You’ve been in couples therapy for a while. Suddenly you’ve discovered that your partner is a sex addict. How do you discuss this issue in couples therapy?
Part of the problem in the treatment of sex addiction is that there is often a therapeutic hyper-focus on the addict’s issues. Spouses of sex addicts are persuaded to support the sex addict’s treatment without sufficiently attending to their own experience of trauma.
In a misguided attempt to systemically understand the addiction within the context of the intimate relationship, there are even some treatment models that insist on labeling spouses as “co-addicts.”
While it is true that therapists and researchers are continuing to learn more about sex addiction, there is a growing need to develop more sensitive and respectful therapeutic approaches in working with partners of sex addicts. They deserve more attention than they are getting.
If you are a partner of a sex addict, and you are in couples therapy, here are some ideas of how you can get the proper attention and focus that you need to heal as well.
1) Tell the Therapist What You Know. Don’t let the therapist push you to the margin. No one knows your partner better than you. This crisis is not only about your thoughts and feelings, but it’s also about what you know.
2) Don’t let a Therapist jump in Cold Without Taking a Detailed Relationship History First. That’s why we use the “Big, Big Book.” It is the most precise and comprehensive assessment tool used in couples therapy today. You can always spot an amateur couples therapist. They jump right in with a “what seems to be the problem?” approach. Each couple is a complex universe of experience and history. A therapist who “wings it” can often make your situation worse.
3) How Well Does the Therapist keep up on Cutting Edge Research? Couples Therapists must not only use a science-based approach, but they must also be perpetual students of the latest research. Too many therapists lack a sophisticated understanding of the experiences and needs of spouses who are involved with sex addicts.
4) Make Sure Your Mental Health Needs are Fully Addressed. Sex addiction in couples therapy means you are a client too. You need much more than just “psycho-education” on sex-addiction. You ‘re probably experiencing traumatic symptoms because of your partner’s deception, infidelity, and betrayal. Find another couples therapist if you aren’t asked about your experience in detail.
5) Does the Therapist Bring Up Issues About Your Self- Care and Safety? A science-based couples therapist know that you may not be sleeping enough, or eating well.
An issue of sex addiction in couples therapy requires a couples therapist to be just as curious about what you are going through as if you were a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
If your couples therapist isn’t helping you to foster a sense of empowerment, they may be “winging it.”
6) Ask Your Therapist About Their Experience in Working With Sex Addiction. Disclosures and discoveries of sex addiction in couples therapy are on the rise, and many couples therapists need to get trained in the “best practices” for treatment.
How much experience has your couples therapist had in treating couples when a sex addiction has been suddenly discovered or disclosed?
7) Consider Switching to A More Experienced Therapist. There are increasing numbers of trained specialists in the treatment of sex addiction.
If you don’t think your couples therapist is sufficiently educated, experienced, and focused on treating couples recovering from the disclosure or discovery of sex addiction, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to a more experienced therapist.
As the partner of a sex addict, you are probably struggling to get through one of the most painful times in your life.
There is a lot on your plate.
You have to attend to your deep pain, accept the fact that your world has been turned upside down, focus on your self-care, and consider the ongoing needs of your extended family and children.
All this is happening while you are being told to “wait and see” how your partner responds to treatment before you make any life-changing decisions about ending your marriage.
Be gentle with yourself. You both can get through this.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.