We all have stuff we want to keep inside. For almost all of us there are things that feel too painful
and/or shameful to talk about, even with a therapist, much less a loved one. And those things stay hidden until the pain of not talking about it becomes more painful that the risk of exposure and rejection.
Addictions generally fall into that category. Oh, we can talk about the substance or behavior with a spouse/family member—sometimes at the top of our lungs. But we don’t really talk about it, and certainly not with outsiders.
Sexual addiction is especially hard to talk about with others, even that loved one, despite its prevalence on the evening news. Our sexuality is tied up so strongly with our morals, values, culture, and identity. And for the loved ones of someone struggling, often there is no understanding, no vocabulary, and no sense of safety in talking about it anywhere, and an incredible sense of shame and stigma.
Let me mention a few facts about sexual addiction. First, a definition: An addiction is “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical or behavior.” (Carnes, 2001) Sexual addiction includes a wide variety of sexual acting out, from pornography to sexting to voyeurism to affairs. Current estimates of persons (men or women) dealing with a sexual addiction range around 30 million. (Keep in mind that estimate is based on those seeking treatment; given the hiddenness of this addiction and our culture surrounding sexuality both positively and negatively, this number is probably grossly underestimated.) Those struggling with sexual addiction are not necessarily engaging in criminal behavior, despite the prevalence of such on the news. And as with any addiction, it flourishes in secrecy and always leads to broken relationships.
Often the person most affected by the addiction is the spouse/partner. He/She (more often a woman but sometimes a man) may feel crazy living in a world of half-truths as the “addict” covers up the issue. She will probably have feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of the ways in which she tries to cope with the issue. She may also have to face financial and social issues—such as bankruptcy, loss of job (for the “addict” or herself), loss of social networks if the “secret” is out--or legal processes.
We know of a few helpful groups for those struggling with sexual addiction. Look on our resource page or contact us if you’d like to know more. Or let us know if you know of a good group/resource to add.
Unfortunately, resources for the spouses do not seem to be quite as available. So we are beginning our own therapy group, the HOPE group, for female partners/spouses of those struggling with problematic sexual behavior. (By problematic we mean it may or may not be an addiction but it’s causing issues in your relationship or in your life.) We know that you need a place to share YOUR story, but also to receive encouragement and some tools for dealing with it. And you need to know that you are NOT alone. Here you will learn that you did not cause it, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it…but you can learn new ways of being, thinking, and doing that bring healing and peace to your life.
Our next group begins Sept 10. We will meet at The Harbor, 55 W King St, Shippensburg, from 7:45pm to 9pm. The fee is $120 for eight weeks. You will need to register for the group by August 28 at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email Susan with questions.
We hope you don’t need this group. But if you do, we’d love to talk to you there.