dismayedThis discussion of Co-Sex Addiction is by Stephanie Carnes, Ph.D. from her book Mending A Shattered Heart, A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, Gentle Path Press, Carefree, AZ, 2008.

A co-sex addict is someone who is married to, or in a significant relationship with a sex addict and demonstrates a common set of behavioral characteristics.  These characteristics include: denial, preoccupation, enabling, rescuing, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil, efforts to control, compromise of self, anger, and sexual issues. Like sex addiction, co-sex addiction can range in severity, and some individuals will find the experience a few of these characteristics. For others, they may demonstrate the vast majority of them, and may also find they cause severe disruption in their life. Here they are described in greater detail:

Denial. Denial is a hallmark of co-sex addiction. It is through the mechanism of denial that the addicts get away with their behavior for as long as they do. co-addicts commonly find themselves believing tall tales or far-fetched explanations. Sex addiction is an illness of secrecy and deception, and addicts can be very convincing and persuasive.

Many co-addicts come from dysfunctional family backgrounds, so they often want to hold on to that image of the perfect family or the happy couple. there may have been times you didn’t want to believe the problems were really as bad as they were. for example, maybe you new about the pornography, but didn’t see it as out of control. Other co-addicts use self-distraction or overwork, which are other common mechanisms of denial.

Preoccupation. Many co-addicts struggle with being preoccupied with tha addict or the addict’s behavior. You may have experienced anxiety or worry about the addict, and may have found yourself constantly wondering what the addict is up to. Much of your energy may be focused on trying to fix the addict–at the expense of your own self-care. When you’re preoccupied with another person in the throes of a destructive addiction, it’s hard to nurture and care for yourself.

Enabling or rescuing. “Enabling” is a word that many perceive as stigmatizing. Really enabling behavior is a normal response to an abnormal situation. As addicts start to hit bottom, they become desperate. Their life starts to crash around them. They lose their jobs, face financial ruin, or experience other consequences of their addictive behaviors. It’s a normal response for family members to try and rescue the addict as he or shei spirals out of control.

Unfortunately, for many addicts, it’s important they experience the full impact of the consequences of their behaviors. The desperation they experience is the gift that propels many into recovery. Once they feel like their world is crashing around them, many become internally motivated to recover.

When a partner or relative rescues the addict, they’re taking a little of this gift of desperation away. they make the bottom softer, so the addicts don’t have to face their consequeinces and feel as desperate.

This is why it’s called “enabling,” because the family member is unwittingly helping the diease to progress to a worse stage. Examples of enabling behavior for co-sex addiction include:

  • Supporting the addict’s decision to work overtime when he often acted out at work.
  • Handling the majority of childcare responsibilities.
  • Handling the majority of household responsibilities.
  • Engaging in sexual behaviors with the addict which make the spouse or partner uncomfortable.
  • Changing one’s appearance to be more sexually appealing to the addict.
  • Normalizing and overlooking sexual acting-out behaviors.
  • Expecting little or no financial accountability when money is being spent on his or her sexual action out behaviors.
  • Rescuing the addict from consequences of the addiction.
  • Making excuses to cover up the addict’s behaviors.

Many of these behaviors are not conscious on the part of the co-addict. However, they do unwittingly support the addictive process and allow the addiction to progress.

Excessive Responsibility. Many partners are care takers and feel responsible for others, often at the expense of taking care of themselves. The 12 Step fellowships for family members of addicts have a slogan: You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. In the past, you may have felt that your actions or behaviors could influence the addictive process. for example, “If I were just sexier, her wouldn’t need pornography.” this type of thought distortion promotes excessive responsibility for the addict’s behaviors. It is these faulty beliefs that keep the co-addict stuck in an unhealthy and exploitive relationship. You may have been taught at a young age to be a caretaker for others and to feel and be responsible for their wee-being. Recovery will include learning to take care of yourself, and to let go of care taking and excessive responsibility for others, especially the addict.

Emotional Turmoil. Living with an active addict is chaotic and overwhelming. Whether you new or didn’t know about the addictive behavior, you were likely being impacted by the addict’s out-of-control behavior. The consequences of the addiction, such as financial problems or job loss, have far-reaching implications that impact the entire family. You may have experienced confusion, anger, sadness, loneliness and outrage. Many co-sex addicts report that life is a roller coaster.

Efforts to Control. Many co-addicts find themselves thinking, If the addict would just do _____________, everything would fall into place. You may have lived through painful events with people who have been out of control, so it is especially painful when this type of behavior resurfaces in you adult life. You might have found yourself using strategies such as helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving or manipulation to get the addict to change. As a matter of fact, you may have even turned into someone you don’t like. such as a parent figure to the addict, a blamer or nag.

Unfortunately, most of these tactics don’t work and only leave you feeling more frustrated. In most coupleships where addiction is present there is plenty of blaming. controlling, playing the victim and these behaviors are typically exhibited by both parties. the problem for co=addicts is that after these behaviors are manifested, the co-addict typically feels guilty and horrible about themselves. So recovery for co-addiction focuses on examining these behaviors to ensure that the co-addict can respond with integrity and feel good about his or her responses.

Compromise or loss of self. Many partners find themselves making compromises in the relationship that lead to the loss of their sense of self. Examples include acting against your own morals, values or beliefs, as well as giving up life goals, hobbies and interests. Other examples include changing your dress or appearance to accommodate the addict, or accepting the addict’s sexual norms as your own. Along with this loss of self often comes erosion of self-esteem. You may have struggled with feelings of unworthiness or perfectionism. As a result, you may have settled for felling needed in the relationship and compromised yourself to keep the peace or feel valued.

Anger. Understandably, most partners of sex addicts are devastated by the betrayal of the relationship and are justifiably very angry. Anger can manifest in the relationship in a multitude of ways. It can be expressed directly and appropriately. It can also be expressed in the form of rage, blame or punishment. Or conversely, it can also be expressed covertly, such as in passive-aggressive behavior, withdrawal or subtle indirect forms of communication. depending on the rules you were taught in you family growing up, you may have learned that it was either acceptable or unacceptable to express anger, and this is likely influencing the current way you’re coping with this emotion. Recovery for you will require you to learn to express your anger directly and appropriately, as well as let go of resentments-whether you remain in the relationship of not.

Sexual Issues. Similar to addicts, partners of sex addicts also have high rates of past sexual abuse. Since these relationships often contain more than one sexual abuse victim, naturally there are higher rates of sexual issues with these coupleships. Furthermore, for may partners the addict’s sexual acting out is a form of sexual trauma. for example, you may have given in to the sexual demands of the addict believing this would deepen your love, when for the addict it was another fix which makes the betrayal even more painful. Because of the often complex issues that couples struggling with sex addiction experience around sexuality, they often experience difficulty with sexual intimacy. This can manifest in may ways, such as unmet sexual needs and wants, sexual avoidance and even sexual dysfunction. Given this trauma history, the addict’s sexual acting out can trigger many feelings for the co-addict. It’s no coincidence that addicts and co-addicts find each other. For may couples their sexual issues complement on another.