smile on your face to come to bed with you; It should not seem like a punishment to him. Or, suggest an activity-such as watching a movie, playing a board game, or having a conversation-that will allow you to stay up together. If he says he’s playing golf with a friend, make sure that’s actually what he is doing, either by calling him or by going along yourself.
You can save yourself a lot of pain by setting these boundaries early. Sex addictions often grow worse because scenarios that could have been avoided are allowed to spin out of control. By practicing “risk management,” you build fences to keep out the dangers by lowering the risk of infidelity and, if everything else is working well, protect the love in your relationship.
Before you can build those protective fences, though, your spouse needs to stop making excuses for his behavior. Next, let’s look at one of the classic excuses and discuss why you should never accept it.
Don’t Buy the “Red-Blooded Male” Excuse
I’m just doing what all guys do.
How familiar does that sound? Some men use that line like it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. They don’t want to be held accountable for making a sexist joke, or looking at porn online, or flirting with a co-worker at the holiday party. They claim that all men act like this, and that they’re just acting like “any red-blooded male.”
Don’t be tempted to buy this excuse. In fact, refuse to give it any consideration whatsoever.
A sex addict, just like any other type of addict, will always seek ways to justify his behavior. A drug addict may excuse his behavior by claiming his body “needs” the drugs, or that “everybody’s doing it.” An alcoholic may say that drinking is the only way to feel “normal.”
And the sex addict’s excuse? Every male does it. All men are into porn. This is normal. This is something you just have to tolerate.
That mindset is wrong. As a spouse, you should not be expected to tolerate behavior that makes you feel angry, hurt, and even violated. You deserve honesty, not excuses. But you have to be willing to ask for that honesty and to hold your spouse accountable.
In Rebuilding the Honesty, I introduce the Five Building Blocks for a Transparent Relationship. Building Block #4 is “Develop a No-Lies Policy and Reveal Everything.” This can work particularly well for couples trying to fix the damage a sex addiction has caused.
Sex addiction is built upon deceit. If your marriage has been haunted by lies, you need to begin the cleansing process as soon as possible.
Step 1: “Flush the Toilet.” Look at dishonesty as if it were layers of filth and grime. The only way to rid your relationship is to “flush the toilet.” You put everything out in the open, being completely honest about everything you have ever done.
Is this painful? Yes. And, it might even finish your relationship. Telling the truth is a risk, but if the cheater does it authentically, and you keep working on your relationship, you will have a starting point of complete honesty. If your partner has struggled with sex addiction, this will help put him back on the path toward honesty. He is allowing you to make a real account of his character.
Ask your spouse to think about it this way: If the roles were reversed, wouldn’t he want you to be completely honest with him? Ask him to show you that same respect by sharing the truth.
Step 2: Commit to a “No-Lies Policy.” Once you remove the grime of deceit, you want to keep your relationship clean. That means being totally honest. No white lies. No omissions. No clever wordings that get around the truth. In marriages threatened by sex addiction, dishonesty and secrets are big problems. So, combat that problem even if it means “going overboard.” Each of you should model honest behavior by telling each other where you really went after work, or who was really on the telephone if the other person asks.
Make honesty a habit. This will set the stage for healing in your relationship.
During my many years in counseling, I have seen couples heal from the pain of a sex addiction. It is possible. But in order to truly rebuild the marriage, the sex addict must take responsibility for his actions. In next week’s post, we will examine ways to do just that.
In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear about your own experiences. Have you dealt with a sex-addicted spouse? Are you sex-addicted? How did you bring honesty and love back into your marriage? Share your story by clicking the “Comments” link below.
As always, I wish you the best as you work toward a healthy and happy marriage.
Until next time,
Frank Gunzburg, Ph.D.
p.s. If your spouse’s sex addiction led him to have an affair, there are a number of additional steps that are crucial to take. If you haven’t had a chance to look over my system How to Survive an Affair, I strongly encourage you to start with Phase I: Individual Healing – Understanding Personal Feelings and Sorting through Emotions.