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When Sex Addiction Has Turned Your World Upside Down, What Do You Do?

By Maia Pellegrini, LMSW, CSAT-Candidate
Workshop Facilitator, Rio Retreat

People who identify as sex addicts and partners of sex addicts are often pessimistic about salvaging a relationship after years of deceit, pretend, and folly. Staggered disclosures of infidelities, emotional pain, anger, and shame — as well as a lack of knowledge and skill to rebuild the relationship — result in hopelessness, despair, and perhaps apathy.

For both the sex addict and the partner there is often a strong desire or need to hold on, despite the precarious situation. There are many reasons for this, including children are still in the home, patterns are familiar, community ties are present, and love is still evident.  

In this delicate, desperate, and real place it’s important to know that other couples have been through similar calamities, have recovered from the damage, moved through the healing process, and come out better than they could have imagined.

Clinicians who specialize in this type of work have seen couples make incredible changes. For sex addicts, the comments are often “I don’t feel like I’m the same person,” “a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” or “I don’t have to hide.” For the partner, comments range from “I have rights,” and “I’m not crazy,” to “I feel more connected to myself and alive.”

The first step in the process toward recovery is investing in oneself. As odd as this may sound, each individual has to work to understand the effects of trauma and addiction on the brain, move through loss, and gain new knowledge and insight into sex addiction and being a partner of a sex addict. They can then learn skills that support living in authenticity, and establish a plan moving forward to support healthy boundaries, communication, and compassion before taking steps toward healing the coupleship.

When the work is tailored and targeted to specific areas of recovery, each person has unfettered space to change, intentionally lessening the desire to control or manipulate the other person. When the partner of a sex addict lacks direction and support, that person will pour large amounts of time, energy, and stress hormones into obsessing, tracking, and managing the addict or hold anger, pain, and fear inside that may lead to health issues — even if this partner lets go of the other person. When the sex addict lacks direction, the addictive brain takes over causing the person to further detach from reality and the most significant people in that person’s life and spiral further into addictive behaviors.

If creating as much change in the shortest amount of time is what you desire, then the five-day intensive workshops such as those at The Meadows’ Rio Retreat in Wickenburg, Arizona, may bring emotional relief to the overwhelm and getting unstuck. Here, a workshop can accelerate your therapy in addition to accessing the support you will need from people going through similar issues. Specialized therapy by qualified trauma and addiction therapists is needed to bring hope to a difficult situation.  

Healing Intimate Treason for Partners, Men’s Sexual Recovery, and the Love Addiction and Love Avoidance workshops are three in particular that are offered at The Meadows. As a workshop facilitator, I’ve witnessed clients come to workshops detached, sobbing, wanting to leave upon arrival, end their relationships before doing any significant work, then walk away after five days feeling contemplative, centered, hopeful, and motivated. It’s transformative and powerful.

If you are isolating, shaming yourself, maintaining secrets, and/or judging yourself, please reach out for support. We therapists are here to help. We are credentialed, CSAT-trained (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist), and have a passion for working with sex addicts and the partners of sex addicts. We are experts. You are not alone.

In addition, there are a wide variety of 12-Step support groups in many communities around the country that you can tap into, including SAA, SA, SLAA for the sex addict and S-Anon, POSA, COSA, and SLAA for the partner, depending on the individual’s needs.

Whatever path you choose, it’s important to reach out beyond the limits of family and friends. While family and friends may be well-intentioned, they may lack the knowledge, wisdom, and compassion to truly be helpful. People care and want to be supportive, but unless they have walked this path, they may not understand the depths of the loss, trauma, and attachment wounds as well as the weightiness of the emotion that sometimes drives friends and family away.

Lastly, couple’s counseling may be essential in the beginning around parenting, daily interactions, logistics of everyday life, and negotiating appropriate boundaries during a time of intense emotions.

Although change is inevitable, holding onto the perceived familiarity and predictability is not an option. What’s really desired is to feel connected, appreciated, and respected on both ends.

If you are open to the idea that the relationship that once was is no longer, then the rebuilding of a new relationship you have with yourself and your partner has the potential to emerge. The space between the two is where something special may grow. Exhale long and slow and trust the process. Your journey is one that will not leave you feeling alone in the world if you reach out for support. Whatever the outcome, growth is inevitable, and being in the light of your truth is a spiritual endeavor to say the least.

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