Responses to discovering one's partner is a sex addict and has been acting out can include anything from violent anger to extreme despair. The moment when a partner becomes aware of the addicts' behavior is nothing short of traumatic. Yet because of the shameful nature of sex addiction, finding support often does not seem a realistic or necessary possibility for the partner. As a result, many times they experience this crisis in isolation.
In addition, a commonly held belief is "it's his problem, not mine". When the addict enters treatment, the idea often held by partners is that he alone needs to be helped. It's akin to the parents of a drug addicted teenager taking their child in for therapy to be "fixed." For clinicians, it becomes a reminder about how best to work with resistance. How do you help, or at least point in the right direction, a client who is so focused on someone else's behavior?
In "Mending a Shattered Heart", Stefanie Carnes explains that "it will be important to assess what led you to being in a relationship with a sex addict...and how this relates to your own interpersonal and familial issues." In other words, whether partners wish to remain in the current relationship or eventually move on to another, it is necessary to do one's own work so the past does not repeat itself.
Some clients are more open to receiving support than others. Craving a shoulder to cry on, some will attempt 12-step support like S-Anon and CoSa (these are the partner programs of Sexaholics Anonymous and Sex Addict's Anonymous) without a lot of arm-twisting. For those, it seems some relief from the anguish of discovery happens fairly immediately.
But for the clients who happen to be stuck in the "finger pointing" stage, working with that resistance can be challenging, if not frustrating. As therapists we know that finding group support initially helps to normalize the shame. Research also shows the couples that remain together and thrive are those who have placed individual recovery at the top of their priority list. Many times this is important information for partners, and is enough of a "push" to seek help. For those who are unsure whether to stay or go, urging them to therapy is important for gaining clarity.
While the behavior of the addict is not about the partner, it profoundly impacts him or her. The wounds left from this type of betrayal run deep, and left untreated, partners of sex addicts can carry shame and deep hurt back into the same relationship or into the next. As Claudia Black points out in her book "Deceived", healing occurs when "you allow yourself the benefit of getting to know others who have walked this path before you and who will now walk alongside you." For more on this topic you can find answers at sex addiction Los Angeles.