Your Sexually Addicted Spouse
by Barbara Steffens, Ph.D, & Marsha Means, M.A.
Before you allow yourself to be labeled a co-addict, or even a codependent, by a well-meaning therapist, a 12-Step group or the sex addict in your life—read this book! To date, this is the best book available for partners of sex addicts and its message is critical for partners of sex addicts. We highly recommend this title as the first book you read. We recommend it also for clergy/counselors and anyone who is aware that sex addiction is affecting the life of a congregant or client. Currently it is available in book format only, no audio or ebook available at this writing.
An aside: if you set out reading about his addiction, his wounds, his traumas, the recovery process may well become just like the relationship prior to discovery—all about him. Do you think for a minute he is reading about the effects his actions have had upon you? Not even a prayer of a chance that is happening. After what you have been through, it is your turn. Demand that much. Read about yourself.
By presenting the Trauma Model in addition to the Addiction Model as an interpretive lens for the behavior of partners of sex addicts, the authors point out that therapists outside sex addiction understand relational trauma and would consider one infidelity a relational trauma. Yet sex addiction therapists consistently fail to see that a partner of a sex addict who has endured many infidelities has been traumatized! Since when did many infractions become less traumatic than one infraction? In what reality are these sex addiction therapists operating? This is a huge blind spot within the therapeutic/recovery community.
The Trauma Model works in conjunction with the Addiction Model for some PoSAs and it replaces it for most. You decide for yourself as you educate yourself. It is perfectly okay to stick with the Addiction Model if that is where you feel most supported and comfortable. The Addiction Model works beautifully for addicts/compulsives. We PoSAs have grown enough to decline being defined by recovering addicts writing about us, therefore being defined through the lens of his addiction/compulsivity. We shall self-define, thank you very much. And we at PoSARC choose the Trauma Model almost unanimously.
Some sex addiction therapists seem to come within a hair’s breadth of blaming the partner of a sex addict for assisting in advancing his addiction by calling them co-addicts. I have a theory about this all-too-common scenario—many of the first sex addiction therapists are recovering sex addicts themselves. Early sex addiction literature was written by these addicts in fairly early stages of their own recoveries. They had not fully regained sufficient empathy and character strength to endure the obvious traumas we display. The co-addict nomenclature has been carried through the literature without much thought since then.
They labeled the partner a co-addict rather than to see/sense the traumas inflicted by their own addiction. And that label and mistreatment of the partners continues to this day. It began as a unconscious, self-protective measure, yet, a very damaging one to us, the population that has already been damaged by sex addicts’ inability to empathize. For championing the Trauma Model of our situation, the book is worth ten times the purchase price. Do not allow yourself to be labeled a co-addict. Insist that your therapist employ the Trauma Model in addition to the Addiction Model.
Call me a co-addict? Them’s fighting words from this corner.
We at PoSARC opt for self-description, just as addicts have chosen for themselves. We say we are trauma survivors and the implications of that statement are quite different than from saying we are co-dependents or, shudder, co-addicts. It is an important beginning, to self-define.
I left a man who claimed to have a “lifestyle”, not an addiction after he was diagnosed by a therapist. Let me say this for the record: He was an addict before I knew him and he has been a raging addict since I left. How does that make me a “co-addict?” He would probably be the first to agree that I did absolutely nothing that furthered his addictive career. He would issue that agreement with great disgust, but in agreement nonetheless. He never needed the enabling of anyone in to live out his “lifestyle” (read: addiction).
A curious PoSA may well become a voracious reader of a variety of topics as she recovers, namely: sex addiction itself, trauma, brain science and general addiction materials. The really curious PoSA will venture into Jungian psychology, brain chemistry, PTSD, childhood sexual, emotional and physical abuse. If you are anything like Lili and myself, Terre, the informational net spreads very wide indeed before one comes back and begins to synthesize all that information with one’s experiences. For now, this book is the best place to begin.
Although I would have opted for a much more detailed description/investigation of the entire trauma concept, especially relational trauma, I realize that not everyone wants to know the deeper nuts and bolts of all things psychological. More than 95% of readers will feel completely understood and emotionally vindicated from these two chapters alone and want nothing more than the solid information offered.
Yes, learning the fundamentals of relational trauma takes work. If you are a PoSA who wants to understand the dynamics of trauma, you will need to read other materials to really master that set of concepts.
Your Sexually Addicted Spouse is peppered with stories of partners of various sex addicts. Sometimes the stories are used to dramatize the developing explanations, sometimes the stories seem to be inserted to give breadth and depth to the scope of the situations that we may find ourselves facing.
Boundaries, healing from trauma and regaining one’s health and dignity occupy the middle section of the book and is presented in a very hopeful light.
The book winds down with six addicts’ stories who have sufficiently recovered to fully acknowledge the trauma they inflicted on their spouses and families. This is followed by four spouses’ stories well into recovery. Not all marriages survived, yet the messages from each story are important to us as we make our way though this morass that is sex addiction.
The Conclusion is set up as a FAQ section, a quick-start guide and followed by an Appendix with suggestions for Counselors, Clergy and friends. A PoSA can literally hand any of these persons the Appendix for guidelines for the Trauma Model.
This book is the place to begin your healing, and we recommend it most highly.
Lili’s Postscript: I also felt a huge wave of relief reading this book, that finally we PoSAs were not being labeled as co-addicts, that instead, we were trauma survivors. It really helped me make sense of many symptoms I was experiencing. Compounding the wounds in that already devastating time in my life, witnessing my own sexuality closing down was yet one more ugly ripple in the tainted pond my partner had brought into our lives via his hidden porn addiction.
Intuitively I understood that my closing off sexually was from receiving a wound to the deepest part of myself, the part that I’d believed was kept sacred between only my partner and I, only to find out he’d been sharing himself sexually.
So, even though I understood it on one level, it would have been so helpful to have had access to this books’ contextual lens through which to view my “traumatic response.” I would have known my closing down was normal and valid, instead of becoming increasingly alarmed and terrified of it. I learned through this reading that one can heal from trauma, though painstakingly difficult and lengthy that process is.
Also of great value was the chapter in the back of the book called, From the Hearts of Sex Addicts Who Get It and Care.
I had never before met a man who had healed from this affliction, even though I’d attended a few SLAA meetings in my city on the advice of a friend whose partner chose his porn addiction over saving their relationship. She thought attending there would allow me a window into how sex addicts think, since I was so confused. Since I was wondering whether I might be a Love Addict, I felt free to attend those meetings. What I didn’t know at the time was that there seemed to be very little recovery in that room and when I’d hear the men sharing, I would be filled with despair at what seemed like the futility of my own partner ever “getting” recovery. So I stopped attending that meeting, and limped along, trying to focus on my own rescue and repair work, and all the while wondering if any SAC ever becomes worthy of a woman who wanted to practice sexual integrity.
Finding this chapter in Your Sexually Addicted Spouse filled me with that missing hope. There, in print, were the stories of men whose hearts had opened long enough to embrace a full change in their orientations towards their sexuality, and thus, to their relationships.
I clung to that chapter and read it anew every morning as part of my prayer/meditation time, so as to not lose hope in others, given how prevalent porn addiction now is.